Northern Thai Character
Small, stylish and brimming with character, Thailand’s laid-back second city has a host of stays to match. Story and photographs by Marisa Marchitelli
You won’t find a signpost to Rangsit Villas. The key word here is discretion. Nestled in the rolling hills just north of Chiang Mai’s old city, the all-but-hidden property’s two spacious Lanna-style villas conceal five bright, contemporary rooms adorned with stylish wooden furniture (reclaimed-teak table tops; an Indian rosewood chair) hand-picked by globe-trotting Thai owner Vippy Rangsit. The place fosters an atmosphere of quiet relaxation: strategically placed mirrors and wind chimes are a subtle nod to feng shui, while accommodations overlook a tranquil lily-pad-filled pond and lush vegetation. Don’t miss lunch at the property’s casual open-air dining room, where chef Tiew Wanphen serves up exceptional pad thai, delicately wrapped in a paper-thin omelet. T+L Tip Book the aptly named Turquoise suite, a sleek 100-square-meter space with stained-teak flooring and white-washed walls. 229/10 Suan Kaew, Mae Ram, Mae Rim; +66 53 861 515; rangsitvillas.com.
Ruang Tawan Hideaway
Get ready for a Technicolor experience: at this cheerful, family-run retreat, you’ll be greeted with bright fuchsia walls, lime-green accents and oversize rainbow-striped cushions. Set on a working two-hectare fruit farm with ancient lamyai and lychee trees, the five guest lodgings are coded according to hue: the Blue, Pink and Yellow cottages live up to their names, while the two riad-inspired Moroccan rooms feature multicolored tiled floors, hand-carved columns and Moorish lattice-screened windows. Despite the eye-popping palette, the philosophy here is back to nature: rooms are ventilated with ceiling fans, and the spacious Balinese-style bathrooms are outdoors. Stop by the kitchen, where owner and trained pastry chef Raluque Ruangsook’s specialty is the flourless passionfruit cake. T+L Tip Climate control non-negotiable? Stay in the fully enclosed Casablanca room, on the ground floor. 10/2 Moo, 3 San Phee Suea, Muang; +66 83 762 5852.
A series of stone courtyards leads into Baan Tazala, where guests enter through a frangipani-canopied lobby. While the exterior has the feel of a centuries-old Chinese village—the Lanna façades are fronted by tree-trunk columns that support imperial-style roofs—the interiors are more Wong Kar-Wai than rustic. The eight guest rooms, some with Jacuzzis, have plush ivory bedding, heavy moss-colored curtains and Chinese wood-screen doors alongside ultra-modern amenities (42-inch flat-screen TV’s; Play Station 2 consoles). Artfully designed suite No. 7 is the pièce de résistance, with a playful, life-size ceramic rooster and a Botero-inspired oil painting in the living room. Call for an in-room aromatherapy massage, relax in leather-studded armchair in the library or take a dip in the turquoise-tiled pool. T+L Tip Foodies are well catered to: in-house Thai restaurant serves authentic northern Thai dishes such as chicken khao soi (egg noodles with curry), award-winning Japanese restaurant Tengoku is next door, and the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi’s array of dining options is just across the road. 55/5 Moo 1, Chiangmai-Sankampaeng Rd., Tasala, Muang; +66 53 850 111; banntazala.co.th.
Converted from a former shop house, At Niman has nine spacious rooms that exude atmosphere: beds sit on Himalayan rugs or smooth cement platforms, Burmese lacquerware fills the shelves, jewel-colored Indian chandeliers and low-hanging Moroccan lamps cast a flattering glow, and impressionistic nudes from the property’s art gallery hang on the walls. All peer into a charming courtyard with outdoor lounge, teak flooring and a petite five-meter dipping pool. For maximum privacy, opt for the chic double-balconied Kumari suite, named after the owner’s daughter. T+L Tip With a location on Nimmanhemin Road, some of Chiang Mai’s best boutiques, restaurants and nightlife are within walking distance—ask the hotel’s helpful staff for suggestions. 37 Nimmanhemin Rd. Soi 9, Suthep, Muang; +66 53 224 949; atnimancm.com.
Art and astrology make for an inspired—and unexpected—pairing at MoRooms, spearheaded by Chiang Mai contemporary artist Mit Jai Inn. The deconstructed, angular exterior may look like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the interior is warmly inviting, with the mantra art lives welcoming guests at the door. The twelve rooms take their cues from the Chinese zodiac, with an artist born under each sign taking charge of their design. Take Udom Udomsrianan’s Monkey room, playful and dramatic with protruding steel-colored boulders, a giant bulbous wicker bed, and wall pieces made from fragments of petrified wood. The artistry extends to the restaurant: standout dishes include the MoPenne, a soul-warming take on pasta made with northern sausage, Thai herbs and tomato-cream sauce finished with a baked parmesan crisp. T+L Tip Love people watching? Stop for a drink at Toru’s Bar and order the MoSunset, a rum-based cocktail with lychee juice and hints of lemongrass. Sundays are especially lively, when the night market is in full swing. GE263/1-2 Thapae Rd., Chang Klan, Muang; +66 53 280 789; morooms.com.