Promising modernist architecture with a bamboo façade and teak interiors, Anantara Chiang Mai’s entry on the Smith website speaks of streamlined balconies and infinity pools, overlooking the scenic Mae Ping River. Not being Julie Andrews with a troop of children to entertain in wartime, I can happily count all of the above as a few of my favourite things. Expectations are high.
Chiang Mai is my last stop on a four-week trip to Thailand, beginning with a work stint in Bangkok, followed by a yoga retreat on Koh Samui. I have four days in town: two for elephants (the sanctuaries here are one of Chiang Mai’s great attractions) and two for relaxing poolside and shopping (the city’s other great distraction). Anantara promises lashings of five-star luxury that will hopefully prove a pampering end to an epic trip.
Just one reservation: I’ve stayed in a few hotels during my month here, and in almost every one I met a cockroach. Or two. Or entire swarms of them, usually in the bathroom. Cockroaches in Thailand are massive. Huge, in some cases. I had learned to live with them – the palm-size monster that resided in my room in Samui even had a name (Colin), but it had definitely taken the edge off my trip a little. When I’d bothered to complain, staff would resignedly spray detergent, but to no avail. In Samui, when I told them about Colin, they actually laughed and said he wanted to keep me company. And that’s when I gave up, bracing myself for long nights lying awake paranoid and the tell-tale sound of scuttling…
First impressions of the hotel blow me away. I’m stunned that it’s far grander than I’d expected. Four storeys high, it incorporates three buildings, joined with walkways or paths that provide compelling perspectives and geometries. Understated elegance gives way to jaw-droppingly well framed vistas at every turn, and each space seems deliberately angled to allow the natural light to make stunning shadow plays.
Having snaffled a Kasara Suite, I’m met on arrival by the manager in the Club Lounge, before being shown to my room. The suite is heavenly – a vast all-teak affair with considerate detailing, some exotic local fruit in a bowl (complete with explanation) and a free minibar with three gorgeous glass bottles labelled simply ‘G’ ‘V’ and ‘W’. For someone just off a seven-day fast and two-week detox, this is a little alarming, but ‘good alarming’, and I get over it pretty quickly.
My mission in Chiang Mai is simple: elephants. While the gentle giants can be found all over Thailand, here you can ride bareback, mahout-style, through some of the region’s most beautiful countryside. Choose the right school and you can be trained to care for, wash and feed them without the indignity of having to watch them play the harmonica for you, all while helping to rehabilitate the animals after a hard career in the logging industry. Aware that elephant encounters will be taking up my next two days, I decide to hit the spa straight away.
It’s no secret that Thais have an extraordinary talent for massage, and I had tested this ridiculously frequently during my stay. The massage I have at the hotel's spa is one of the loveliest of the trip, and the manicure and pedicure without a doubt the best. In retrospect, it mightn’t have been the most sensible decision to have my nails done before a two-day elephant safari, but never mind.
My nails last long enough to look fantastic holding my first proper drink in weeks in the Club Lounge bar a few hours later. Our martinis are mixed at our table, and the bar ‘snacks’ almost sufficient to spoil dinner. A second, unsolicited martini is swiftly brought over when the first dwindles, worrying anywhere else but apparently it’s all complimentary as this is Happy Hour, when suite residents drink for free. It’s a term that seems unsuited to this graceful teak-lined bar, but I’m still very happy. For what must have been longer than an hour, too.
The restaurant replicates the excellent service offered in the bar, and every breakfast, lunch, tea and bar snack I try is expertly prepared. The chef is willing to go off-menu to accommodate my weird post-yoga week dietary requests, and does so with flair and poised presentation.
My time in Chiang Mai is undoubtedly much better for staying here – not only is the advice on elephants, night markets and walks all refreshingly unbiased, but the setting and service makes for an intensely relaxing and easy stay in the city. Most importantly of all, I have two blissfully uninterrupted nights’ sleep: Colin’s cousins are nowhere to be seen.