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Situated within rice paddies and lily ponds, The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is an oasis of calm. Pros: Well-appointed rooms, delicious food and beverage offerings, excellent service and lots of activities to keep everyone busy. Cons: Its remote location is somewhat hard to get to and very high prices across the board, especially for Thailand.

During my girlfriend’s Southeast Asia birthday getaway, we were lucky enough to spend time at two Four Seasons properties in Thailand. Our stay at the Koh Samui property was full of sun, beach and relaxation, and we knew that Chiang Mai would be a completely different vibe, but we didn’t know exactly what to expect before we arrived.

After a day of nonstop activities in downtown Chiang Mai, we were excited to get outside of the city, check in at the hotel and see whether this property would match the high bar set at the Koh Samui property.

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Booking

As Four Seasons doesn’t have its own loyalty program, our only option was to pay cash — at least I’d earn tons of Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the 3x travel bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Even though it was pricey, I thought through ways to maximize value when booking at Four Seasons properties.

First, I contemplated booking the hotel using the Citi Prestige Card, which offers the fourth night free on all hotel stays (Note that this benefit will be changing in September). However, we were only staying for three nights, so the Citi Prestige was out.

Onto the next.

I then considered booking the hotel through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, using my Platinum Card® from American Express. By booking through Amex, we’d be entitled to daily breakfast, early check-in, late checkout, an upgrade (subject to availability) and a $100 spa credit to be used during the stay.

Almost there.

I realized that by booking with Virtuoso, I could do even better. Not only would I receive all of the FH&R amenities, but I would also get the added benefit and personalization of working with a dedicated agent who knew my preferences.

The Virtuoso rate matched that of Amex FH&R, which was about 19,000 Thai baht (about $600) a night for the Garden Pavilion — a pretty standard off-season price at this property.

Location

My passport says that I’m 25 years old, but I’m proud to have the habits of an 80-year-old grandpa (born in Boca Raton, Florida, so early-bird dinners and mahjong were my childhood). So, while 25-year-old me may have wanted to stay in the downtown center of Chiang Mai, 80-year-old me was thrilled to be worlds away from the bustling city.

The Four Seasons is 20 miles from downtown Chiang Mai, a 40-minute drive from the wild downtown parties that begin long after my bedtime. But I certainly wouldn’t recommend renting a car and driving yourself to the hotel. We lost cellphone signal in the woods near the hotel and would’ve been in serious trouble if we were relying on our phone’s GPS to direct us. We pulled up to the resort’s main gate and could immediately smell the forest that we’d call home for the next three nights.

The resort had 98 rooms, 64 standard rooms that they called “pavilions,” 12 pool villas and 22 private residence rentals. Some pavilions faced the interior gardens, while others offered direct views of the rice paddy.

Each group of four pavilions was in one shared structure, with two pavilions on the ground floor and two on the upper floor. All pavilions had the same floor plan and outdoor terrace, so the only difference in category was the view and the floor.

Check-in

After arriving at the lobby’s open-air pavilion, we were quickly greeted by name — always a good indicator of a great property — and asked to be seated for check-in.

The lobby was perched above the rest of the resort, affording us great views of our home for the next three days. The friendly front-desk agent proactively offered us refreshing cold towels and collected our passports as she diligently explained the various benefits we were entitled to through the Virtuoso program.

She went on to explain that because of our decision to book through Virtuoso, we’d been upgraded to a Rice Terrace Pavilion room on the ground floor of the building closest to the lobby. While the upgrade only gave us a better view, we were still excited about our good fortune. Our upgraded room wasn’t available when we arrived at 11am, so we decided to walk around the property for a couple of hours until our room was ready.

Room

Our 750-square-foot room, Pavilion 1304, was down a short path from the lobby with lush foliage on either side. This was the closest I’d come to living with nature in quite some time, assuming you don’t count the dead tree outside my New York City apartment window.

