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Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai

Dhara Dhevi

The Dhara Dhevi hotel, located in Chiang Mai Thailand is probably the closest you will get to live in a dream, even if for a few days.

The Mandarin Oriental property is set on 60 acres of beautiful green grounds, in Northern Thailand.

The resort was designed drawing inspiration from the Lanna period architecture, which lasted from the mid 13th century to the mid 16th century.

Each building in the complex is a small gem, usually featuring pavilions, terraces and patios, providing shade and amazing views into the surrounding grounds.
The settings are authentically Thai rural, including rice paddy fields, jungle areas and a myriad of floral and plant varieties.
The weather was perfect, when we traveled to Chiang Mai it was the end of December.
Perfectly brisk morning, sunny and dry days.

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The Dhara Dhevi is one of the quietest, most blissful places I’ve ever stayed on.

The sheer size of the grounds makes it so if you decide to, you can really spend quiet time alone, walking around the place, fully immersed into nature, with no one in sight for extended periods of time.
You will think your walking to a miniature Thai kingdom stuck in time.

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If you are more inclined to social activities, you will find plenty of opportunities around the two amazing swimming pools or in the shopping village or frequenting the cooking school.

The food was consistently good to great, we sampled three of the existing six restaurants.

We stayed in one of the Colonial suites, which was grandly sized and featured a separated living room and beautiful bathroom.
We received complimentary use of bicycles and whenever we didn’t feel like pedaling, a driver with an electric car was always a phone call away.

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Here are the resort’s amenities:

Restaurants & Bars

Le Grand Lanna (Thai cuisine)
Speciality Thai restaurant with seating for 180. Cuisine is from both Northern and Central Thailand. Le Grand Lanna is set in a cluster of traditional Lanna style buildings. A Thai Classical Dance Show entertains guests nightly. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner.

Fujian (Chinese cuisine)
Chinese restaurant serving Imperial Chinese cuisine in an elegant two-storey Sino-Portuguese style mansion. Outdoor seating is available. Lunch is Cantonese and Dim Sum and dinner features contemporary dishes and a degustation menu. The restaurant seats 73 guests.

Farang Ses (French progressive cuisine)
This opulent French restaurant serves modern French cuisine including the all-time favorites such as duck ballottine, escargots, lobster bisque, chicken ‘Coq au vin’ and beef tartar. Located next to the spa reception area overlooking rice paddy fields with live piano music each evening. Farang Ses is open for dinner only. It can accommodate 45 guests.

Rice Terrace
Serving a long list of fantastic cocktails and champagnes every evening, The Rice Terrace is located below the spa reception area facing the rice paddy fields.

Loy Kham and Colonial Pool Bars (Snacks & Beverages)
Located at the pool area, both Loy Kham and Colonial Pool Bars serve snacks and beverages around the poolside.

Akaligo (Buffet breakfast & Sunday brunch)
The restaurant offers buffet breakfast and Sunday Brunch, and is situated next to the main lobby. Terrace seating is also available.

Horn Bar
Located off the main lobby and open every evening from 6 pm to midnight, The Horn Bar serves cocktails and fine wines. The interior of the bar features masks from different regions of Myanmar, depicting mythological characters.

Oriental Shop
Located in the Kad Dhara shopping village, The Oriental Shop sells homemade products and serves cakes, coffees, teas and juices.

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Meeting Facilities

The resort has a range of facilities that cater to a variety of meetings and events. The Grand Ballroom can accommodate up to 500 guests, while the popular ceremonial lawn provides the perfect outdoor venue in the heart of the resort. The Lawn can comfortably accommodate a thousand guests.

Cultural Centre

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is the only resort in Chiang Mai that offers guests a regular daily programme for arts and crafts demonstration – basket making, bamboo weaving, rice pounding, paper cutting and flower arranging in northern Thai style. Guests can either watch or participate.

Jum Sri Hall Library

This world-class library houses several thousand volumes of books, journals and periodicals related to the region’s art, culture, cuisine and traditions. There is also a wide variety of books related to cooking, nature, health and fitness, yoga, and meditation. In addition, there is a large selection of children’s books and a collection of DVD’s and CD’s. All of these are available for complimentary use by hotel guests.

Amphitheatre

The unique brick amphitheater, surrounded by a moat and towering trees provides an enchanting venue for enjoying private outdoor music and dance performances.

Lanna Kids Club

The 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.

Kad Dhara Shopping Village

The Shopping Village is located just inside the gate of the resort. It is a small 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 and the resort’s own stylish Chinese Restaurant. and hassle-free shopping experience.

Spa Facilities

25 spacious treatment rooms and suites , each with a private bath, steam shower, heated marble scrub table and private relaxation area
A selection of aqua therapy areas including a hydrotherapy room, Vichy shower, heated scrub table, Hammam, rhassoul and watsu pool
Two hairdressing stations
Manicure and pedicure facilities
Spa Cafe and outdoor relaxation area
Spa Boutique with range of exclusive Dheva Spa products
Spa Academy for therapist training and guest classes

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A surprise in Mae Salong

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During our excursion to the hill tribal areas in Northern Thailand we drove up to Mae Salong, now renamed Santikhiri.

Without having planned this we ended up hitting the exact date when the Miracle Tea, Sakura and Tribal Food Festival of Doi Mae Salong takes place. We went to Mae Salong on Dec, 29th 2010. The date of the festival changes slightly every year.

This festival happens once a year around the ned of December and it’s a chance for the hill tribes of the Chiang Rai area to gather in a single spot to celebrate their culture, sample tea from nearby plantations, admire cherry tree blossoms, taste local foods.

