Today (May 4, 2016): Hotel review: The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai (Thailand).
- Location: Google maps
- Address: 51/4 Moo 1, Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Road, Thailand 50000, Thailand
- Hotel website: Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
- Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso
Spread over 60 acres of serene, natural landscapes, incorporating picturesque rice paddies, tropical hardwoods and exotic plantations lies Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, one of Asia’s most fabulous resorts. The luxury resort’s design draws heavily from the architectural and cultural influences of the historic Lanna Kingdom, that influenced Northern Thailand for 500 years from the end of the 13th century. Ancient palace-like structures, traditional Lanna-style villas and delightful colonial mansions house luxurious accommodations (some with their own private plunge pools), fine-dining restaurants and superb recreational facilities.
The Dhara Devi Chiang Mai features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in Thailand.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Comparison with the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- The Dhara Dhevi enjoys a convenient location on the outskirts of Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Kingdom of Lan Na. The hotel is only a short 15 minutes drive from Chiang Mai International Airport, and a mere 10 minutes from the centre of Chiang Mai, where an exciting blend of modern-day city life and cultural tradition awaits to be explored.
- Although the hotel is located within the boundaries of the densely populated city, its serene setting amidst 60 acres of beautifully landscaped tropical grounds is so peaceful and tranquil that it feels more like you are residing on the Thai countryside in an old Lanna village than being in a large, modern city.
- The fabulous resort grounds are a maze of spectacular scenery, ranging from beautiful rice paddies, tropical hardwoods and exotic plantations, to expanses of paved courtyards and high rendered walls topped with pullout towers. Fountains, gilded statuary, dragons, bells, wooden artwork adorns the entire resort.
- The resort is a collection of several separate pavilions scattered around the overwhelmingly large domain, with a layout that is somewhat reminiscent of an ancient fortified village. An impressive driveway, lined by towering trees, leads from the majestic entrance gate to the spectacular lobby pavilion, with several buildings and an expansive lawn along the way (e.g. Mandalay Palace national library for Tipitaka and praying temples). The lobby pavilion itself resembles a fairytale palace straight out of 1001 nights.
- Because the property is so large and spread out, you will be given bicycles for the duration of your stay. In addition, electric buggy transfers are provided on your request if you don’t wish to traverse the long distances between the lobby and accommodations by bicycle.
- Be prepared to be mesmerized at every corner with the resort’s stunning architecture, which is based on the Lanna kingdom (Kingdom of Million Rice Fields from the 13th to 18th centuries) and inspired by elements from Myanmar (Taungoo to Konbaung dynasty), northern Thailand and Laos. In fact, the entire resort is a showcase of Thai Lanna kingdom architecture passionately restored by a group of Thai architects and designers working with local artisans.
- The resort has two magnificent, very large pools, surrounded by lovely sundecks with plenty of comfortable lounge chairs. The main, rectangular shaped pool is massive in size and wraps around the a corner of the lobby pavilion. The other, lagoon-style pool is located near the gym and overlooks the rice paddies. The staff members at both pools are fantastic.
- The Dhara Dhevi’s 123 accommodations are split into two areas: the colonial suites are located in a five hotel wings close to the main reception while the two-story villas are scattered around the rice paddies. Both suites and villas are a tribute to the glory and splendour of Lanna architecture. Unparalleled luxury and exotic artefacts abound in all the villas and suites, which rank amongst the world’s most spacious and exclusive hotel accommodations.
- The suites are located in a beautiful, colonial style, two-story buildings that are located in the north-west area of the resort in close proximity to the main hotel swimming pool, main lobby and breakfast restaurant. First floor suites boast spacious balconies, while ground floor suites enjoy direct access onto the lush gardens. Decorated in a charming colonial style, each suite features a bedroom and separately adjoining living room, as well as a large private veranda. The five-meter high ceiling enhances the guest’s sense of open space and palatial living.
- The two-storey villas are in fact authentic Northern Thai rice houses made out of teak wood. Each one is unique and has been converted to offer a luxurious blend of modern and traditional style accommodation. The villas feature two floors with ample living space on the ground floor and resting space upstairs. Common features include a whirlpool tub, separate shower stall, outdoor deck or terrace and a Thai Sala. Some of these villas also come with a private plunge pool.
- The Dhara Dhevi was once managed by the Mandarin Oriental hotel group, but it was taken private several years ago without compromising on the service levels.
- The Dhara Dhevi is the only hotel in Chiang Mai that offers guests a regular daily program for arts and crafts demonstration, such as basket making, bamboo weaving, rice pounding, paper cutting and flower arranging in northern Thai style. Guests can either watch or participate.
- The resort’s Thai Cooking School is located on the upper storey of a delightful wooden pavilion behind Le Grand Lanna Restaurant. The classroom-style kitchens are fitted with modern equipment with individual cooking stations, extractor hoods, sinks and preparation areas for up to twenty students.
- The resort has its own Shopping Village, located near the main gate of the resort. It’s a small, cozy village built in the local northern Thai style of the past, with a series of shuttered wooden shop-houses. This unique place is home to a number of specialty shops and upscale designer boutiques as well as a coffee corner, the resort’s own stylish Chinese Restaurant, and a famous cake shop.
- The resort’s Lanna Kids Club is located in a one-hundred-year-old northern Thai house offering lessons on Thai dancing and music, arts and crafts, as well as traditional Thai games and toys. Children can also experience rice planting, Thai boxing, yoga for kids, paper making and umbrella painting.
- Beside the two swimming pools, the resort offers other sport and ensure facilities as well, including two outdoor tennis courts, two air-conditioned squash courts, and a state of the art gym.
