“A luxurious sanctuary spread around a magnificent teak villa haunted by the ghosts of colonial enterprise”
The architect and designers cleverly placed white-and-timbered 2-storey houses at the very edges of the property, so they overlook what feels like extensive grounds, thanks to ingenious angling of open terraces, decks and ponds among century-old banyan and flame trees. That it all works so well is due to the wise owners, a Bangkok family who, realising that they knew nothing about the hotel business, found people who do (like the German GM who steers the ship with Teutonic precision) and let them get on with their job.
- The 30 spacious, impeccably designed suites have all the mod cons, generous outdoor areas and mini suites of bathrooms
- Ideal for a first or second honeymoon - 137 Pillars offers real luxury and privacy, especially on the upper floors
- Buzzy Chiang Mai, with its charming streets, markets and temples. You're a 15-minute walk from the old city and if you want to do a Thai cookery course, this is the place; there are loads of schools
- Perfectly trained and genuinely friendly staff
- Beautiful airy gardens with an ingenious ‘green wall’ - a 30ft expanse of hanging vines fed by drip irrigation so it appears to cascade into the tranquil pool: it conceals neighbouring apartments so inhabitants can't ogle your cellulite
- Since we first visited, prices have risen to high European levels; but guests continue to tell us that "it's worth every penny"
- The interior design is perhaps a little too professional and frictionless, and may strike some people as being on the bland side of boutique
- Impeccably grouted cobblestones on the paths mean you have to wade through puddles when it rains
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Hotel
- Restaurants and bar (open daily)
- Welcome but not ideal
- Open all year
- Heated Pool
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Concierge Service
There are 2 main types of generous suite, Rajah Brooke (70 sq.m) and East Borneo (75 sq.m), set in 2-storey buildings with large terraces so it feels like having your own apartment. The only difference apart from the colour scheme - the former has blue soft furnishings, the latter red - is that East Borneo Suites can be set up as twin rooms on request. Ask for a suite on the upper floor where you’re out of sight of passing traffic. Ceilings are (or feel) higher, and you get more of a breeze.
All rooms are painted white with attractive moulded ceilings and colonial furniture, decorated with daguerreotypes of old Chiang Mai, whose elephant theme is echoed by little pachyderms marching across the curtains. The big 4-poster beds were almost too soft for our liking but come with high-thread-count linen. In front of the bed is a sofa, where you can watch TV. Music and DVD players are the least of the amenities: better is the range of glassware in the minibar, and the espresso machine in every room.
Best of all is the suite of bathrooms. There are 5 cells in each room type, so it feels like you’re passing through space-ship airlocks. First is your walk-in wardrobe with his’n’hers sinks, followed by the bathtub, followed by the indoor shower and loo, followed by the outdoor shower. Toiletries are jasmine-scented, as is the humidifier. Robes, slippers and hairdryers are provided.
Out on your generous terrace is a planter’s chair and a huge daybed. Smokers and non-smokers alike will spend much of their time here. The butler (whom the bumf encourages you to think of as your friend) lights the mosquito coils at night, and a powerful fan flaps overhead.
William Bain Terrace Suites
These 100 sq.m suites also have a sitting room/library and a garden. Crucially, they’re upstairs in the most ‘exclusive’ corner overlooking the pool.
Louis Leonowens Pool Suites
Named after a former resident, the son of Anna of The King and I fame, these are perfect if you want to splurge on a honeymoon. At 135 sq.m they're by far the biggest rooms, and have all the same luxuries of the William Bain Terrace Suites plus a plunge pool.
The latter 2 suites are particularly indulgent as guest receive a fruit basket, a bottle of Prosecco (or non-alcoholic option), Thai tapas or finger foods, a daily signature cocktail, late check-out (subject to availability), and a commemorative gift. These benefits are not available in conjunction with any other offer.
- Air conditioning
- Butler service
- CD player
- CD/DVD library
- Coffee maker
- Cots Available
- DVD player
- Extra beds
- Internet access
- Ipod dock
- IPod Nano with playlists
- Safe box
- Satellite TV
Breakfast, served in the turquoise Dining Room, is unlimited à la carte, including fruit, yoghurt, cereals, good bread, ‘homemade’ (i.e. imported) jam, and excellent tea and coffee. At the time of writing the kitchen had not come into its own, failing to figure out that eggs Benedict or Florentine do not benefit greatly from paprika. Stick to plain fried eggs for the time being.
There are 2 restaurants on site which serve lunch and dinner. The Dining Room serves Thai and Asian dishes, try pan-fried duck breast with honey cashew nuts or the deep-fried lobster with puffy rice, tofu and crispy garlic. Then there's the Palette Restaurant which has a more Western menu featuring grilled scallops with a champagne velouté and grilled Australian beef in port . As well as this, there are reasonably priced poolside and in-room snacks. Private dinners and picnic hampers can be provided, and on request the hotel can arrange lunch on a hot-air balloon. Really.
