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Basic Instincts

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, March 27, 2009

Keeping it simple is the order of the day as people seek comfort in uncertain times

The opening of high-end serviced apartments in Sheung Wan last month saw a rare aesthetic for Hong Kong: the Yin’s 42 studios offer glimpses of brickwork, flashes of exposed piping, and baths carved out of stone blocks. This kind of warehouse-hip has been run-of-the-mill in other cities for years, yet in Hong Kong it has always struggled, and usually drowned, under heaps of suede, crystal and polished wood. Still, Philip Liao of design firm Liao and Partners thought that now might be the time to give it a go – albeit with a sanitized and slightly Zen-like twist. “I just read in a fashion magazine that power pin stripes and opulence are a little out,” he laughs. “This raw, more honest kind of living is not timed for this ‘tsunami’ but tastes are changing. Even very well paid young execs don’t necessarily want to live in a palace any more”.

Could the economic crisis have Hong Kong design paring down, aesthetically? The past fifteen years here have been a parade of unrestrained decadence: in the textures and the technology we’ve been choosing for our homes, and in the restaurants and bars we hang out in. But it appears that for some people these choices are either no longer sustainable or are being seen as less tasteful, and designers have started to respond to a different mindset. If you’ve got it, flaunt it? Not so much anymore.
“If you have it right now, probably you don’t want to show it – and if you had it, you don’t want to be reminded that you had it,” wryly observes Hernan Zanghellini, of the Hong Kong-based Zanghellini Holt Architects. “It’ll be about the simple pleasures for the next few years.”

But think modest, not minimalist. It is actually more expensive to do a flat ceiling, a high-gloss surface or a seamless piece of furniture than it is to produce something ornate. “Clients say it’s harder to make simple designs industrially because it’s harder to get the details right,” concurs Hong Kong-based product designer Danny Fang. “Flaws show up more clearly.” So although people may feel that simpler surroundings have more virtue, trends are unlikely to go too bare. What the crunch might do, says Fang, is make people more picky about quality, and less fond of disposable products; design buffs will be looking for longevity.

“When you have troubles it’s the old friend you turn to, not the trendy person you met two days ago,” opines Zanghellini, who sees us heading towards old, familiar comforts. This means more natural wood and more burnished metals – highly polished chrome and steel will be out, bronze and copper will be in – but still all in the spirit of temperance. The new collection from Hong Kong design brand Ovo reflects the move towards a simpler life: OVO Eszentials: eminent sensation will combine warm, cheering colour with smooth, sculptural forms. “When the economy is good, when people have a lot of spare money to spent, they may look for something a bit showier,” says directo Ed Ng “however [now], they may relax a bit on some of the fine details and materials.”

This paring down is already a common thread for cosmopolitan hubs, at home and at play. As one London design writer put it in a recent barometer-style table: while restaurants, pre-crunch, meant “angry telly (TV) chefs, faux-French food, rising cloches, Michelin stars, great expense”, post-crunch will bring “wood burning ovens, refectory tables and no reservations”.

In Hong Kong this has already happened, as character-heavy cubbies are replacing illusions of grandeur. English pub-style venues have mushroomed, with their polished woods and comforting leather. The Press Room restaurant won designer and artist Stanley Wong a Design for Asia Silver award last year for its classic combination of warm brick, vintage tile and wood, and restaurants like Zanghelini & Holt’s new BLT in Ocean Terminal are walking a line between distinguished and homey. The hodgepodge of used and ‘faux-used’ furniture, retro light fittings and aged wood at The Pawn in Wanchai, also by Stanley Wong, has given it a fashionable, popular old club vibe.

Materials salvaged from old buildings are now more commonly used by designers (though they do not come cheaply), as is reconditioned furniture. The tolerance for eclecticism, or as one friend put it, ‘beachcomber chic’, is rising as Hong Kong homeowners are showing a new willingness to trawl sites like AsiaXpat for secondhand pieces. All the mixing and matching has people embracing their creative streaks. The last big depression saw new technology and cold, sleek industry celebrated; this one looks set to be warmer.

