Although it has all the facilities and conveniences you might expect of a modern Thai metropolis, Chiang Mai retains a laid-back atmosphere that marks it out.
Surrounded by forested hills and straddled along the banks of the tranquil Mae Ping River, the city offers guests plenty of opportunity for kicking back and enjoying traditional Lanna-style charm.
Therefore, it was impossible not to feel relaxed as we embarked upon a sunset voyage onboard the Nam Jai, an antique teak rice barge that sets sail from the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort on a twice-daily basis.
Certainly, there are few better ways of gaining an appreciation of the waterway than on Nam Jai, which translates as “water from the heart”. Indeed, the traditional craftsmanship and regional influences at play on board are purposefully evocative of the elegance of old Siam.
Yet while the barge itself is clearly a Thai classic, the two daily sailings on it could not be fresher. Launched earlier this year, the voyages set off from the resort’s newly built private pier, Long Muan, which means “fun sailing” in the local Lanna dialect.
A sunrise cruise starts the day off right with visits to a host of attractions including the venerable Wat Ket Karam community, where a cultural mosaic of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam unfolds in kaleidoscopic fashion.
The morning sailing also offers guests the chance to make merit with Buddhist monks, followed by a visit to Lung Kajohn, once a hidden gem and now a Michelin Guide sensation.
Here, guests can indulge in Khao Kriab Pak Moh, bite-sized steamed rice dumplings. Other highlights include the pedestrian bridge of Khua Khaek, which offers panoramic views of the river against the backdrop of Doi Suthep.
I opted instead for the evening sailing. We cast off into the tepid waters of the river, the mellow winter sunlight dappling the river with a near-mystical glow. On our journey we sailed north past iconic bridges and quaint temples, gradually immersing ourselves in lush greenery. The enchanting transition from daylight to dusk painted the sky in hues of ochre and pink, creating a mellow, magical ambiance.
A river cruise is a distinctly Thai experience, as well the perfect way to observe local life and rhythms unobtrusively.Pitak Norathepkitti, General Manager of Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Onboard, we were treated to the luxury of free-flowing sparkling wine and canapés, the perfect accompaniment to the romance that enveloped us. The air stilled, and the river mirrored the changing colors of the sky, offering a sensory feast that is typical of Thailand’s abundant northern capital.
Pitak Norathepkitti, General Manager of Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, captured the essence of the experience perfectly.
“At Anantara, we believe in immersing guests in the real destination”, he said. “A river cruise is a distinctly Thai experience, as well the perfect way to observe local life and rhythms unobtrusively. Our new offering is one of the most luxurious in Chiang Mai, and we are immensely excited to share it with our guests and locals alike.”
The new sailing experiences are very much in keeping with the overall ethos of Anantara Chiang Mai Resort. Located on the serene banks of the river, this accommodation offers stylish and minimalist rooms. The architectural focal point of the hotel is a meticulously restored 100-year-old former British consulate, around which the modern rooms are artfully built.
In the latter building guests will find The Service 1921, a spy-themed restaurant which specializes in grilled meats.
Rooms and suites overlook a beautiful central garden. In these, wooden floors and wall cladding, simple wooden furniture and sparse Northern Thai style décor continue the retro-minimalist feel.
Other highlights include an elongated pool that aligns seamlessly with the river, stretching 111 feet in length. The well-appointed gym boasts cutting-edge fitness technology. At the spa, Anantara Chiang Mai introduces a signature theme with a range of treatments infused with cannabis oil (CBD). This distinctive offering encompasses massage oils, essential oils, scrubs, herbal balls, and even cannabis tea.