There’s daily afternoon high tea on offer, which is served either in the Parlor Lounge, by the infinity pool or on the lawn. Take time out to relax with customised tea blends, high quality coffee and complimentary Thai sweets. If you want something a bit stronger, head to Jack Bain’s Bar for a cocktail.
There’s plenty of food within a stone’s throw of the hotel. More or less opposite on Charoenrat Road, you can get excellent khao soi, the Chiang Mai speciality of egg noodles and tender meat in spicy coconut curry, for less than £1. Ask for 'special' for an extra-big bowl, and go easy on the chilli paste.
Comedara on Charoenrat, at the back of the modern art gallery, has good gentrified Thai food - all rather mild - on a terrace overlooking the river, with interesting dishes like yum chayote and ginger pork stew.
For noisy fun, check out the city’s 2 famous riverside restaurants, The Riverside ‘since 1983’ and its slicker neighbour The Good View. Spend at least one evening here: turnover is quick, so a table with a river view will become available. Draft beer and retro European favourites are one draw (the filet mignon comes with ribbed carrots), the eclectic mix of humanity another. Energetic bands murder chart-topper after chart-topper. For afternoon snacks, visit Vieng Joom On, the musk-pink teahouse.
Among the bewildering options near the tourist hub of Tha Pae Gate, we recommend the authentic and absurdly cheap Pizzeria Da Roberto, next to De Naga hotel. Check local publications for fine dining, which is mostly found in other hotels.
- Cigar and wine lounge
- Coffee maker
- Restaurants nearby
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
- Relax on your terrace or by the long narrow pool under the amazing ‘green wall’, or have a massage at the spa
- Explore the temples, markets and maze of little streets of the old moated town, a tuk-tuk ride across the river
- Take Thai massage and cookery courses: there’s no better place in the country to learn these arts, with a plethora of classes and schools vying for your custom. The hotel also offer their own Thai cooking courses and demonstrations in The Kitchen, often featuring gourmet chefs
- Go trekking or rafting, or take a hill-tribe tour: the province is the epicentre of outdoor adventures, though you should choose your operator carefully and know that the region is far from unspoilt. The multi-lingual concierge service can arrange day trips, too - there's a range of sightseeing tours and community-based excursions
- Rent a car or scooter. Across the river and in the direction of the hills, you’ll soon reach Doi Suthep, the city’s temple mountain, with its processional staircase, gold-painted temples and chedis, and glorious views. (The cable car is best avoided)
- Chiang Mai is a regional centre for furniture and antiques. Visit the extraordinary craft village of Baan Tawai, whether or not you want to buy something. The shops have everything from mangowood bric-a-brac and old Chinese furniture to huge carved Indian doorways and whole temple facades
- Play golf at Royal Chiang Mai, Maejo Chiang Mai or Gassan Lake
- Visit the famous Night Bazaar, actually an evening bazaar with a vast selection of handicrafts, trinkets and tat. It’s a leisurely 10-minute walk across the river footbridge
- Have a drink in the bars along the moat at Tha Pae Gate, where stringy pensioners in wife-beater vests and unwashed backpackers live a life of beer amid the homely, fairy-lit sleaze of yesteryear
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Cooking classes
- Hill-tribe tours
- Historical sites
- Hot air ballooning
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures
- Well being
Management don't discourage families but there are no specific facilities for children. That said, baby cots, extra beds and babysitting are available on request.
Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)
Family friendly accommodation:
Rajah Brooke Suites can fit 1 baby cot or 1 rollaway bed, and their terraces can interconnect; East Borneo Suites can fit 1 rollaway bed and 1 baby cot
Cots and extra beds available on request
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
137 Pillars House is in the Wat Gate area of Chiang Mai, alongside the Ping river in north Thailand.
Chiang Mai International Airport can be reached by internal flights from Bangkok (1 hour) and from several other cities in and around Thailand (Phuket, Luang Prabang, Yangon, Kunming, Chittagong). There's also a daily hop from nearby Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. You can also fly direct from Koh Samui (10 flights daily), and there's 1 daily flight to Chiang Mai from Sukhothai. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving the airport.
From the Airport
You could get a taxi, which should cost around THB150 (price correct in 2012), or 137 Pillars House can arrange a transfer (see Rates). The journey takes about 10-15 minutes.
A 'special express' sleeper train departs from Bangkok daily (around 19.40) to Chiang Mai (arriving around 07.55); but you will need to book a few days ahead (best done through your previous hotel). There are also daytime trains, including the 'Sprinter' which jogs out of Bangkok at around 08.10 and hobbles into Chiang Mai at around 18.50.
The 12-hour buses from Bangkok are only for serious masochists.
If you want to hire a car locally (we don't recommend driving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) then you can do so through the hotel, or book ahead on the web. See our car rental recommendations..
Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.com.
More on getting to Thailand and getting around
- Chiang Mai International 4.5 km CNX
- Beach 800.0 km
- Shops 0.5 km
- Restaurant 0.5 km