Chiang Mai is northern Thailand's most culturally significant city. It lies serenely in mountainous country and until the 1920s the only way to reach it was by a long river journey or difficult trip on the back of an elephant. Fortunately for Giaan Rooney, these days it's an easy 40-minute flight from Bangkok.
The city is becoming increasingly modern and attracts a million visitors each year. Its historic importance comes from its strategic location on the Ping River on an ancient trade route. It's a major centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewellery and woodcarving.
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
Five kilometres from the centre of the city, the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is one of the most talked about hotels in Asia. It's on 25 hectares of natural landscape, exotic plantations and paddy fields. Guests are surrounded by the rich heritage of the Lanna Kingdom. One-thousand workers toiled for three-and-a-half years to build the hotel which is in the style of a royal Thai palace.
Suites, villas and residences have been designed with many influences, including Thai, Chinese, Laotian and colonial architecture. The atmosphere is calm and cultured and superb artefacts from the hotel's private collection are beautifully displayed.
There are many dining and drinking choices. Le Grand Lanna serves authentic Thai cuisine in a nobleman's house, Akaglio serves Mediterranean cuisine, Fujian serves meals in a 1930s Shanghai mansion and cakes, pastries, tea and coffee is served in the Oriental Shop. Private dining is available. Bars include Colonial Pool Bar, Loy Khan Bar and Horn Bar.
Giaan hopped in a tuk tuk to the city centre and joined the bargain hunters at the night bazaar. It covers a long stretch of Chang Khlan Road and buzzes with the modern legacy of the original Yunnanese trading caravans.
Huge arcades hold a multitude of shops and stalls, spilling onto footpaths. Be prepared to bargain for handicrafts, silks, jewellery and cameras. Pay a visit to the Anusan food market and maybe have your portrait painted in Thai costume. It's open between sunset and 11pm every night.
Chiang Mai, 700km north of Bangkok in Thailand.
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi spa suites start at around $510. Log on to their website for seasonal packages.
Thai Airways International has flights to Bangkok with connections to Chiang Mai.
- Perth $ 945
- Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane $1026
There fares are valid until November 30, 2009 for departures until March 31, 2010.
Prices correct at November 26, 2009.
For further information
Phone: 1300 651 960
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
51/4 Chiang Mai Sankampaeng Road
Moo 1 T Tasala, A Muang
Chiang Mai 50000
Ph: +66 53 888 888
Fax: +66 53 888 999
The Night Market
Chang Klan Road
Chiang Mai 50100
Visas: Australians may stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa.
Electricity: 220V with European plug of two circular metal pins or Japanese plug with two parallel flat blades.
Time zone: GMT +7.
Currency: The baht.
International dialling code: +66.