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6 Rachamankha 9
T. Phra Singh
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Land of Smiles
The Arrival of the Sophisticated Boutique Hotel
By Sophie Gayot

Temple architecture

Despite the surplus of accommodations in Thailand, there has long been a vast gap between budget bunkhouses and massive luxury properties. It's easy to find a rustic eco-lodge for a few baht a night or swanky digs that can host a conference of hundreds. But the type of lodging that's headlining the scene in major international cities these days is just gaining a foothold in the Land of Smiles: the sophisticated boutique hotel. Setting the bar for this burgeoning movement is the Rachamankha in Chiang Mai.

Sophisticated Chiang Mai suits a hotel of this kind. While Bangkok is sweaty and sprawling, Chiang Mai is intimate, delicate and discreetly classy, with all the quaint charms of its northern heritage. Due in part to the region's wealth of temples, which provided the primary source of inspiration for Rachamankha, it is a destination imbued with spirituality. Its design was taken from the chapel of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang province. Emulated for more than simply its visual appeal, the temple architecture stirs the tranquility one expects from a sanctuary.

Bold patterns
Clean lines

Rachamankha also honors the roots of Lanna (northern Thai) culture, which was influenced by Chinese, Dai, Laotian, Lua and Burmese traditions. Rather than a designer's nostalgic interpretation of ancient Thailand, this is an endeavor—and a quite successful one—dedicated to authenticity. All that said, we caught hints of Milan in the bold patterns, muted colors and clean lines of the bedrooms. We also liked the sophisticated blend of Orient and Occident in the staff uniforms.

Sophisticated dining

There are just 23 accommodations, including a one-bedroom suite, which wrap around a quiet interior courtyard. Because the antiques were hand-selected, each room is unique, although some elements have been designed for a sense of continuity: old Lanna-style doors with elaborate handles and wooden bolts, window blinds made of bamboo and reed floor mats. The temple theme is carried into the restaurant, where Thai and fusion cuisine can be enjoyed indoors amid glowing lanterns and nineteenth-century paintings or in the courtyard, accompanied by traditional regional music. For relaxation, there is a bar, a pool flanked by sun beds, and the entire city right outside the front gate.

No doubt staying here will motivate you to learn more about Lanna culture. To get started, head to the onsite Gallery, which exhibits silverware, lacquerware, Hilltribe ornaments and relics discovered when the hotel site was excavated. Studying the heritage that inspired the hotel, you'll appreciate not only its graceful influences, but also how perfectly it integrates into the 21st-century desire for aesthetically pleasing comfort.

Pool at night

Going to Thailand? Check our Guide.

(Updated: 06/27/08 HC)

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