Sugar palms and hanging orchids line the black-tiled pool and bamboo groves of Villa Mahabhirom, a village complex of traditional, teak-built Thai abodes, each raised on stilts and filled with eclectic antique art. Each two-storey villa has an airy, glass-fronted ground floor and a cosy, wood-floored upstairs, with bathrooms dressed in indulgent Italian marble. And if you think the hotel’s name is quite a mouthful, wait until you taste the restaurant’s aromatic curries, catfish salads and punchy prawn pad thai, all cooked from handed-down homestyle recipes.
11 two-storey Thai villas and three single-storey Thai villas.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £197.47 (THB8,036), including tax at 20.7 per cent.
Rates usually include a daily Thai-style or continental breakfast, plus your transfer to and from the airport.
Behind the bedhead in some rooms you’ll find exquisite silk fabric from Jim Thompson, a man with quite a history in this part of the world. It was the WWII spy-turned-designer who revitalised the Thai silk industry in the 1960s, before mysteriously disappearing while walking through the rainforests of Malaysia.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout; laundry. In rooms: minibar, TV, air-conditioning, free bottled water, tea and coffee.
Our favourite rooms
It’s hard to pick a winner from these handsome stilted villas, especially since each has been personalised by the owners’ tasteful collection of antiques. But Villa Doi Suthep does have a deep copper bath and views of the gold-domed Doi Suthep temple in the mountains to the west… If you’re in a larger group, choose a two- or three-bedroom villa with its own private pool.
A handful of villas peer from behind a leafy, cactus-y perimeter onto the sleek, black-tiled lap pool, itself lined by stylish seating on one side and outdoor tables serving the restaurant on the other. Two- and three-bedroom villas have their own private pools.
Budding antiques dealers will find themselves in a treasure trove here. Pack a copy of Miller’s Antiques Handbook & Price Guide so you can enact your very own episode of the Antiques Roadshow.
All villas are spread across two storeys, so they’re not accessible for wheelchair users.
Although over-12s are welcome, the pool is adults only and the antique decor isn’t particularly child-friendly.
The hotel has an organic garden for growing a small selection of vegetables, herbs and spices, and for composting food waste. The restaurant sources all of its ingredients locally, seasonally and free-range.
With the lamps lit in the evening, the most romantic spot is a table for two on the pool terrace.
Match the hotel’s eclectic antiques with your own vintage ensemble, ornamented by a chakra-lined gem or two.
Your smoothie might be dressed with an elaborately carved strawberry or slice of lime, but rest assured: the dishes served at Villa Mahabhirom’s understated restaurant have substance to justify the style. It’s fragrant, flavourful, home-style cooking with gutsy fusion panache – just try to resist those banana blossom fish cakes or that grilled salmon yellow curry. An afternoon tea of sandwiches, petite pastries and freshly baked scones is piled high in the tea room each day – the tea coming from Thailand’s only organic plantation.
Opening on to the terrace, the bar is a sultry, open-air affair. Sip champagne by the pool or pair bar snacks such as spring rolls and fried prawns with a frosty beer or mango mojito.
A northern Thai-style breakfast (with continental options) is served from 6.30am to 10.30am. The bar opens at 11am, and then both bar and restaurant call it a night at 10pm.
A full à la carte menu from the restaurant and a selection of bar snacks are available as part of room service, which you can eat in the privacy of your villa or by the pool.
In a leafy neighbourhood to the west of Chiang Mai’s old city, Villa Mahabhirom is at the foot of the temple-topped Doi Suthep mountain.
A rather convenient 10-minute drive away is Chiang Mai International Airport, where there are 130 flights a week to and from Bangkok, as well as connections to Singapore, China, Myanmar and Laos. The hotel can arrange six-seater vehicles to pick you up for THB1,500 (round trip).
Chiang Mai railway station is a 20-minute drive, on the other side of the old city. Round-trip transfers here are also THB1,500.
