Shangri-la, Chiang Mai, Thailand

LOCATION: Shangri-La is in downtown Chiang Mai’s commercial district on the Chang Klan Road, in the centre of the old city, just a 10-minute drive from the airport and a few skips, hop and a jump from the famous Night Bazaar.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Surrounded by calming views of mist-shrouded mountains, rice paddy fields and dense jungle greenery, it’s easy to see why Chiang Mai draws the tourists time and time again.
Set in seven acres of lush green lawns fragranced by frangipani and ginger, while lotuses float lazily in near-by ponds, Shangri-La, Chiang Mai, is a deluxe city resort where you can enjoy all the luxury of a grand palace without feeling the need to stand on ceremony.
After being greeted by the two stone elephants which front the hotel, a homage to their efforts to work and war, the twinkling lights of the bamboo trees guide a path to the soaring lobby lounge, soothingly lit by Chrystal chandeliers and where curved wooden chairs with comfy cushions in rich regal reds are set against a traditionally rich teak floor.
Built to complement its sister in Bangkok, Shangri-La Chiang Mai, with its peaked tiers and expertly crafted local art, is heavily influenced by the city’s rich, 700-year history as the once powerful Lanna Kingdom. ‘Lanna’ literally means ‘a million rice fields’, an apt description for this rich agricultural land ruled by a succession of kings.
The hotel is in an ideal location to explore one of the few places in Thailand in which centuries-old temples and religious monuments stand next to modern boutiques in the heart of the city. While now modern and dynamic, the old city has retained its down to earth charm with quaint walled quarters, Thailand’s holiest of temples and narrow cobbled streets or ‘soi’.
Every October/November, the near-by Ping River is lit with the glorious sight of thousands of lanterns being cast into the river and night sky – a ritual where by the Thai people cast away their sins. Keen to ensure we did not miss out on this spectacle our hosts led us on a night time stroll and presented us each with our lanterns telling us to wish. The higher it goes, the more likely your wish is granted. While my khom loy made a somewhat rickety path into the night’s sky, I certainly didn’t feel like the unlucky one. 

FACTS: The hotel has 281 rooms, with home-from-home touches and that gracious and humble ‘nothing’s too much trouble’ Thai hospitality, which all set the mood for some serious slumber. Thoughtful touches include heavy silk curtains drawn for bedtime,  bookmarks left on the turndown crisp cotton sheets quoting Lost Horizon (a copy of which is found in every bedside draw), a pillow menu (anti-snore or buckwheat, anyone?), and a sliding door in the bathroom revealing a glass wall so you can watch the sunset while soaking in a warm tub.
Savvy travellers will appreciate the benefits of being a horizon club member, which offers speedy check-in and a private lounge on the 22nd floor with personal voicemail, wifi, and buffet breakfast. It is the place to sip a complimentary cocktail while gazing out at 180 degree dramatic mountain views.
Foodies won’t be disappointed. Think bountiful breakfasts in the Kad Kafe, with counters heaving under the strain of Thai, Indian, Chinese or Mediterranean dishes or enjoy flavourful Thaipas served up in the Silapa lounge and bar.
Towels folded into baby elephants will greet you at the reception for the health club where you’ll find the usual gymnasium, jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath. Step outside, and the perfectly tended pool is surrounded by comfy loungers ideal for sunning or even deeper sunken tented huts for snoozing.
A trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a traditional Thai massage. The main features of the Chi spa include a pool-facing Yoga pavilion and a commanding structure called “The Sanctum” all set amid tropical gardens.
A questionnaire determined my Chinese five-element type (mine was fire). This dictates the oils used in your treatment – and even the type of tea you drink. After perusing the menu, I was torn between a Mountain Tsampa Rub and a Lanna Blend Massage. I opted for the later, before being led to one of the nine private Thai villas, where my therapist poured fresh tea, before scrubbing and washing my feet in traditional herbal floral water. The all over-body scrub left my skin tingly and smooth. When the bell rang to signal the end of my massage, I felt so relaxed I was convinced I might never walk again.  
If you still have your wits about you after the spa, prepare to barter and watch eyes roll if you want to pick up a bargain at the famous Night Bazaar. A myriad of alluring items dazzle under the neon lights and lanterns including colourful Thai silk, wood carvings, gems and silverware. Market traders’ opening gambit will always be about twice what you ought to pay.  

A GOOD BASE FOR: Elephant trekking, bamboo rafting or zip-wire jungle adventures.
We headed north west to the Methemum elephant camp. After a 50 minute-ride, encountering a long and winding road, we met mahout Johnny and his 20-year-old Asian elephant Madonna. The views were truly spectacular as we trekked through the jungle, glimpsing the hill tribes in the distance. Be sure not to swerve the huts selling bundles of sugar cane and bunches of banana, an elephant’s vital fuel. Madonna was certainly no lady and huffed and snorted at the slightest hint that we might pass.
Temple spotters won’t be disappointed. There are more than 300 to choose from. Wat Phra That Doi Suthepy, which sits majestically high in the hills on Doi Suthep’s Summit, is my favourite. Legend states that the Buddha’s shoulder bone was carried to the site by a white elephant. When the elephant reached the spot, it trumpeted, circled three times, knelt down and died. This was interpreted as a sign it was an auspicious site and the King ordered the temple was built. It’s worth climbing the 306 steps to see it and, if the clouds co-operate you’ll also be rewarded with far-reaching views of the city. Watch the orange-robed monks in their daily rituals and undertaking painstaking renovating to the golden leaves of the temples, you can even engage in ‘monk chat’ about their lives as they enjoy practising their English and are more jolly than one might expect. At the foot of the temple is the traditional stalls, I made the mistake of snapping the two of the most angelic girls, in traditional hill tribe dress, the youngest of which leapt up half a second after hearing the click and ran for me, making the international sign language for ‘money’.

PRICE:  Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, 89/8 Chang Klan Road, Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand. A double room at Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai starts from 5,379 THB (approx. £108) per night. Prices include breakfast, tax and service.

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