Four Seasons Chiang Mai – A Review By Punam Mohandas
While most hotels these days lay claim to “understated luxury” I think one can safely say the Four Seasons Chiang Mai pretty much has it nailed.
This 98-key hotel is spread across a mind-boggling 30-acres comprising paddy fields of the Mae Rim valley. Although a 20-year old property, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai has some superb maintenance, it must be said. Pest control too is good, on the whole.
The lobby is open-air and comfortably large without being pretentious, giving on to a marvellous vista of gardens dotted with terracotta figurines and beyond, to the paddy fields. The focal point of attention is the ‘chandelier;’ traditional, Lanna-style hanging lanterns of varying lengths made of white cotton cloth embellished with gold paper. Cotton and wood – both teak as well as rosewood – are predominant throughout the resort.
Room categories at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai are kept simple and divided amongst the Garden View, Upper Garden View (offering garden and partial pool views) Lower Rice and Upper Rice (the latter two overlooking the rice fields, as is self-explanatory.)These rooms all stand at 75-sqm, with beige tones against the wooden flooring, and have king-sized beds, two rattan arm chairs, tasteful artefacts and elegant wardrobes. The bath tubs, while not being outdoors, come with full glass windows that can be screened off by cotton blinds for privacy. Each room has a large outdoor ‘sala’ type of terrace, with a double seater swing set and two-seater round table for outdoor meals, should the fancy strike one. The rooms as well as the terraces come with ceiling fans.
Repairs and renovations are currently under way on these room categories, to be completed by October. All these rooms at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai will now offer French-press Lavazza coffee machines and a small wine cellar placed near the mini bar. The roofs are being re-done, while soft fittings include new bedding, new colour scheme and Lanna-style refurbishments. Instead of the current Twinings brand, the new selection of teas will be from the Bangkok-based T-series, while the toiletries will be from La Bottega. All the rooms currently have large-screen TV’s, which will change to smart TV’s next year, while DVD players will be available on request.
Apart from this, there are 12 Pool Villas and a cluster of five villas known as the Residences. The latter look like mini mansions from the outside and have anywhere between 2-4 bedrooms. There is a separate swimming pool with Jacuzzi for the use of these guests exclusively, although some of the Residences come with private plunge pools too.
And now undoubtedly the feather in the Four Seasons cap – the pool villas. These were constructed a few years ago, but deep clean and touch-ups are done twice annually. One enters a relatively narrow (in comparison to the rest of the room) foyer area, with the bar cabinet and writing desk. A couple of steps down lead to the bed space; further along, another couple of steps leads to the seating area and thence out to the pool and Jacuzzi – all heated! The naysayers may of course point to the cost to the environment, and quite right too, however, ultimate luxury does demand a heavy price, and not just in monetary terms.
The bedroom space is a huge area with a semi-canopied bed, where the drapes are gathered up in a central ring resembling a crown. The bed faces the pool and also has French windows on either side that look on to water bodies and green plants. Muted orange and dull gold furnishings offset the hand-woven cotton rugs and wooden flooring, while the drapes are in beige and fawn. The entire space screams ‘tranquility’ – do forgive the oxymoron. If there is a downside to this Eden, it is that the pillows are not up to par to this standard of luxurious living.
Down to the living room area, with a comfortable, full-length sofa and armchair. A large-screen TV slides back into its base at the touch of a button, should one not wish to be disturbed by modern trappings.
The pool villa has an exceedingly spacious bathroom, with skylights that let in natural light for the more ecologically aware guests. There is a vanity dressing table for the lady, apart from his and her round washbasins in pewter with a mirror in between separating the two. There is a sunken bathtub, separate rain shower and WC cubicles, in addition to an outdoor rain shower area.
Everything in the pool villa underlines discreet luxury, from the dull gold notepads and menu folder, to the elegantly painted wooden cabinets and bathroom doorway arches, to the cotton printed dressing gowns and matching slippers, to the selection of teas and the espresso machine. Apart from this, there are the usuals of mini bar, electronic safe, iron and umbrella. Plenty of complimentary drinking water is made available and so are lots of towels, including a separate stack by the pool.
