Tucked away by the banks of the Ping River, 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai is a charming boutique property that marries tradition and modernity. Although it’s been open since 2011, the property has recently emerged from a makeover that aimed to revitalize guest rooms and put a luxe gloss on public areas. So whether it’s your first time to Chiang Mai or you’re a regular visitor, this revamped property will give you a new reason to fly south this winter.
There are just 35 sumptuous suites here, and each one feels like a swanky hideaway with heritage touches. I check into an East Borneo Suite and discover a spacious bolthole that marries modern luxury with colonial style. Inside, I find a chic space where teak floors and silk drapes are coupled with a super-king bed, heavy wooden furniture, and a rather stylish drinks trolley. The bathroom-dressing room is correspondingly elegant with a double marble vanity, a freestanding rolltop bath, patterned tiles, Panpuri amenities, and indoor-outdoor showers.
The real luxuries, though, come with the service. At check-in, you’ll enter your butler’s number into your phone so you can reach out with requests at any time. This certainly comes in handy when – for instance – you need a last-minute laundry service. In addition, you’ll notice that every night, the turndown service leaves a little treat on your coffee table. Because a bedtime snack of chamomile tea and cookies is sure to lead to a good night’s sleep.
History is everywhere at 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai, and because of that, you’re sure to pick up an interesting anecdote or two during your stay here. The heart of the property is an old teak house that once belonged to the manager of the East Borneo Company, which traded teak here in the 1800s. Now, after a careful restoration, this house is the social hub of the hotel. You’ll quickly realize that Chiang Mai’s history is laced throughout the hotel. For example, the bar’s name is Jack Bain, after the thrill-seeking son of a one-time manager of the East Borneo Company. Even the curtains in the bedrooms have elephant motifs because these gentle giants were once the workhorses of the region.
If you’re keen to take a deep dive into Chiang Mai’s storied past, then you’ll need to book the recently-launched “Tales of the Teak-Wallahs” tour. In collaboration with local history – and Dutch transplant – Franz Betgem, this tour aims to bring Chiang Mai’s history to life. Along with all the eccentric personalities that once called this place home. This tour won’t be everyone’s cup of tea because there are frequent storytelling stops and only quick glimpses of historic buildings. But there are some truly intriguing stops, including the ramshackle Wat Ket Museum (created by Jack Bain) and the Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club. For most, the highlight of the day is a meandering wander through the quiet town of Lampang in a horse-drawn carriage.
Perhaps one of the best things about a stay at 137 Pillars House is that the staff can really give you an insider’s look at Chiang Mai. You can spend half a day learning to bathe and feed elephants at the Patara Elephant Farm – which is a great experience, because not only are these creatures an important part of Chiang Mai’s history, but this particular farm focuses on sustainable practices.
They can also give great suggestions for dining – all you have to do is ask. Chiang Mai’s cafe and restaurant scene has come into its own in recent years, and a little insider knowledge will help you find the hottest new spot in town. Try Woo Café to dine in rainforest-inspired decor, or David’s Kitchen to feast on European plates in a sophisticated setting. If you fancy doing some shopping, visit Sop Moei to find textiles and souveniers created by the Mae Hong Song tribte, or Villa Cini for silk products.
137 Pillars house takes a holistic approach to wellness. Relaxation is key here, though it comes in many forms. Near the hotel entrance, Nitra Spa offers a range of indulgent, bespoke treatments. Fair warning: the aromatherapy massage will put you right to sleep. Aftewards, grab a lounger by the infinity pool and ponder the massive garden wall – you’ll begin meditating almost automatically.
If you’ve got energy to burn, the fully-equipped gym in the lower level of the old house has everything you need to work up a sweat. Of course, if you’re seeking gentler activity, you could always play a game on the croquet lawn. Your wellness pursuits can be as intensive as you like, so if you’re so inclined, work with the hotel to build a customized wellness program with all your favorite activities.
Food is far from an afterthought at 137 Pillars House and one thing’s for sure – you won’t go hungry here. Tuck into an east-meets-west breakfast at the whimsical dining room, where you’ll find everything from pastries and fruits to a fry-up and noodles. If you’re here for lunch, order a meal of authentic Thai cuisine. Don’t miss the Kao Soy – a delicious local curry with crispy noodles – and the truly sensational mango and sticky rice dessert. Another can’t miss experience? Afternoon tea, of course. Whether you take your tea in the parlour of the old house or on the verandah of your suite, it’s an indulgent experience.
Time for take-off: Air Asia flies direct one everyday between Hong Kong and Chiang Mai.
Note: The author traveled as a guest of 137 Pillars House and Asia Asia.
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