A sense of humour blends magnificently with the art of luxury. Both DOLDER GRAND RESORT above Zurich and HOTEL NEGRESCO sport Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures (the latter is a bulbous full-size anthropomorphic female who twirls slowly through 360° and it is she who, apart from its superb culinary, brings what is otherwise a museum into the modern age). Similarly important on the world stage, there’s a metre-high yellow animal sculpture at the entrance of the open lobby of ANANTARA CHIANG MAI RESORT in Thailand. A QR code by the animal leads to comedian Udom Taephanich, also known as Nose, but whether the animal is by or of him is unexplained.
This gorgeous resort however is absolutely the opposite of museum. It’s a living amalgam of heritage and today. A typical two-floor teak house was built in the first decade of the 20th century to house the British Consulate. It location on the bank of the Ping River shows the regard for embassies at that time. The Consulate operated until 1978 and at the end of the 20th century it was rescued and lightly wrapped in a Kerry Hill concept (think AMANSARA in Siem Reap and THE CHEDI MUSCAT, sleek straight lines with no fuss). Now THE CHEDI CHIANG MAI, the ‘consulate’ opened for business July 2005 and the following month was closed for six months because of floods. It became a managed Anantara in 2013.
Kerry Hill died 2018 but his memory remains. Room 307, facing the river via the wheatgrass-topped Anantara Spa roof, maximises the 77sq m space. Teak floors go with white-harled walls relieved by some panels of small orange tile. Orange and brown are the colours of the double day-bed. Simple wood desk and central holding-television unit do have ample, but not obtrusive, connectivity connections. A wood shade can hide the bathroom’s oval tub. A frosted glass panel slides to cover shower or adjacent toilet. The room-wide terrace has double seating, double loungers. The only challenge is the room’s entrance: a heavy wood door from the corridor needs an old-fashioned key. There’s a 2x2m vestibule within, for slippers and umbrellas. An equally heavy door, on a central hinge, then has to be navigated to reach the room.
Dinner was in Service 1921, upstairs in the former Consulate. The ground floor, which had been the courtroom, is now Brit Bar. Upstairs, the main dining room, seating 24, has one wall looking through into the kitchen but all walls display well-lit vitrines bearing displays of old watches, shoes, magnifying glasses, jackets, walking sticks and handcuffs – all meticulously set, the art of military alignment. One display case is actually a door, leading to an inner room, The Library, its ceiling-high shelves holding books in anonymous white covers. But this is not all. There’s a second secret room, a second ‘speakeasy with food’. Push back a bookshelf here to enter the ultimate inner sanctum. If this was secret service stuff, no enemy would ever find this inner room, fully set in readiness for ten diners around one table.
South African David Eldridge oversees all food as well as cooking. This was international fare, local Royal Project tomatoes, a 360° South ribeye from Coonawarra SA, and a French wine (Whispering Angel 2021). For Thai, head to the inside-out Bodhi Terrace, named for the three big century-old Bodhi trees right by the riverside. Girlahead breakfasted there, under one of the tree, a mere metre from the brown, slow-moving water. The buffet in the Spin-designed open-sided ‘inside’ area, had magnificent cut papaya net cones and a couple of hundred other offerings, all minutely labelled (Thai hotels must all employ calligraphers in their restaurant or culinary divisions).
Obviously with its British heritage afternoon tea must be strong here – and soon it will have an impressive cultural element. Under-12 at nearby Prem Tinsulanonda International School are currently being auditioned so that later in the year musical talent will entertain, Saturdays, at the hotel’s afternoon tea. Actually Girlahead found the day-to-day operations here at Anantara Chiang Mai continually entertaining, from the rooming process through to check-out (the front desk line-up is akin to a line of precious birds all wanting to be noticed, and to help). Would you like the gym opened early? Said one on her own initiative. As a result, it was possible to stimulate the brain with Sudoku on a Technogym runner, all alone at 6.15 am. Bliss and luxury.