We opened the door and walked in to see the plush, signature Four Seasons bed that had been tastefully decorated with flowers for my girlfriend’s birthday (astute readers may realize that it’s been my girlfriend’s “birthday” for quite some time).

The hotel’s bedside tables had plenty of international outlets to keep all our gadgets well-charged throughout our stay.

Waiting on the table was a welcome amenity consisting of a plate of pears and lemongrass tea.

The minibar was near the entrance of the room and had plenty of complimentary bottled water, which was key in the humidity of the forest.

The bathroom was about as large as the bedroom, with a large closet, double vanity, separate shower that would definitely pass the TPG shower test, bathtub and water closet.

Interestingly, the bathroom had glass windows overlooking a miniature garden at the back of the room. While we appreciated the view, it would have been nice if the hotel added an outdoor shower in this area that was effectively dead space. I mean, if Emirates can fit a shower inside the nose of a jumbo airplane, why couldn’t the Four Seasons fit an outdoor shower in a rural resort?

Toiletries at the hotel were nonbranded in reusable containers, which was part of the hotel’s effort to go green. (The hotel had clearly succeeded in this — quite literally everything around us was green.)

Just like in Koh Samui, the highlight of the room was once again the outdoor terrace. Double doors opened to a small terrace overlooking a picturesque rice paddy.


The terrace had a table, two chairs, and an incredibly comfortable outdoor day bed. I may have fallen asleep there dreaming about the chocolate-chip pancakes from the Koh Samui property.

While the hotel’s Wi-Fi could be accessed anywhere across the property, there was a frustrating landing page that required you to provide your unique access code every six hours. Not the end of the world, just not a totally frictionless experience. Speeds were solid at around 4 Mbps download and 1 Mpbs upload, while coverage was above average but spotty in places.

Food and Beverage

Breakfast was served daily in the Khao by Four Seasons restaurant. This restaurant was one level down from the main lobby, overlooking the resort’s expansive grounds.

While the restaurant served Thai fare in the evenings, an international breakfast buffet was served here from 7 to 10:30am. There were many Western and Asian stations, with an emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Eggs, waffles and pancakes were cooked to order. The rest of the food could be found at the buffet. A highlight was the croissants. (Guess where the missing two croissants went.)

Who doesn’t love fried rice for breakfast? It was pretty great at this hotel, too.

The pastries were also very tasty and fresh.

The assorted vegetables and sides rounded out what we liked best.

Breakfast was about more than just the food. I was impressed by local artisans, who made cute ornaments and trinkets out of palm fronds as miniature giveaways for the guests. They were much better with their hands than I am, but I would still challenge them to an iPhone typing contest.

Instead of going back to Khao for a Thai dinner, we enjoyed a nice meal at Terraces, the hotel’s Italian and Mediterranean restaurant. Service began with a selection of breads.

I had a whole grilled sea bass ($35), while my girlfriend went back to the basics with fusilli with basil pesto ($22).

We definitely covered both the Italian and Mediterranean cuisines at dinner. My girlfriend and I are pescatarian, so note that prices for some of the meat dishes were quite a bit higher, priced above what we expected even for a secluded resort.

In addition to our scheduled meals, we also tried light bites and cocktails while relaxing at the pool. They were always brought out quickly and tasted fresh.

My girlfriend sipped on a Tropical Scent ($17), while I embraced my inner AVGeek and ordered a Jim-Let Fox-Trot ($18). Does anyone else make their drink choices based on the phonetic alphabet? Probably just me, but at least the drink tasted good.

Amenities

Most guests seemed to hunker down at the resort, choosing to stay on property all day. The one time we thought about going to the local town, we discovered that the closest restaurant was about 20 minutes away. It was already 5pm, and Grandpa Zach was not trying to go to bed anytime after 7pm, so that was out of the question. Instead, we stayed on the property for the duration of our stay. The hotel had a small gym one level below the pool. The compact gym didn’t have any views but was stocked with modern equipment.