The pool overlooks a lotus pond and is a marvel, as has already been stated. There is a large wooden swing on the patio and a sala to one side so meals can be served there.
F&B options at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai include Sala Mae Rim in the midst of the gardens, an all-day dining outlet with wine room; Terraces, with an array of Italian and Mediterranean dishes; Ratree Bar by the pool serving snacks and drinks; the Elephant Bar serving sun-downers or after-dinner drinks and Rice Basin, that offers private dining for not more than two couples. The latter is also used for intimate wedding gatherings.
Conference facilities are basic; this is a resort to come to for unwinding and rejuvenation, not really worry about flow charts, presentations and the like. Nonetheless, the hotel offers two meeting rooms that can accommodate between 20-100 pax, depending on seating arrangement.
Recreational facilities include two swimming pools – the larger one overlooking the paddy fields, while the more intimate one has a Jacuzzi and is meant only for adult use – as also a flood-lit tennis court, where the equipment is free and a trainer is available on a chargeable basis. The health club is small but efficient, open 24-hours, with steam and sauna facilities and a separate room for classes such as yoga and Muay Thai boxing. Bicycles are available for complimentary guest use. The resort also offers Thai cooking classes on a chargeable basis. There is a small library room with books, and two complimentary work stations for guest use, with tea/coffee provided on request. The resort also houses the Lansai Village – boutique shopping outlets with a selection of handicrafts from the native hill tribes, as also the only Jim Thompson outlet in Chiang Mai.
More than any of this though, what’s really popular among adults and children alike are the ‘farm’ kind of activities. The Four Seasons is also home to three buffalo, who placidly offer rides around the property. Rice planting is a thrice-weekly activity to keep guests engaged with the rural side of life. Extremely well organised; guests are togged out in the local outfits of loose pants, jacket and bandana, and spend an enjoyable hour squelching through mud, uprooting and re-planting tender rice saplings.
And of course, The Spa. One walks into an elegant lounge with bamboo mats on the wooden floor, offset by colourful cushions and huge silver bowls of water with rose petals. Silverware and semi-precious stone jewellery is available for purchase as well. There is a tea corner with ginger or lemongrass tea, rice crackers and Thai shortbread cookies on offer. Somewhat quaint are the miniature scrolls tied with gold thread; the Four Seasons version of Chinese fortune cookies.
The Spa at Four Seasons Chiang Mai focuses on Thai fresh herbs and spices in its treatments and uses products from the Thai brand Ytsara, as also Ila, an organic brand from the UK, for face and body scrubs and wraps, as also for chakra massages. The Spa offers a choice of four essential oils and the signature treatments are the Royal Lanna, Royal Samunprai and the Chakra Blessings.
There are seven treatment rooms, all couple rooms, decorated Lanna style, with dull pink walls complemented by red and gold decor. While all rooms have shower facilities, four of them have private steam rooms and there are four separate bath areas as well, with sunken stone tubs for soaks such as milk with rose petals or hot water with Thai herbs.
The mountain people are simple folk – friendly, gentle and polite, and the hotel takes this a step further. All the staff at the Four Seasons are well trained and speak fluent English. Housekeeping service is unobtrusive and efficient, as is F&B and Front Office. Even the gardeners are unfailingly courteous and cheerful.
While 2014 saw the biggest markets being from the USA and China, 2015 has seen an upsurge in families from among the Thais themselves, Hong Kong and China.
The Four Seasons Chiang Mai Resort is located within the Mae Rim valley, forty minutes away from the Night Bazaar area or the Old City. Surrounded by rice fields, it is pretty secluded; while there is time enough to relax and plenty of activities to choose from, the food prices at the resort are on the higher side, necessitating trips downtown. To its credit, given the distance, the resort offers complimentary shuttle services to town at frequent intervals through the day.
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.
FOUR SEASONS CHIANG MAI
TEL: +66 53 298181
FAX: +66 53 298190