CHIANG MAI, THAILAND – Working crazy hours? In the initial stages of career burn out? Need a life re-charge/re-eval? If any of these answers is “yes”, this resort tucked away in the mountains of Northern Thailand might be just what you need to de-stress and get your so-called life back on track.
Located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, the Dhara Dhevi is probably one of the lesser known members of the Mandarin Oriental group and, from the outside, looks more like one of Thailand’s ornate temples than a luxury hotel. Its stunning entryway of gold-tipped soaring spires feels almost UNESCO-ish in that takes-your-breath-away-upon-first-sight way that only the Bayon temples of Angkor or the blue skies of Mongolia can do – it’s that pretty. The result is that you almost feel like you’re entering some magical, Shangri la–type place, where real world ‘baggage’ is not allowed.
And once you’re inside you’ll find that it kind of does live up to that promise. Spread across a massive sixty acres, with beautifully landscaped grounds (including some gorgeous rice fields) and buildings designed in the traditional, northern Thai Lanna-style, it just all feels kind of wondrous and fantastical; more retreat than resort. And even with its accommodations (limited to just 54 suites and 64 private villas, according to the website), an exquisite Dheva Spa (which apparently is modeled after a 19th century Mandalay Palace), and various restaurants and pools throughout, it never feels hotel-ish or crowded, but just very tranquil and rather private.
This emphasis on creating a comfortable yet serene environ also extends to Dhara Dhevi’s accommodations, which are some of the loveliest digs I’ve ever stayed in and also a bit over the top. Guests have a choice of either a private villa or a suite in their colonial wing. I opted for a villa and ended up being upgraded to one of their larger (or what they call their deluxe) villas, which basically turned out to be two floors of amazing Lanna-style poshness. On the upper level were the sleeping and dressing areas (tastefully adorned with Thai accents), an in-door Jacuzzi and a huge outdoor verandah, all with gorgeous views of the rice fields and resort grounds. The lower level was equally done up with a large living room, kitchen/dining area, dry steam sauna, another outdoor verandah with a second Jacuzzi, and even a piano…did I mention it was a bit over the top?
As for activities, you can choose to do absolutely nothing (which is where my stay ended up) or opt to indulge your ADD tendencies. During my own stay, I rarely ventured out, opting instead to relax in the confines of the villa. When I did wander outside it was to indulge in leisurely activities, like biking the resort grounds (fun and great photo ops), massages at the Dheva Spa (awesome), martinis at the Horn bar (cool space adorned with Burmese horned masks), lounging by the Loy Kham pool (love), and treks to their Oriental shop for macarons and ham & cheese croissants (both decadent). Activities in which I did not engage but admittedly thought sounded interesting: rice planting/harvesting, yoga/meditation classes, restaurants (especially the Grand Lanna which is apparently modeled after a Lanna nobleman’s home), and cooking lessons in the local Isaan cuisine (my favorite kind of Thai food).
I should also mention – since this is a site about the little things – that all those known-for Mandarin Oriental trimmings are also on on-offer at the Dhara Dhevi. These include airport pickup/drop off, beck-and-call service, and little touches like chocolates on the pillow, historical placards (a nice keepsake that I’ve come to look forward to whenever I stay at an MO hotel) and, at the pools, a constant flow of cold towels and courtesy eye/sun glass cleaning, which I particularly liked since humidity can be the bane (via fogged up lenses) of enjoying a good read poolside, a pastime I love.
And the downsides? Just a minor one and more a pet peeve than anything else. It had to do with the ubiquitous electric carts, which the resort staff call “buggies” (as in the Victorian era, horse-drawn kind) and are avail at a moment’s notice to whisk guests to anywhere in the resort. It wasn’t the carts that bothered me but rather being asked again and again, by passer-by hotel staff, “would you like a buggy, sir?” While I know this was just them being helpful, I couldn’t help but find this annoying on so many levels: that they kept asking (I prefer walking), that they called me “sir” (what am I, 80 years old?) and that they called it a buggy (which it wasn’t). Aside from this one small thing, the Dhara Dhevi was truly one of the loveliest and most relaxing travel experiences I’ve had in a long while.
So, what’s the price for all the peace of mind and R&R? Let’s just say it’s not cheap. But is it worth it? Absolutely.
What’s the little thing that makes the Dhara Dhevi worth a stay? That it’s real Shangri-la.
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Photos: Gary Fong
Author: Gary Fong