Almost hidden from the surrounding city, the charming and traditional Puripunn hotel in Chiang Mai is an enchanting slice of old Thailand. Like an ornate cake fashioned from chocolate and cream, it's lovingly designed, satisfying to experience, and guaranteed to leave you wanting more.
Get this when you book through us:
A choice of either a Puripunn Chill or Puripunn Lovely cocktail, and 20 per cent off your first spa treatment
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £69.71 (THB2,840), including tax at 18.7 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
Puripunn offers private classes in Thai cookery and, for more artistic foodies, fruit and veg carving. You’ll need to book a few hours ahead to experience the hotel’s traditional high tea, served daily at 3pm.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, rain shower (except in Deluxe Rooms) in all suites there is also a DVD player and mini stereo system.
Our favourite rooms
Bag a chocolate-walled ‘Baby’ Suite for the most romantic, whirlpool-bath-enhanced stay. All rooms are decked out in Thai-colonial style, with rich greens, calming creams and warm woods. Details such as porcelain-handled taps, ornately framed paintings and brass fans create a sense of nostalgia to the shabby-chic setting.
The rectangular jade swimming pool in the middle of Puripunn has a large Jacuzzi at its centre and is surrounded by elegant greenery.
Bring solid walking shoes if you plan on exploring the local hills and forests; make sure you have plenty of change for trinkets at the Night Bazaar – three stories of local goods and craftworks.
There's no elevator in the hotel; guests with mobility issues should book the ground-floor Puripunn Deluxe or Puripunn Grand rooms.
There’s one large suite suitable for those with small Smiths, and babysitting can be arranged with prior notice. The hotel pool has an integrated children’s area.
104/1 Charoen Muang Soi 2, Charoen Muang Road, T. Wat Gade, A. Muang
Dreamy Puripunn retreat is set in a secluded side street, less than two kilometres from the ancient city walls.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to flights, with dozens of 90-minute trips between the Thai capital and Chiang Mai’s international airport (+66 (0)53 2702 2233) each day, as well as direct journeys from Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore. From here, it's a mere 15-minute cab ride to Puripunn.
One of the most memorable ways to travel to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is by train (www.railway.co.th). Book a two-berth sleeper cabin and ask your hotel to pack you a picnic for the 12-hour trip.
You can visit most of Chiang Mai’s sights on foot, but to explore further afield, rent a private car and driver for the day from Limousine Thailand (www.limousinethailand.com). Driving to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, though possible, is not advisable.
You can team temples with tuk-tuks thanks to Puripunn's free shuttle serive, which is the perfect way to take in this vibrant city's graceful Lanna architecture, myriad markets and buzzy restaurants.
Worth getting out of bed for
Chiang Mai is a hub for the intrepid: zip across the jungle canopy withFlight of the Gibbon; scale a few mountains or explore caves with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures – they have equipment to hire. Raid local markets, then learn to turn your ingredients into tasty northern-style curries in a traditional Thai home, withBaan Thai Cookery School. The Sunday Walking Street Market runs the length of Ratchadamnoen Road from Tapae Gate in the Old Town and is the perfect place to people-watch among stalls selling crafts, bric-a-brac and Buddhist mementoes.
Above the quiet, torch-lit banks of the Ping River, with outdoor tables arranged around a traditional sala, Baan Suan (+66 (0)53 854 169), at 25 Moo 3 San-Phi-Sua, is a magical dining destination – matched only by its moreish menu of northern Thai delicacies, such as sweet pork curry with sticky rice balls. Another riverside restaurant is the Gallery (+66 (0)53 248 601), at 25–29 CharoenRat Road. Its tree-shaded terrace is ideal for a sunset cocktail, or try the laab plan (minced fish with spices and herbs) – a regional favourite.
Go to Art Caféfor one of their fantastic breakfasts, or the only decent Mexican food in town, as well as its tempting choice of local dishes. Supermodels and Hollywood stars are often spotted at casual eatery Mango Tree Café (+66 (0)53 208 292), hidden in the heart of the city’s expat enclave at 8/2 Loi-Kroh Road. The pad thai and coffee are especially good.
Laid-back drinking hole the Writers’ Club & Wine Bar initially opened as a meeting place for journalists and writers – and the scribes in town still congregate here on Friday nights.
My lucky number is four. This is according to the elderly Chinese lady kneeling opposite me, who has asked me on which day I was born, consulted a well-thumbed book of horoscopes and scribbled a sudoko-like formula on a scrap of paper. Quite an audience has gathered for my fortune-telling debut: several rows of Buddhas, large and small, as well as several ashen-faced Chinese goddesses, all of whom watch me with benign smiles.