At the London Design Festival last September all eyes were on craft, particularly at the mydeco design boutique, which showcased unique home-made products. Here Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek presented his handcrafted furniture out of scrap wood, and Lisa Whatmough showed her brand, Squint (pictured), which grew up around antique textiles she had collected. Similar gems were to be seen at the Milan Furniture Fair, such as the embroidered upholstered furniture line My Beautiful Backside by Ango-Indian designer team Doshi Levien for Moroso. Reports from the Maison and Objet fair in Paris last month were of soft, vintage colours in nostalgic prints and dusky faded hues: delicate pinks, pale yellows and duck egg blues, and of furniture that’s heavy and reassuring; the kind that looks as if it will last through this crunch and the next.

As that comfort factor starts to take hold (the sale of cookies have reportedly soared over the last year), designers like Whatmough are choosing to give consumers emotional engagement with products, and a feeling of sanctuary rather than new technology. Even at the high end, craft is coming back. “When we look for exclusive product, it is hard for us to go into big, mass produced collections which require huge design resource and tooling costs,” creative director of London’s the Conran Shop, Polly Dickens has explained. “So we turn to craft and produce things hand-made in small qualities with a unique signature.”

This may be disconcerting for Asian consumers, who have often associated old products and materials with poverty, but a recent change in sensibility has seen businesses and home owners more ready to accept earthier textures in among the gloss. “Compared to five years ago people’s tastes have become more cultivated,” says Federico Masin, a Venetian architect and designer based in Hong Kong. “They realise comfort or luxury has more than one face; textures and rough materials are more accepted.”
But then others aren’t so sure. “We are all figuring out the new order,” joked Jane Chang, whose Wanchai store, Flea + Cents stocks retro design goods. “Right now lifestyle gurus are taking about calm and basic styles, but I don’t think it will stay like that for long. Hong Kong people like whatever’s new.”

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Dalian Wonder

March 2009, Silkroad Magazine, China

A colourful past has created a bright future for this cosmopolitan city

“You won’t find much of China in Dalian,” one foreign resident recently observed over coffee, and he has a point. At one time Russian, another Japanese and with a host of names and identities in its recent past, Dalian is as famous today for its female ‘mounties’ on horseback and its links with Canon and Mitsubishi, as it is its excellent sea food.  But on one of its famously clear days in one of the many squares, watching couples parade and old men practice water calligraphy, Dalian can also be the best of China. Many agree, and it has been voted one of the most livable cities in the country.

Dalian’s appeal comes from its modern history, since it has little by way of ancient architecture or artistic heritage. Before the various occupations it was a fishing village. Instead there’s good weather, a dazzling coastline, a string of manicured beaches and a surprising connection to the cultures in its past. Quirky Russian and Japanese accents are found used in modern buildings here and visitors from both countries come thick and fast; the Russians to warm up and the Southern Chinese to cool down. Dalian is booming too, with a good handful of five star hotels, a thriving port and a software park that is gaining global recognition for IT.

Things to See

Though the retro cable cars and gentle hills have had Dalian likened to San Francisco, this is a coastal town with Chinese characteristics: expect magnificent squares and a neatly sculpted coast. A trip to Zhongshan Square is to see pigeons flock and citizens exercise under the sedate gaze of grand stone buildings (all disappointingly, banks).  Friendship Square at night lights up like a big snow globe, and Xinghai Square – as the largest square in East Asia – is the pride of the town.  It has a prime position by the sea and boasts seafood restaurants, a beach nearby and a very young castle, which is currently a museum of shells, but is slated for hotel development. Xinghai can also kick off the coastal drive (about 100RMB in a taxi), which winds past a number of beaches, viewing pagodas, themed wedding studios and the working harbor in the east.  Pause for a snack with the well-heeled at Tiger Beach – where attractive holiday homes cluster – or continue on to Hai Zhi Yun Park, where reality can warp.  Here you’ll find real deer mingling with plastic versions, and sculpted sea creatures protruding out of the cliff. Try out the binoculars at the park’s ramshackle tea house (Magic Slope Tea House, tel: 13998412649). There are also a number of zoos in the area, and a large Jinshi Golf Club (www.dalianjinshigolf.com) at the Golden Pebble Beach National Resort, 40km from town.

