Discovering Shangri-La at Four Seasons Resort in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My balcony at Four Seasons Chiang Mai

After 26 hours of flying, the mind narrows into a quasi-waking state akin to voodooed zombies and the body operates more by rote than conscious decision. Touching down in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a scattering of straw on the floor would have felt as good as eiderdown.

Pavilion Room 5

Happily at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, it’s more like the latter. Located about 10 miles north of the city center, it’s a relatively short drive. Immediately upon arrival, attendants swarm; taking my bags, pouring me an invigorating juice blend of pineapple, orange, watermelon, and lime; and whisking me away via golf cart to pavilion room number 5.

I would have collapsed onto the custom-designed, plush, double bed had not the attendant insisted on showing me around the room. On either side of the room, polished teak double doors opened—one to the sala (Thai balcony) and the other to the bathroom.

Pavilion Room Tub

I hadn’t thought anything could keep me from a fast decent to dreamland until I saw the tub. As a 6’ 1”, 230-pound man, I’d long given up the pleasure of a good soak. Not only was this one big enough, but the surrounding glass walls, green vines, and statuary made it irresistible. Quickly filled with hot water and a dollop of bath salts, I slipped into paradise.

Morning came far too soon, and it was no small feat to drag my weighted, jet-lagged head off the pillow, but I wanted some quiet time on the balcony before launching into Chiang Mai proper. Having arrived at night, I figured it would look much better in the light. Sweeping open the doors, I was astonished at just how. Never having been in Southeast Asia before, it seemed like Shangri-La.

The sala stretched out onto the working rice paddy that serves as the hotel’s botanical centerpiece. Sitting quietly in my bathrobe and slippers, it was hard to imagine a better place in the world for quiet morning tea.

The view also helped orient myself to overall layout. Covering 20 acres, the resort reflects a traditional Thai village, with Lanna Kingdom style architecture. Across the paddy were the long-term residences, yoga barn, gym, and spa, while the main building, pool, and restaurant were to my right.


It’s to the latter I headed for breakfast. As hoped, the spread was as impressive as the room—even just visually. Coming from the drab grays and browns of New York in November, the oranges, reds, whites, yellows, pink, and purples of the sliced dragon fruit, mangos, jackfruit, and papaya, were downright titillating and a great complement to perhaps the best muesli I’ve ever had.

A tour of the grounds came next. Stepping into a golf cart next to the albino water buffalo parked out front of the lobby, I was taken to the five residence villas at the south end of the property. If my room felt like Downton Abbey, these were Buckingham Palace. Stretched out along a man-made lake, the villas were A-list from head to toe.  From the private pool to the stock of Delamotte Champagne and the upstairs bathroom worthy of imperial pleasure (or at least a pop star’s posse), the effect was almost intimidating.

Returning to the main building, it was time to dip into the pool. Even before I came up for air, the attendants had laid out towels and cold water on one of the adjacent lounge chairs. Being off-season, I pretty much had the place to myself. Floating in the center and looking up at the sky, it was easy to disappear into fantasies of future honeymoons, perhaps with one of the many quietly seductive Thai women I’d met thus far. Perhaps we’d sneak down the stairs to the private, no-children-allowed lower pool and enjoy a little moonlight with our mango sticky rice cocktails from the adjacent Ratree Bar.

Wandering the Hotel Grounds

After an afternoon of elephant riding at Maetang Elephant Park, it was time to enjoy a 1-hour massage at the spa. The effect is determined by the choice of one of four Ytsara oils:  lemongrass and sweet orange to release the mind, mandarin and rosemary to detoxify and balance metabolism, black pepper and kaffir lime to tone the body and stimulate blood circulation, and blue ginger and peppermint to invigorate the mind and energize the body. I chose the second, but as I succumbed to the appropriately firm kneading of my masseuse, couldn’t help wonder about the more exotic chakra treatments, which include things like Himalayan salt foot wash, deep lymphatic scrub, and a sea-buckthorn hair mask. Ah well, next time.

Nevertheless, I declined a shower afterwards deciding to enjoy the aroma a bit longer. It soon blended with the scent of chili and peanuts coming from the frying pans at hotel cooking school. Chef Pirun Pumicome must have watched several seasons of Western cooking reality shows to prepare for his classes, and displayed a charming, yet non-Thai, aggressiveness in his demeanor and presentation.

Joining me at the chef’s table was Resort Manager Jeff Miller, who explained the various modules and packages offered by the cooking school to guests and non-guests alike. Judging by the incredibly delicious stir fried rice noodles with black soy sauce and prawn, I might have signed up right there.

Rice Paddy at Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Later, as I enjoyed a final cup of jasmine tea on my balcony, I mulled my review. Was the near perfect experience at the Four Seasons, Chiang Mai the result of their knowledge of my mission? Was the red carpet just as plush for every guest? Surely there had to be something wrong with this place. If there was, it seemed miles away.

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Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai

All Photos by Mike Dunphy 

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