It’s easy to love Chiang Mai. Thailand’s ‘second city’ has a small-town vibe, an absolute contrast to the mega-metropolis of Bangkok. It’s littered with golden temples, incredible eateries, and backed by the grand Doi Suthep mountain with its waterfalls, hiking trails, and views over the city. If you’re heading to Thailand and want a break from beaches, Chiang Mai is the ideal and easy stop to experience Thai culture and food.
While there are many luxury properties in Chiang Mai, most are a drive outside of the city. Four Seasons Chiang Mai, for example, is more than a half an hour away from the ancient city walls. When you’re that far from the cultural heart of the city, you might lose some of the charms of the quaint streets and the closeness to the markets, temples, and restaurants which really make this city so great. If you’re visiting Chiang Mai to soak in the city atmosphere but also want the opportunity to relax, switch off, and enjoy some sunbathing time, 137 Pillars is an ideal choice.
137 Pillars House is a property with a luxurious, resort feel, but is located just a stone-throw away from Chiang Mai’s key sights. The property is based around a traditional teak home, a grand yet graceful building which sits between the hotel’s 30 suites. It once stood on 137 pillars, which is where the property gets its name. The house has a rich history, linking back to one of Thailand’s most well-known stories, immortalized in countless plays and adaptations, and, of course, the Yul Brenner film, The King & I. Anna, teacher to King Chulalongkorn and the subject of the film, had a son, Louis, who joined the teak-logging enterprise Borneo Company in 1889.
He opened the Chiang Mai office on the banks of the Ping River, where 137 Pillars House sits today. Four teak houses were originally placed or built on the site, and it’s the surviving one which makes the center point to the property.
The building dates back to the 1880s, yet it has been lovingly restored, and today can be enjoyed by guests who can dine, relax and drink in the traditional house. The lower level of the structure also serves as a small museum, where guests can learn more about the history of this beautiful site, as well as viewing artefacts found during refurbishment.
137 Pillars House is located just across the Ping River in the up and coming Wat Ket area. The surrounding streets are filled with trendy cafes, boutique shops the magnificent Wat Ket Temple and an array of riverside bars and restaurants. This is an area which few tourists venture to, yet is so interesting to explore. A footbridge takes you across the river and into the bustling Nawarat area, one of Chiang Mai’s best local markets. From here, it’s a short 15-minute walk, or you can take a hotel car into the Old City Walls – the heart of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a city ripe for exploration, and after a long day in the markets and temples, 137 Pillars makes the perfect retreat. With only 30 suites in the grounds, it’s impossible for the resort to feel crowded, and indeed often it feels like you have the spacious gardens to yourself. Each suite has a relaxing balcony space, outdoor shower, colonial-style interiors and thoughtful finishing touches like daily fresh local fruits, a coffee machine and fragrant tangerine toiletries. The pool sits in front of the teak house, backed by an epic wall of ivy. Despite the cooler weather in Chiang Mai, this pool is one you can’t resist a long dip in after a day exploring the city sights.
Unlike the bustle of the outside city streets, it feels very much like the focus of life inside the 137 Pillars property is relaxing and recharging. Breakfast starts the day perfectly with fresh local fruits and healthy juices, eggs made to order and a rotating selection of cooked dishes to suit everyone’s taste. If you want to take things even slower, the onsite spa offers Thai and aromatherapy massages which can be done in the beautiful teak spa house or in your room. Couples sessions are also available, an experience which will be a true highlight of your stay at 137 Pillars House. The incredibly friendly and accommodating staff can also arrange cooking classes, picnics and give a wealth of advice on local restaurants, bars and things to do in the city.
In the evening, The Dining Room opens and serves a combination of Western and Thai food, with an emphasis on local ingredients. The mushroom, truffle soup to start is something special, and the large mains will have you thinking you might skip dessert – but make sure to try the chef’s take on Thailand’s favourite dessert: Mango Sticky Rice.
It’s as delicious as it gets. Your stay isn’t complete without a trip to the Jack Bain’s Bar, named after a Scottish Indiana Jones-type character whose family were the last to inhabit the house. Craft cocktails and premium whiskeys are on the menu, the perfect nightcap before a restful sleep and another day of exploring the streets of Chiang Mai.