Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chiang Mai, Thailand: Packages, hotels and restaurants

This package costs from £3,989 per person based on two sharing, including return flight with Thai Airways from London to Chiang Mai and home from Chiang Rai, with private transfers from Chiang Mai to the Anantara. Leaving out the most expensive element, the Tented Camp, and reducing the trip by one night, three nights at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and three nights at the Anantara Golden Triangle costs from £1,795.

GETTING AROUND: Vehicle transfer from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle is included in the Bridge & Wickers package. Otherwise your hotels can arrange taxi transfers. Specify the more scenic Highway 107 via Tha Ton rather than the faster Hwy 118/Hwy 1 via Chiang Rai.


The coolest, least humid time is November to February, when you can expect daytime temperatures of 77F (25C), dropping markedly at night, especially in the hilly border region. It’s also worth considering October, the end of the rainy season, as the showers seldom last long, the landscape is fresh and green, and rates are significantly cheaper.


* Lila Thai Massage ( is in two locations in Chiang Mai: in Prapokklao Road (0066 53 327043) and Ratchadamneon Road (327243). Open 10am-10pm. A one-hour massage costs 180 baht (£4), a one-day course 2,500 baht (£55). A “reflex” hand-and-foot massage at the Four Seasons lasts one hour and costs 3,700 baht, about £80.

* “Monk Chat” at Wat Suan Dork temple, to the west of the old city, takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 5-7pm. No charge but donations welcomed. Two- and four-day meditation retreat courses also available: visit

* The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation ( at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and the Four Seasons Tented Camp offers mahout training – actually just a jolly good excuse to let an elephant take you for a walk and swim: £80 for half a day at the Anantara, free at the Tented Camp.

* Hill villages. Your hotel in the Golden Triangle can arrange half-day visits to some of the villages in the hills alongside the border with Burma, inhabited by various distinct peoples such as the Lahu, Akha and Karen. Yapa village is home to three different ethnic groups, including the Long‑Necks.

* The Hall of Opium museum, a world-class educational facility dedicated to the political and social history of the drug, is at Golden Triangle Park, opposite the entrance to the Anantara resort: open Tuesday-Sunday, 8.30am-4pm (last admission), 200 baht (£4.50).


T-shirts, fake designer wear, silk runners and cushion covers from the Night Market in Chiang Mai: open 5pm-midnight. The hill people make and sell beautiful textiles, ceramics, coffee and so on and by buying them you support many marginalised communities. Check out their wares at the Doi Tung Cottage Industries Centre and Outlet, near the base of Doi Tung mountain.

You can also buy directly in the villages, such as Yapa (see above), where embroidered bags will cost 750 baht (£16), traditional headdress 400 baht (£9); or in stores such as the Village Product shop on Phahonyothin Road in the border town of Mae Sai.

Here fabrics, masks and carvings are good quality but not cheap: antique wooden masks cost £100-£200, headdresses ornamented with silver £150, and wooden figurines £15.


Restless Souls by Phil Thornton (Asia Books) brings to life the plight of refugees on the Thai-Burmese border (available locally).


River Hill, Chiang Saen £
In the old town of Chiang Saen, on the Mekong River, this comfortable hotel makes a great base for exploring the Golden Triangle (0066 53 650826;; double b & b from £33).

Empress Hotel, Chiang Mai ££

Well-run, modern hotel near the Night Market on south-east side of city (270240;; doubles from £47).

Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa ££££

On a ridge facing the hills of Burma – wake up to the trumpeting of elephants from the conservation centre (784084;; doubles from £252).

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai £££££

The height of luxury, disguised as a traditional village of northern Thailand, with rice paddies and resident water buffalo (298181;; double “pavilions” from £400).

Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle £££££

These 15 tents sited along a hillside trail above a tributary of the Mekong River offer the ultimate in seclusion and style – just don’t blink at the cost (910200;; doubles from about £1,400, fully inclusive).


Hong Tauw Inn, Chiang Mai £

Decorated with antique clocks, this old-fashioned restaurant on a good shopping street in the west of the city offers delicious Thai staples such as pomelo salad, prawn tom yum and hung ley (pork) curry. Set menu for two from about £10 (95/16-17 Nantawan Arcade, Nimmanhaemin Street; 218333).

Sala Mae Rim Thai Restaurant at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai ££££

Expensive but exquisite choice of classics, northern and vegetarian dishes – plus Western options. Set menus from £55 per couple (see “The Best Hotels” above).

Dining by Design, Anantara Golden Triangle £££££

In the Golden Triangle, the two resort hotels have the best restaurants. The Anantara Golden Triangle offers a romantic “Dining by Design” service whereby you can have dinner in a variety of exotic locations, for example on a hilltop, in the rice paddies and in the bamboo forest, attended by baby elephants. From £175 per couple (see “The Best Hotels”).


* Malaria – the far north is a malarial area so consult your doctor.

* Insulting the royal family.

* Political hot spots – if you plan to go close to or to cross the Burmese border, check there are no military crackdowns taking place.

* Fake brand-name watches: guaranteed to stop working as soon you board the plane home.

* Buffet food and tap water – in this climate, the surest way to tummy problems.

* Standing directly behind an elephant.

* Crossing the border into Burma at Mae Sai – a tourist rip-off (US$10).

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