Though the gym was on the smaller side, the grounds were so expansive that there was plenty of space to spread out, stretch your legs and work off those croissants from the breakfast buffet.

The hotel offers complimentary bicycles to ride around the property. One afternoon, I rented a bike and started cycling around the hotel’s perimeter. Forty-five minutes later, I was lost without cellphone reception, asking every passing car how to get back to the hotel. At this point, I was so desperate that I would’ve been thrilled to even have had Apple Maps. Somehow, I found my way back for dinner, and I’ll be sticking to indoor cycling at SoulCycle from now on.

The hotel also offered daily yoga classes at a dedicated yoga pavilion.

The hotel had a really unique two-level pool setup. The 25-meter, upper-level pool was larger, heated and allowed kids, while Grandpa Zach was found at the adults-only lower-level infinity pool.

Both pools were absolutely stunning, but the highlight was sunset at the lower pool. Right off the main pool, there was also a small Jacuzzi overlooking the garden. One afternoon in the Jacuzzi, we even met some fellow TPG readers who used their Citi Prestige card to enjoy a fourth night free (#IApprove).

This was not a cookie-cutter resort. The hotel offered authentic activities for all age groups, including interesting local activities like complimentary rice-planting classes.

Additionally, every afternoon the hotel offered a meet and greet with Tong, the hotel’s resident water buffalo. Seeing the smiles on kids’ faces as they interacted with Tong was really special. Unclear, though, if The Points Pups would have enjoyed meeting him.

Since we had a $100 spa credit, I got a spa treatment one afternoon. The spa was in a converted private residence, with separate treatment rooms in each of the residence’s bedrooms.

While the layout was unique, it meant that there was no sauna, steam room or locker room in the spa. Nevertheless, the massage was excellent and cost about $130 for 60 minutes. While comparable in price to other five-star properties around the world, the massage was far more expensive than in other places in Thailand.

One more neat activity I’d like to highlight was the Rim Tai Kitchen, a private Thai cooking school on the resort grounds where the hotel chef gave a hands-on, private cooking lesson. At $200 per person, though, we thought it was too expensive, especially since it cost more to cook the food than eat the food at the hotel’s restaurants.

The hotel offered thrice-daily shuttle service to downtown Chiang Mai (in proper vans — a welcome step up from the local taxis, which whizzed by at dangerous speeds).

Service

Across the board, and just like the Four Seasons in Koh Samui, service was consistently excellent.

When I went to schedule my massage, I was initially shocked to see that the hotel didn’t offer a standard Swedish or deep-tissue massage. All of the spa treatments were variants of a Thai massage, which makes sense given where we were, but I thought a resort of this caliber would have more on offer. After consulting with the spa manager, he graciously arranged a customized treatment for me.

The general attention to detail was also impressive. Drink orders were memorized after the first day. After ordering water with extra ice at breakfast on day one, every subsequent day there would be water with extra ice waiting for me not only at breakfast but also when we were sitting by the pool.

One afternoon, my girlfriend was worried about all of the bug bites she was getting. So she asked if the hotel sold bug spray. Five minutes later, a staff member who overheard my girlfriend’s concerns brought over a complimentary bottle of bug spray.

Most impressively, there were many flower pots across the entire resort beautifully arranged. The one afternoon that it rained, within 10 minutes of the rain stopping, all the flower arrangements had been set back as normal. If only LaGuardia Airport (LGA) could recover that quickly from a rain shower, all would be well in the NYC area.

Overall Impression

While the resort is somewhat inconvenient if you’re looking to explore Chiang Mai, there is no more relaxing place to stay than the Four Seasons. The hotel is beautifully set within lush rice paddies, with outstanding service and high-quality restaurants. There is plenty to do to keep oneself occupied, so if you’re looking for a peaceful escape from downtown Chiang Mai, this is the place to stay.

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