Where to Shop

Top fashion brands nest at Parkland (1 Jiefang Street), where you’ll find  your Escadas, Ermenegildo Zegnas and English speaking staff at Starbucks. For more of an adventure, Victory Plaza is a labyrinthine underground mall just outside of Dalian train station, with everything from shoes to souvenirs. Olympic Square is your bet for electronics, DVDs and other gadgets – and for a haggling match, especially towards the end of the day. For something a bit hip and quirky, check out a few of the small fashion stores along Xiangqian Road which leads off of Friendship Square. X-ite (Xian Qian Jie tel: 82808705) has edgy male fashion in line with Diesel, with labels from France, Japan and the US. Among the specialist tea houses in town, Middle Centre Tea House or Xong Xin Wu (16-18 Liu Lin Street, tel 8282 1000) is a dusty treasure with a good range.

Where to eat and drink

Dalian is well known for its seafood – particularly its sea cucumber – but it has yet to build the kind of coastal restaurant strip that you’d expect.  Those in the know will head downtown to Wan Bao (Jie Fang Road, tel: 0411 8881 2888) – a large marble wonder with a procession of fish tanks – or to Tian Tian Yu Gang  (45 Tongtai Street, tel: 0411 8454 9111). The latter has a rather elegant branch called Seafood Gourmet (543 Binhai West Road, tel: 0411 8477 0099) near Xingang Square, with around ten large private rooms. Also in the square area is the fresh, upscale La Gauche De Malin Restaurant and Lounge (527-1 Binhai West Road, tel: 0411 8480 3188), with everything from steaks to salmon, and a buffet that could rival your five star hotel.  La Riviera (68 Renmin Lu, tel: 0411 3963 3899) and Café Igosso (45 Nanshan Rd, tel 0411 8265 6453) are the people’s choice for a top European meal, the former a grand affair, the latter more of a bistro. Be boggled by the beer choices at the comfy Strollers (tel: 0411 8269-8293), or go Bavarian at the Kempinski’s Paulaner  Brauhaus (92 Jiefang Road, tel: 0411 8259 6666).

Where to stay

The Kempinski Hotel Dalian (92 Jiefang Road, tel: 04 11 8359 8888, www.kempinski-dalian.com) is central, modern and sleek and comes complete with an Arabian themed spa, a pool and a variety of upscale restaurants, and a new Chocotheke patisserie. The immediate area features plenty of shopping, and a good selection of bars and restaurants. Closer to the port and the railway station, Hotel Nikko Dalian (123, Chang Jiang Road, tel: 411 82529999 , www.nikkodalian.com.cn) has 372 bright, modern rooms and suites with harbour views, plus a selection of one to four bedroom long-stay apartments. Many expats choose to stay at the efficiently-run Somerset Harbour Court Apartments (55 Renmin Road, tel: 86-411 8899 1888, www.somerset.com) for something a little more long term. If you fancy a night by the sea shore, the Dalian Regent Hotel (12 Hutan St, tel: 0411-2892811, not related to the Regent group) is a well trodden three star establishment along the Beihei Rd route and sees a lot of honeymooning traffic.

Best Coffee in Town:

E xpats are fond of the All’s Well and Starbucks chain affairs but you are guaranteed a good cup at Isiyaki Café (35 Wuwu St, tel: 0411 8273 4550) – though being Japanese-run, your cup will likely be rather delicate, with flowers on it. Expect pages of options from Cuban to Charcoal Roasted.

Insider’s Guide

Wen Jing runs Dalian’s only Jazz establishment, Blossom Jazz Club.

Favourite Restaurant: Shanghai City (29 Wuhui Road, Tel: 0411 88228888), next to the Labour Park. I like Shanghainese food and here it’s healthy and not so spicy.
Favourite Bar:  Blossom Jazz Club (50 Kunming Street, tel: 0411 8280 0878), my own of course! I love foreign cultures and after a big trip abroad I decided to open this place – the first jazz club in Liaoning province.
Favourite buildings: All the old buildings around Zhongshan Square, they are old and special. From above the round shape and the eight entrances symbolize good fortune.
Favourite way to relax: I go to the Shangri-La spa every Saturday. It’s comfortable and has highly skilled staff that were trained overseas.
Favourite view: Beihei Lu, the road along the coast, is clean and beautiful.
Favourite place to take visitors: To my bar. I think it stands for the level of Dalian culture and many international people meet here.

