Perched on the banks of the River Ping, all-suite stay Raya Heritage celebrates Chiang Mai’s rich culture and craft-making pedigree. At first glance, the simple styling and muted colours make it seem a very modern affair, but look a little closer and you’ll see the design has roots than run deep. Traces of northern Thailand’s Lanna culture can be found everywhere: in hand-carved teak mirrors, ceramic tiles, woodcuts and naturally dyed fabrics, all made by artisans from nearby towns and villages. The menu in restaurant Khu Khao is equally engaged, showcasing dishes from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China – a tip of the hat to the cultural crossroads on which Chiang Mai sits. Best of all, though, is the location: it only takes 20 minutes to go from sipping on the peaceful tea terrace to browsing the markets in the city centre.
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US$50 credit to spend on food and drinks at the hotel
All three suite categories are the same layout, and have elegant rattan furniture and fabrics by Jim Thompson; suites on the ground floor have a private plunge pool, but if you can do without, those on the second and third floor have private balconies with daybeds and lofty river views.
There’s an unheated lap pool in the lush gardens, surrounded by tree-shaded sun loungers and daybeds.
Ai Waan spa draws on traditional Lanna healing techniques, putting you in touch with time-honoured traditions that have been handed down over generations. Restore weary muscles with a hot bamboo or Au-Mann massage, a traditional, oil-free treatment that originated in Myanmar. If you’re looking to detox and reinvigorate tired skin, try a treatment in the northern-Thai steam room, where the steam is suffused with herbs combined by a master herbalist from a nearby village. Herbal scrubs, body wraps and facials are available too.
Bring sensible shoes for trekking to remote temples, and something more stylish for city – Chiang Mai’s got its fair share of hip coffee houses and craft cocktail bars.
All the public areas are wheelchair accessible, but there are no specially adapted rooms.
Little Smiths aged six or over are welcome, but it's more of a grown-up stay (there's nothing laid on for children).
At Khu Khao, install yourself on the terrace, where you’ll have an uninterrupted view of the river.
Neutral linen and crisp white cotton will chime well with the restaurant’s organic look.
Khu Khao gets back to nature with a terracotta-tiled floor, bamboo furniture and lampshades made from the wide-brimmed rice baskets. Potted plants and hand-woven baskets finish the look, calling to mind the slow farming techniques that the restaurant champions. The menu is full of seasonal dishes made with organic produce from the surrounding area, and many recipes have their roots in Lanna cuisine, which means you’ll find influences from Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos too. Signature dishes include a Yunnanese rice-curd salad with spicy grilled chicken and bean sprouts, and jin-loong, a dish of Shan-style pork meatballs served with rice vermicelli noodles tossed in coconut and spicy peanut sauce. Laan Chaa, the hotel’s tea terrace, has a soaring ceiling, bamboo lounge furniture and cobalt-blue sofas overlooking the gardens. The Thai afternoon tea is the main attraction, but there’s also an all-day menu of gourmet sandwiches, organic salads and local-style light bites.
Directly below the tea terrace, Baan Ta is dressed in darker shades than its sibling, with black bamboo furniture and low lighting giving it a more decadent look. The riverside location makes it the perfect spot for a sundowner or light, early dinner – standout dishes include the Linguine carbonara with smoked Chiang Mai bacon chips, and focaccia caprese with local mozzarella.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 10.30am; lunch from 11.30am to 2pm; dinner from 6pm to 11pm. The bar is open from 11am to 11pm daily.
You can order anything on the menu while the restaurant is open.
Raya Heritage is on the banks of the Ping River, a 20-minute drive from the centre of Chiang Mai.
Fly into Chiang Mai International Airport, connecting through Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong. It takes 40 minutes to drive from the airport to the hotel; transfers for up to five people can be arranged for THB1,883 each way.
For a less speedy but perhaps more memorable journey, book a two-person berth on the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which takes around 10 hours.
Most visitors choose not to drive; Thailand’s roads are often hectic and tuk tuks, rót daang – literally a ‘red truck’ operating as a shared taxi – and regular taxis are readily available to ferry you around the city. If you do want to hire, the Smith24 team can arrange it. There’s onsite parking at the hotel, too.
Worth getting out of bed for
For most guests, the hotel will be a tranquil base for making forays into the city centre. Make the most of its pacifying power by booking a herbal steam treatment in the spa, sipping organic coffee on the open-air terrace and snoozing in the gardens, where you’ll drift off to the sound of the river. If you’re on the hunt for temples, few rival Wat Pha Lat for serenity. Hidden in the forest above the Old City, the temple can only be reached by hiking the Pilgrim's Path – an easy, scenic route that only takes 40 minutes, but is long enough to discourage the majority of the day-tripping crowd. For retail therapy, try Think Park, a hip cluster of restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques that gets particularly buzzy in the evening. If you’re after more traditional Thai goods, stroll through the Saturday Market, which runs for about a kilometre down Wui Lai Road. It tends to be busiest around sunset, but the road is pedestrised for the occasion, so you needn’t worry about dodging tuk tuks as you haggle. If it’s your first time in Chiang Mai, don’t miss Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, an opulent hillside temple 20 minutes outside the Old City. It’s one of the most famous sights in the area, making it consistently busy, but the views alone make the trip worthwhile. A qualified guide can provide fascinating insight into the temple’s history.
