An entirely antithetical experience to the bustling clamour of Bangkok, Chiang Mai Provence is a haven of tranquility, outlandishly calm locals, traditional culture, quaint backstreets and a sunny climate. Chiang Mai lies in Thailand’s tropical North and is thus perfectly situated for reacquainting with nature and finding solace in the flora whilst indulging in traditional fare and rich handicraft. Heading into central Chiang Mai and you’ll discover an inspiring fusion of traditional markets, arts, crafts and food with a progressive yet esteemed yoga and health food scene – for which the inherently laid-back character of the city is a perfect conduit. Here is our Hip & Healthy Guide To Thailand, part 1! (Part 2 coming very soon!)
The perfect contrast to the charmingly rough-around-the edges city, Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai sits in the Mae Rim Valley amongst expansive rice fields and dense jungle and is the zenith of luxurious holiday-making. The resort is comprised of individual residences, pavilions, and villas and thus maintains a local, intimate and village-like character. The lake and terraced rice fields are the focal point and heart of the resort – breakfast is enjoyed overlooking the water whilst the rice field farmers play music as they parade across the paddies in ceremonial attire, morning yoga practice takes place right on the calm of the lake, and evening drinks go down with the sun on day beds around the feature infinity pool.
Like Chiang Mai itself, the theme of Nature at its tropical finest characterises Four Seasons Chiang Mai – the residences frame the paddy fields and lake, so waking up and wandering out onto the private terraces to watch the sunrise with a coconut milk coffee from the mini bar is a favourite way to welcome in the day. Accommodation interiors are spacious, furnished with plush wood and blend natural elements and cultural heritage with modern luxury which instills calm and comfort. Thoughtful details make all the difference, with bowls of local fruits, colour-co-ordinated cable ties, and elephant-printed leather book marks are left charmingly behind in rooms by housekeeping and reflect the care and attention that goes into the design, maintenance and culture of the resort.
Indeed, speaking with the hotel manager, Yam, who has genuine love in her eyes when she speaks of the place and her role within it, it’s clear that the hotel’s immersion in nature is what instigates the calm serenity that emanates from not just the staff and guests, but from the heart of the resort.
Days at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai begin with a gentle yoga flow which takes place at sunrise every morning and in the evenings in the yoga barn overlooking the lake. The yoga programme is headed by master-trained yogi, Pilates instructor and Reiki master, Dheeraj Singh Patwal – the authentic embodiment of the true essence of yoga. Pranayama, Nidra, Hatha, fire, and pregnancy yoga classes are also on offer. If seeking movement in the gym is more your thing you’ll get your endorphin fix in the resort’s Health Club, which is complete with Technogym equipment, free-weights, sauna, steam room and Pilates studio. For quirkier activities, take part in a spot of buffalo bathing, or rise extra early to meet and be blessed by the local monks as they visit the resort daily to collect food package donations.
To complement the physical activity in which you may or may not choose to partake, Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is the ultimate facilitator of utter restorative indulgence and unrestrained self-care. Nothing epitomises this more than an obligatory visit to the spa. The extensive menu of treatments draws inspiration from traditional practices, herbs and aromas, and, most notably, social harmony. This explains the spa’s nod to the farmers, royalty, monks, craftsmen and servers who form the Thai social system, the qualities of each are honoured in the spa’s treatments to instil cohesive harmony. Don’t check out without treating yourself to the Samunprai massage for a true nourishment of mind, body and spirit.