- The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai has a ‘hidden’ amphitheater, which is the perfect setting for a romantic wedding or a reception.
- The Dheva Spa is a marvelous spectacle to behold and offers a truly inspirational health and wellbeing experience. It’s a palatial sanctuary embellished with ornate mouldings and sculptures depicting sacred animals or symbolic Buddhist motifs, loyally recreated by 150 Chiang Mai artisans from the original Burmese template in Mandalay, Myanmar. The entire structure took over three and a half years to complete. There are 11 treatment rooms (each one of them larger than a residential villa), and there is a range of holistic treatments and spa treatments on offer. I had a massage during my stay which was terrific.
- While the hotel’s architecture is exquisite and it’s set on 60 acres of beautifully kept property, it really is the exceptional service that puts it up there. It’s highly personalised, no one forgot your name and every staff member from the receptionist to the buggy drivers to the sweepers greet you as you walk by. The staff takes genuine pleasure in servicing all your needs.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Overall, the Dhara Devi Chiang Mai is an exceptional resort-style hotel that easily ranks amongst the best hotels that I have ever stayed at. I was overwhelmed by the architecture, domain grounds, and facilities. You need at least 2 days to take in all the sights of the hotel site. The resort does have a few short-comings that did not bother me at all, but you may want to know them nonetheless:
- The distance into the walled city (where Chiang Mai’s famous night bazaar is located) is about 3 km (2 miles), so it’s necessary to use a taxi or the free hotel shuttle that runs about three times a day. That said, the amenities and ambiance at the Dhara Dhevi are far superior as compared to all the hotels located closer to Chiang Mai’s main tourist area.
- The hotel looks old and authentic, but in fact, everything is newly built and the resort is under 10 years old. Personally, I loved and appreciated it, but this ‘Disney-ish’ feel will not be to the liking of all.
- The villas are scattered around the rice fields, and consequently a few harmless animal encounters can naturally happen when venturing outside. It’s a part of the experience, so be sure you don’t mind frogs, bats, squirrels, birds and mosquitos on your way to your room.
- The villa’s plunge pool are not particularly private: these houses and their gardens border the rice paddies, where other hotel guests freely walk around.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 10/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Service: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 9,4/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai (and/or receiving many free perks).
- Save money: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD resort credit).
- When you book a room a the Dhara Dhevi, make sure that you understand that the hotel offers two types of accommodations: colonial suites that look out onto the tropical gardens, and phenomenal villas that come with views of the rice fields. The villas are my favorite, but they are more pricey as well.
- The resort grounds are spectacular, especially in the early evening when the warm illumination creates a wonderful ambiance. It’s highly recommended to spend an hour just walking around the grounds around sunset to take it all in.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
COMPARISON WITH THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai features two luxury hotels, the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai hotel and the Four Seasons Chiang Mai (which I reviewed here), so you may wonder which one is best. While both resorts feature a similar concept (they are both built around rice paddies and working farms), there are a few differences:
- Dhara Dhevi is on the eastern side of Chiang Mai ( a few minutes to the city center), whereas the Four Seasons is located 30 to 45 minutes north of town in Mae Rim. So, the Dhara Dhevi is more convenient if you plan to head out at night to experience other dining options or the night markets. If you don’t mind being away from everything and dining in house, the Four Seasons sits in a beautiful location
- Although the Four Seasons is spread over 13 hectares (30 acres), the resort feels small and intimate compared to the Dhara Dhevi whose resorts grounds are twice as large and where you need bikes and golf carts to get around.
- The Four Seasons features a lovely traditional Thai design (although there’s nothing particularly impressive about it), while the Dhara Dhevi’s design will blow you off your feet since the property is a breathtaking showcase of Thai Lanna kingdom architecture passionately restored by a group of Thai architects and designers working with local artisans; entering the Dhara Dhevi feels like stepping into a time machine back to the 13th century.
- The two pools at the Four Seasons are small (especially the adults only pool) and can feel crowded when the hotel operates at high occupancy, while the Dhara Dhevi features two massive pools, one of them wrapping around the spectacular lobby pavilion, the other one being a lagoon-style pool.
- Accommodations are great at both resorts. While the Dhara Dhevi offers more room categories (including colonial style rooms), the rooms at the Four Seasons feel more modern because of their recent refurbishment. The Dhara Dhevi is currently also renovating some of its accommodations.
- Both resorts feature terrific restaurants, and although the Dhara Dhevi has more options with 5 dining venues, I preferred the food at the Four Seasons (although peolpe’s tastes may differ).
All in all, I preferred the Dhara Dhevi over the Four Seasons (mainly because of its location closer to town and its overwhelmingly beautiful design) although I suggest to stay at both hotels to take in the best of both world in case you plan a longer stay in the Chiang Mai area.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Chiang Mai is best visited during the cool season, which runs from November to February, when temperatures are mild and rain is scarce. The hot, dry season runs from March until June, but the temperatures can rise above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is utterly draining. Songkran in April is Chiang Mai’s biggest festival – and biggest party – but book well ahead for transport and accommodation. Chiang Mai’s rainy season runs from July to October and is characterized by torrential downpours, but they tend to be sudden bursts that only last for an hour or so rather than a steady stream of water.
HOW TO GET THERE
Chiang Mai can easily be reached by plane, train or car. For those coming by plane, the Dhara Dhevi is located a 20-minute cab ride from Chiang Mai International Airport. Check the Wikipedia page of Chiang Mai International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Chiang Mai.