The festival is set around a big plaza which functions also as an open market.

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Adults and kids are playing on the giant Akha swing and walking on stilts.

Around the market there are dozens of food and tea stalls.

Most of the women are wearing their best traditional clothing.

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Literally a few hundred yards away from the main square  it’s possible to visit of the most famous tea plantation in the area, 101 Tea.
The company was founded in Taiwan in 1901 by the Tsai family. The name 101 reads as Yi Ling Yi in Chinese, which means “the best” in the local Minan dialect of Taiwan.
The Tsai family is responsible for bringing premier High Mountain Oolong, Green Tea and Eastern Beauty Teas, Organic and Bio-diverse Ancient Forest Teas and Pu-erh Tea to the American markets
In Thailand 101 is part of the King’s royal movement to repurpose areas where the opium poppy used to grow. We are in fact in the golden triangle, infamous over the centuries for the opium production and trade.
The plantation is beautiful and a crisp fragrance of tea leaves permeates the fresh mountain air all year round.

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Northern Thailand Hill Tribes

The term Hill Tribes refers to those populations who migrated to Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam from southern China, usually from Yunnan, or Tibet in the past centuries.
Most of these tribes come from a heritage of subsistence farming and slash and burn agricultural techniques. This means caring after the few animals that feed their families and cutting trees from forests in order to create fields.
They also used to migrate, leaving behind the land when it became sterile and overused.
In recent years, the Thai government had to implement new regulations to prevent the depletion of its territory. As a result the Hill Tribes had to change their agricultural habits.
Aside from these changes their way of life is still very similar to what it’s been for centuries.

We were lucky enough to visit a few villages a couple of years ago. The trip was organized right from the hotel in Chiang Rai. (Le Meridien). We booked a guide and a car. The tour was a day long and included the visit to three villages, a short boat trip to an open market in Laos, on the other bank of the river Mekong river and a two hours drive to a tea plantation village (Santikhiri).

The day was a full immersion in one of the most exotic settings a westerner will ever experience: the colorful dresses and textiles, the intricate head pieces of the villagers, scorpion and cobra infused liquors, the fragrance of green tea leaves…

We started the day by visiting a Yao village near Chiang Rai. The Yao people inhabit China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. There are around 50,000 Yao in Thailand plus another 10,000 Yao refugees from Laos, living in refugee camps. The Yao villages usually feature wood planks houses built along a dirt road. The Yao are the only hill tribe that uses a written language. Polygamy is accepted among tribe’s members.The women are incredibly skilled at needlework. Their abilities is visible in the embroidered  trousers (which can take up to a year to complete), turban, jackets and caps. Yao men are accomplished silversmiths. The most important ceremonies are New Year (celebrated at the same time as the Chinese New Year) and weddings. The weddings are very expensive to prepare and feature incredibly elaborated headdress for the brides. For this reason compatibility between bride and groom is always checked by the village astrologer.

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We continued our trip by driving to an Akha village.
The Akha people descended in to South East Asia from China in the early of 1900s. Around 1930 a large part of the population immigrated from Burma and Laos, pushed by bloody civil wars in the respective host countries.
Currently the population is around 400,000 , subdivided into different subgroups that speak different languages and do not mix with each others. The typical habitat consist in small villages at high altitudes. The contact with globalization and capitalism has changed in several cases the type of dwellings which now span from traditional log houses to more modern and westernized ones.
The society is basically egalitarian, with importance and respect given to the elders and more experienced members.
The belief system is a mixture of animism and ancestor worship . The creator gave the Akha the Akha Zang, an orally transmitted set of codes and rules that regulates their daily life. Great emphasis is placed on respecting human beings and natural resources.
Two of the most important celebrations are the Swing Festival in late August, also known as the women’s New Year and the Men’s New Year which coincides with the traditional New Year in late December. The swing is one of the most important features in a village. It’s built every year for  the festival and it’s used for offerings relating to the fertility of the rice. The elder that build the swings is called the Dzoeuh Mah.
The Akha clothing are spectacular. The dominant color is the indigo. Women spin the cotton thread by hand and then weave it on a foot-treadle loom. Jackets, hats and shoulder bags are regarded as works of art because of the intricate embroideries. The women headdresses are the most elaborated pieces in their wardrobe. They are made from cotton, and embroidered and decorated with colored beads, silver balls, strands of colored wool, shells, long red boas, tassels, bird feathers, silver coins and bells.

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The day continued with a trip to the Golden Triangle vista point, more about this in the next post…

The last village we visited was inhabited by a tribe of Kayan ethnicity.
The Kayan, a sub group of the Red Karen or Karenni people, leave primarily in south and south east Myanmar, but a fairly large number also emigrated to Thailand due to conflicts with the Burma military regime.
The Kayan group is subdivided in more groups. The Kayan Lahwi sub group is famous for the neck rings wore by the women. The brass coils are applied to girls when they are five year olds and subsequently added as the girls get older. The coils give the impression of an elongated neck, but in reality the illusion is created by a compressed rib cage, under the weight of the metal  rings.
Everyone in the village was extremely sweet, there was an obvious sense harmony permeating every little house. Kids running around playing, being funny and obviously accustomed to tourists.

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I really wish we’ve had more time to visit the Hill Tribes area in depth…a great excuse to go back soon.

I even got to play an hand made 4 strings guitar that belonged to an amazing local singer! Checkout the very unimpressed look of both mother and daughter…