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Ground Control

Silkroad Magazine, Hong Kong, September 2010

Three top landscape architects are breathing new life into urban areas

Yu Kongjian returned to China with a doctorate from Harvard in 1997 and the firm belief that ‘beauty is the by-product’ of good architecture. After founding Turenscape, China’s first private landscape design firm, he also became a professor at Peking University. [Find the full transcript of the interview below].

“In China, there are two landscaping cultures,” Yu explains. “There is the elite, high-class culture of gardening and then is the vernacular culture of farmers and fishermen. This ornamental culture of landscape design nethereeds a lot of resources – it’s not sustainable.” Instead Yu takes his inspiration from the practices of China’s farmers and the “beautiful, productive paradises” they can create from a working landscape. Yu believes that this is the key to keeping China’s cities liveable, despite the country’s break-neck pace of development.

The architect puts this paradigm into practice at his studio. Turenscape’s latest major project, Houtan Park, saw an ecological revival of an old industrial landscape at the site of Shanghai’s World Expo. The park used wild grasses and crops to filter river water for use at the expo, among other aspects, and won the highest honour from the American Society of Landscape Architects Awards this year.
Yu is aware of the wider responsibilities of his job, particularly his role as an educator. “I hope for there to be a higher level of understanding about how landscaping can help…The changes need to be top-down,” he says. “Landscaping needs to become a law, we need to see what needs to be protected across the board and keep it that way. To help that, we need a more democratic system of education, we need to encourage innovative young people to take part. China has wonderful traditions; contemporary landscape now needs to break through all the existing knowledge and criteria. We need more openness for everybody so that we can have more creativity.”

Gavin Coates is the primary resident landscape architect at urban planning firm ACLA, and came to Hong Kong in the 1980s after working in the UK; he is currently ‘on loan’ to the government while he directs the ongoing Hong Kong Greening Master Plan.

More than a third of Hong Kong’s land mass may be covered in country parks, says Coates, but these green spaces are vastly under-used. “There’s some incredible wilderness out there but people don’t take advantage of it,” he says. “So you have to bring the landscape to them.”
He spends much of his time tackling the territory’s urban areas, which are some of the densest in the world. Thanks to the reflective properties of concrete, the mass of human traffic and the heat emitted by cars and air-conditioning, Coates says that there can be as much as a 7 degree difference between the countryside and the city. To counter this he has overseen the addition of over 5,000 trees and a million shrubs and groundcover plans to Hong Kong and Kowloon – a number which will have tripled by the time the project is complete.

Yet Hong Kong’s density creates a unique challenge. “You lift up a paving block here and there’s a solid mass of cables; you’ve got water pipes, electric, telephone company cables,” he says. “Above ground you’ve also got sightline issues and signs, street lamps and traffic lights all competing for space”. And though many of the public rally for a greener city the feeling does not extend to everyone; most shopkeepers, Coates explains, will object to a tree being planted outside of their shop because it blocks their merchandise. The danger from falling trees or branches has also become a contentious issue. “On the mainland the landscaping is quite impressive but they’ve got the space to do it,” he says. “If you have 20-30m verge along the side of the road, a leaf or branch falling off your trees are not going to hit anybody. In Hennessy Road we’re planting into a medium that’s not even two metres wide, and which millions of people go down every week.”

Jie Hu is one of China’s foremost landscape architects and returned to the country after spending almost a decade with Sasaki Associates in the US. He now practices and teaches from Tsinghua University’s School of Architecture in Beijing, and believes that a city’s green spaces must be carefully attuned to the nature of the place and its people.

Hu’s time in America had an expansive influence on his work, he says, but the country could benefit somewhat from the Chinese attitude to landscaping. “You get the sense that when U.S cities are developed, the land is just cleared of its original characteristics and built over”, he says. “In China there’s a historically strong connection to the features and the energy flow through the land.”
He reveres the way a simple, well-designed park space can bring life to a neighbourhood, both as a space where people can “get out of their homes and engage in their surroundings”, and as a green lung. During its Olympic bid the Central Government promised to build a vast green Olympic Park that would counterbalance the environmental burden of the extra construction and activity. As project director Hu won acclaim and awards for the park’s blend of native ecology, modern techniques and local culture.

To strike the right balance in a project, Hu immerses himself in the physical and traditional culture of a city. “For the Olympic Park I did this by researching [Beijing’s] older existing parks that already carry its character and tradition, like Imperial Palace Park, so that my design would feel like a continuous development of that park system,” he explains. “But I also looked at the Beijing people, at what they like to do in parks: tai chi, dance, play cards or just have tea? Landscape architecture is about understanding and meeting the needs of the public.”
Full unpublished interview text:

Yu Kongjian

Q: What proportion do you practice versus teaching these days?
A: I’m a full-time professor at Peking University and I founded The Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at PKU. It’s hard to say what proportion of my time is practice as compared to teaching; I don’t consider teaching and research and practice to be separate. What I’m doing in design is pedagogical demonstration in school.

Q: What drew you to landscape architecture?
A: (Laughs) It’s a long story. Even though landscape architecture is fundamentally different from landscape gardening, I believe it is the most appropriate profession to deal with the issue of land – to meet the challenges of today’s environmental issues. My definition of landscape architecture is: the art of survival; it isn’t about gardening or decoration. It is about the relationship between the land and the people, about how to deal with the land so that people can have a safe, healthy and pleasant life. It’s what we need to create functional productive, life-sustaining and culturally meaningful landscape, so that we can meet today’s global climate changes, and the  environmental challenges coming with the rapid urbanization in China.

At the time in 1980s, Beijing Forestry University was the only option in China for landscape gardening, for physical outdoor environmental design. That was the beginning of my education.

Q: Which skills or ideas from your time at Harvard have you found have made the strongest impression on your?

A: Harvard gave me many things. At one side I was able to deal with large-scale landscape planning due to the fact that I had the best advisory board for my doctorate of design study, which is composed of the top landscape planner Carl Steinitz, landscape ecologist Richard Forman and a GIS (Geographical Information System) professor. On the other side, I was exposed to the contemporary, cutting edge design. All the lecturers and professors at Harvard are very much on the cutting edge. The way it works is that the design school at Harvard invites the best practitioners to teach and to lecture and to learn from each other. These two aspects of education make me a student capable to deal landscape across scales, from the national and regional landscape planning, to the site specific design, which have proven to be extremely important in my latter career.

Q: What are a few of the major differences that you found berween the American and Chinese approaches to landscape design?

A: In China there are two landscaping cultures. There is the elite, high-class culture of gardening and then there is the vernacular culture of farmers and fishermen. Some people think that landscape design is from the higher culture of gardening, but this is a mistake. I am against that, we need to learn more about the vernacular culture; we need to learn how to deal with land, how to make it productive, how to irrigate it, how to survive on it. Today, we are facing serious problems because we are wasting too much energy. This high-class, ornamental culture of landscape design needs a lot of resources, and we don’t have the resources for that, it’s not sustainable. We have to go back to the real vernacular, which is about making land productive and sustainable. Normal Chinese farmers create beautiful, productive paradises by focusing first on the working landscape. We need to get back to that. All my designs are about the working landscape first, about function, not about beautification.

In the United States, landscape traditions go back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s comparatively young compared to the elite Chinese tradition of gardening and the European tradition of gardening, but old [when] compared to contemporary Chinese landscape architecture. On the one hand the American tradition of landscape gardening comes from the European tradition – it’s a tradition similar to the high culture gardening of the Chinese. But about 110 years ago America began to urbanize itself and they needed a profession called landscape architecture to make the congested city liveable. So this tradition of landscape architecture (not gardening) is a breakthrough from the European tradition of gardening, and is the root of modern profession of landscape architecture, which was based on the need to meet the challenges of  urbanization in America. The goal of landscape architecture was to create recreational space, to bring nature into the city by creating a pastoral landscape, like Central Park in New York.

Today, China is moving forward so fast, we have to deal with serious environmental crises and also urbanization while making a city liveable. When America started this style for urbanizing cities 110 years ago, they did not have such serious problems we are now facing. It is therefore important to recognize that the contemporary landscape architecture in China needs another jump forward from the American tradition of landscape architecture, in that the Chinese contemporary landscape architects have to face more serious environmental and ecological crises, and be able to deal with such unprecedented challenges as climate changes, globalization and urbanization with unprecedented speed and scale. My intention is to develop a new Chinese vernacular landscape. In my projects, we use the landscape as ecological infrastructure, to help people feel present, see beauty and counter environmental problems as well.

