This is the final entry on our trip to Chiang Mai. Since I entered a cropped version of one of these pictures to a contest at the MyWinningPhoto site (I came in second, thank you for your votes), I had to hold off on posting this entry until after voting ended.
After enjoying a Lamphun style lunch at Huen Jai Yong on the eastern outskirts of Chiang Mai, Tawn and I decided to drive to the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi resort. With only 123 rooms on its 60-acre grounds, this Rachen Intawong-designed property is quite the vision of overblown opulence, although the company more modestly describes it as “a place where traditional Lanna culture and Asian colonial splendour have been carefully brought together in masterful harmony.”
We arrived just as an afternoon thunderstorm was dissipating. Our initial objective was to have tea but we discovered that the Oriental Tea Shoppe is located in a complex next to the public parking lot on the outer edge of the resort, which effectively insulates the guests within from the bus loads of tourists who visit. The shopping area looks like some sort of movie set from a Chinese western, but with plenty of bamboo.
Props to the Oriental Tea Shoppe which, just like its branches in Bangkok, serves beautiful cakes and other pastries to go with their Mariage Freres teas and coffees.
Afterwards, we decided to enter the resort. This is the imposing gate the separates the flagstone-paved public parking lot with the rest of the resort. Follow the Mercedes limousine!
From there, a long tree-shaded driveway leads to the main lobby. The name “Dhara Dhevi” is a poor anglicization of the name of Queen Chama Thevi (alternately, Jamadevi), founder around 750 CE of the Hariphunchai kingdom, the capital of which was in nearby Lamphun.
Looking back towards the entrance gate, these buildings on the left contain function rooms for events, conferences, meetings, etc. Way down near the gate is a horse-drawn carriage that ferries guests. Bored, the driver offered to give Tawn a lift into the resort and subsequently gave us a 20-minute tour of the grounds.
Near the main lobby, walls obscure shops and parts of the grounds, looking more like a Mon fortress than a resort.
The sweeping main lobby building. Driveways just to out of the frame of the picture lead to the reception area. The lower floor is a shopping arcade. The overall design of the complex is a mish-mash of Lao, Burmese, Lanna, Mon, and Thai architecture, with some Thais criticizing the resort as looking too much like a temple.
From the back side of the reception area, you can see two of the larger buildings that contain guest units. Many of the units, though, are stand-alone villas that are spread throughout the grounds. The swimming pool has some gorgeous tile work.
Another two buildings with guest rooms. Granted, this was about twenty minutes after a heavy storm had passed, but the place looked deserted. We saw two couples (presumably guests) in the lobby area and passed one family of four while touring the grounds. Other than that, the place was empty. The impression I got from talking with employees was that occupancy was in the low twenty percent range. Rates, though, were still about $400 a night.
Looking down the steps from the entrance to the spa, which was also deserted – no guests but no employees, either. The statues on either side of the walkway are supposed to shoot arcs of water over the path, landing on the other side. The resort has been open a bit more than five years and there were many areas where significant maintenance was being performed.
Unfortunately, the video that I shot while on our horse-drawn tour is on the Mac, which is in for repairs at the authorized Apple retailer. If I get a chance I will post it later as it shows the exteriors of some of the villas, which look like village houses in the midst of rice paddies.
Our horse and buggy driver at the end of the tour. My overall impression of the resort was that somewhere along the way it had crossed the line from “elegant” to “ostentatious,” reminding me more of a pan-Southeast Asian amusement park than anything else. But maybe this is the type of fantasy in which wealthy tourists, Asian and non-Asian alike, wish to indulge in.