I can think of no better place than Tamarind Village to channel Chiang Mai’s glorious Lanna Thai past. Located a mere five-minute walk from the iconic Wat Chedi Luang, the charming boutique hotel is a haven of timeless grace in the very heart of the Old City. And it is a prime example of the positive impact of responsible tourism in the preservation of local cultural heritage.
In 2002, award-winning architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu used a rare 4,000-square-meter (one-acre) vacant lot just off Rajdamnoen Road, one of the most vibrant historic arteries within the medieval moat, to construct the first Lanna-style hotel in Chiang Mai. Here, he revived the use of centuries-old design, building techniques and materials to translate distinctive Northern Thai architectural elements into an inviting contemporary version of a traditional village. Today, Tamarind Village is credited with playing a key role in the current revival of the popularity of traditional architecture throughout the area. Ong-ard’s contribution was recognized in 2007, when Tamarind Village was awarded a commendation in the prestigious UNESCO Asia-Pacific awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
A Village Around a Tree
From Rajdamnoen Road, a path shaded by an arch of soaring bamboo leads to the discrete gate of Tamarind Village. Named after the towering 200-year-old tamarind tree that dominates the property, the complex of public areas and guest quarters is laid-out around intimate courtyards filled with flowering trees. With its typical whitewashed plaster walls, dark timber beams and peaked roofs of thin clay tiles, it is a reflection of the simple elegance of the local Lanna Thai culture, in harmony with the ancient temples and historic sites that surround it.
The common areas are dominated by a swimming pool tiled in royal blue ceramic for an ornamental garden feel. Its length is outlined by a covered walkway leading to a vast reception and lounge area. Under a peaked tiled roof held by high masonry pillars, the entire room opens onto the pool on one side and the main Village courtyard with its ancient tamarind tree on the other. The lounge is decorated with distinctive crafts from the nearby hill-tribes, and from the tall paintings behind the reception desk to antique side-tables holding oversized ceramic bowls filled with sumptuous arrangements of orchids, every detail pays homage to the Lanna Kingdom artistic legacy.
Contemporary Lanna Thai Flair
My second-floor Lanna Deluxe room (Number 1201) lives up the promise of its name, with its whitewashed rough-plastered walls, high cathedral ceilings and dark grey polished concrete floors. The comfortable dark wood and rattan furniture creates an effective backdrop for the striking display of lacquered boxes and intricately embroidered tribal children hats. Behind a partition of floor-to-ceiling closets, the bathroom successfully preserves the feel of rustic simplicity while delivering all the contemporary trappings of a luxury property. It is partitioned into three distinct areas, a water closet, a roomy shower, and in the center, a vanity made from a deep copper washbasin of the type used by rural populations, resting on an antique table against a backsplash of jewel-colored ceramic tiles.
Timeless Romantic Retreat
But the ultimate charm of Tamarind Village rests in its tranquil atmosphere throughout. It’s on the roofed balcony of my room, where I settle into the deep cushions of a loveseat built into the railing to gaze through the branches of the ancient tamarind tree as the last rays of sunshine brush the golden chedi (pagoda) of the seven-centuries old Wat Umong right over the Village wall. It’s all along the garden paths lit at dusk with dancing oil lanterns, and the swimming pool where their reflection shimmers in the water. And it flows in on the gentle evening breeze, carrying with it the sounds of temple bells and the spirit of a culture reaching back a millennium.
It is even in the restaurant, Ruen Tamarind, on the far side of the pool, with its series of French doors opened onto a waterside terrace for candle-lit indoor or outdoors dining. The serene attentive presence of the staff as well as the menu contributes its own homage to the Lanna past.
Northern Thai Delights
At Ruen Tamarind, an extensive selection of Northern Thai dishes from original family recipes handed down through generations complements the classic Thai and international offerings. To make the most of this culinary opportunity, I order all my meal from the Northern Thai menu, including breakfast when is forgo the standard buffet offering in favor of traditional Thai soup, a delicate broth filled with nuggets bursting with flavor. I discover superb dinner dishes as well. My favorites are deep-fried bamboo shoot stuffed with ground pork, served with a hot but sweet peanut sauce and fresh-water fish filets marinated in curry, then served in banana leaves en papillote over jasmine rice.
The Village Spa
The Village Spa is a serene sanctuary located on the second floor of the most secluded courtyard at the far end Tamarind Village. Its public space embraces the Lanna Thai architectural concept of open galleries under a tiled roof. Loveseats are built into the gallery’s railing to face the doors of the six treatment rooms. This is where I am invited to enjoy a complimentary traditional footbath and foot massage before entering my treatment room.
In consultation with the spa supervisor I select the treatment that best suits me, and from an assortment of essential oils, the scent I prefer for my massage. The spa uses only herbal products drawn from the Lanna Thai heritage of natural healing. To restore my travel-weary body, I chose the 90-minute Village Signature Massage, a heavenly combination of deep tissue massage and applications of heated herbal pouches that soothes and relaxes every fiber of my body and leaves my spirit in a state of zoned-out bliss. I do wish I could package the experience and bring it home with me.
Exploring the Old City
The Tamarind Village concierge is also its resident expert on Lanna history and northern ethnic crafts. She leads me on a fascinating morning walk in the neighborhoods of the Old City. Our first stop is Wat Duang Dee, a small temple where we deliver the hotel’s traditional daily offering of food to the monks and receive their blessings. Then we walk on to some of the nearby historic sites. This complimentary tour is available daily to hotel guests by previous arrangements.
Good to Know
- Tamarind Village is at 50/1 Rajdamnoen Road Sriphoon, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50200 Thailand. Contact: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel. + 66 53 418896-9.
- The 45-room property includes three suites. It consists of two-level structures set around three courtyards. It can accommodate up to 90 guests and employs a staff of 60.
- There are no elevators on the property. Consequently the upper-level rooms do not allow for mobility-impaired guest access.
- If your itinerary includes a weekend-stay, the famous Sunday Night market is ideally located just a few steps away from the bamboo archway entrance of Tamarind Village.
- The hotel is a 15-minute taxi ride from Chiang Mai Airport.