“Have you been to Chiang Mai yet?”
Any traveler making their way through Thailand is bound to encounter this query at some point along the way.
Chiang Mai is, in my opinion, well worth a place on anyone’s Siam Short List. It’s got the perfect balance of old and new, with lots of quiet corners just down the street from bustling epicenters. It’s easy to get around, friendly, lively and laid back. It’s the kind of place I have seriously daydreamed about living someday.
On my most recent trip to Thailand this summer, my fellow travelers and I breathed an audible sigh of relief as soon as our wheels hit the runway and the green blur outside our windows was a curtain of calm. From Chiang Mai’s quaint international airport it was just a short jaunt to our new home away from home, the Tamarind Village.
Tucked away in the center of the old walled city, is it at once a hidden oasis of peace and directly in the center of so much of the action. Checking into one of their Lanna-inspired rooms, I found a soothing space with a subtle color palate highlighted by authentic decorations from the hill tribes of the surrounding area. The modern conveniences (tv, air-con) were present but tastefully tucked out of sight, and I loved the personal touches I found throughout – a handwritten note welcoming me, fragrant fresh flowers on the desk, a locally-made textile robe folded neatly on the bed. The bathroom was outfitted with delicious-scented natural products, and even the sign encouraging guests to conserve on water was artfully printed on cloth hanging over the bamboo towel rack.
The grounds of the Tamarind Village are a big part of the charm. Tucked away in the center of the block down a long a long corridor lined with towering bamboo, it’s easy to forget you are smack dab in the middle of Chiang Mai’s historic old city. (In fact, the popular local Sunday artists’ market is accessible just at the end of the driveway!) My room sat on the inner courtyard, with a nice little deck looking out to the namesake Tamarind Tree holding court in the center of the hotel, which is thought to be over 200 years old. Delicate white umbrellas placed on the lawn among fallen flowers looked more like an artistic gesture than one of true purpose – on offer for guests to dodge the potential rain spats of the early monsoon season.
The staff, too, echoes this feeling of understated calm while providing excellent care to their guests. I felt that all my interactions with the staff were backed by a feeling of sincerity, whether chatting at the front desk about my plans for the day or simply the warm smiles that came easily from anyone passing by in the courtyard. My sense was that they were happy to be there, and I learned that Tamarind Tree has brought on members of the various local hill tribes as staff, a much-needed employment source for an underserved part of the population. I’m told that Tamarind Tree is also an active supporter of many local non-profit organizations and community projects, such as rebuilding efforts at the neighboring Buddhist temple.
The on-site Ruen Tamarind restaurant provides a stellar morning buffet breakfast, included in the room rates, which I started each morning with poolside. Evenings at the Ruen Tamarind go a bit more upscale, and the dinner menu is an elevated take on the best of Northern Thai cuisine classics, such as Panang duck, taro spring rolls and spicy octopus. Chiang Mai is blessed with a plethora of amazing eating options, and rarely do I stick around the hotel buffet in a foodie’s paradise like this, but the food at Ruen Tamarind is worth staying in for.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the sheer bliss that the shady pool at Tamarind Tree provides after a sticky, sweaty day exploring the markets and sois of Chiang Mai. It was the perfect temperature to slide into and float peacefully, with birdsong drowning out the distant sounds of traffic. Though I didn’t take advantage of it this time, Tamarind Tree also has an on-site spa offering massage, reflexolgy, holistic body and skin treatments, and I’m sure it will be well worth checking out on my next visit.
I’ve been coming to Chiang Mai for years, and always holed up at the simplest and cheapest of backpacker accommodations. With room rates starting at just 4,200 baht ($139) for off-peak rates, this is a very affordable splurge that I’m afraid I’m spoiled on for life.
Currently, Tamarind Tree has sweetened the deal even more by offering an early bird booking offer. You’ll get 15% off on all room categories when booking 30 days or further in advance until December 20, 2010. They’ve also put together a great-looking package to enjoy the upcoming Loy Krathong Festival; you can check out all their current booking specials, as well as some lovely shots of the hotel, on their website.