Clare Dight checks into the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and finds everything, well, just a little too perfect.
Hotel Insider: Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, Thailand
We're greeted with warm smiles and flower garlands by well-coiffed staff, and handshakes by Jeff, a jovial Texan who's the resort manager. The most lasting impression, though, is made when I walk down a flight of steps to Terraces, the restaurant where breakfast is served. I'm treated to views out over the rice paddy basin around which the eight-hectare resort is built, against a striking backdrop of misty mountains.
The resort sits outside Chiang Mai, known as Thailand's second city thanks to its history as the capital of the 13th to 18th-century kingdom of Lanna. Its temples are known for a distinctive architectural style marked by steep roofs and intricate woodcarvings, and many visitors use the city as a jumping off point for trekking in the jungle to the north. It's tempting as a pampered guest at the Four Seasons Resort to stay put: Ratree Bar, which overlooks the main infinity pool and the rice fields, is a very inviting place to hang out, and those seeking Thai culture can enjoy cooking lessons and evening dance entertainment by pre-arrangement on-site.
My garden pavilion room sits on the upper floor of an attractive two-storey house with a private outdoor seating-cum-dining area on a raised platform. My only disappointment is the dark wood interior, with its huge bed and marble bathroom, would not look out of place at a Four Seasons city hotel. The one-bedroom pool villas are far more special, with private pools and more sumptuous decor. The resort also caters for larger families and private parties with beautiful three- and four-bedroom houses sitting in mature gardens.
Unfailingly prompt, polite - and uniquely personal. I'm grateful when the waiter who has just brought my drink returns to administer a lotion to sooth a mosquito bite on my arm with a respectably arm's-length Q-tip.
The resort is a favourite of wealthy Americans travelling with older teenagers on introductory tours of South East Asia and, judging from poolside conversations, all without fail are loving it. There are also a number of local Bangkok residents, some with young families, seeking respite from the city - Bangkok is a one-hour hop away by plane. All are well dressed in silky kaftans and expensive swimwear.
There's something to suit all tastes from the reliable international buffet served at breakfast and the resort's Italian and Thai restaurants, but the star of the show is nearly always the view.
Having been eaten alive as usual by mosquitos, I enjoy an hour-long treatment in the resort's spa, which is mercifully closed to the elements. There is a new treatment menu based on the seven chakras (each 9,000 Thai baht; Dh1,067) but I fail to secure the necessary 150-minute appointment slot to have any of my spiritual centres balanced and energised. Still, a signature treatment with aromatic oils (4,700 Thai baht/Dh557 for 90 minutes) and a mix of kneading and circular massage strokes is sufficiently involved to be relaxing.
The resort is a thoughtfully -perhaps overly - orchestrated vision of paradise, complete with two resident water buffalo and a cohort of workers who leave the rice fields at sundown in procession to beating drums. Stupidly, I prefer my travel to be a bit grittier and genuine to feel unique.
The bottom line
A double room costs from 21,211 Thai Baht (Dh2,516) per night, including taxes. The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Road, 50180 Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand (www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai; 00 66 53 298 181).
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