We decided that our first visit to Thailand would be simply a relaxation holiday, nestled in one location that provided us with culture, atmosphere and good food. We only had seven nights, so we decided to stay in the one spot exploring what it had to offer rather than venture to other regions. And with the ‘culture’ focus on the list, we also didn’t want to hide away in any of the abundant island resorts. So we based ourselves in Chiang Mai in the north at Baan Orapin Bed & Breakfast, just east of the river and the old city in the Wat Ket neighbourhood.
Our airport transfer dropped us at the gate of Baan Orapin and we were immediately presented with a paved drive edged with tropical plants and gracious shade trees. Through the trees stood the original Lanna-styled teak wood mansion with hints of French colonial architecture that serves as reception and dining area for guests. This century old manor has been a family home for three generations, and its white shuttered windows and intricately carved decorative detail of the walls immediately presented a strong sense of time and place unique to Northern Thailand. The mansion is now the centrepiece of the property, flanked by the front and rear wings added by the current owner, Opas, to accommodate guests, transforming his family home into a popular, sought after retreat of fine quality.
As it was late morning, our room was not yet ready for occupation, but we completed the paperwork of our check in with the smiling Pepsi in reception, who was more than happy to hold our bags until our room was ready while we had our first exploration of the city. We took fresh clothes from our luggage and changed in the bathroom by the pool; we were more than a little overdressed for the climate, having left a coolish Sydney afternoon and arriving in Chiang Mai to 32°C at 10am that was soon to reach 40°C. We headed out in search of some lunch and to orient ourselves to the area, so the markets just west of the Ping River seemed a good place to start. [PHOTOS AND TALES OF OUR TIME IN CHIANG MAI]
When we returned to our B&B in the afternoon, our bags were already waiting for us in the Baan Orapin Suite (of which there are two on the property). It was an inviting space with TWO airconditioners, which were very much appreciated in this unusually hot summer where each day of our stay reached 41°C! Even the locals were struggling with the heat!
The suite was all traditional Lanna style dark wood trim and furnishings with white walls, except where there was wood panelling. Deep burgundy fabrics with a leaf print and woven wall hangings in oranges, reds and golds completed the décor. Our bedroom contained a gigantic four poster bed that so was high even the 6ft 2in husband had to climb into it! But it was extremely comfortable with a high quality mattress, and provided a restful night’s sleep throughout our stay.
Surprisingly, we didn’t need the airconditioning on overnight as the ceiling fan was ample to keep the air circulating. It was lovely when the temperature dropped to about 25°C at night, and we opened the windows for the cross breeze, which were effectively screened to keep bugs out (although we still cocooned ourselves in the flowing mosquito netting, just to be sure).
Baan Orapin is an eco-aware establishment, and guests are invited to reuse towels so they don’t have to be laundered every day. The shower was huge with a big rain showerhead that was lovely to wash away the remnants of an afternoon of sightseeing before heading out for dinner. The glossy trim of aqua blue tiles were punctuated by the occasional feature tile with 3D ecru elephants saluting with their trunks up.
Being early risers, we found the balcony of the suite was a prime spot to sit before others arose, listening to the birds and enjoying our view through the palms to the inviting blue pool. This would also be the place to enjoy an afternoon tipple on those days less challenged by high temperatures, but once the afternoon reached its peak, we found we often retreated to the blissful cool of the airconditioned room.
A la carte breakfast was included in the price of accommodation and guests could choose from a variety of western dishes or go for a more traditional Thai option (which had to be ordered the morning before so that the cook could do the shopping). Everything was prepared to order when you presented yourself for breakfast, providing fresh, hot dishes, and also meant less waste. The personal attention was appreciated with remembering individual guest requests, such as the desire for fresh ginger in hot water rather than tea or coffee at breakfast time. Opas, who was serving us the first morning of our stay, was a little perplexed by our ‘no meat’ request, and had to think about how to do the traditional dishes without meat or seafood. His wife was the chef, and she found interesting mushroom solutions to the dilemma, which proved delicious and substantial – the perfect fuel for a day exploring the city.
After our days out and about, either discovering the temples and cultural centres Chiang Mai has to offer, or taking a day trip to explore the Elephant Nature Park, Baan Orapin provided a haven to which to return. We spent several late afternoons by the pool sipping cold beers from our room fridge that we had stocked from the shop across the road, reclining on the lounges in the shade of the trees in the tropical garden, and dipping in and out of the refreshing water as we fancied, chatting to other guests when we weren’t engrossed in a book.
This retreat in a bustling city provided a peace and calm that was restful and rejuvenating. Each member of staff were kind, attentive and good at their jobs, particularly Opas and Pepsi, who ensured that every need was anticipated and service was delivered with a warm smile. We met other guests during our stay that had visited multiple times and had planned future returns. For us, Baan Orapin soothed our tired bodies and minds by providing respite from our regular lives and responsibilities in a place that marries tradition with modern comforts, all in a perfect little neighbourhood tucked away from the noise and bustle of the old town centre. Why would you stay anywhere else?
Our adventures in Chiang Mai continue…
Accommodation: Baan Orapin Bed and Breakfast