I recently enjoyed a FABULOUS holiday in Thailand, including a stay at my favorite hotel in the world, Soneva Kiri. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt Airport
- Review: Lufthansa Airbus A380 First Class from Frankfurt to Bangkok
- Review: Soneva Kiri, my favorite hotel in the world
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai (today)
- Review: The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection resort (Phuket)
- Review: Park Hyatt Hotel Bangkok
- Review: Banyan Tree Hotel Bangkok
- Review: Thai Airways Boeing B747 First Class from Bangkok to Munich
Today (April 18, 2018): Review of Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai (Thailand).
- Location: Google maps
- Address: Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Road, Chiang Mai, 50180, Thailand
- Hotel website: Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
- Tip: get free VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
Just minutes from the artistic and cultural heritage of Thailand’s northern capital, Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is the perfect wellness sanctuary to unwind, recharge and find your fulfilment with individually tailored experiences and Four Seasons’ signature service. The resort offers 64 elegantly appointed pavilions, each with a private covered verandah, and 35 magnificent multi-bedroom pool villas with plush interiors. Here, you can experience soul-deep relaxation at an award-winning spa, go on a culinary adventure as you sample vibrant local flavors (or even try your hand at cooking Thai specialties), or simply laze in the cool waters of the resort’s swimming pools while overlooking emerald paddy fields and verdant mountains.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Comparison with the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai hotel
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Thailand with my online Thailand travel guide ***
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- The resort enjoys a coveted location near the capital of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, and is set in the heart of an area that was known as the Lanna Kingdom in the 13th century, with boundaries stretching far into Burma and Laos. Today, this history has led to a blend of cultures that gives the north of Thailand its distinctive charm and unique traditions. Chiang Mai is often fondly called the Rose of the North for its beauty and spirit, and is a much more laid-back place than Bangkok. The historic centre of the city still feels overwhelmingly residential, more like a sleepy country town than a bustling capital. Every evening, the city hosts its night bazaar – a favorite among bargain shoppers and street food addicts. Surrounded by lush green countryside, pristine rainforests, country villages, rice paddies, and elephant sanctuaries, Chiang Mai is also a great base for some exciting excursions.
- Lanna means ‘the land of a million rice fields’ and the Four Seasons Chiang Mai’s serene setting surely reflects its Lana roots as the resort is spread over 13 hectares (30 acres) of perfectly manicured, lush gardens and rice fields. Its layout is reminiscent of a Thai village, with pavilions surrounding terraced rice paddies, small lakes, lily ponds, and a working rice farm, well-maintained by a crew of more than 40 local farmers. When strolling through the paddy fields, you’ll even have a chance to meet Tong, a particularly handsome albino water buffalo, which is one of the Resort’s best-known staff members. Enhancing its unique location, each sunset at the resort is celebrated with a farmer’s parade to beating drums through the rice paddies.
- The farmers’ rituals of planting and harvesting rice inspire the resort’s beautiful authentic Thai design. Furnishings in the communal areas and the rooms are sourced locally to strengthen the unique location, culture, and celebration of rice. The design is especially beautiful in the open air lobby, whose vaulted ceilings and spacious seats are inspired by the intriguing architecture of the ancient Lanna kingdom. The star of the show, even in the lobby, is the view though, which frames the resort’s lakes and rice fields with the Doi Suthep Mountain range in the background. If you can take your eyes off the lovely scenery and look around for a moment in the lobby, you’ll notice several gorgeous mandalas made from floating flowers and a few scarily realistic Siamese crocodile figures.
- The resort offers 64 elegantly appointed pavilions, each with a private covered verandah, and 12 one-bedroom pool villas. Surrounded by tropical gardens, the pavilions are housed in two-storey dwellings that are grouped in clusters of four. During my visit, I stayed in a ‘upper garden pavilion’, which basked in rich silk- and cotton-covered furnishings, beautiful Siamese artifacts and original paintings. The bedroom had its own sitting area which opened up to a private outdoor Thai ‘sala’ (deck), perfect for taking in the exotic surroundings. The pavilion featured polished teak floors and vaulted ceiling with cooling overhead fans. With all modern amenities, touches of Thai design and thoughtfully chosen local art, the decor was a great blend of luxury and authenticity. The ensuite bathroom was equipped with a dressing area, rainfall shower, and a separate tub.
