Different perspective on Chiang Rai
CHIANG RAI, 26 January 2012: When you ask Le Meridien Resort’s general manager Justin Malcolm to profile his hotel, he invariably starts by saying let’s first talk about Chiang Rai.
Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort is the far north town’s only five-star resort and the affable general manager is showing me the landscaped gardens that merge with an infinity pool. From the vantage point of my bar stool the pool melts into river, a blurry placid line of water and beyond in the distance, hazy forested mountains complete the tranquil tapestry.
“Marketing the resort is inherently linked to Chiang Rai,” he explains. “First we introduce a fascinating new destination to customers who are looking for art and culture.
“We sell the destination linking it to the benefits of a relaxing resort experience and are focusing on new markets particularly in Asia. This is one of the few remaining provinces that can still deliver a genuine traditional Thai experience without a single compromise.”
2012 is a banner year for Chiang Rai as it celebrates the 750th anniversary of the city’s founding by King Mengrai the Great who ruled over the Lanna Kingdom in 1262.
Today, 26 January, city residents gathered at 0959 for the official 750th anniversary ceremony held at the foot of the revered king’s statue, a landmark for both visitors and residents alike.
In the evening around 600 residents, VIPs and representatives of the town’s communities and associations will gather for a gala dinner at the Mae Fah Luang Arts and Crafts Park.
Back at the Le Meridien, Mr Malcolm talks of other events that will not only underscore Chiang Rai’s claim to arts and crafts status, but also help to establish it as gateway to the Mekong Region.
Le Meridien with other riverside hotels are jointly hosting the Mekong Tourism Forum this June an event that will attract over 300 leading tourism executives from Thailand and its Mekong Region neighbours.
“Our challenge is to build international tourism,” says Mr Malcolm. “There are no international airlines serving Chiang Rai and this is something we have to work on seriously.”
Travellers from Singapore were among the top nationalities staying at the resort hotel in December mostly couples, in the 40 to 50s, seasoned travellers looking for something rewarding and relaxing.
The 159-room Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort fits that bill perfectly with its 26 rai of gardens on the banks of the River Kok, just a one –hour journey to the famous Golden Triangle and within minutes of historic temples and outstanding examples of Lanna art at its best.
It starts with the open lobby and the panoramic view of the gardens, the river and mountains on the far horizon. The views are similar from all room balconies.
If location makes a great hotel, go no further.
But Le Meridien in the style, layout and standard of service goes much further to deliver a holiday experience that both visitors and residents alike say is in a class of its own.
Word of mouth recommendations say it all and when critical well-travelled expatriate residents say this is the place to be seen we have to admit they usually know what they are talking about.
“We have tried to be part of the community,” says the GM. “We deliberately priced our food and beverage to attract locals and this has paid off by giving us recognition for quality dining.”
Apart from a healthy Sunday brunch that would keep a rugby player satisfied, the hotel offers traditional Italian in its signature restaurant, Favola.
You will also feel equally at home at the hotel’s Latitude 19 lobby lounge that claims to be modern Lanna chic. In other words a place to relax, where you can browse through the library of books linked to Chiang Rai and its Lanna art.
I am sitting at the hotel’s poolside Chill Bar soaking up the view and weather. It’s a cool 20 degrees, well below what Bangkok properties create in their air-conditioned lobbies. But I am out in a garden surrounded by huge ancient trees that were there long before the environmentally sensitive architect got down to work.
I muse over the future, recognising Chiang Rai’s day in the sunlight is approaching. There is a buzz in town as it prepares to celebrate its 750th anniversary. There is an emerging confidence too that the town is about to discover its true identity; a gateway to the Mekong Region for visitors looking for a quality, lifestyle holiday.
Le Meridien’s team hopes to play a role in reach that goal.