Wednesday, 25 September 2013

137 Pillars House

137 Pillars House can be accurately classified as a boutique hotel in Chiang Mai. It is a marvelous building as well as a luxury hotel. For this reason it is worth visiting, and definitely worth staying at if you have the money.

The word ‘boutique’ is used a lot in the hotel business. It is a trendy designation that helps to increase prestige and revenue for an accommodation provider. The word comes from the French and originally referred to a small shop. Since then ‘boutique’ has become an adjective in English and has come to connote a number of meanings. The excellent divides boutique hotels into several categories: colonial, modern, hip, historic, themed and micro. Boutique hotels although small can sometimes be big. They are normally one-offs but can be part of an exclusive chain. They are often converted historical buildings but can also be ultra new and modern. Boutique is an attitude, and a boutique hotel displays an attitude of originality, style and personalized service and facilities. It is easier to give examples of what a boutique hotel is than it is to define the phrase.

137 Pillars House (2 Soi 1, Na Wat Gate Road, Wat Gate) is the winner of 2013 Trip Advisors Travelers’ Choice awards for Chiang Mai. It is a small hotel with 30 rooms on the property. The aim, as the hotel website describes, is to create a ‘home style residence’ that ‘allows visitors to participate and share in the richness of a likeminded international community while creating plenty of space for sublime intimacy in sumptuous suites and throughout our tropical grounds’. This is a bit long winded but what the hotel is getting at is to create a small community of guests who can interact but also enjoy luxurious privacy.

As with many of the best boutique hotels, 137 Pillars House is a converted historical building. It was built in Chiang Mai and then moved from the west to the east side of the Ping River and served as a residence for workers of the East Borneo Company that was given royal dispensation to log the northern teak forests by King Chulalongkorn.

The house changed hands several times before being bought in 2002 by a Bangkok resident who lovingly restored it and opened a hotel.

137 Pillars retains many of the original architectural garden features. The house is made of old teak that has a rich patina from age. The grounds feature many unusual species of flora and make a delightful spot to relax and walk.

The hotel includes a library bar, a parlor lounge, a dining room, a more intimate dining area called ‘Palette’, a spa, a swimming pool and a gym. Guests are offered the highest levels of service and can arrange private dining on their own balcony.

The rooms feature all the mod cons as well as private balconies and period piece items such as free standing Victorian bath tubs.

Throughout the building the furniture has been hand-picked to reflect the history of the building and to add elegance and style to the interior.

The result is an oasis of calm and restrained style that serves as a welcome relief to the sometimes hectic sights and sounds of the city. If you like to escape the crowds and noise of Thailand after a day out, 137 Pillars House is the perfect solution. It is not only one of the best hotels in Chiang Mai, but also possibly in Thailand.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Maesa Elephant Camp

Maesa Elephant Camp is located 20 minutes north east of Chiang Mai. To get there either hire a taxi or self drive by hiring a moped or car. It’s an easy road to drive.

On arriving at the camp you get a good impression. This is created because the camp has a beautiful jungle setting with a river and small waterfall.

The actual camp is clean and well set up, with toilets and restaurant. It was established in 1976 and was the first elephant camp in Thailand to achieve International accreditation for safety and animal welfare (ISO 9001).

The camp has over 70 elephants each with its own keeper (called a mahout). The animals are well cared for. For those concerned about animal welfare please bear in mind that elephants have been domesticated in Thailand for centuries. They were involved in logging and transport when Thailand was largely jungle. The elephants have not been taken from the wild; they are the descendants of domesticated elephants left redundant by the mechanisation of logging and transport. These animals still work for a living except now it’s not logging, its entertaining tourists.

Activities include an elephant show, elephant rides, mahout courses, ox-cart rides and bamboo raft trips. Elephant shows happen daily at 8am, 9.40am and 1.30pm. They last about 45 minutes and cost 200 Thai Baht per person. Before the show you can feed the elephants with bananas and sugar cane and watch them bathe in the river.
The show involves the elephants performing tricks. They play football, basket ball and with a hola hoop. They also display traditional skills from the logging industry. The crescendo of the show is painting. The pictures go on sale after the show and fetch several hundred dollars each. Elephant rides last an hour and take you to a village where several hill tribes, including the famous long necks, live. These people are largely Cambodian and Burmese refugees displaced by war and persecution in their own countries. This village is one of several in Thailand where the Government has allowed them to settle legally.

 If you really want to get to find out more about elephants and help care for them we suggest booking a mahout course. 1, 2 and 3 day courses are available and they last from 8am to 4pm each day. You need to make reservation for this through their website ( Accommodation and food are provided for the 2 and 3 day courses.

Of course you don’t have to feel a commitment to animals’ welfare to visit Maesa Elephant Camp. It makes a fun day out: the elephants are entertaining and well cared for, and it’s a great chance to leave Chiang Mai and see some of the great countryside scenery.