868/75-76 Soi Vanich 2
Bangkok 10100 Thailand
Tel/Fax: (66) 2-237-3362
Mobile: (66) 81-925-7187
Indulge your creative bent and explore the arts, shopping and dining
of Thailand's Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai means "new
city" in Thai, though this immensely popular northern destination
is 500 years older than Bangkok. It was founded in 1296 by King Mengrai,
who conquered existing Mon settlements and organized disparate groups
of Burmese, Chinese and Lao immigrants into the Lan Na (Thousand Rice
Fields)-or Lanna-kingdom. Located in the Ping River valley, Chiang Mai
was the capital and cultural centre of this powerful alliance of city-states
until the Burmese conquered it in 1556.
The Siamese recaptured
Chiang Mai in the mid-1770s but until the railway line was completed in
1921, the journey from Bangkok took a month via river or by elephant.
Today it's a 55-minute flight. Those 150 years of relative isolation spurred
a renaissance in the Lanna arts: woodworking, textile, silver, lacquerware.
By the 1960s, a decade before the last stretch of road into town was finally
paved, tourism and handicrafts had become Chiang Mai's biggest income
Despite rapid development
and limited city planning, Chiang Mai's old-world charm remains evident
in its centuries-old chedis (pagodas), Buddhist wats (temples),
the old town walls and gates, and the moat that encircled the original
city. have obliterated much of the city's quaint charm.
Traffic clogs the narrow
city roads and, despite a growing number of five-star hotel properties,
transport can be a bit hit-and-miss unless you hire a driver and vehicle.
Other options include hailing one of the few metered taxis (available
mainly at the airport), bargaining for a three-wheeled tuk-tuk,
or squeezing into the ubiquitous songthaews (red pickup trucks
with bench seating in back).
But the myriad pluses
of Chiang Mai far outweigh its limitations. Compared to Bangkok the climate
is cooler and life proceeds less frenetically. Just a few kilometres beyond
the city limits are rolling green hills dotted with vogue-ish resorts
and luxury homes belonging to wealthy Thai and expatriate retirees and
second-home owners. Architects, designers, potters, painters and writers
settled in Chiang Mai in the mid-1990s. Their creative output expresses
in a modern context the innovation that's been a Chiang Mai hallmark dating
back to the 14th-century artisanal villages.
It may be premature
to call Chiang Mai the Thai version of Byron Bay. Yet the country's focus
on the contemporary has definitely elevated the pursuit of style-in shops,
restaurants and hotels-to the top of many tourist's agendas.
199 Moon Muang Road
(053) 419 011.
Fusion cuisine has become as much a Chiang Mai staple as khao soi,
the town's signature yellow wheat noodles in curry broth. Danish designer
Hans Christensen was a trailblazer in 2003 when he recast a high-ceilinged
1930s house in the Old City into a soignée two-storey eatery he
was a trailblazer. Three years on, it's still the preferred haunt for
local designers and their international clients thanks to the consistently
reliable Asian-esque cuisine and friendly serivce. Never content to sit
still, Christensen has added a wine bar, a relaxing Moroccan-inspired
outdoor tapas area and keeps reinventing Ginger, his flagship fashion/accessories
extravaganza adjacent the restaurant (see SHOP).
100 Chang Klan Road
(053) 999 999.
Trend arbiters who hang at The House at night often lunch at this roomy
open-plan eatery on the ground floor of the recently opened D2 (see STAY).
Choose from a small but thoughtful selection of well-presented pastas,
pizzas, salads and Thai dishes. Such ample portions for a mere 90-400
baht (about $3-15) are a steal, especially in a hotel. International-with-Asian-influenced
dinner items are equally affordable and D2's bartenders make delicious
passion fruit margaritas. Waitstaff-called "agents" in D2-speak-wear
baggy black designer trousers and are encouraged to act as hip as their
113 Bumrungraj Rd
(053) 242 491.
This contemporary Thai eatery in an updated glass-sided 1970s house was
the hottest star in the firmament of new Chiang Mai dining experiences
when it opened in 2004 but went downhill after its former owner started
up another design-focused eatery (Modiwa 32 Nimanhaemin Soi 1,
053 215 620). Popular once again, the romantic venue opposite the British
Council features candlelit indoor and outdoor seating. Take care negotiating
those stepping stones across the pond.
Giorgio's Italian Restaurant
2/6 Prachasamphan Road
(053) 818 236.
The antidote to the raft of stylish new restaurants, this long-running
unpretentious Italian spot has a tiny online presence but a huge place
in the hearts of longtime Chiang Mai residents who keep it packed during
lunch and dinner. It's one of two restaurants listed by Jennifer Dyson
on her company website www.livingspacedesigns.com. If the doyenne of lacquerware
and the only person acknowledged three times in the Chiang Mai Luxe guide
recommends you try the thin crust smoked salmon pizza, you should. You'll
come to Giorgio's to enjoy great food, not to marvel at the décor
or stylish ambiance.
