De Naga Chiang Mai – A Review By Punam Mohandas
The De Naga, under the management of The Unique Collection of Hotels and Resorts, is a perfectly quaint and charming property situated in the heart of downtown Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Built in 2007 by an owner who is an art aficionado, the hotel is a fascinating testament to the legend of the Naga (serpent god.) According to northern lore, the serpents, the guardians of Lord Buddha, helped the kings of yore in building the city of Chiang Mai and therefore, when you respect the Naga, you have growth and prosperity.
Taking its cue from its name – or perhaps it is the other way around – the hotel represents the Naga motif down to every miniscule detail, from the door knobs to the plant holders, to simply astounding wall murals and huge, stone, white serpents with gilded heads coiled around water bodies or in the tiny courtyards, sheltered amongst the trees. As you drive into the property, there is a fantastic Naga water fountain that represents the churning of the ocean of life.
The 55-room property uses a lot of teak wood and is constructed in typical Lanna style, with steep, gabled roofs and curving eaves. It has been designed more as an art hotel, and whispers “heritage” even while being stylish. The lobby is small but welcoming, almost like a family lounge, with sofa seating and exquisite artefacts, including some Ganesha statues in unusual poses.
Accommodation, eight of which are twin-bedded, is divided into the Deluxe, Premier Deluxe and Grand Deluxe categories, apart from the Naga (Presidential) suite. The Deluxe rooms are at 30sqm and come equipped with rain shower, tea/coffee making facilities, four complimentary bottles of drinking water daily, electronic safe, mini bar, LCD TV, and DVD player.
The Premier Deluxe category, with the same floor space, has the addition of an enclosed balcony and therefore, offers better views, with window settee seating. Inter-connecting rooms are available in these categories.
The Grand Deluxe rooms are between 36-48sqm. The fitments and amenities essentially remain the same, with the addition of an espresso maker and a bath tub. Each room category offers its guests a 15-minute complimentary massage at the spa.
The Naga Suite is at 72sqm with partitioned bed and living spaces, complemented by exquisite objects d’art, with a stunning Naga mural behind the headboard. An outdoor terrace provides moments of respite and relaxation as you gaze out over the city panorama. The bathroom is uniquely designed and comes equipped with a Jacuzzi.
Pest control on the property is very good. The drawback is that the De Naga is using plastic soap and shampoo dispensers in the bathrooms, which, given the boutique atmosphere it cultivates, is a let-down.
F&B options at De Naga include the 70-seater Tawa, an all-day dining, open-air outlet. It is not within the immediate hotel complex, although it is on the premises. Screened by bamboo plants, it is situated by the roadside which, strangely enough, is not as intrusive as it sounds. The signature dishes here are the prawn and pineapple rice served in a pineapple shell, and a humungous burger. Kopi, off to a side and more like an art cafe, is small and snug and serves coffees, pastries and sandwiches. The 70-cover Naga restaurant, done up in Thai wooden style with the ubiquitous Naga motif and uniquely designed gold and silver coloured hanging lamps, is used more for private parties and groups. A small bar set-up by the pool takes care of the requirements there.
Recreational facilities are restricted to the admittedly small pool with a beautifully etched mural,where the Jacuzzi water spouts are located in the serpents’ mouths. The hotel has an art gallery as well, featuring local artists and semi-precious jewellery for sale. Two computers are placed in the lobby for complimentary guest use. There is free wifi across the hotel.
There is also the Naga Spa built in simple Lanna style, above Tawa restaurant, with four couple rooms on the upper floor, and five curtained alcoves for Thai-style massage on the lower floor., as also four, fully-reclining chairs for foot massages. Although the spa closes at 10pm, it offers in-room services to resident guests up to midnight.
Currently, the Naga Spa offers some fantastic promotions such as pay for a facial and get a one-hour body massage free, or 50% off on treatments between 12-2pm. These promotions are revised every month, something that is eagerly snapped up by local residents. The spa will also be introducing a new menu and new products shortly, while foot spa treatments using apple and menthol oils are to be in place from next month.
It is a very tranquil atmosphere here, and the massage techniques are different compared to the usual Thai style; the Lanna method stretches the body and relies more on applied pressure by the therapist’s thumbs and elbows. I received a Thai massage with herbal poultice treatment from a very skilled therapist who clearly knew what she was doing. The other difference was that she applied the poultice to each limb as soon as she was done with massaging it, unlike other spas which finish with the body massage first.
Convention facilities include a meeting room that can accommodate 30-pax classroom style and 50-pax theatre style, with a pre-function area that is designed as a courtyard.
As mentioned earlier, the De Naga owner is a patron of the arts and has carefully preserved and maintained parts of the old wooden house structure that used to stand here before the hotel was built. Along the open-air corridor to the rooms, guests will notice that the roof is supported by actual tree trunks, rather than pillars of cement. Care has been taken to follow the old Asian style of living and therefore, the rooms are constructed around a central courtyard that has a Naga pond.
I would be exceedingly remiss if I did not point out that the staff uniforms are worth a mention as well, especially the ladies, who wear the full-length graceful Lanna skirt teamed with a short bodice, so that the waist is bare (much like the Indian saree) teamed with a long-sleeved, tight-fitting, short tunic.
As mountain folk, being gentle and hospitable is part of the inherent nature however, it must be said that the hotel staff are very courteous and helpful.
English is not a deterrent, although there is scope for improvement.
The De Naga location is superb; right across from Tha Pae Gate in the Old City, a short walk to the Sunday market (Walking Street) little-known, placid Wats such as the Wat Phakhao built in 1487, and absolute gems such as The Lost Bookshop run by an amiable Irishman. It is about a 20-minute walk to the Night Bazaar. Visitors can also take in the Chiang Mai Night Safari, while a visit to Tiger Temple (heartily recommended) is about an hour away. You can take a taxi to the latter, but you can also negotiate a fee of between 4-600 baht with tuktuk drivers outside McDonalds, for the return trip as well as a brief waiting period.
Chiang Mai is a 75-minute flight from Bangkok, with several airlines such as THAI, Bangkok Airways, NokAir etc, flying to the ‘Rose of the North.’ The airport is among the largest in Thailand and several carriers fly in directly; do check your travel sectors. Purely as an example, a return trip Bangkok-Chiang Mai on Bangkok Airways cost THB 2,900 – the earlier you buy your ticket, the better, of course, the price. By train or bus from Bangkok, it would be an overnight journey.
DE NAGA CHIANG MAI
TEL: +66 53209030
FAX: +66 53208598