Chiang Mai may often be overlooked by visitors to Bangkok or the beach resort areas of Patong and Koh Samui, but this charming northern city, with its strong Burmese influences, is a must-see. Discover unique culinary delights, beautiful mountain wats (temples), Thailand's largest night market, elephant riding and care, trekking among hill tribes, and more. Chiang Mai is also perfect as a launching point for an adventurous trip around the magnificent mountains, temples and jungles of Northern Thailand, Burma and Laos. There are many accomodation choices, but for a true vacation, indulge at one of our top luxury picks, where villas and suites strike the perfect balance of traditional Thai architecture and detailing, with sleek modern conveniences and some of the most caring, attentive service you're likely to find anywhere.
The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is exquisite, and will make you think you've stepped back in time to a royal Thai palace compound, set amidst undulating rice fields. Colonial Suites are elegantly appointed, with glass chandeliers, whirlpool baths, and floor to ceiling windows that open to spacious balconies. But for a special treat, book one of the free standing villas that were converted from actual Northern Thai rice barns, and have been handsomely furnished with an upstairs bedroom and downstairs living space with indigenous silks and textiles. Some villas come with their own private pool, but even if yours doesn't, you can pick from two outdoor pools, the enormous infinity pool and the more intimate and atmospheric Colonial Pool. Don't miss at least one dinner at Le Grand Lanna, where even delicious northern Thai specialties such as Softshell Crab with Green Mango Salad and Mint are eclipsed by nightly traditional Thai dance performances. Likewise, you won't want to oversleep, given the superb and lavish breakfast buffet. Kids receive special welcome amenities and can enjoy meeting new friends over activities and crafts at the kids' club, or borrow one of the complimentary bicycles to explore the lush and extensive grounds. Our main quibble? At these prices, please include WiFi.
If the Mandarin Oriental isn't in your budget or if you want to be more centrally located, The Chedi Chiang Mai is an excellent choice. It's located on the banks of the Mae Ping River and very near the Night Market, The Chedi has taken a former British consulate compound and turned it into sleek and spacious rooms. Entry level Deluxe Rooms are 538 square feet, and if you splurge on a Chedi Club Suite, you'll have 1130 square feet to lounge in, plus access to butler service, roundtrip airport transfers, and the Club Lounge with complimentary breakfast, drinks throughout the day, and canapes and cocktails in the evening. With just 84 rooms and suites, there's just one restaurant. Yet its eclectic offerings, from Thai classics to authentic Indian curries and breads as well as Italian and even Korean dishes are remarkably well executed for such a wide ranging menu. We also appreciate that there's free WiFi throughout the property, although ideally you'll manage to disconnect while relaxing by the 34 meter pool or enjoying a Thai massage at the Spa.
137 Pillars House is a relative newcomer among the plethora of boutique hotels in Chiang Mai, but it's already quickly amassed a devoted following, such that it may be challenging to snag one of the only 30 suites if you don't book far enough in advance, especially during peak season. Each of the four types of suites is spacious; even the smallest, the Rajah Brooke Suite, is over 750 square feet. We love the vintage meets airy and modern feel, with rattan furniture and wall accents brightened by vibrantly hued love seats and throw pillows, and the warm luxury of polished teak floors. The location of 137 Pillars House is wonderfully convenient, in a green and peaceful residential area, yet just a few minutes' walk from the Wat Gate Temple and many restaurants and inviting boutiques. The hotel's own restaurant, while limited in its menu selection, is very good, and the spa is truly excellent, with the massage therapists among the most skilled you'll find anywhere. The one thing we'd like to change are the down duvets, which are too warm for much of the year, even with air conditioning. But for those who prefer a more personalized, boutique stay, 137 Pillars House is currently difficult to top for a Chiang Mai getaway.
Award Flights to Koh Samui Using Miles and Points
Cathay Pacific First or Business Class using American AAdvantage Miles to Bangkok + Thai or Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai
Having recently flown Cathay Pacific Business Class
and Cathay First Class, this would be one of my top recommendations. Using American miles, First Class on Cathay is 67,500 miles each way, 135,000 miles round trip, and first class is worth the premium.
The Hong Kong-Bangkok flight is about 2 hours 40 minutes, so you could either buy a cheap economy ticket for about $200 each way, or even get the Hong Kong-Beijing leg included in your Cathay award if you're not stopping over in Hong Kong. Note that with American miles, you aren't allowed a stopover of over 24 hours. Or if you are stopping over, you could use 15,000 British Airways Avios + $46.97 for business class HKG-PEK, or just 7500 Avios for Economy each way.
For the final Bangkok-Chiang Mai leg, Bangkok Airways is as low as $150 roundtrip in economy. The flight is just over 1 hour each way. Business class on Thai Airways is as low as ~$280, and at that price I'd recommend just paying for the ticket, since a business saver award would cost 35,000 United miles for the roundtrip and you'd only be getting 0.78 cents per mile, which is abysmal.
Lufthansa or Swiss Business or First Class via Bangkok using United Miles, then Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai
The nice thing about using United miles for the roundtrip to Bangkok, is that you can use United Free One Ways to Maximize Your Award
. So if you book Lufthansa first class, you could later tack on a cross-country first class flight with a lie flat seat for free, or for a few thousand miles more even get to Hawaii.
You can earn United miles from either 2 credit card applications plus credit card spend, or from 3 credit card applications. Apply for the Ink Bold or Ink Plus plus either the United MileagePlus Explorer or the Sapphire Preferred, then either earn the additional United miles through spend or by, in about 3 months, applying for the third card (the United MileagePlus Explorer if you already applied for the Sapphire Preferred, or the Sapphire Preferred if you already applied for the MileagePlus Explorer).
You could also fly Swiss Business Class via Zurich; see our Swiss Airlines Business Class Review Bangkok-Zurich
. Note that Swiss First Class is pretty much impossible to book now using United miles; you could gain access to more Lufthansa and Swiss award availability using Miles & More miles but the awards and fuel surcharges will be much higher.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a short 1 hour 15 minute flight, and economy on Bangkok Airways is as low as ~$150 roundtrip.
Singapore Airlines First Class or Business Class using KrisFlyer Miles + SilkAir or Thai to Chiang Mai
You can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points 1:1 or SPG points 20,000 points :25,000 miles to Singapore KrisFlyer, enabling you to see all award space and book first class or business class at a discount online. Singapore to Chiang Mai is about 3 hours on the nonstop SilkAir flight (economy class only) for ~$400 roundtrip, or 5 hours with 1 stop in Bangkok on Thai, where business class is a bit over $1000 or 35,000 United miles for the roundtrip.