The lost kingdom of Lanna, has been brought to life in an authentic recreation -- with grand temples and lush gardens, depicting life of a time long gone
After hearing our friends rave about Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand for years, we reluctantly added it to our bucket list. Yes, we knew that it was a magical place away from the crowds, deep in the countryside and with a lot of history, but we still needed some convincing to skip the South and the islands and head into the jungle.
So while doing some research, we found the Dhara Dhevi – a spectacular resort built to look like a near replica of the architecture from Northern Thailand’s Lanna Kingdom. It was a sublimely beautiful property and the experience offered us the chance for a total immersion into Thai culture, arts, cuisine and history – plus a gorgeous spa and food options for days. Needless to say, we were sold!
A Bit of History
Aside from finding us a fabulous hotel, our research helped us see Thailand in a different light. Thailand, we learned, has two main distinct cultural heritages – Siamese in the south and Lanna to the north. For hundreds of years, Siam and Lanna coexisted as separate kingdoms that shared cultural and diplomatic ties until they unified in the 19th century to form the country that we now know as Thailand.
Chiang Mai was built in the last decade of the 13th century as one of the many capitals of the Lanna Kingdom – the name commonly given to a group cities and city-states occupying present-day Northern Thailand, Northern Laos, Eastern Burma and Southwestern China that became unified during the mid-13th century. The Lanna culture was born out the melting pot of the cultures and ethnic groups that comprised it and flourished around the ideas and customs of Theravada Buddhism. Invasions from the Burmese and close relations with the Siamese to the north further enriched the melting pot of Lanna and contributed to its decline, renaissance and eventual annexation into Siam. After learning all of this, we definitely wanted to visit and see what Northern Thailand was all about.
About Dhara Dhevi
The aim of Dhara Dhevi is not simply to amuse like a Disney attraction, but to truly transport the guest back to an era long gone. To enter the hotel, you need to go over a rickety bridge that makes a gentle clacking sound. Curious as to why a luxury hotel would have a decrepit-sounding bridge at its entrance, we asked about it and we were told that the clacking sound was actually an ancient alarm system meant to alert soldiers that someone was crossing the bridge. As you can see, they took absolutely no shortcuts into making sure that every bit, piece, color and even sound was true to the books!
The hotel’s grounds comprise a full sixty-three acres filled with pagodas, private villas, gardens and all the restaurants you could expect fit into a miniature kingdom all centered around a series of rice paddies. Everything has been recreated in the gilded and heavily ornate style that is the hallmark of Lanna artistry and inspiration has been taken from homes, palaces and temples from Laos, Thailand and Burma.
Hidden behind a white gate guarded by dragons and bodhisattvas at the center of the property, is Dhara Dhevi’s most impressive sight– the Dheva Spa – an ornate structure with tiered pyatthat roofs and topped by golden finials inspired by a Burmese temple from Mandalay. During the day, flowers, plants, creatures from Buddhist mythology, elephants, Buddha’s and bodhisattvas can be found all over the grounds guarding and/or decorating items, buildings and gardens. At night, the warm glow illuminating the Buddhas and the pagodas gives the grounds an aura of magic and wonder.
There are 123 individual suites, villas and residences scattered around Dhara Dhevi’s grounds. Some follow a traditional Northern Thai design while others are built and decorated in a colonial style with much less wood and adornment. The traditional villas seemed truly unique and spectacular and so we opted to stay in one of the two-story Grand Deluxe teak villas.
The space was huge (just the top floor was larger than most places and apartments we’ve stayed in!) and felt very private even though it was inside a hotel. The bottom floor had a full bathroom with steam room, kitchenette, living room, dining area and even a piano. Outside was the terrace with a set of chairs and a plunge pool overlooking the rice field. Early in the morning we could sit outside and watch the water buffaloes graze while the farmers tended to the crops.
Our bedroom was on the top floor along with a second bathroom with a bathtub and an outdoor shower. Gold undertones, intricate design details and colorful textiles brought life to the villa’s wooden walls and furnishings and our bed lay under a magnificent canopy in front of the doors to a spacious balcony. Although it rained and was pretty cold for most of our stay, we did not skip the outdoor shower. There are few experiences better than listening to the birds chirp and the jungle sing as you step under the shower stream!
Between restaurants, bars, lounges and room service, you’ll find a total of ten dining options at Dhara Dhevi which include: breakfast buffet, Sunday Jazz Brunch, French cuisine, Chinese Dim Sum, Japanese and classic and Northern Thai fare. The breakfast buffet is served near the lobby with views of the rice fields and has Western, Chinese and Thai options along with fresh fruit, smoothies and what Chris says was “the best granola ever”.
Our room was so great, though, that we ended up ordering room service every day for both lunch and dinner because we wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. Since we had a kitchenette, we could’ve gone to the market or even asked the staff to stock it for us. Their market area has more than 20 shops and boutiques and it is where you’ll find the Dhara Dhevi Cake Shop, a Victorian-style tea salon, patisserie and coffee shop that is widely known in all of Chiang Mai for its macaroons.
Dhara Dhevi is a resort in every sense of the word and so you’ll find plenty of activities, dining, shopping and spa services to keep you busy enough to not want to go outside of your mini kingdom for a few days. The myriad of activities offered in campus combined with the distance at which villas are from one another make it a place that is simultaneously couple and family-friendly.
The kid’s center, arts and crafts classes and the opportunity to splash around in the rice paddies with the water buffaloes and learn to plant rice are some of the family friendly activities found within the hotel’s premises. For the grownups Dhara Dhevi offers Thai cooking classes in its Cooking Academy, the shopping village, a fitness and health center and the services of the Dheva Spa featuring Western, Ayurvedic, Thai and Chinese treatments. If you’re looking to leave the property and do some sightseeing in the Old Town, you’ll have to hire a taxi as it’s pretty far away.
For more information about Dhara Dhevi, visit their website: