Chiang Mai is largely a tourist town and, not-surprisingly, has a good selection of hotels and resorts to accommodate the large influx of visitors during the season (November to February). Hotels in Chiang Mai range from cheap, basic family-run Chinese hotels catering to locals, all the way to five-star hotels for US$350 a night! However, hotels are relatively good value in Chiang Mai and the rest of Thailand.
Here in Northern Thailand, accommodation (hotels and reorts) are cheaper than on the islands and the staff are naturally gifted at hospitality. Internationally owned and managed hotels in Chiang Mai meet Western expectations for comfort and service, and many of these accommodations have a full range of facilities, including a pool, fitness centre, massage and beauty salon, cable TV, and several bars and restaurants to chose from. Although hotels are significantly more expensive than guesthouses, they offer far more facilities and much better service. Customer service standards in Asia meet a different level of expectations.
The centre of Chiang Mai is full of guesthouses, and small family run hotels which are for many visitors the ideal choice for appreciating the laid-back character of Chiang Mai and avoiding the overly commercial, touristy feel of expensive hotels.
There are so many guest houses to choose from that you can literally wander around and take your pick, that’s if the touts at the station haven’t already gotten to you first. Rates vary from 100 – 500 baht, but you get what you pay for and some have very pokey bathrooms and no warm water (Chiang Mai can get quite chilly). Noise is another factor worth considering, so it’s worth seeking out the small places tucked down an alley in the Old Town or adjacent areas. Since everything is within walking distance, there’s no need to select the most convenient location. Out of season (May – October) rates drop by as much as 30 per cent.
Northern Thailand is a favorite escape for Thais, especially during the winter season from November to January, when the weather is sunny, cool and pleasant. This, coupled with the increasing number of international travellers to this area, means that the range of spas and spa resorts in the region has really grown over the last few years. Located in lush rural settings among beautiful mountain scenery, these resorts are becoming an essential part of many visitors’ Thailand holiday itinerary.
Recently, Chiang Mai has begun marketing itself as the ‘Spa Capital’ of Thailand. In May 2004, it established the Thai Lanna Spa Association to try to strengthen this market segment, but also make sure quality remains high. Thanks to this effort, the numbers of spas and spa resorts popping up in and around the city are plentiful and there is something for everyone.
There are many options for day spas in Chiang Mai, ranging from the full pamper luxury treatment, to more down to earth treatment with matching prices. In fact, Chiang Mai is an ideal place to indulge yourself, it’s laid back and cheap and you’ll certainly want to stay longer.
The Healing Rishi spa draws on traditional Thai healing arts that have been passed down for more than 2000 years from the original study of the Shivaka Rishi. The owners of this spa have accumulated years of study about eastern methods for healing mind body and soul. In addition to treatments, they offer meditation programs and rishi yoga, and provide accommodation on their comfortable, peaceful and relaxing premises set among rice paddies to the north of the city.
Chiang Mai is especially popular with backpackers; it’s not full of saddo package tourists like Phuket is, nor manic like Bangkok and the whole town is geared up for budget, free-spirited travellers. The old town is full of amazing guesthouses tucked away down quiet lanes, and you can almost feel like they’re home.