Built around a historic colonial-style teak bungalow, 137 Pillars offers boutique accommodations and a taste of local history near Chiang Mai’s city center.
After spending about a month in Bangkok and swimming around the islands of southern Thailand last year, we were really excited to head North to Chiang Mai. We had made countless attempts to visit this eight-hundred-year-old city in the past, but weather, travel plans and annoying moments always seemed to get in the way. Finally we made it happen and couldnt wait to to explore this city filled with magnificent temples and surrounded by forests and national parks.
Not being a fan of humid weather and large crowds, we decided to visit in February, during the low season. For the first few days the average temperature was an unexpected 5°C, humidity levels were much more comfortable (ladies your hair will still be frizzy) and the area did not feel overrun with tourists. We wanted to be close to the old city center, so that we could spend our days walking through the temples and get an up close sense of what Chiang Mai is all about. So when we discovered that 137 Pillars, a small boutique hotel, stemmed in history and within walking distance of everything, we knew we found our home for the next few days in Chiang Mai.
Surrounded By History At 137 Pillars
I am a sucker for hotels with history and this one has a very interesting one. The hotel is centered around a teak bungalow which was known as “The Borneo House” and was built at the end of the 19th century by the son of Anna Leonowens – the British tutor of the king of Siam that inspired the book “Anna and the King.” Originally it served as headquarters of the East Borneo Company in Chiang Mai until the Japanese invasion of 1941 and then again after the war up until it was sold, renovated and turned into a hotel in 2002.
With a team of historians, conservationists, architects and designers, the Borneo House was brought back to its glory days and now gives guests a sense of what it was like during a time long gone...with modern conveniences of course! You’ll notice that the main house (the original Borneo House) is being held up by 137 pillars, exactly as it was years ago. At the time, the more pillars one had, the wealthier your family was...and yes, I did try to count the pillars but got lost around 20. I’ll trust the historians on this one!
About the Property
The design of the newer additions follows the original structure’s setup blending the best of modern comfort and vintage tropical luxury with plenty of open-air spaces, high ceilings and organic finishes. Inside, carved wood ceiling panels, patterned details and bright textiles give the hotel’s colonial-style architecture a regal Asian touch.
Outside – flowers, palm trees, mimosa trees and old banyan trees line the pathways around the main house while a gorgeous vertical garden cascades into the infinity pool. Canopied daybeds, chairs, sofas and chaises for lounging in all day long are strewn throughout the cooler, shadier spots in the garden. This really is a great place to come home to after a long day of sightseeing and sampling locals food.
Our Experience at 137 Pillars
We were picked up from our previous hotel by one of the team members of 137 Pillars and comfortably brought to the hotel. We were greeted by an open-air reception where we were offered cold towels and a cold drink, before being ushered to our suite through the gardens. Our personal concierge met us in our room, helped us get our electronics set up and let us select which fragrance we wanted for our toiletries. He gave us some great recommendations on what temples were a must to visit and some restaurants which were off the beaten path...such a nice personalized touch!
Just like the rest of the hotel, our Borneo Suite featured a combination of indoor and open-air spaces that made the most out of the warm tropical weather and leafy surroundings. I usually don’t care much for bathrooms, but ours was beautiful! It combined a full indoor bathroom with double sinks, shower, a clawfoot bathtub and patterned tiles and a wonderful outdoor shower. Pops of bright blue upholstery gave the vintage-style wood and rattan furniture in the bedroom and veranda an updated look. Our garden-view terrace had a giant daybed and a curtain that provided some privacy but didn’t stop a cute cat from coming over to visit us a few times during our stay.
Dining at 137 Pillars
Although Thai is one of our favorite cuisines and we love venturing out for a bite at the local street stalls, the food at 137 Pillars was so good that we found ourselves going back there for lunch and dinner every day. There are two restaurants at the hotel – Palette for western-style food and The Dining Room serving a modern spin on northern Thai. We ate most of our meals in The Dining Room because, when you’re in Thailand, you really should only eat Thai food! Other times, we would eat at the parlor lounge, which felt more romantic and intimate. Service at the restaurant was spectacular– one night, I just asked the server to bring us something amazing, and they brought us an incredibly aromatic and delicious duck curry with pineapple.
Breakfast is also served in the The Dining Room or on the large terrace at the Borneo House. You have your choice of fresh pressed juices, tropical fruit and an array of Western and Eastern dishes. We would fill up on crazy concoctions of juices (try passion fruit, chili and watermelon) homemade granola and wonton soup.
Don’t Miss The Thai Cooking Class
The cooking class we took at 137 Pillars had to be one of the best I’ve ever had! It all started with a private trip with the chef to a local market, away from the tourists – which was easily my favorite part. We learned about different spices and produce that we had never seen before. Even if cooking classes aren’t really your pace, the market tour was pretty special and worth taking the class alone.
After the market, we headed back to the hotel where we set up everything in the open air kitchen. I love cooking, so to get see this side of Thai food and learn to work with all its ingredients was a pretty memorable experience. We learned how to cook typical Thai dishes like bua loi pauk – taro dumplings served in a warm sweet coconut syrup, gaeng kiew waan – green curry with chicken or pork and tom yum goong – a spicy and sour prawn soup with fresh herbs. The best part was that, after we finished cooking, we got to eat everything we made and didn’t have to do the dishes!
A Lovely Spa at 137 Pillars
Taking advantage of their local surroundings, the spa at 137 Pillars integrates local ingredients into their treatments and even distills their own essential oils and freshly made beauty products from their organic onsite garden. Chris and I had a traditional couple's Thai massage – a dry massage consisting mostly of gentle stretching and activation of pressure points along the body to provide restoration to tired and overworked muscles. The receivers of a Thai massage are always fully dressed and so we were supplied with loose-fitting clothing for this treatment. We’ve had Thai massages before, but never like this one. My back cracked in ways I never thought possible! Like any good Thai massage, it was a little painful but totally worth it.
What to See & Do in the Area
137 Pillars House is located in Chiang Mai’s Wat Gate quarter – a residential area filled with restaurants, cafés and shops along the edge of the Ping River and very close to the city center. Just a few steps from the hotel is Wat Ket Karam temple and Wat Gate Khar Rham Museum where the 137 Pillars House owner’s private collection of ancient farm tools, old photographs and clothing from to the Chiang Mai royal dynasty are exhibited.
The city’s famous Night Bazaar is very close by and getting to the shops and restaurants of Nimmanhaemin road takes a little over 10 minutes. We would usually leave the hotel on foot and return on a tuk tuk for dinner. The walk from the hotel to the old town is beautiful and far from boring with a temple around every corner, each one more fascinating than the next.
For more information about 137 Pillars, please visit their website: