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Bangkok too frantic? Then try laid-back Chiang Mai and its astonishing Four Seasons hotel, which turns the pampering to 11 (and has a water buffalo called Mr Tone you can scrub)
- The magnificent Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is nestled in a valley about 30 minutes from the city airport
- Set in tropical woodland, luxury resort offers activities from meditation and cooking to washing water buffalo
- Nearby Chiang Mai is a laid back alternative to Bangkok featuring street food, temples and night markets
- Spacious and family-friendly Chiangmai Singharat Road Villa is in the perfect location for exploring the city
It may sound strange, but it turns out there is something rather relaxing about scrubbing a water buffalo.
Our bizarre task for the morning was to wash the docile animal – affectionately named Mr Tone – with a sponge, cool him off with fresh water and feed him handfuls of mini bananas.
The pampered beast is one of the star attractions for families at the magnificent Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, living a charmed life by the peaceful lake and lush paddy fields in the grounds of the resort.
It was just one of the weird and wonderful experiences on our exhilarating family trip to the northern Thai city, which took in this spectacular outlying resort and a superb villa right in the heart of the bustling Old Town.
Ultimate luxury: Some of the plush residences at the magnificent Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai come with their own plunge pools
Inner peace: Guests can take a meditation session in the yoga barn, which overlooks the resort’s lake and paddy fields
Spice of life: The Four Seasons is heaven for foodies with a range of different Thai cookery courses on offer – some taking in trips to a local food market. Pictured is the Rim Tai kitchen where both classes – and dining experiences – take place
Cooling off: It may sound strange, but it turns out there is something rather relaxing about scrubbing a water buffalo. Four Seasons offers guests the chance to pamper a docile beast named Mr Tone
Our first stop was the blissful Four Seasons – an easy 30 minute transfer from Chiang Mai’s airport – having flown in on a stress-free flight with Thai Airways.
On arrival, the super-friendly staff handed us cold flannels and a refreshing drink as we took in the sweeping grounds, which have to be seen to be believed – tropical gardens teaming with birds and butterflies, a lake, paddy fields and even a croquet lawn.
An electric buggy took us to our home for the next two nights – a Private Retreat, complete with a plunge pool, tucked away in dense woodland close to the lake.
Part of the attraction of the resort is the number of activities it has in-house, from cooking lessons and botanical tours to meditation sessions and yoga by the lake. Guests can even try their hand at rice planting – showcasing how in-tune the resort appears to be with its surroundings.
There is also a wonderful creche at the gym and an outdoor pool so parents can unwind while their children enjoy themselves.
The resort is nestled among emerald rice fields, with some of the accommodation hidden away behind exotic trees and towering bamboos
Fine dining: The Terraces restaurant, serving up Mediterranean cuisine, enjoys incredible views over the resort’s lake
Hidden in the trees: Much of the accommodation is tucked away in lush, tropical woodland. The resort itself is about 30 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai airport
Comfort: No expense has been spared in furnishing the resort’s luxurious villas and retreats. Bedrooms (pictured) are particularly spacious and luxurious
Secluded: The resort has been built in keeping with its surroundings, with buildings tucked away in dense forest
I enjoyed a glorious ‘Regal Renew’ spa treatment featuring the likes of a fruit and rose tea wrap, a lemon grass salt foot scrub and a massage with orange blossom.
My wife, 18-month-old daughter and I also enjoyed a fabulous lunch of northern Thai delicacies at Khao and dinner – including superb wagyu ribeye steak – at the Italian-themed Terraces restaurant.
The hotel has proved to be a draw for A-list Hollywood celebrities, enticed by tailor-made villa experiences. One option for the mega rich is the 20-bedroom private resort experience, with five private swimming pools and five live-in butlers in a set of Residence Villas linked by a sheltered bamboo-lined pathway.
With the splendour of Four Seasons still fresh in our minds and for a change of pace, we headed for the city, staying at the beautiful Chiangmai Singharat Road Villa – a grand yet homely property tucked away in a quiet street but within easy walking distance of all the main attractions in Chiang Mai’s Old Town.
This light and airy villa has everything a family needs, including a kitchen, numerous en suite bedrooms, clothes washing facilities and a peaceful garden, making it a true sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Spacious luxury: The beautiful and serene Chiangmai Sangharat Road Villa is situated in the heart of the city’s Old Town, within easy walking distance of many of the area’s best must-see sites
This light and airy property has everything a family – or indeed two families – needs, including a kitchen, numerous en suite bedrooms, clothes washing facilities and a peaceful garden, making it a true sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre
The property is beautifully decorated throughout with large comfortable beds and a spacious living area. One of its biggest appeals is its proximity to some of the finest sights Chiang Mai has to offer
The villa has a peaceful garden and a number of en suite bedrooms, making it perfect for a large family. It is also conveniently located just 15 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai’s international airport
Chiang Mai is much more laid back than frantic Bangkok, with serene temples at every turn. Pictured are the city’s Royal Flora Ratchaphruek botanical gardens
The villa, just 15 minutes’ drive from the airport, is available through Booking.com, which has found through its ‘Property Hunter’ statistics that living like a local is key for almost half of British travellers – the attraction being that the accommodation, like our villa, lets them see areas of a city or parts of a country they may not have otherwise explored.
Chiang Mai itself is much more laid back than frantic Bangkok, with serene temples at every turn, monks dressed in orange meandering through the crowds, tranquil backstreets leading to boutique five-star hotels and the waft of glorious Thai street food in the air.
We spent one morning visiting the Wat Phra Singh – minutes from the villa – the main attraction being its elegant Lai Kam assembly hall and restored murals depicting the lives of locals hundreds of years ago.
The cooler evenings were spent browsing the city’s astonishing Night Bazaar with its incredible array of street food options. Vendors churn out the likes of spicy papaya salad, pad thai and the local dish of khao soi – chicken, coconut cream and egg noodles.
Beyond the city, thrillseekers can enjoy a dizzying array of memorable activities from elephant encounters, zipwire courses, treks to hidden waterfalls and the opportunity to meet traditional hill tribes.
Our visit to Thailand’s beguiling Rose of the North may have been short, but we’d seen more than enough to know we’d be back.
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A review of Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai and Chiangmai Singharat Road Villa