Impulse has brought me here, as it can lead many a man astray in Thailand: a small, handwritten sign sent me down a quiet, flower-scented Chiang Mai street to find Madam Pavinee’s cluttered family home. After some shuffling of tarot cards and a brief feng shui lesson I return to the Puripunn, slightly uncertain about my future but clutching a consolation bag, full of fat-fingered bananas and leaf-wraps of sticky rice, that Madam has thrust upon me.
The Puripunn is a hotel you might be lucky enough to stumble upon by chance, but you will find it more easily if you arrange for a car to collect you from the airport. Although the room number lacks a number ‘four’, our suite feels like an auspicious place; old-fashioned with its dark antique furniture, olive green walls, silk lampshades and Impressionist oils. The ticking of a grandmother clock further transports us to another era. It’s as if we’ve strayed into the chambers of a colonial dowager, albeit one with a flatscreen and DVD player and packets of peanuts concealed in ornate wooden boxes. There are his ‘n’ hers silk slippers supplied to skate across the teak floor, which gleams like a polished conker; a balcony from where we watch birds practise swooping from rooftop to rooftop; and a large hot tub filled with water and lotus blossom for our arrival. Directly above, in a composition that brings to mind an oft-repeated scene from Only Fools and Horses, is an enormous chandelier.
Our room may be grand but the hotel is small and amiable, and designed to complement the architecture of the traditional homes found throughout the streets of Chiang Mai. You will very likely bump into the owners, a thirtysomething Thai couple, Att and Koy. They’ve given the Puripunn a personal touch, with him donating Burmese paintings from the family collection, and her designing the garden, which manages to be green and jungly over just a few dozen square metres. Their young son, playing on the small lawn, has yet to contribute anything significant, but is pretty handy with a butterfly net. Att and Koy moved here from Bangkok, and tell us how they fell in love with Chiang Mai, which is cooler and greener, with less shopping malls, and does have people who don’t work so hard. ‘Lazier?’ I ask them. They laugh: ‘Well, it took a while to get the hotel finished.’
The Puripunn is a good place to be lazy. There is a gym (although here it’s called the ‘fitness room’) somewhere, but its exact location remains a mystery to us; and, anyway, in this humidity you can break into a sweat simply by turning the pages of your book. Instead, we loll by the pool and order a lunch of spicy minced pork and club sandwiches, watching butterflies flit across the water. The hotel is in a lazy part of town, too, across the Ping River from the city proper, close to the walled Old Town and tucked down a small, almost rustic lane with ramshackle homes for neighbours. In the afternoon we leave our poolside perch to explore, following a little hand-drawn map given to us by our favourite member of staff, Payon, a man so sweet-natured that even a sudden appearance by Chiang Mai’s mythical water dragon would probably fail to upset him.
Such serpents coil down carved steps at the nearby temple, Wat Gade (it’s more than 600 years old), and a golden puppy statue, garlanded with flowers, smiles up at us. A roof is being replaced, and a group of women sit in the shade of a tree, washing each tile by hand. There’s a temple museum, which sounds dusty and dull, but inside we’re greeted by a white-bearded wooden head – a Santa of the tropics – and a collection of curiosities. Among ancient bicycles and typewriters is Mrs Smith’s favourite cabinet, labelled simply, ‘Bits of wood that look like elephant.’ We walk out, and on, past age-blackened timber buildings along the river, and cross a footbridge to the Flower Market, where blooms for golden puppies and their owners are painstakingly threaded together. We return to the Puripunn in time for sausages.
As Mrs Smith notes, you can always trust a place that does a good banger, and I have to agree, mentally adding Chiang Mai to Toulouse and Cumberland as trustworthy places. The sausage here is dark and spicy, served with a fiery beef dip peppered with red flecks of chilli, and what look curiously like pork scratchings – they’re curls of crispy saltiness. We sit outside in the night air with a bottle of chilled white wine, and wonder what to do with the rest of our time at the Puripunn. There are buggies at hand to take us into town for the Sunday Market, noted for its excellent local handicrafts rather than fake designer buys, and our handwritten map suggests several bars for cocktails. There is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the golden hillside temple, to visit, ancient ruins to explore and local noodle dishes to taste. We could, if we so desired, learn Thai cooking at Puripunn or, indeed, take classes in the fine art of carving fruit and vegetables. For the moment, though, we’ll just return to our chandelier and bath tub and see where fate takes us.
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