Tuesday, 5 October 2010
He was just coming off the success of Veranda Cha Am (which I blogged about last month) when his boss -- a former classmate at Chulalongkorn University -- charged him with finding a suitable highland location. 'I found this land, I bought it, I liaised with the architects and designers, and now I'm running it,' the former-accountant-turned-amiable hotelier says, pointing proudly to the soaring crafted woodwork of the open lobby.
When I say open, I really mean open. The reception area is fully exposed to the elements on two sides with the net jaw-dropping effect that -- when you first enter the hotel -- you are standing amid a splendid piece of authentic northern Thai wilderness. Which, is exactly what you are doing.
Cicadas chirping. Dragonflies buzzing. Rice fields. Teak trees. A beautiful valley. And that mountain.
The overall concept of the hotel is to re-create the old city of Chiang Mai -- which comes across in the red brick ramparts, faithfully reproduced -- juxtaposed with the new in the modern slightly austere lines of the main villa buildings partly obscured in the fields beyond.
If you know the Four Seasons or Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, this captures that same Lanna essence but in a less overt Thainess-in-your-face way.
'We are on the same level as them,' ventured one really charming waiter. Charm and pride was a hallmark of all the affable staff we chatted with. They felt part of something really special here. More casual, less majestic than those other two properties for sure. But rather hip. Such as iPod docks and JBL speakers in the rooms and public areas. And like an iPod, the resort has a Zen simplicity to it without sacrificing any of the enjoyment or the functions.
Our plunge pool pavilion, for instance, was a cavernous 88 sq metres of flowing living spaces, with floor-to-high-ceiling glass allowing the mountain views in. Huuuuuuuuge bathtub. Indoor/outdoor bathroom. Luxurious day bed area opening on to the pool itself. Lots of chrome. Judicious use of mirrors. And a bed that was as wide -- if not wider -- than it was long.
'The best one this year,' cooed my companion of our plunge pool pavilion. A big call, but a good one.
The Presidential pool villa is an absolute beauty: two floors of modern living, with a stunning indoor/outdoor bathroom, about five different pools and ponds and bodies of water, 3 bedrooms and a live-in butler on tap 24 hours a day. Jing jing! Yours for a lazy 35,000 baht per night.
We could've swum in the main infinite pool if we wanted to. We could've gone and learned how to plant rice if we wanted. We could've joined a yoga class. We did do a cooking course (pad thai, and banana in coconut milk). We took part in an early-morning merit-making ceremony, giving a local monk some foodstuffs. We borrowed two bicycles and explored the local villages. Fruit stalls. Temples. Inquisitive dogs. Just daily life going on, far from the gaze of mass tourists.
And that is the ultimate feeling. That you've left the crazy world behind, and found a place far more in touch with itself. The simple world of Veranda, where, like an iPod, you just plug and play.