When I first arrived in Chiang Mai, I coughed. It wasn’t the city that I had expected. The jungle that had once existed in this region had apparently been hacked back, replaced with asphalt and millions of tuk tuks and motorbikes. It’s not that Chiang Mai is a bad city to visit–in fact, quite the opposite is true since it’s the gateway to some incredible sites (hilltop temples and thick jungle) and activities (like playing with full-grown tigers and training elephants)–I was just expecting enchanted forest.
But my stay at the Shangri-La Hotel (which began two days after arriving in Chiang Mai) helped to offer that lost forest feel and paralleled the mystical utopia that James Hilton had created in his novel, Lost Horizon, where the fictional Shangri-La of the Himalayas is first introduced. The hotel’s color scheme of browns, reds, oranges, and pinks, enhanced by Northern Thai designs, was a spectrum of those Himalayas. But that’s as far as the ruggedness of the mountain range extended because there was nothing harsh or demanding about my time at the Shangri-La, a hotel just south of the night market.
Though the hotel offers many room options, I’d recommend the extra pampering and stay in a Horizon Club room.
Life on the exclusive, top three floors, which are for Horizon Club guests only, was good to me. My room was comfortable and bathroom immaculate (which hasn’t always been the case in some of the so-called resort options around Thailand). My room’s view of the remaining jungle and the hotel’s enormous, glimmering amoeba-shaped pool was picturesque and the same as the one in the Horizon Club lounge, one flight up. Each morning, I enjoyed a complimentary breakfast in the lounge. I returned in the evenings, too, for the Horizon Club’s nightly, free happy hour, where my wife and I imbibed on beer, wine, and spirits and ate enough tapas to forego dinner. The service in the lounge was exceptional. I bothered the employees about everything (booking us into cooking school, finding us car service to the elephant camp, getting timetables for the bus to Laos) and their smiles didn’t even crinkle with annoyance.
(If you’re a high-roller, the Horizon Club floors also have the property’s three most impressive suites: Lotus Suite, Aranda Suite, or the top-notch Presidential Suite.)
Before ending our stay at the Shangri-La (which truly upset my wife because we were moving from five-star luxury to a two-day boat ride on a cramped ship), we visited the hotel’s Chi Spa. It’s a secluded group of pavilions, where guests can take yoga classes or receive massage treatments. Each miniature oasis crosses over blue waters and leads to a three-room villa equipped with steam, changing, and massage rooms. You can select from a long list of options. For instance, sit beside small waterfalls and experience outdoor baths filled with floating flowers or receive the Lanna Blending, a cross between the firmness of a Thai massage and the relaxing elements of an oil treatment. My wife and I received the latter. From the very start, the exfoliating foot rub, we knew that we were in good hands. (Those hands knew all of the right spots and how to apply pressure, which I needed in order to correct a terrible massage experience from the night before given by a night-market masseuse who nearly tore my ACL and must have studied under Spock, applying Vulcan death grips to my entire body.) Besides hearing the motor from some gardener’s weed-whacker for ten minutes, the massage at Chi Spa was phenomenal.
Afterward, before our two-day boat ride, we relaxed beside the pool, where attentive waiters immediately brought us towels, water pitchers, and lychees.
Other amenities at the Shangri-La include designer shops, ballrooms, large and small conference centers, peaceful gardens, and excellent dining. At Silapa Thai, one of a few restaurants on hotel grounds, a funky array of leather sofas contrasts with colorful and quirky upholstery, providing an artsy atmosphere, (appropriate since silapa means “art”). I would suggest their signature appetizer: soft shell crab with spicy mango salad. The Tom Yum Kung soup is quite good, too.
Those looking for a bit more activity, can practice on the putting green, play tennis on the rooftop, or workout at the fitness center. But afterward, enjoy time in the steam room, sauna, and jacuzzi because the Shangri-La is a great place to rejuvenate after an exhausting adventure around Chiang Mai and its environs.
For a discounted stay at the Shangri-La, try booking your room at Robinson’s near the airport.
Disclaimer: The Shangri-La hosted me, but the review is honest.