I admit I have a soft spot for Chiang Mai, having lived there a lifetime ago. It’s a destination that has always been popular with visitors to Thailand, and yet it took a long time to establish a high-end, true boutique hotel smack in the city centre. I like to stay in the heart of town, to be able to walk around and explore my surroundings, finding that on foot I can soak up the atmosphere, resting wherever I choose, chatting to locals along the way, stopping for a coffee en route.
Of course, it’s a challenge to any hotelier to create an oasis in the middle of a city. 137 Pillars House is just that. It’s not over-the-top luxury, rather a welcoming and comfortable stop, a place to call home for a few days or longer.
There is no risk of being lost in this hotel. Set in lush and mature gardens, the hotel’s footprint is surprisingly small, but it has been well landscaped and still manages to feel spacious. It is like you are entering a small village on a meandering pedestrian street: handsome residences and a central, traditional wooden building on stilts housing the restaurant, bar and lounge.
The decor is Thai elegance meets colonial grace. And it is blissful after a day on one’s feet to recline in the bar with a gin and tonic, a Somerset Maugham novel on your lap, or even indulge in a game of cards if you can drum up a fourth for bridge.
Although most visitors will stay only a couple of days, if you enjoy relaxed, slow-paced travel, you could easily spend a week here, eating fabulous food and allowing the hotel’s infectious, leisurely pace to rub off on you.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Spa credit
- 15% off treatments from the regular spa menu, not combinable with promotions
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
Tucked away in a back street behind an unassuming white wall is the short driveway up to 137 Pillars House. The sign is a little skew-whiff, and the paint could do with another coat, but the welcome from the staff is incredibly warm. Walking up the steps to the hotel grounds, I was greeted by an incredible floral scent – presumably frangipani – before being led to the small but perfectly formed lobby area for a quick check-in before heading straight to my room.
Rooms and suites
The design theme throughout the hotel is colonial meets traditional Thai, and this continues within the well-appointed but cosy rooms. In spite of the dark wood of the furnishings, the four-poster bed and the doors, the rooms feel light and unfussy. Perhaps the plentiful use of lamps rather than overhead lighting also helps achieve this effect. The beautifully framed photographs of old Chiang Mai lend the room character and charm akin to an elegant private home.
The bedroom leads onto a private terrace, and mine looked out over the lush gardens and other suites on either side. The hotel doesn’t feel crowded but it’s not spread over a large area either.
There is a TV and sound system as well as a mini-bar and coffee machine, but don’t expect high tech. The light controls are analogue, as it were, and lamps have switches. Being in a city, the mobile-phone signal was strong everywhere, and wi-fi – accessed with a password – was reliable and fast.
While I was staying, there was a guest in a wheelchair who seemed to be able to get around easily. However, with plenty of stairs to reach the restaurant, bar and some of the rooms, it isn’t a hugely disabled-friendly set-up. That said, the Thais are so incredibly keen to please that they will bend over backwards to ensure guests are comfortable.
This is one of the best bathroom layouts I have seen in many years. Divided from the bedroom by a set of colonial-style shutter doors is the dressing room, with twin vanity units. Clever lighting from above but also the sides of the room mean it is possible to shave or apply make-up (possibly not at the same time) without a hitch. Marble and dark wood is a combination I’ve seen in very dated settings, but here it looks clean and well proportioned. The wardrobe area has a hidden curtain, in case a guest wants to dress in private – a nice touch.
Through another set of doors is the WC on the left, and the shower unit on the right – both with doors of their own – with a majestic roll-top bath in the centre. Out the back is an open-air shower, nestled in a small garden, giving the bathtub a tropical setting.
Meals are served in the traditional wooden buildings that form the focal part of the hotel. Breakfast is hosted on a pretty terrace, which can be open to the elements or closed off and air-conditioned. The meal is served buffet-style with eggs and pancakes to order. With a nod to local cuisine, there are lots of Asian options as well as traditional continental fare. Everything I had was deliciously fresh and beautifully cooked; the coffee was superb.
The hotel offers an extensive Thai menu, with a few Western dishes for those needing a break from coconut and lemongrass, which can be served on your terrace, at the breakfast spot or by the pool. The local soup (tom yum) was one of the best I have ever tasted, perfectly spiced.
Other restaurant options
If you do nothing else in Chiang Mai, eat. I couldn’t bring myself to dine at the in-house Italian restaurant, although I heard good things about it. My top tip is to go off-piste with food in this city. If you have a sense of adventure, try the mouth-watering and freshly prepared street food at any of the night markets. Pointing at something works if you can’t speak any Thai, and staff at the hotel can brief you on what you should look for and try when you’re out and about.
Spa and wellness
There is a small spa on the premises, with just three treatment rooms in a Thai-style house on stilts with whitewashed walls. The menu offers scrubs, facials and some salon treatments and massages inspired by Swiss and Thai techniques, mainly using local essential oils. This is not a full-on destination spa but somewhere to unwind with a treatment or two after a day out exploring.
The gym has a handful of cardio machines and a couple of resistance machines (slightly dated but perfectly functional ‘Life Fitness’ beasts) as well as some free weights. The gym smacks of somewhere guests don’t prioritise but it’s functional and well-appointed nevertheless.
Pool and beach
There is one pool, long enough for laps, with an impressive living wall on one side and a small number of sun loungers on the other. Most guests were out exploring during the daytime but it’s worth bearing in mind that if the hotel is full, poolside space may be at a premium. All the rooms all have terraces, though, and they seemed to be well used.
There were no kids in the hotel during my stay and, while there is no policy against children, I’d imagine families might prefer somewhere with more facilities. 137 Pillars House has a small footprint, and the pool is the only common play area. The interconnecting rooms connect via the terrace, rather than inside the rooms themselves.
Staff and service
The Thai smile is a well-known phenomenon. Every time I left or returned, there was an unobtrusive ‘hello’ from the reception area; someone willing to advise on the best place to eat noodle soup; advice on how to get around town; and suggestions of where to go for live music. Everyone was helpful, and nothing was too much trouble.
The butler allocated to my room went above and beyond the call of duty, helping mend a broken bag, patiently showing me how to make coffee (er, press the on button), checking whether I needed any help with travel arrangements, advising on taxi services, or recommendations on one night market versus another.
There was an international mix of guests staying at 137 Pillars House, mostly couples (perhaps one family), all well travelled, casual and friendly. During the daytime, only a handful of them were in the hotel, leading me to the conclusion that most were on tour and probably on hectic schedules.
Check-out was quick and seamless (I paid by card) and my car was waiting at the steps to the property.
How to get there
15 minutes by road transfer from Chiang Mai Airport