- Nestled amid shimmering rice fields and tropical gardens, several multi-bedroom private residences were recently added to the resort. Each residence features one or more outdoor salas, ideal for enjoying the stunning natural surroundings. The duplex design allows guests to discover the slow rhythms of life at the resort, while offering extended views and additional privacy. The larger split-level residences come with foliage-fringed plunge pools and wooden sundecks, perfect for lazy dips and all-day lounging. Each residence features its own living room, dining area, kitchen and a personal ‘mae baan’ (housekeeper) for the duration of stay. The residences mostly cater to wellness devotees, couples with young kids, multi-generational families and large travel groups looking for total privacy.
- Although located in an area full of interesting sites to explore, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai will challenge you to drag you out of the property as relaxing along the two swimming pools is a pure delight. The infinity-edge main swimming pool – which has a length of 20 m (66 ft) and a depth of 2,6 m (8,5 ft) – is located in the center of the resort and enjoys an elevated position, affording beautiful views of the Mae Rim Valley across picturesque rice terraces. Just steps from this pool is a smaller adult-only dip pool, located in a quiet area in the middle of the paddy fields. There are more than enough sun loungers set up around each pool, and there’s also a jacuzzi next to the main pool.
- The ultimate in indulgence, the wellness center at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is a palatial three-storey villa designed in the ancient “Lanna” style of northern Thai temples. The award-winning spa offers treatments inspired by ancient Thai rituals, using native herbs, spices and aromatic oils created through traditional rural methods. Treatments are grouped into six sections based upon distinctive Thai social classes. The spa features seven spacious treatment suites offering total privacy for individuals or couples. Each suite offers a variety of facilities, including outdoor showers, private herbal steam rooms and outdoor soaking tubs. Two of the suites have tropical rainshower massage tables. The spa also features a Lanna-style beauty salon.
- You can expect elegant Thai cuisine, wide-ranging Asian specialties and a variety of international favorites at the resort’s 3 excellent dining venues.
- Located beside the resort’s main swimming pool, Terraces restaurant showcases home-style Italian cuisine with a menu guided by authentic flavors and exceptional ingredients – from local, natural produce to imported Australian Darling Down Wagyu beef. The venue offers a stunning open air setting with an expansive view of the surrounding rice paddies and the distant mountains.
- Nestled amid verdant rice fields and mist-clad mountains beyond, KHAO by Four Seasons is the resort’s flagship restaurant. It offers an authentic culinary journey, meticulously designed by the resort’s chefs, that take you deep into the vibrant culture of Northern Thailand, with delightful detours into Burmese and Yunanese cuisine. Highlights are Yam Pla Fu (a northern delicacy of crispy local catfish and tangerine) and Goong Mae Narm Yang (grilled giant river prawns, procured from local hill tribes, with seaweed caviar).
- Inspired by Lanna tradition and occupying a Thai teak house surrounded by tropical garden and banyan trees, Rim Tai Kitchen offers dynamic culinary experiences, including cooking lessons, leisurely lunches and more. Complemented by authentic Thai-style seating, the interactive kitchen opens up into sweeping views of the Resort’s rice fields. The dining experience at the restaurant is lively, highlighted by ‘Thai Kitchen Live’ to give you an experience of street-style dinners, and the Sunday Brunch.
- Each morning a lavish breakfast buffet is served at KHOA restaurant. For something special, you can also start your day amid lush, green rice fields, relaxing in a cool morning breeze and indulging in a private breakfast. Inspired by childhood memories of grandma’s lovingly composed breakfasts back home in France, the resort’s Chef Stephane Calvet has created an ideal accompaniment to the serene scenery – a delectable menu with the energy and inspiration to set you up for another amazing day in Chiang Mai.
