The Chiang Mai Guide
Picture a place that makes you feel better than you have in years. Possibly ever. Maybe you were stressed or overwhelmed back home. Maybe you needed a recharge or a change of scenery. That’s all here, of course. But then you find more. You find world-class incredible spas at every turn; healthy, spicy, vibrant food at every meal; natural sites so awe-inspiring, they can only be described as epic; and a list of superlatives that never seems to end. Gradually, you become an entirely new version of yourself. A more alive, more relaxed version. This is a dream, right? It can’t be real? Of course not. Then again, if this Utopia actually exists, we have a hunch it’s called Chiang Mai.
This ancient city has wellness steeped in its history. Take Thai massage. It originated more than 2,500 years ago, developed by a confidant of the Buddha. The wavelike, rhythmic technique inspired by Ayurvedic and Chinese principles has changed the lives (and postures) of countless people in Chiang Mai and across the world. And that’s just one part of the wellness treatments here. As the Tourism Board of Thailand showed us, you can work with a meditation guru to gain mental clarity, follow the lead of a yoga master, or trust the expert hands of a massage therapist to help you release tension. Or you can simply work on being present: Sip tea on the bank of the Ping River or walk through the colorful alleyways lined with brightly painted storefronts and greenery.
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, the Chiang Mai of today is a vibrant, modern city that holds close to its spiritual and natural roots. The surrounding farms supply the farm-to-table restaurants. The ancient health practices inform the spas’ clinicians. And the people are as friendly, kind, and insightful as any we have ever met. Chiang Mai is a beautiful, diverse, ancient metropolis that will give you an entirely new perspective on wellness and self-care—all while embracing your body and mind.
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort123-123/1 Charoen Prathet Road, Chang Khlan | +18.104.22.1683
Anantara is a serene resort located along the Ping River with an incredible spa that’s worth a visit even if you aren’t a guest. Situated underground, its dark, simple design has a monastic feel. A clinician greets you in a candlelit room where you choose from a variety of Thai, Chinese, and Burmese treatments. Go for the traditional full-body Lanna massage—ninety minutes of restorative Rolfing, rubbing, and kneading with organic local plai oil (made from a root that’s similar to ginger). Afterward, your clinician will invite you to write a wish on a bodhi leaf, which she’ll take to one of the local temples to help it come true. For something more intense, ask the staff to create a wellness program that includes tailored spa treatments, an exercise routine, meditation sessions, and catered meals. If you can pull yourself away from the spa, explore the hotel—which feels intimate at just fifty-two rooms. Don’t miss the one-hundred-year-old house on the property with its dimly lit library and restaurant. (This is one of the best spots in the city to enjoy a cocktail by the river.) The spacious guest rooms have gigantic, supremely comfortable beds and grand soaking tubs. If we had more time, we would have spent an entire afternoon in the lobby, lounging on the daybeds and watching the Lanna flower dancers perform on the lawn.
137 Pillars House2 Soi 1, Nawatgate Road, Wat Gate | +22.214.171.1248
137 Pillars House has an old-world aesthetic and total exclusivity. The grounds are centered around an ornate antique teak Lanna-style house (the Lanna kingdom ruled what is now northern Thailand from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries) that the owners purchased and refurbished in the early 2000s. It’s worth spending several days just on the grounds. Have afternoon high tea in the house; lounge in the spacious, light-filled guest suites; and relax by the pool enclosed by a towering wall covered in tropical plants. The spa is pristinely decorated with oriental antiques. Treatments include facials and traditional Thai massage, but you can also ask the team to customize a wellness itinerary that can include a range of spa treatments, exercise programs, and healthy meals.
Four Seasons Chiang Mai502 Moo 1, Mae Rim | +66.53.298.181
Once you see the lush, expansive rice paddies, and the emerald grass, and the jungle mountains outlining the sky, you'll know you did something good for yourself. And then, when you see the grand rooms with huge king-size beds and rich mahogany wood, and the colossal pool that seems to go on forever, you'll never want to leave. Just taking in the views is an act of wellness. And that's before you head to the spa, which offers virtually every treatment and therapeutic practice you can think of. Tailored programs cater to specific needs, such as detoxification and rejuvenation. Visiting masters teach classes on chakra healing, acupuncture, and osteopathy, while the experienced staff hosts yoga and meditation classes.
Tamarind Village50/1 Rajdamnoen Road, Old City | +66.53.418.896
As the name suggests, Tamarind Village is located on an old tamarind orchard. It's quaint and quiet and feels like you're staying in an old, hidden Lanna village. The main building wraps around a grassy courtyard and a giant, ancient tamarind tree. It glows at night thanks to a sprinkling of twinkling string lights, visible from the guest room terraces. But the star at this hotel is the spa, which offers several traditional Thai or Chinese massages, as well as facials, scrubs, and steams. The rooms are pristine and the staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. A bonus is the unexpected, totally considered gift shop that's like a mini night market. Shop here for locally made silk scarves and woven baskets.
Dhara Dhevi51/4 Moo 1, Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Road, T. Tasala, A. Muang, Ch | +66.53.888.888
Slightly west of the Ping River is Dhara Dhevi, a hotel and resort we’ve been dreaming about since our first visit to Chiang Mai. A gigantic wellness retreat set on sixty acres of gardens, moats, and rice paddies, Dhara Dhevi prides itself on its elaborately adorned Lanna buildings and holistic spa treatments. You can choose from traditional Ayurvedic, Thai, and Chinese treatments. For a more in-depth wellness experience, there are retreats, which range from three to ten days and focus on whatever's ailing you—stress, back pain, stubborn weight, loss of energy. You'll leave completely revitalized. What also intrigued us here were the cultural workshops: You can take classes in traditional Thai cooking and bamboo weaving that give hands-on insight into the country’s traditions.
Rarinjinda14 Wat Ket, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Just on the west bank of the Ping River, Rarinjinda—a handsome, dark wood boutique hotel and spa—makes an excellent wellness base to totally refresh and relax. The ethos here is to leave you feeling healthier and more vibrant than when you arrived. And they’re very good at their jobs. Whatever you do: Get a hydrotherapy treatment. A giant hydropool has two built-in lounge chairs so you can sit or lie and let the warm bubbles pulsate around you. If you want a more authentic massage, a spa clinician will incorporate Himalayan salt and fresh herbs, including Thai basil, into your treatment as she Rolfs and rubs away tension and stress. You’ll leave feeling lighter, centered, and clearheaded. Have dinner at the restaurant overlooking the Ping River before heading back to your elegantly furnished room.
Raya Heritage Hotel157 Moo 6, Tambol Donkaew, Amphoe Mae Rim
If there is a hotel in heaven, it might be Raya. It's light and airy. The guest rooms have gigantic cushy beds with pillows as soft as clouds and large terraces that overlook the river and greenery. (And if you’re willing to splurge, your own private pool.) Walk into the lobby—a breezy, bright room where the staff brings you blue herbal "butterfly" tea, a Thai specialty—and you'll want to sit there for hours. But then there's the spa. Without overstating things: It will change you. Sit in the steam room filled with herbs native to northern Thailand and let your muscles relax. Then go for the Bamboo Massage, especially after a long flight. A spa therapist rubs you with a heated bamboo stick, just hard enough to release tension. At night, eat at Khu Khao, one of the three restaurants on-site. The basket lights hanging from the ceiling cast a warm glow that makes the already gorgeous room even more inviting. Order the khao raem fuen sai ga, a spicy organic grilled chicken and rice salad; sit back; and realize it's not a dream—you get to stay here and do it again tomorrow.