In October and November of 2012, my sister, Sandra, and I celebrated both my retirement and my graduation to the rank of senior citizen by taking a trip to SE Asia. We started in Hanoi, Viet Nam, and worked our way roughly southwestward through parts of Cambodia, a few villages in south Viet Nam, and finally, a memorable nine days of cooking classes, massages, mahout training, and temple hopping in Thailand. Our accommodation throughout the trip ranged from incredibly cheap (but immaculate) to exquisite, with 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai, Thailand, easily winning the award for elegance.
The hotel is a recently completed complex of 30 suites, set amidst gardens and ponds, on the grounds of an old plantation-type house that was built on 137 pillars. Louis Leonowens, the son of Anna (a British woman who spent several years at the palace of the King of Siam teaching his children English) lived in 137 Pillars house for a while in the late 1800’s while harvesting teak in Northern Thailand. At the time of its construction, the number of pillars supporting a house indicated the owner’s social and financial status, 137 being rather impressive. The original building, immaculately restored, now houses a library/bar, piano room, and private dining room, and leads in the back to the hotel’s newer terraced restaurant, where you can eat in the garden or inside a wall-less airy pavilion full of filmy silk hangings and comfortable banquettes. If you eat outside and find the sun too strong, the extremely attentive staff will kindly wheel a giant umbrella over to your table to provide shade.
The East Borneo suite in which we stayed is utterly charming. The entryway has a floor to ceiling door, opening onto a spacious hallway with equally tall white wooden louvered windows along one wall, exquisitely framed old photographs of the area and of elephants working in the teak logging industry years ago. The windows look out onto a garden and large lily pond. Off this hallway to the right is the bedroom which has fabric walls, beautiful bamboo/wood pieces of furniture hiding a state of the art entertainment centre and a refreshment centre, two beds with the most luxurious white fine cotton puffy bedding I’ve ever slept in, a many-pillowed couch, and a glass and wood coffee table holding a copper-coloured wooden bowl of oranges, Asian pear, and dragonfruit—and orchids for decoration. At night, when the staff “refresh” your room, they leave a plate with chocolates and an orchid on the table, and a printed Aesop fable-ish bedtime story on each bedside table. Two walls are floor to ceiling glass, one covered by white wooden louvered shutters, and the other by heavy, lined, floor to ceiling drapes on which elephants are embroidered. Behind the drapes are massive glass doors opening out onto a large elegantly furnished private verandah. Accent colours and patterns throughout are warm beige, bright red, off white, gold, elephants, and a Burberry type plaid.
The third doorway off the entryway leads you into what I’d probably call a dressing room. Again, it is beautifully appointed and orchid-laden, with guest amenities such as a safe, slippers, plush bath robes, hair dryer, toothbrushes and toothpaste, individually wrapped loofahs and Thai jasmine and mint creams, soaps, and shampoos. I smelled really good during my stay there, and my hair was very, very shiny. This dressing room leads in the back to a black and white tiled bath room featuring a huge brilliant white claw foot tub, on either side of which are separate marble-floored rooms, one housing a toilet, and the other a shower stall. Two tall tempered glass doors lead into these side rooms from the tub area and two more out of them to an exterior shower area, with latticed walls and so many green plants that you can shower in complete privacy in your own lush garden. The rest of the property is full of lotus-filled ponds, mature trees, gardens, and an infinity pool, two sides of which are high walls covered completely in growing plants. The entire complex is drop dead gorgeous.
Being more back pack/mud hut travellers, my sister and I rarely find ourselves in such luxurious accommodations, partly due to financial constraints and partly because we think it easier to meet local folks and have interesting experiences staying in somewhat humbler places. But in this instance, Chiang Mai’s night market and street food vendors were but a manageable and safe walk away, and the hotel staff members were keen on recommending local places of interest. They would ask what we planned to visit as we were leaving for the day, and always remembered to enquire about our experiences at that particular destination when we returned to the hotel. Their attentiveness alone made me think that mud huts may be a little overrated.
All photos By Sandra Phinney – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Carmen Phinney has been sending travelogues to friends for many years now, from various spots on the globe: Australia, Mexico, the USA, Germany, Costa Rica, and most recently, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Thailand. She enjoys painting word pictures, and feels like her friends and family are along for the ride when they are reading them. Favourite trip? Any one that offers new friends, experiences, and recipes.
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