Thailand invites you on an amazing discovery of local cultures and traditions. From highland adventures and seaside excursions to city escapades, the Land of Smiles has something for everyone.
Words: Chitra Santhinathan
An elegant homage to Northern Thailand’s Lanna culture, the RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort, Chiang Mai is a contemporary boutique hotel that celebrates the heritage of the city with grace and style. Nestled on the banks of the Ping River, the four-storey property masterfully blends the old and the new. From wall paintings, which combine modern acrylics with traditional art techniques that use gold, silver and bronze foils, to paper lantern-inspired bedside lamps, design elements here draw from the rich Lanna culture.
Even the hotel layout is a nod to the ancient cities of the Lanna kingdom. Activities here revolve around a riverside pavillion designed to represent the community marketplace of a traditional Lanna town. The morning I arrive, I am ushered into the picturesque Mira Terrace located on the fringe of the pavillion for breakfast. Opting to have my morning coffee out on the deck to take advantage of the crisp 16° Celsius temperature, I am privy to the comings and goings along the Ping as the restaurant deck affords the perfect vantage point from which to observe the morning buzz.
Guests are milling about the hotel pier (yes, the hotel has its own pier), and soon I understand why, when I’m invited to participate in a merit-making ritual. The hotel provides offerings of food, flowers and incense (at no charge) for guests who are interested in joining the daily ritual of giving alms to monks, which is believed to be a noble endeavour.
The opportunity to witness or participate in such an essential custom of Thai Buddhist culture is truly an experience worth getting out of bed early for, and I’m glad to be a part of it. But, this is not the only activity that the resort offers. Guests can board the resort’s scorpion-tailed boat for a leisurely sunset cruise down the Ping or sign up for a boat excursion to the ancient temple of Wat Chedi Liam.
At the RatiLanna, careful attention is paid to details that enhance the old-world feel. Sculptures and prints that depict Lanna men and women from days gone by greet guests at every corner, and even little flourishes like the intricately-patterned silver panels that frame the lifts celebrate local artisans who keep their Lanna heritage alive through their handiwork.
Rooms at the RatiLanna artfully combine heritage design with modern amenities. All 56 deluxe rooms measuring 60 square metres each come with a private balcony, spacious bathroom with tub and junior home-theatre set, while the larger deluxe suites (17 in total) include a Jacuzzi and separate dining area. For even more luxury, splash out on a Riverside Pool Suite or Riverside Garden Suite. Both offer privacy and stunning views of the serene Ping and can be combined into a duplex unit to accommodate larger travel parties.
Next on my itinerary is a visit to the RatiLanna Spa, much-lauded for its signature Crystal Lanna Oil Massage. Oils derived from crystals like amethyst, aquamarine, carnelian and citrine are used in massage therapies designed to calm, invigorate and balance the body. To rev up my spirit, my masseuse suggests using carnelian, known for its energising properties. The spa provides six treatment rooms designed for couples and these include a shower, Jacuzzi and steam room. Interestingly, each room is done up in tribal accents, showcasing the diverse cultures of the northern region. And the best part? Spa guests are served crème brulée post-treatment. Decadent!
I head next to Malin Pavilion, for pre-dinner drinks while taking in the glorious sunset. As the evening mist descends, fairy lights strung on the trees in the huge poolside garden come on while I sip a tasty Longan Punch made with rum, triple sec, longan (a tropical fruit known as dragon eye), pineapple juice and red grenadine. Just the thing to whet the appetite! Aside from Mira Terrace that offers buffet breakfasts and a la carte meals for lunch and dinner, the RatiLanna also houses the only Brazillian churrascaria outlet in Chiang Mai. Its Rio Restaurant & Wine Bar offers an all-you-can-eat feast for carnivores who prefer their meat grilled. Pork, chicken, beef, lamb and seafood are cooked rotiserrie-style and offered to guests by waiters who go table-to-table, bearing the cooked meats on huge skewers. The nightly buffet also includes an array of appetisers, salads and both Thai and Western sides. Although I devour a healthy serving of melt-in-the-mouth meat, my favourite dish is surprisingly the restaurant’s signature Thai-style pasta served with barbequed sausage, a spicy dish that will have you craving seconds!
Despite its proximity to the airport and the city, this property feels far removed from the hustle and bustle, and truly offers a sanctuary for the soul and the senses – the ideal retreat in a city known as the Rose of the North.
RATILANNA RIVERSIDE SPA RESORT, CHIANG MAI
Address: 33 Changklan Road, Amphur Muang, Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand