From my stay the previous week, the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental is clearly one of the great hotels of the world, and I had an incredible stay there. However, there were times when you almost wanted to creep past the butlers' desk by the elevators, and I know other guests there felt the same. The fact I had been warned about the aftermath of typhoon weather did not help either.
Domestic Thai Airways Royal Silk: Is It Really Business Class?
Thai Airways Royal Silk (Business Class) check-in was empty and quick and the only thing of note was security wanting shoes placed in a blue tray, with liquids bags etc placed in pink trays. I assume this relates to shoes being culturally regarded as unclean.
Thai Airways fly a Boeing 777 on this route for the 1-hour journey. I was on the 1:10pm flight in seat 15B. Having last flown on a Qatar Airways A380 in Business Class, I was still impressed by the Silk Class seat configuration. However, the entertainment system did not work and I was shocked to find no alcohol is offered in Business Class. The duck lunch was mediocre/bland, a real shame given the incredible quality of Thai food generally, but sitting next to a Buddhist monk made it an interesting flight. A significant delegation of Buddhist monks were on the flight and their reception at Chiang Mai was fascinating to observe.
CHIANG MAI FOUR SEASONS
What a Welcome
A Four Seasons Mercedes with WiFi was waiting for me at the airport. It was a 25 minute drive to the hotel with chilled water and cold towels provided and they had installed a child seat for my Four Seasons teddy bear, Issy. The concierge Kris kindly came to chat to me on the ride to the hotel.
The staff seemed genuinely thrilled to have me staying. I was given two welcome orchid garlands and photos were taken. Other guests were curious as to who had arrived warranting such a fuss. Michael had been quick to reply to any emails I sent to him prior to my arrival and he (and his team) were excellent at improving on any ideas I had for things to do.
I had been upgraded to a stunning villa. I was told number 6, where I was, had the best configuration/views. The villa has a private infinite pool in dark colours and is decorated with Thai silks and good taste. The bedroom contains a sunken sitting area and the shower in the bathroom has the ability to be ‘outside’ and there were two further outside showers. A number of thoughtful gifts had been left for us both and my feet were washed in petal infused water. The lady who did this had a perfect technique.
It was then sunset drinks on the terrace with the Four Seasons management team where I tried Thai wine - it has vastly improved since the 1980s - and was told about the hotel’s passion for locally grown products, also a Thai Royal initiative.
I then went back to the villa to cool down before a dinner back in the Terrance Restaurant where a succession of incredible dishes was served. The staff made a perfect very dry martini and the food was extraordinary. I have rarely eaten fresh tomatoes with flavour so good and all the food smelt and tasted sublime. Chef Stephane explained he grows the mushrooms etc himself and Mustafa, from Four Seasons management, was fun to chat with. A ‘Mediterranean night’ in Chiang Mai to remember.
At 10am I joined a ‘tour’ of the gardens, which were designed by architect Bill Bensley, and nature trail walk. OK, I was the only guest. I loved Padi’s funny/informative tour and the gardeners who joined us were so sweet, passing me samples to feel and smell.
Bill's motto is "the more odd the better" and the grounds are stunning. He had also designed a number of the buildings at Four Seasons Chiang Mai and Koh Samui and is eco-sensitive.
Next I had an Ila purity facial in the spa. Ila is the hotel’s natural bath products. It was an incredible experience which really relaxed me with hot and cold stones used on my face etc, incredible smells and a perfect technique.
I came back inside to find spicy poppadoms - you have to love Four Seasons. Then my clothes for that night arrived by from the laundry. An impressive job..
That evening was the Thai Chef’s Table in the Cooking School. At first I was so thrilled not to have to cook. It started with minced chicken salad (Larb E-Sarn Gai) with lettuce leaves and then spicy prawns (Pad Cha Goong) that were to die for. Various Four Seasons management came to chat (eg Jose) and after the GM’s chat, we decided I should made a spicy green papaya salad (Som Tum) with Chef Meow. She was fierce but friendly and it was more fun than I expected.
I got back to my villa to find a notebook covered in green Thai silk with a quote dedicated to me in gold and a rice planting suit made for Issy - I was blown away by Four Seasons Chiang Mia and the staff’s thoughtfulness. Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok were good to me but nothing like this.
I had to swim in my private pool to calm down/clear my mind.
A Morning You Could Not Buy
At 8:45am there was a Four Seasons Employees Friends & Family Sports Day, which I was due to help open, with Michael the GM. We were taken to a local school in a hotel limo and I was introduced as the hotel’s number one guest and representative of Mr Sharp/Toronto, which was very sweet and generous. I gave a small speech, released balloons and then tried (with no rhythm) to Thai dance. It was all an experience you could not buy and I was so proud to have been included.
Padi was our guide again and it was an interesting and informative experience that helped me bond with other guests. I will never be able to eat rice again without thinking about the work it takes to produce it.
In the afternoon I was shown the hotel’s best Residence and was told that was where my final dinner was being held that night. It was another breathtaking venue with pools you would not believe and the Guest Experience Manager, Kantima, who showed me around tried to teach me some basic Thai.
Back at the villa E! channel had impressively been installed, something I asked the GM about the night before. Then I ran a foam bath to get ready for my big last night, loving the natural Ila products.
At 5:30pm my Thai outfit for that night arrived. It ended up meaning Issy and I were wearing the same outfits.
At 6:30pm was my ‘Khantoke’ Thai dinner outside the Residence I saw earlier with flaming torches by the pool. There were various Thai dancing floorshows which blended the right amount of variety and comedy (with a stag played by two performers in a costume) and some beautiful costumes. While watching this I ate a succession of Thai dishes, Kantima and Wattanaree made delightful company during this whole experience.
I ended the night swimming in my private pool again to cool down.
LIONS, TIGER & BEARS? NO ELEPHANTS!!!!
Then I changed into the ‘Issy outfit’ again (with a straw 'Mahout’ hat this time). I was soon bareback riding an elephant scared out of my wits that I would fall off. .
Next was painting with a baby elephant, an incredible experience with him painting flowers as I passed him brushes. The baby elephant seemed to enjoy it all even more than me, or maybe it was just the thought of his sugar cane prize after.
It was then deciding if I wanted to ride on an elephant using a wooden ‘bench’. I was not sure but was so glad I did. It felt more secure and riding through the Mae Tang river on an elephant was one of the best experiences I have had for years. We then rode through the jungle before bathing the elephants in the river. The ‘Elephant Life Experience’ camp gave me a very reassuring impression of the way the elephants are treated (at least in this camp) and is clearly a quality operation.
After lunch I had a leisurely ride down the river on a raft with more beer, perfect on a Sunday. We saw one of the more ‘commercial’ elephant camps on the way and I was glad to have nothing to do with it.
The Four Seasons Mercedes was waiting for me with WiFi and I was soon back at my villa to find more incredible gift from Four Seasons (a fresh ‘Issy outfit’ for me; Water Buffalo soft toys wearing Four Seasons Chiang Mai scarfs etc). I had a final swim and packed.
At reception there was a huge delegation of staff (and real Water Buffalo) and it was an emotional experience saying goodbye, after the staff had made me feel so warmly welcome and looked after me so well. Photos were taken with the large group and I felt like a Four Seasons celebrity.
The Four Seasons Mercedes took me to Chiang Mai and dropped me at New York New York for a haircut where the staff’s grasp of English, and how stylish the place was, amazed me. Another great recommendation from The Four Seasons.
Four Seasons Chiang Mai is one of the best Four Seasons I have visited. It is a stunning property that is very well maintained while still small enough to provide true personal service.
Overall 6 out of 5 'teddies' without any doubt.