- With all that delicious food on offer, you will need to work out (a lot). The resort’s gym features state-of-the-art exercise equipment, separate saunas for men and women, a unisex Thai herbal steam room, a heated outdoor whirlpool and a cold plunge pool. There is also a tennis club, which offers two floodlit tennis courts and a Peter Burwash International (PBI) resident professional for private coaching. Golf is available nearby. You can also rent one of the complimentary mountain bikes and take a ride around the resort or be more adventurous and cycle out to the Mae Rim village. There are recommended routes, and even a few cafes to grab a coffee while enjoying the easy work-out.
- This sprawling bucolic retreat was the first luxury resort to open in the Chiang Mai area, now more than 20 years ago. Launched in 1995 as a Regent property, the property rebranded as Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai in 2003. Despite the massive scale of the property and the large number of accommodations, the unmatched personal service is part of the resort’s DNA, as you would expect from one of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. As with all Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts worldwide, the staff knows your name from day one. They will go out of their way to please you and nothing is too much trouble.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is a tranquil luxury resort with beautiful views of the rice fields and a focus on wellness treatments. One expects the highest caliber of service, facilities and extraordinary experience when visiting a Four Seasons property, regardless of where you are in the world, and this property does not disappoint, although it’s not one of my favorite Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. There are some things you need to know before considering a stay here:
- The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai enjoys a somewhat remote location, about 30 to 45 minutes from downtown Chiang Mai. However, the resort offers complimentary shuttle service so you can still enjoy famous sights like the Ploen Ruedee Night Market. The shuttle does run infrequently though (about 4 times a day) and you have to book a seat in advance.
- The hotel is quite popular with families and therefore, when you are staying here during the school holidays, there may be plenty of little ones around, especially in the main pool. The good news is that there is an adult’s only pool at short distance from the main pool, although it’s really just an oversized plunge pool. When the resort is fully booked, finding a sun lounger near one of the two pools may be problematic.
- The tropical resort grounds – with its lake and rice paddies – are beautiful, but to guests in search of an authentic experience, its fake rice fields and faux Thai style may have a somewhat artificial feel – ‘Disney-ish’ some might call it – since the scenery is completely different and uninteresting immediately outside the hotel. That said, this did not bother me, but I can understand why it could be troublesome to others.
- This is a Four Seasons hotel, so you can expect everything – accommodations, food and spa treatment – to be very expensive, some would even say overcharged, but you should know that going in. Still, you need to realize that there are no alternatives in the resort’s immediate area for dining or wellness since the property is in the middle of no where. Of course, you can take the complimentary shuttle to town where there are plenty of cheap eateries, but getting there takes around 30-45 minutes (one way).
- The resort is a bit on the older side and has been around for a while (it was built in 1993). Compared to newer Four Seasons hotels, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai lacks the wow factor and even feels a bit dated in certain areas, such as the lobby and the adjacent village square with boutique shop and art gallery. However, the property is well maintained and constantly invests in renovations: all rooms were refurbished in 2015 (and they feel very modern) and a new restaurant (KHAO by Four Seasons) was added a few months ago.
- Location: 8/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool: 7/10
- Rooms: 9/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,4/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a Four Seasons Hotel or Resort (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: get free VIP perks at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD spa credit).
- Room tip: to maximize your chances for a room with a good view, I suggest to go for a high on the slope rather than a low pavilion and to go for a top floor ‘upper’ pavilion, not one of the bottom rooms.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
COMPARISON WITH THE DHARA DHEVI CHIANG MAI HOTEL
Chiang Mai features two luxury hotels, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai hotel (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 – 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 be reached by plane, train or car. For those coming by plane, the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is located a 30 to 45 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.
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Thailand with my online Thailand travel guide ***