The best place to enjoy a winter chill.
By Ashima Sethi
Despite living in Thailand for 26 years, there are still so many destinations I’ve yet to tick off my list. Being a beach brat who almost always opts for vacations in Phuket, Samui, and Koh Phangan, there are a plethora of locales that I’ve only had the pleasure of reading about in travel blogs. One such destination that’s always been on high on my must-visit list is Chiang Rai.
The smaller sister of bustling, tourist- driven Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 as the capital of the Mengrai Dynasty and its strong Lanna identity still exists in its many temples, landmarks, art, and cuisine. Boasting a much slower-paced lifestyle than us Bangkok urbanites are used to, the destination has become a popular vacation spot for locals who just want to wind down and take in a little bit of the country’s rich history.
Paralleling the unique, relaxed energy of Chiang Rai, the Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort is nestled on a picturesque 26-rai site on the banks of the Kok River, a stone’s throw from the main Chiang Rai town, and only an hour’s drive to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar converge. Taking inspiration from traditional Lanna symbols and motifs, the resort is adorned in a colour palette made of green, gold, and mahogany that complements the region’s backdrop of forest-covered mountains, rice paddies, and shining temple spires.
When guests arrive, they’re checked into their accommodations by gracious staff at the resort’s airy lobby, complete with views overlooking the property’s winding water features and lush sprawling lawns. In addition to plenty of green space, the resort also boasts five-star facilities like a 24-hour Fitness Centre, a designated Kids’ Club, and a multi-tier outdoor swimming pool that overlooks the resort’s meandering waterways. The property is also home to the Parvati Spa. Hidden inside an alcove, the wellness centre is a blissful sanctuary with private river views, offering an extensive menu of massages, facials, and body treatments inspired by centuries-old Thai therapies.
Some of the biggest standout factors of the accommodations at the Le Méridien are that all the rooms are incredibly spacious and have balconies. I had the pleasure of checking into one of their 53sqm Deluxe Garden View Rooms that featured high ceilings, a capacious bathroom with a tub, and an outdoor seating area with views of the surrounding lawns. Although modern in the overall design aesthetic, the room’s furnishings are crafted from local textiles to give it a special Thai touch.
While my room had views of the garden, the resort also offers accommodations with pool and river vistas. During my visit, I had the opportunity to see the resort’s most luxurious room option, the 132sqm Grand Suite, which boasts an expansive living area with panoramas of the river, two bathrooms with one boasting a standalone tub, a balcony with room for private dining, and a bedroom complete with one of Le Méridien’s signature beds.
FOOD AND DRINK
During my stay, I spent the majority of my time dining at the resort’s signature riverside Italian restaurant Favola, which is currently acting as the resort’s all-day- dining venue due to COVID-19 limitations. For breakfast, the restaurant offered a buffet of freshly baked breads and pastries, cheese and cold cuts, sausages, bacon, a range of Asian delicacies, and an egg station. Guests were also given a menu of à la carte mains to choose from, from which I sampled the smoky Khao soi gai (egg noodles in a rich northern- style curry) and Sourdough topped with creamy smashed avocado and runny poached egg.
For lunch, guests can tuck into a mix of Western and Thai specialties, including several ultra-spicy options that originate from Thailand’s northern regions. For dinner, indulgent Italian fare is on the menu. Before dining, all guests are treated to a basket of fresh focaccia that is served with sides like olive tapenade, and olive oil and vinegar. The bread was so moreish, I have no shame admitting I ordered multiple baskets over the course of one evening.
Some of my highlights from their dinner menu include their aromatic Seafood stew for two that’s perfect for warming up when you’re dining al fresco in the cooler weather; the creamy Tomato and seafood risotto, which was so good I had it twice; and the juicy Beef medallion served with roasted vegetables and a black pepper sauce. We also indulged in the restaurant’s desserts, which are made fresh every day. One that was particularly memorable was the Chocolate mousse, a tempting creation that paired a crumbly cookie base with fluffy dark chocolate cream.
Apart from Favola, the resort also offers other options for dining. Adjacent to the lobby is Latitude 19, a stylish lounge that combines elements of traditional Lanna design with modern furnishings, making it an ideal place to relax and savour a selection of specialty coffees, fine wines, cocktails, and other unique bar creations. The resort also houses Latest Recipe, a bright and capacious restaurant overlooking the resort’s many ponds that is currently only open to host monthly events like their ever-popular Alaskan King Crab Buffet.
In addition to the main outlets, the resort also curates several dining experiences that guests can indulge in. For a romantic treat, book the Riverside Private Dining, which includes a riverside table set up for two lit by fairy lights. For a fun experience as a group, the Riverside Barbecue takes place around the resort’s fire pit, where you can enjoy barbecue skewers and other grilled delights best enjoyed with ice-cold refreshments.
Just one look at the property and it’s clear that Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort is well suited for events, particularly Indian weddings. Conveniently located only 10 minutes’ drive from Mae Fah Luang Airport, the resort’s picturesque riverside location offers several settings that can be adapted for all types of parties, from a mehendi on the lawn to a glamorous reception bash. The resort boasts a total 1,414sqm of contemporary event space comprising of several meeting rooms, a ceremonial sala, an outdoor deck, riverside terraces, a sprawling lawn, and more that can be adapted to accommodate an intimate gathering of 50 people all the way up to 1,000.
One of the most impressive event settings is the Utopia Ballroom that is equipped with the latest audiovisual technology, a full banquet kitchen, and the freedom to divide the room into two separate spaces if necessary. When I was given a tour of the event facilities, I was particularly impressed by the ballroom’s lighting features, which make it possible to transform the ceiling into a starry sky, while its ambient lighting can be programmed to suit whatever theme you choose for your event. Equally as impressive are the versatile event decks that are located under two spectacular 120-year old rain trees. Words cannot justify just how majestic these trees are, making them ideal backdrops for a memorable wedding ceremony or even a pre-wedding photoshoot.
Centrally located, Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort offers travellers several places to visit within an hour’s drive. A must-visit is Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple), a stunning privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple, and Wat Rong Suea Ten (The Blue Temple), located just five minutes away from the resort, and painted in a vivid shade of sapphire. Other notable attractions include the Chiang Rai Walking Street, the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, the Baan Dam Museum, and Singha Park, a scenic park with tea plantations, orchards, walking trails, flower parks, and a petting zoo.