The highlands of northern Thailand aren’t the easiest place to get about in by car. But, if you are driving to the hotel, you’ll be greeted by a friendly valet on arrival and your car will be parked on-site. (If you’re hiring a car, don’t hand your passport over as a deposit.)
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel can arrange yoga, tai chi and private Muay Thai boxing classes on request. Hop over to Oasis Spa (10 minutes down the road) for pampering sessions; the hotel will happily arrange your free return transfers.
Capital of the 15th-century kingdom of Lanna, Chiang Mai is famous for its concentration of centuries-old Buddhist temples, with some of the quietest and most atmospheric out near Villa Mahabhirom. Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham is a monks’ refuge in a series of 13th-century tunnels, a five-minute walk from the hotel. Above ground, the temple’s bell-shaped chedi and the surrounding forest make for a peaceful meditation spot (classes are available). Overseeing the city from its mountain perch is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (as seen from one of the hotel’s villas). It’s one of northern Thailand’s most renowned temples, established after an elephant carrying a fragment of the Buddha’s collarbone was laid to rest here. A 10-minute drive from the hotel is Nimmanhaemin, the city’s most fashionable stretch of restaurants, cafés, bars and shops. Leave time to explore Chiang Mai Old City, also a 10-minute drive away and surrounded on four sides by sections of its ancient wall and moat. Lined by trees, the moat is cooler than other parts of town, which is why you’ll find some of the city’s most relaxed eateries and bars here. You’re here to soak up the beauty of northern Thailand too, no doubt, and a good place to start is at the Mae Sa Waterfalls, 45 minutes north of the city. Arm yourselves with a packed lunch and swimsuits, stopping for dips along the mile-long walking trail awash with 10 tropical waterfalls.
The hipster coffee movement has taken root in Chiang Mai, and leading the charge are the fine folk at Omnia Café. Your standard cappuccinos and macchiatos are given a Thai twist with coconut or butterfly pea – and ornamented with remarkable Asian-inspired latte art. For lunch, stop in at Ginger & Kafe, more like a friend’s living room, except one with a garden terrace, kitchen shop and menu of rustic colonial cuisine. For an artistically plated four-course dinner, book a table at Cuisine de Garden, which specialises in modern Thai gastronomy with French flair with ingredients sourced from the Royal Project farms and local producers. For more relaxed dining, TikkyCafe dishes up generous portions of vegetarian green curries, pad ka prao and tom yum gai, all washed down with almost comically pimped-up milkshakes.
Head to the renowned-yet-still-edgy Nophaburi bar to the south east of the old city for Chiang Mai’s most expertly mixed tipples, such as the jasmine-infused Lamoon cocktail.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from these traditional stilted villas in Thailand and unpacked their massage balm and antique trinkets, a full account of their calming break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Villa Mahabhirom in Chiang Mai…
Sure, the markets are manic and there are high-octane thrills to be had in the hills, but Chiang Mai is, above all else, Thailand’s most laid-back city. So laid-back, in fact, that it more often resembles a provincial town – especially out in leafy neighbourhoods such as Wat Umong, where Villa Mahabhirom can be found hidden behind bamboo groves, giant cacti and swaying sugar palms. A few minutes’ walk away is Wat Umong itself: the serene, tunnelled temple complex that lends the area its name – just walking above ground here encourages a more contemplative state of mind. The hotel’s cosy, teak-built villas have a similar effect, but only after you’ve peeled yourself away from the owner’s dazzling collection of antiques (everything from magnificent 18th-century dressers to elegant mid-century sofas). The villas’ ground floors see contemporary pieces blend well with traditional Thai motifs; upstairs, the deliciously moody bedrooms are adjoined by Italian marble bathrooms. Overall, this is a place to find peace, be it through excellent eating, lounging by the pool, or moving at a pace more befitting the gentle Lanna culture still evident here in northern Thailand. So, turn the phone off, leave your laptop in the suitcase, and relax…