Sunday, 26 September 2010

Chiang Mai -- The MO Dhara Dhevi: A Balanced Piece of Travel Writing

I've travelled to 55 1/2 countries (the half was Guatamala, where I illegally left the plane and entered the airport only to be turned back by machine-gun toting guards). I've stayed in thousands of hotels, some of them voted the finest in the world. But nothing prepared me for something that is just 15 minutes from my house in Chiang Mai. Right under my rather considerable nose.

I'm talking, no raving, about the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. Again.

You see, I've never had a hotel room with its own steam room before. Or its own piano. I couldn't believe it. A piano! I sat down and reeled off a few slightly rusty bars of Beethoven's Minuet in G while the bellhops battled with my baggage in the background. I was later told the owner, Khun Suchet, has a thing about pianos.

So this is no ordinary villa. A two-storey rich wooden affair with decking out the front which leads to a little sala and spa pool. Plug in the iPod speaker, enjoy a glass of wine, while the wind rustles through the terraced rice padi just beyond. Wow!

I lost count of how many bathrooms there were in villa 1025. And telephones. And next to each telephone a lovely little notepad.  Never mind hotels that boast a kettle in every room. This had a kitchen with its own coffee machine, and damn good coffee it was too. And a dozen flavours of herbal tea from the Siam highlands.

One of the bathrooms upstairs -- I think there was more than one, I'm not sure -- featured a circular jacuzzi bath that was clearly designed for end-of-football-season trips ... you could fit the whole cheer squad in there. If you wanted. Somehow it's perfect with just two.

But I do have a complaint. The white towels were so large and fluffy I could barely close my suitcase. (Er, if anyone from the hotel is reading this, that's just a joke. Jing jing! )

Little touches seal the deal. Like the blackout curtains in the bedroom. I am the world's lightest sleeper, and the littlest peek of daylight at the crack of dawn will awaken me. So I was amazed to look at the bedside clock and see 8:30 on the clock. It was pitch black. Maybe it was 8:30pm then??? No. The curtains kept all the daylight safely outside.

I am told the hotel has around 400 staff looking after its 123 units. That's a massive ratio by anyone's standards. And when we ordered a club sandwich from room service, half the kitchen arrived in a golf buggy. Or maybe it was a fleet of golf buggies. And Jamie Oliver. What I do remember with certainty was there were twice as many people setting up this sandwich than had helped us with our luggage.

Yet for all of that, it felt so homely.  Sunk so deep in the sofa watching a DVD. Pit-pat of large rain drops outside. I did the honourable thing and requested a late check-out. After consulting the reservations book, a slight extension was kindly granted.

I told the hotel's Sales and Marketing Director that I was afraid I might embarrass myself and  compromise my journalistic integrity (oh, hush down the back there) by gushing so openly about this experience.

So to balance up this story, and regain my journalistic credibility,  I'm going to end with a gripe. Not just a petty nitpick, but a genuine gripe. Someone told me some of the villas and penthouses have grand pianos in them. Yes, grand pianos, dear readers. And there I was stuck with an ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill upright piano ...

You see the hardships I have to endure to bring you these stories? That's just shabby treatment.

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