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The Mandarin Oriental – Dhara Dhevi
An Oasis of Northern Thai Culture, Chiang Mai.
Resort is a word that frightens me. To me resort conjures an image of an insular artificial world without context, where people don’t give a second thought for the regional culture and people. And of course the ubiquitous buffet is always “all you can eat”. If you are like me, and enjoy carefully planned facilities that give respect to it’s surrounding and the local people, you might enjoy surrendering yourself to the luxurious grounds of the Mandarin Oriental in the northern town of Chiang Mai in Thailand. Off from the more central bustle of the city, away from the street-market-traffic but not unreachable by the ambitious tuk-tuk taxi, this vast village-like ground represents the best of what Chiang Mai has to offer.
The master plan of the grounds consists of 60 acres, about 90 individual peaked roof individual villas as well as modern suites built in the Lanna style. Lanna is the northern Thai building and decorative arts tradition showing strong Burmese influence. The resort was conceived to re-create a village of the Lanna Kingdom sparing no expense, with fortified walls, a watchtower, a market place, prayer halls, and even rice fields.
The most notable features are in the opulent palace where the reception hall and restaurants are located and in the Dhevi Spa, a cluster of richly detailed temples with intricately carved wooden spires. All around the grounds is a feast for the senses, with flowers; birds and even water buffalos harmoniously weaved into the “village” life or artisans, villagers and merchants. There are no cars beyond the gates of the grounds and hotel staff makes their rounds for room service in old-fashioned bicycles. Surprisingly, the architect credited for his careful construction of this ancient style is Rachen Intawong, a regional Thai, merely 34 years old when he received the commission. With his understanding of traditional details and materials he lends his work a true authenticity.
Thai Chef and Cooking Class
Not being much of a poolside lounger, the best experience for me, was being able to have a true cultural exploration of the Lanna traditions without ever leaving the grounds.
Joining a cooking class with their Thai chef gave me the opportunity to have a personal and escorted tour of the local market. Rich palettes of fruits, vegetables and exotic confections inspired the vegetarian menu of the day. Other ingredients for the class were obtained directly from the Mandarin Oriental’s organic garden, where we plucked juicy plump heads of lettuce and fragrant mint straight from the ground. The chef told me that rice grown in surrounding paddies is donated to the nearby temples.
Indulging in a massage Dhevi Spa, gave me the closest experience ever to being Royal. The group of pavilions is adorned every inch with sculptures and moldings after its original inspiration of a palace in Mandalay. The luxurious Thai treatment consisted of a foot treatment with herbs and flowers, followed by another fragrant scrub and a floral bath with fresh jasmine. With the gleaming teak floors, beautiful antiques and opulent decorative treatments, I felt truly as a participant in a royal ceremony. Other lesser activities, such as wandering through the crafts village, gave me glimpses of the rich weaving and wood carving traditions. A library also offered many books and a breadth of materials on Asian culture.
In the evening time, the elegant Thai gastronomic experience accompanied by traditional dancing completed the full experience of Lanna indulgence. Tropical trees lit with citronella scented torches, the sound of crickets, cicadas and other nocturnal birds set the scenery and provided a seamless interlude to a night of good dreams.See photos: theglobalgourmet.myphotoalbum.com/view_album.php?set_albumName=album