Oriental Dhara Dhevi
51/4 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Road
(053) 888 888.
Resurrecting bygone Lanna architecture and life is a big task for a 24ha
resort complex with 123 private villas and suites. Since partially opening
in late 2004 (it fully opened a few months ago), some guests have referred
to its amusement park aspects, while architectural purists have criticized
the ornately carved structures as pastiches of Burmese, Shan and Thai
influences. Ironically, given rapidly dwindling stock of authentic Lanna
structures in northern Thailand, Dhara Dhevi could end up an important
cultural monument. The library's in-depth collection of 5,000 books and
journals on Asian art, culture, history, religion and cuisine is the best
of any Thai hotel-and better than most libraries. From $466 a night.
100 Chang Klan Road
(053) 999 999
Located in deepest downtown, stylish new D2 dallies with diverse D-based
designations-Desk (reception), Décor (housekeeping), Detect (security)-and
definitely differs from its staid Thai parent company, Dusit Group. While
the other new properties evoke Lanna, Chinese and Balinese styles, D2's
minimalism with attitude says "W Hotels." Smallish but very
functional, the 131 off-white (with orange accents) rooms boast some amenities
their pricier competitors lack like great bathroom/ bedside lighting plus
wacky turndown and welcome treats. To mark the 2 pm shift change, eight
"agents" dance to Cole Porter's It's De-lovely in the
lobby. From $159 a night.
The Chedi Chiang Mai
123 Charoen Prathet Road
(053) 253 333.
Set on the Ping River on grounds once occupied by the British Consulate,
this low-rise and highly sophisticated 84-room property opened to international
adulation on 1st July 2005. Six weeks later, major flooding forced the
closure of downtown Chiang Mai's first five-star property until February
this year. Minimalist elegance is the byword in the pristine teak and
white stucco buildings and the uncluttered landscaping. Each room faces
riverward with a private glass-enclosed balcony. The renovated 93 year-old
former consulate is now The Restaurant and features indoor or riverside
dining with impeccable international cuisine. From $367 a night
55/5 Moo 1 Chiangmai-Sankampaeng Rd
(053) 850 111
The cozy and recently remodeled Tamarind Village (50/1 Rajdamnoen
Road, 053 418 896; www.tamarindvillage.com), launched Chiang Mai' boutique
trend in 2002, followed by the gracious antique-filled Rachamanka
(6 Rachamankha 9, 053 904 111; www.rachamankha.com).The trend is now a
full-on craze but few new entrants get it as right as this eight-room
gem located on small rectangular sliver of land across the street from
Dhara Dhevi (and conceived by one of DD's original partners). Every room,
though smallish, is individually painted and decorated with Chinese antiques
and figurines. The scrumptious French food served in the intimate 12-seat
burgundy dining room is prepared by a former Dhara Dhevi chef. From $282
10-12 Nimanhaemin Soi 1
(053) 219 499.
Design-focused stores crowd this arty street, but the innovative 5- 15m
handwoven silks hanging in this gallery with two-storey ceilings are impressive.
Textile designer Kachama Perez studied and worked in Japan where she learned
the technique of reworking strips of old and new hilltribe textiles into
her ultra-modern yet timeless interpretations of Hmong weavings. She alternates
colorful swathes with plain sections of woven organza, incorporates beadwork
and sometimes re-creates ancient motifs in metallic threads.
La Luna Gallery
190 Charoenraj Road
(053) 306 678.
Why isn't there a contemporary art gallery this good in Bangkok-or anywhere
else in Thailand? Perhaps Chiang Mai's longstanding affinity for all things
art-related is responsible. Located across the Ping River from Warorot
Market, the large space showcases contemporary art (painting, pottery,
photography). Somehow the triumvirate of Thai, New Zealand and Danish
owners maintains that delicate balance between commercialism and creativity.
Ginger @ Living Space
276-278 Thapae Rd
(053) 874 156
The latest branch of this popular mix-and-match accessories, décor
and girly clothing shop opened recently in a pistachio-green upstairs
space at Living Space. To complement the ultra soignée lacquer-
and homewares displayed downstairs, Hans Christensen (see EAT)
designed a new clothing line targeting the "mature" set. From
India and Bali come earth-toned linen kaftans, handbags, Pashmina shawls
and slippers, all decorated with Swarovski crystal. The profusion of pinks,
reds, blues and violets in the stylish chandeliers, cushions and votive
holders should tantalize customers of all ages.
43 Soi 8, Chotana Road
(053) 215 857.
This serene oasis of Japanese culture is the studio and showroom of fashion
designer Sachiko Kobayashi. The petite former ballet dancer and curator
of Edo-period exhibitions in Tokyo discovered Lao weavers and this Thai
teak house 14 years ago, and now winters here. Not everyone can carry
off her drapy natural-dyed silk shawl-like coats with their calligraphy-ink
motifs, but anyone can appreciate the tea ceremony she holds on her porch
overlooking a peaceful Zen garden. By appointment only.
© 2006 Jennifer Gampell