Andy Mossack visits the brand-new Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping Hotel, and finds it a haven of peace and tranquillity in northern Thailand’s ancient capital.
Fragrances of fresh flowers and exotic spices, gentle Buddhist melodies, wind chimes and buzzing scooters. The undeniable DNA of Thailand. Yet up here in Chiang Mai, the country’s ancient northern capital, life seems a little less frenetic. Perhaps it’s the nearby Doi Suthep mountain breezes, or possibly echoes of its regal standing as the seat of the Lanna Kingdom some 700 years ago.
A perfect setting then for the rebirth of the former Imperial Mae Ping Hotel into the newly opened Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping. A five-star luxury retreat just outside the old city walls where Chiang Mai’s illustrious past is not only celebrated but represented as part of the hotel’s very fabric. It has its own ancient temple sitting at the back of the extensive gardens, so friends in high places indeed.
I finally arrived after a long flight from London and greeted by one of the lobby team clutching a miniature gong. “To celebrate the city’s gong-making artisans. Give it a hit for luck.” With the gong’s chimes resonating (hopefully lucky) soundwaves, I walked across an impressively high lobby dominated on one side by a huge floor to ceiling cabinet featuring items of local Lanna craftmanship, from lacquered wood to intricate filigree.
It was a theme ever-present throughout the property including the 240 rooms, where intricate metalwork is used in table legs and clothing hang rails.
Speaking of which, my 8th floor Premium King room was such a handsome space in cream and green, akin to a junior suite in many other hotels. A two-seater couch, table, and chair sat at the foot of the king bed; a bed swathed in silky linens and immense puffy pillows bookended by stylishly contemporary bedside lamps. And behind, a long worktable lay opposite those aforementioned metal hang rails. Two large windows looked out across Chiang Mai and backdropped by the Doi Suthep mountains, offered up a fairy tale view come nightfall, when the cityscape was decorated with twinkling lights.
My premium room qualified me for Club Intercontinental benefits which included, amongst numerous other things, all day access to soft drinks and snacks, afternoon tea, and an evening cocktail between 5.30 and 7.30 in the Kam Lobby Lounge. Despite the time difference for me, it was incentive enough for me to go down and try it out. After all, as they say, it is always wine o’clock somewhere in the world and that night it was Chiang Mai.
The Kam Lobby Lounge is a relaxing bar/lounge with a contemporary colonial ambiance decked out with rattan chairs and lantern-shaped lighting – an homage to the city’s annual Yi Peng Paper Lantern Festival. It is the kind of hang out you can drop into any time of the day or night, with direct access to the outside pool area, replete with cabanas and sun loungers and tables for eating and drinking on warm evenings.
Under the expert tutelage of veteran mixologist Santoast, he let me put together one of their signature drinks; a very passable rum lantern cocktail – 7-year-old Havana rum, Galliano, apple and lemon juice, cinnamon and some extravagant gold leaf. Delicious.
Needless to say, the Kam Lobby Lounge became my regular haunt, for coffee, a charming afternoon tea, light dining, and of course that regular cocktail. And the delightful team welcomed me like a family member each time I made an appearance.
The Gad Lanna is the hotel’s all day dining restaurant. An open kitchen and a huge buffet breakfast awaits offering both Asian and western dishes, while in the evening it specialises in delivering authentic northern Thai dining. However, in March 2024, Hong’s Chinese Restaurant and Sky Bar is due to open on the 16th floor. The Sky Bar will offer cocktails and Chinese tapas on the open rooftop, while Hong’s will deliver Sichuan, Cantonese, and Taiwanese fine dining in the elegant surroundings of an old grand mansion.
After an excellent dinner in Gad Lanna, I took a stroll over to the bustling night market just a 5-minute walk away. Thai night markets are unmissable. A dizzying choice of goods and street food stalls mixed with the buzz of local life. After some successful bartering I came back with my haul, fell into bed, and dreamt of rum cocktails.
The Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping offers an array of guest excursions to local experiences, from hot air ballooning to cultural tours. And most importantly, only partnering with approved vendors.
One memorable visit was to a master tea blending workshop at Monsoon Tea. Tea entrepreneur Kenneth Rimdahl has pioneered the cultivation of naturally growing forest tea into a successful chain of tea shops across Thailand. Having discovered assamica tea happily growing wild in the northern mountain forests, he saw an opportunity to provide fully sustainable organic tea to market. You’ll find Monsoon Tea sachets in every room at the The Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping.
Another unmissable excursion was up in the mountains to the Elephant Rescue Park an hour’s drive from the hotel. The hotel has exclusively partnered with this 40-acre park because, unlike the many less noble elephant parks in the region, it is fully focussed on rescuing elephants from mistreatment and forced labour giving them safe sanctuary for the rest of their lives. There are currently ten elephants at the park, and it was a privilege to be with them all day.
You get to feed these beautiful creatures, walk with them and even bathe and brush them in the park’s lake. A very tasty lunch is also provided, along with a personal guide. A truly memorable experience.
Back at the hotel after a hard day’s elephant grooming, I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel’s two-hour signature massage courtesy of Paula’s healing hands, a warm foot bath and a miniature mallet (who knew a mallet could be so therapeutic). A full-service spa facility is currently being constructed, but in the meantime, a range of massage treatments are available from in-house therapists using converted guestrooms.
Chiang Mai is a very walkable city, and the Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping is ideally situated just by the historic city walls of the old town. It is an easy orientation marker for wandering around the city’s jewels; over 300 temples (wats) await with Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, and Wat Sri Suphan (also known as the silver temple) the highlights for me. Also, I really enjoyed visiting the Chiang Mai Cultural Centre, chronicling the city’s colourful 700-year history. if you don’t fancy walking, the hotel also offers a city tour by electric tuk tuk.
As I left for my flight home after a captivating visit, I found that gong again and gave it another tap. I’m adding those chimes to my Thailand DNA list, after all, 700 years of good luck has got to be good for you.
Images (C) IHG except Cocktail, Elephant Rescue Park, Silver Temple and Monsoon Tea (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about the Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping
Intercontinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping, 153 Sridonchai Rd, Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai 50100
T: +66 52 090 998 E: email@example.com
Premium rooms as described above from THB 15,000 (around £335 per night)
Thai Airlines operates daily flights to Bangkok and regular internal flights from there to Chiang Mai.
February Festivities at InterContinental Chiang Mai The Mae Ping
Chinese New Year
Decked in muted gold tones, the elegant Kam Lobby Lounge lends itself naturally to auspicious Lunar New Year festivities. Guests can celebrate with sweet and savoury bites made with premium ingredients, including crab meat spring rolls; mushroom and wagyu crispy tacos; snow-skin mooncakes with raspberry cream cheese; and oolong scones that pair perfectly with organic tea blends that accompany the service.
Kam Lobby Lounge | 1-11 February | 2:00pm – 5:30pm | THB 950++ per person including organic tea or coffee; THB 1,150++ per person including a glass of Prosecco.
Valentine’s Day Dinner
On 14 February, The Gad Lanna’s indulgent buffet dinner is the perfect opportunity to celebrate with exquisite gastronomy. The night’s selection runs a delicious gamut from sushi and sashimi and seafood on ice to roasted New Zealand beef striploin; pan-seared foie gras; and assorted cakes such as galette des rois, chocolate tarte, red velvet, blueberry mousse cake, and more.
The Gad Lanna | 14 February | 6:00pm – 10:00pm | THB 2,588++ per person including a glass of welcome drink.