An Asian Odyssey

Patti Dickey | October 3, 2016 | Feature Features Travel National

As a guest of three distinctive, luxurious Four Seasons resorts (two in Thailand, one in Hong Kong), I plant rice in a muddy bog, wrangle elephants and glamp out in a tent—between spa treatments and gourmet meals, of course.
ORIENT EXPRESS Palatial Villa accommodations at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai include a secluded private pool.

Imperial Arrival
The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, located in the capital of the former Kingdom of Lanna in Northern Thailand, overlooks the stunning terraced rice fields of the Mae Rim. After a short drive from the Chiang Mai International Airport, my group and I pull in at twilight. Our first impression of the resort: It’s gorgeous! This promises to be a magical experience. We’re greeted with a cool towel and refreshing drinks, and invited to pray in homage to Ganesh, the Hindu god of happiness and success.

The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai Pavilions are scattered among the rice terraces and gardens, the latter designed by famed landscape architect Bill Bensley, who created the grounds for several Four Seasons resorts. Each Pavilion offers a private outdoor sala with a comfy swing sofa, a cozy alfresco dining space and a ceiling fan. Inside, the 750-square-foot accommodations are spacious and well equipped with amenities the modern traveler requires and expects. My kingsize bed offers the ultimate in comfort, and a fabulous view of the rice terraces is an added plus. Ceilings are vaulted; the floors are polished teak; and the decor is a symphony of Thai silk decorations and exquisite Siamese art. The open-concept bathroom, in addition to dual sinks and a separate shower, is highlighted by a generously sized soaking tub overlooking a private outdoor garden—a perfect Thai retreat.

In addition to the Pavilions, the resort offers 12 Pool Villas that overlook a lake and are surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Expanding on the Pavilion room experience, the Villas sport a sundeck with a private pool and an outdoor shower. Surrounded by lush tropical foliage, guests are assured seclusion. Resort Residences are also available in a variety of sizes and configurations, offering such luxuries as a live-in butler and evening canape service.

The overall resort amenities include outdoor swimming pools, two tennis courts and access to the nearby Summit Green Valley Chiangmai Country Club golf course. If that’s not enough to keep you busy, 33 mountain bikes are available for adventurous types who wish to explore the trails in and around the resort. The health club offers the latest equipment, so workouts need not be sacrificed! And for those who prefer the serenity of yoga, check out the classes at the Yoga Barn.
The Ratree Bar and Lounge, with stunning views of the main pool and the lower-level infinity pool, features handcrafted Thai-inspired cocktails from Javier de las Muelas, mixologist and founder of Barcelona’s Dry Martini cocktail mecca, concocted specially for the resort. It’s a perfect spot to relax and unwind. At Sala Mae Rim restaurant, we enjoy a welcoming traditional Thai dinner featuring dishes like yum som o goong (pomelo salad with prawns, cashew nuts and roasted chili paste dressing) and ped ob kafĂ© (deep-fried roasted duck with coffee sauce).

While feasting, a set of mor hom (a traditional Thai costume) is delivered to our rooms in anticipation of our rice planting excursion the next morning. Consisting of baggy trousers and a loose overshirt, the mor hom has a sash to wrap around the waist. Following a delicious breakfast of pastries, freshly squeezed juices and rice milk on a floating dock in the resort’s rice fields, we don high waterproof boots and get ready to go to work. We find ourselves literally knee-deep in a muddy bog to plant rice. Under the observant eyes of the four resident water buffalo (two of whom are albino), we do our best to augment the 2,000 kilograms of rice the resort’s paddies produce annually. Unused rice is donated to others less fortunate in the community. The resort also grows Asian and Western herbs that are used daily.

Putting that produce to work, we sign up for an afternoon cooking lesson in the fabulous open-air cooking school facility. With numerous stations around a central island under a vaulted roof, this kitchen is a chef’s dream! We learn how to make som tam ma la kor (green papaya salad), enjoying our efforts on a delightful covered terrace. A brief downpour allows us to linger over another glass of wine, enjoying the cooling temperatures.

Strolling around the resort, it’s impossible not to enjoy the serene beauty of the setting. Scattered throughout are large urns that feature intricate floral designs—no two are alike. Lighting the way in the evening are charming gas lights, individually lit by one person, casting a warm glow. In perfect alignment with Thailand’s welcoming culture, the staff members are warm and courteous, going out of their way to make sure all guests are comfortable.

Kicking up the comfort level even more, the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai’s Spa of Social Harmony offers a sense of peace that lulls you into bliss as soon as you enter the space. Spanning seven treatment rooms for individuals or couples, the extensive menu of services includes intriguing and locally inspired services, and spiritual alternatives like the Awakening Kundalini treatment in the spa’s Monk Collection treatments. I opt for the Royal Lanna Signature Treatment, my own 150 minutes of heaven. The crowning touch of this silk-glove massage and local botanical exfoliating treatment is the application of gold leaf designs on both your hands and your third eye.

Perfectly relaxed and ready for lunch, I join my companions at the Sala Mae Rim restaurant. Our treat is a traditional Chiang Mai dish, khao soi (Northern-style curry noodles with chicken or beef), served in an authentic locally designed bowl. While Thai cuisine shines here, as a change of pace, Terraces restaurant, located by the main swimming pool, offers homestyle Italian cuisine. This open-air gem has a terrific view of the surrounding rice paddies and the distant mountains and offers an exceptional fine-dining experience. Pavilions from $938 per night, Residences from $1,645 per night


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