With its Italian espresso machine, lab-like brewing kits and whitewashed brickwork, Omnia Cafe would be right at home in the hippest ‘hoods of New York or Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, the coffee takes centre stage – they roast their own beans on a vintage German machine and sell their own cold brew – but there’s also a covetable range of pastries, cakes and snacks for the peckish. For lunch, try Ginger and Kafe, a casual and welcoming bistro with vibrant, slightly kitsch interiors. Everything’s cooked from scratch and many dishes have their roots in Chiang Mai’s most traditional cuisine. After your meal, head through to the House Lounge, a colonial-style bar serving glamorous, old-world cocktails. Tikky Cafe looks cheap and cheerful (and it’s both), but this open-sided restaurant is one of the most beloved spots in town. Everything’s made fresh and the kitchen will happily adjust the spiciness of dishes to your taste – just be prepared to wait a little during peak times. For something special, try Le Grand Lanna, where you can dine in art-filled pavilions or on a terrace overlooking a lush garden. As the name suggests, traditional Lanna cuisine is the speciality, but classic Thai dishes are given the fine dining treatment too.
After you’ve traveled a cumulative 24 hours – from New York City to Guangzhou China to Chiang Mai in Thailand – there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like walking into riverfront sanctuary Raya Heritage. We arrived after dark, at around 9pm on a Friday night, and when I stepped foot into the lobby, I felt like bursting into tears. I was home.
Our bags were quickly whisked away by a bellman, as a woman dressed in a white robe appeared seemingly out of nowhere to greet us. Maybe it was the jetlag, or maybe it was the airplane wine, but I could swear she was floating. ‘Sawadee ka, welcome to Raya Heritage,’ the woman said, in the kind of gentle tone that’s typically reserved for spas and libraries.
Moments later, she presented us with the most magical cup of chilled lotus tea, and a cold, lemongrass-scented towel. Pressing it onto my swollen face and inhaling deeply, I almost forgot that I hadn’t showered, brushed my teeth, or slept in a bed for more than a day. ‘You must be tired,’ the gorgeous floating woman in the white robe said. ‘Get some rest and we’ll show you around in the morning.’
She then took us to our room, which was not, in fact, just a room – it was a stunning 800-square-foot suite with a private terrace that overlooked the Ping River. As I picked my jaw up off the floor, our luggage arrived. Rather than unpacking, we decided to grab a late-night bite at Khu Khao, the resort’s signature restaurant. The meal would be our entree into the culinary excellence we’d enjoy here over the next three days.
We sat down and were immediately greeted by our warm, welcoming server, who could tell – based on my haggard, bleary-eyed appearance – that I’d just arrived after a heavy-duty journey. We pored over two menus (one for Khuo Khao, and one for the Tea Terrace, which serves lighter fare), but were paralysed by indecision. Each dish sounded more incredible than the next. The paradox of choice was far too much for two sleep-deprived travellers to bear.
‘Might I suggest ordering something familiar? Maybe one of our western-style dishes, like spaghetti?’ We looked at him bewildered. We certainly hadn’t come all the way to Thailand for spaghetti. ‘I only suggest it because it will be easier on your stomach. Sometimes our guests aren’t used to the spicy Thai food right away, so I tell people to ease into it.’ We thanked him for the suggestion and then blatantly ignored his advice. We were ready to dive in. The first dish to arrive was Shan-style minced-pork meatballs seasoned with ginger, garlic, shallot and coriander; the second was a coconut curry with river prawns and mushrooms. It was one of the best meals I’d had in months. Every flavour sang; every herb tasted like it had been picked from the garden that day.
In a Thai-chili-induced haze, we stumbled back to our room, pulled the blackout curtains shut and prepared for some shuteye. (It’s worth mentioning that the cloud-like beds and buttery soft linens at Raya Heritage are deserving of their own separate review.) When I rolled over in the morning to check the time on my phone, I was appalled to see that it was 5am. However, if there’s one good thing about jetlag, it’s that you usually get rewarded in the form of a killer sunrise – and I was rewarded indeed. I pulled back the curtains, and seeing the view for the first time in daylight made all 24 hours of travel worth it. As a high-strung New Yorker, ‘relaxed’ is not a sensation I often identify with. But as I sat on the terrace, sipping my coffee while soaking in the gorgeous morning light, I was undeniably at ease. Coupled with the sound of the river flowing and the birds chirping, it felt like an out-of-body experience.
In an attempt to prepare for the copious amount of noodles I planned on eating over the course of my trip, I decided to pop into the gym before breakfast, where I found a refrigerator stocked with more lemongrass-scented cold towels – a thoughtful touch that I very much appreciated. After my workout, I went light on breakfast – the ‘cloudy eggs’ (baked beaten egg whites with chives) are every bit as fluffy as they sound. Then I headed to the spa for a Signature Raya massage. My therapist spent a glorious 75 minutes proving to me that no one – not even the Swedish – has mastered massage quite like the Thais have.
The next three days were a relaxing repetition of my first 24 hours: a few workouts, another massage, afternoon cocktails by the pool, and two more mind-blowingly delicious dinners at Khu Khao. All the while, the impeccable staff – dressed in their white robes and linen pants – didn’t miss a beat. They made it their mission to ensure we didn’t lift a finger throughout the entire stay. By check-out, I had all but forgotten about the trouble it took us to get to Chiang Mai. In fact, I was willing to go through the arduous journey all over again if it meant returning to Raya Heritage.