Ping Nakara Hotel and Spa

Chiang Mai & North, Thailand Book from

Reviewed by Shelley Seale
Tranquil and romantic hotel with superb service, just steps from the heart of cosmopolitan Chiang Mai
Ping Nakara is a relative newcomer to the Chiang Mai boutique hotel scene, but it has already won prestigious awards for hoteliering, architecture and design. Arriving at its front steps, this elegant white mansion feels like the private home of royalty but oozes design and taste in a very subtle way. Nothing is overdone.

There are just 19 rooms, set around a tranquil courtyard with a sparkling pool. Although built new from the ground up, Ping Nakara was inspired by the style of a century ago, when Chiang Mai was a prosperous teak-trading centre - hence the hand-carved fretwork and gingerbread details. Lanna traditional arts are found throughout, such as the dramatic Zodiac oil painting in the lobby, yet the hotel exudes a contemporary ambiance. And the attention to architectural detail is incredible: each of the 7 buildings is different, and the bas-relief plaques around the pool took 2 years to complete.

Casual and friendly, Ping Nakara avoids an overly stuffy or deferential atmosphere, yet provides impeccable service. The restaurant is open until 11pm and breakfast is especially nice with a good variety of dishes. There's also a concierge for booking excursions, a vintage car to chauffeur guests around town in style, and tour guides can be provided.

Highs

  • Excellent location that is the best of both worlds: tranquil along the end of the Ping River, yet mere blocks from old Chiang Mai
  • Beautiful, spacious rooms with tropical flower murals
  • Peace and serenity invade the senses: from sight and feel to the specially formulated fragrance that wafts throughout, created from local herbs and plants. Instrumental Lanna music plays softly in the background
  • Romantic, private and restful; the perfect place for couples
  • Superb Nakara Spa with a full range of Ayurvedic treatments

Lows

  • For guests who like more of a party scene, Ping Nakara may be a little quiet
  • Set on a busy road so you may experience distant traffic noise
  • There are only 6 loungers around the pool; more are on their way

Best time to go

The cool season (Nov to Feb) is best, with daytime temperatures in the high 20s celsius, and bearably cool nights. But it's also the busiest. And if you want to go trekking, the 'swidden burning' in Feb and March means parched ground, low visibility and smoke-clouds - not ideal. The waters are also lowest at this time, so don't plan on any rafting or waterfall-bathing. Given a choice, Nov and Dec are the best 2 months of this period. De Naga launch floating lanterns at Tha Pae Gate (opposite the hotel) on New Year's Eve.

The hot season (March to May) is for the hardy only, though temperatures soar into the mid 30s celsius with high humidity to boot, and the rains can hit quite hard from mid-May, without getting much cooler. Chiang Mai and surrounding towns are great places to experience the water festival, Songkran (mid April). There's also a flower festival on the first weekend in Feb with a procession of floats shaped into animals, chedis and scenes from the Ramayana.

The rainy season (June to Oct) is an option – average rainfall is about 200mm per month, peaking in Aug-Sept, but it all comes down in half an hour a day and you can expect one or two dry days per week. It's usually in the mid to high 20s celsius. There's a 'life-prolonging' Inthakin festival in Chiang Mai in early June, where young men are paraded around on others' shoulders before starting life as monks.

Our top tips

  • Ping Nakara is an easy stroll from many markets, restaurants and attractions of Chiang Mai, and an easy tuk-tuk ride from almost everywhere else. However, consider renting a motorbike, as we did; it’s a great way to zoom around town and very inexpensive
  • Visit during the Loy Krathong lantern festival in November. This week-long celebration with floating lanterns on the river and thousands of people releasing hot-air lanterns is spectacular, although the entire city books up early for this
  • Great for...

    City Style
    Family
    Honeymoon
    Spa
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 19
    • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    Room: Royal Grand Deluxe Room

    Rooms

    Each of the rooms is individually decorated, with thoughtful use of natural materials and a distinctive style. All are spacious, and gleaming dark wood floors and quality teakwood furnishings reflect colonial traditions. Most have a private balcony.

    Heavy cotton bathrobes, towels and slippers, plus the finest bed linens and duvets, are standard. The pillow menu is a nice touch, letting guests order the perfect combination for their perfect night’s sleep, from soft to firm, feather to soba, full-body pillows and even anti-snore versions. Bathrooms all have a shower and tub, and there are natural bath and beauty products from the Nakara Spa.