On the subject of nourishment, it is impossible to leave Four Seasons Chiang Mai without being full to the brim with macro and micronutrients of the highest order – delicious food abounds in both the healthy and indulgent varieties, and balance when it comes to dining is thus superlatively executed. Breakfast is a sprawling buffet across two rooms of the Sala Mae Rim which comprises continental breads, pastries, yogurt, toppings, rice and rice adornments and the customary spread of local, seasonal fruits – expect the brightest dragon fruit, pomelo, watermelon, coconut, passionfruit and guava, and tall glasses of bright blends from the smoothie and juice bar which deals out freshly made drinks to order. Dietary requirements are superbly catered to at the resort. If you’re gluten or dairy free, veggie or vegan, the chefs are amazingly accommodating and will bring out free-from breads and fresh muffins as equally impressive as what’s on offer at the pastry bar. Then there’s the hot bar – which affords the opportunity to fill your plate with a savoury course of breakfast potatoes, veggies, rice and noodle dishes, soups and broths, meats and eggs. Coffees can be made with cow’s, almond or coconut milk and rival any of those made in London’s favourite coffee shop haunts. Spending half of the morning relaxing on the breakfast room’s terrace overlooking the rice fields and lake with multiple coffees to punctuate trips to the buffet is easy to do and a more than acceptable way to begin holiday days.
No stay at Four Seasons Chiang Mai would be complete without a multi-course dinner and night of entertainment at the Thai Food Experience hosted at Rim Thai Kitchen restaurant. The ultimate way to kick off a luxury stay in the country, the evening introduces traditional Thai cooking in a casual setting which invites guests to get stuck in with the cooking and help the chefs in preparing different courses and dishes and thus learning a thing or two about indigenous cooking techniques and flavours. In-between courses, diners are entertained by traditional Thai dancers and musicians dressed in colourful costume.
A number of private dining experiences can also be arranged.
Healthy foodies won’t go hungry in Chiang Mai – if there’s still room in your belly after the Four Seasons breakfast buffet, take the complimentary, wi-fi-enabled shuttle into central Chiang Mai for authentic Thai street food and a myriad of raw, vegan, vegetarian and healthy eateries.
Plant-based, gluten-free eaters, or indeed, anyone who appreciates fresh, wholesome food served up in giant quantities should head to the Blue Diamond Breakfast Club. The menu is immense and there is always a lovely bustle of people hanging out on cushions in the garden or working on laptops in the shade inside. The cafe is so popular that it has garnered a renowned enough reputation to allow it to run purely on word of mouth – they don’t even have social media accounts. It’s that good.
We recommend the huge, fluffy banana pancakes, coconut matcha lattes, masaman curry, the raw chocolates, crusty rice bread, oat cookies, fruit salads, and fresh juices (everything, basically…).
For a traditional taste of Thailand, Anusarn market is a veritable trove of edible treasures with savoury dishes, sugary sweet treats, fresh fruits and healthier options abounding. Don’t leave without sampling ‘karam krok’ – sweet, mini Thai pancakes that happen to be gluten free and vegan and are made from just coconut and rice. You can also pick up jack fruit, durian, grilled banana on sticks, bags of banana chips, big plates of pad thai and the ubiquitous and moreish mango and sticky rice.
Being so close to the jungle, Chiang Mai is perfectly situated for adventurous day tripping. Trekking, rafting, zip lining and climbing are easily arranged through the hundreds of agencies in central Chiang Mai.
Elephant rides are another popular activity. When deciding on elephant trekking, be very conscious of going with an ethical company. Not every company treats the animals humanely, be wary of those putting profit before the welfare of the elephants. We recommend booking a visit to Elephant Nature Park (elephantnaturepark.org), an elephant sanctuary which rehabilitates mistreated elephants, educates animal owners on the importance of responsible tourism and teaches them to properly care for their herds. The organisation also offers volunteering and conservation opportunities.
As Thailand’s cultural capital, with more than 300 temples in the city and surrounding area, a visit to the main ‘wats’ is imperative. Take a trip up the mountain to the renowned Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for magnificent views over the city. Wat Chedi Luang is another must-see, and is easily accessible
Finally, you cannot visit Chiang Mai without dusting off your haggling skills and hitting the colourful, bustling markets the city is famous for. Check out the Night Bazaar and the JJ Market for organic produce, toiletries, handicrafts and antiques. The Sunday market, which runs the full 1km length of Wua Lai Road is also worth a peruse, with the splendorous food-filled Anusarn market just around the corner.
Four Seasons Chiang Mai runs complimentary buses from the resort to the Night Bazaar throughout the day until around 11pm, and a private guide can be arranged for translations, assistance, recommendations and comfort.
words by Rachel Bednarski – @rachelonendorphins