    Each individual room is named after and trademarked by the artistic renderings of tropical flowers on the walls, hand-painted by local Lanna artists. A choice of kingsize or twin beds is available. Deluxe Rooms and Grand Deluxe Rooms are cheaper, but they're nice and big and the latter have balconies. Royal Grand Deluxe Rooms all have large balconies, plus sumptuous Jacuzzi baths for the indulgence of an in-room spa.

    Guests get unlimited morning-fresh coffee or tea, internet access, and free cold drinking water. Other amenities include a safe, a CD/DVD player and a widescreen TV with satellite/cable. A central elevator serves all 3 floors of the hotel.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Cd player
    • Central heating
    • Coffee tea making
    • Cots Available
    • Dvd player
    • Fan
    • Hairdryer
    • Iron/ironing board (on request)
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Phone
    • Pillow menu
    • Safe box
    • Satellite tv
    • Slippers
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi

    Eating

    The Ping Nakara restaurant sits right next to the pool, a lovely setting for breakfast or dinner. The white marble expanse of the veranda coupled with the soothing bamboo that surrounds the blue water insulates you from the rest of the world.

    The full gourmet breakfast (both buffet and a la carte) offers all the Western standards you would expect, from omelettes and waffles to fruits, meats, yoghurt and juices. But there is also a choice of unusual selections prepared daily from both Western and Asian recipes.

    Outside of breakfast, the restaurant is available for all day dining until 11pm and has an all day menu of Thai dishes. The kitchen can prepare a range of gourmet meals at any time - the Kao Soi is their signature dish, and the Plaa Salmon fried with local herbs and spices is also popular as is the Ping Nakara platter of local sausages and meats. An authentic Thai dinner is also on offer. This is a multi-course, traditional meal, and although the menu itself is a surprise, the recipes date back to the Teak Wallah period.

    Special dinners and events are held frequently in the adjacent gardens; when I stayed over the American Thanksgiving holiday, a full traditional Thanksgiving buffet dinner was on offer. It was a delightful setting, with musicians playing in the background and beautiful white lights strung throughout the trees.

    The hotel has a full bar and wine cellar, and free coffee and tea are available throughout the day.

    Ping Nakara is walking distance from a plethora of restaurants, pubs and bars. Nearby eateries include Ping Pong, Whole Earth (vegetarian), Giorgio (Italian), and Jia Thong Heng (Chinese) - but take your pick of nearly any cuisine and you'll find it in Chiang Mai!

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Breakfast
    • Coffee tea making
    • Dinner by arrangement
    • Lunch by arrangement
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Relax with a massage or decadent all-body treatment at the hotel's Nakara Spa, which is run on Ayurvedic principles. The menu is extensive: choose from bespoke wellness packages, facial rejuvenation, body wraps, reflexology plus beauty salon standards; afterwards enjoy a custom-blended herbal tea

    • Or simply unwind next to the pool in an environment that practically demands lounging

    • Speed around town on a rented motorbike or bicycle; it’s an excellent way to explore the old city

    • Visit local temples and wats such as Chedi Luang in the old city centre; the amazing teak Phan Tao; or Doi Suthep, perched on a mountain outside Chiang Mai

    • Fly through the jungle on a thrilling zip-line adventure with Flight of the Gibbon

    • Shop at the Sunday Walking Street Market or the Night Bazaar, both of which offer an extensive selection of handicrafts and pirated goods, as well as a street life experience with food and music

    • Learn the fun and delicious art of Thai cooking at one of several culinary schools; one of the most renowned and popular is the Chiang Mai Cookery School

    • Popular local tours include Bo Sang, the umbrella village, and San Kamhaeng, the silk making district - jump into a tuk-tuk, or get the tour company to provide transport for you

    • Volunteer at a local animal non-profit centre; you can interact with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park Rescue, and Care for Dogs takes in homeless dogs from the streets and temples

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cooking classes
    • Cycling
    • Historical sites
    • Museums / galleries
    • Nightlife
    • Private guided tours
    • Shopping / markets
    • Wildlife
    • Zip lining

    Kids

    Children are welcome at Ping Nakara and it is a very comfortable place for families, although the place is much more geared toward quiet romance for couples. Baby cots are available, as are extra beds in most rooms.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    All rooms can hold an extra bed and baby cot. Deluxe Rooms have no balcony so are safer for babies and small children, and they can also interconnect with neighbouring Grand Deluxe King Rooms. Otherwise go for one of the Royal Grand Deluxe Rooms as they are the most spacious.

    Families Should Know:

    The pool is unfenced as it is the centrepiece of the hotel, with the dining terrace on one side.

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    8/
    Rooms
    9/
    Food
    9/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    9/
    Overall

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