Q: What can the world learn from Chinese landscape traditions or from feng shui?
A: Feng shui is part of the Chinese vernacular, part of everyday Chinese society. We can learn how to be more adaptive to the environment. We can learn how to deal with natural processes, like water. When you look at Chinese traditional settlements and architecture, like rice paddies in mountain areas, like the irrigation system of Dujiangyan in Sichuan, that’s what I am thinking about how actually the Chinese vernacular landscape culture including Feng shui can  be as inspirations for contemporary design. The rice paddy landscape in the Yunnan Province for example, is a kind of landscape which is adaptive to the mountain area, but at the same time, there is an irrigation system that make the land working and productive, while people cultivate around the reasons. It’s about using the landscape for productivity, for survival. 2000 years ago, people knew how to build these irrigation systems with minimal cost and minimal materials. We can learn from this.

Q: Where do you think landscape architects can do the most good in China?
A:
Anywhere, from the protection of national ecological security to the construction of regional ecological infrastructure, and at the smallest scale to the present and productive private gardens, even to your balcony! China is facing environmental challenges on all levels, it is the time for the nation to consider the remaking of the national landscape which has been destroyed badly in the past centuries and especially in the past decades of urbanization and industrization, and landscape architecture is the only most critical profession that can remake our national landscape safe, productive, beautiful, and meaningful. All the rivers, the lakes of large and small are becoming so badly polluted and defunctioned. Engineers say we can fix this by creating water treatment plants, by building more dams and dykes, and through more steel and concrete, I doubt that completely and I believe we need to see lour land as a living system, we need to treat it like that. We can’t fix it with engineering. The land is a living system.

Q: What changes do you hope to see to make doing this (your job) easier? (

A: I hope for there to be a higher level of understanding about how landscaping can help. It’s not just about making something beautiful, it’s about making something work – beauty is the by-product. Landscape must be seen as infrastructure; landscape architecture must be seen as a tool to help fix today’s serious environmental and ecological problems. The changes need to be top-down.
Landscaping needs to become a law; we need to see what needs to be protected across our national landscape and keep it that way. To help that, we need a more democratic system of education so that new ideas and new knowledge can be taught; we need to encourage innovative young people to take part so that more innovative planning and designs can be implemented. China has wonderful traditions, contemporary landscape now needs to break through all the existing knowledge and criteria and even the value system.

Q: Would you say that love of public space a particular characteristic of China?

A: Every culture loves public space. In China, traditionally, public spaces are most easily visible in villages and small towns – the village centres and town centres in front of the temples (for religions or ancestral worships). In America they call them commons. We have similar commons, usually they are in front of temples. Traditionally in cities there isn’t a lot of green public space but today we treasure open space more. This is for several reasons. First, the urban population is becoming bigger and cities are much more compact than they are in America. People live more densely, their private space is smaller, so they need more public space. There are more parks in Chinese cities, more spaces for tai chi and other collective activities. Compared to the suburban American communities, open spaces in Chinese cities are more useful and more occupied, and certainly more important for public health, for ecological security, sense of community and sense of cultural identity and belonging.

Q: What have you worked on most recently?

A: My latest major project is the Houtan Park at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. We worked to create landscape as ecological infrastructure, by creating multiple ecological services, including mediating flood and cleaning the contaminated water. For this we won the 2010 ASLA (The American Society of Landscape Architects) Award of Excellence for general design.

 

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To the Manor Born

Perspective Magazine, Hong Kong, December 2008
Along the Aegean coast an intriguing new boutique hotel seeks to celebrate and reinvigorate traditional Anatolian-style architecture with a contemporary twist and a healthy injection of Turkish art

When the world “homey” is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte on the Aegean coast.

When the world ‘homey’ is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte, on the Aegean coast.

Preserving a sense of ‘home’ was the main design aim of the Büyükkuşoğlus, a prestigious family with a prime piece of ocean-side real estate in Bodrum, Turkey’s answer to San Tropez. The 4.500sq m all-suite hotel was inspired by the family’s former holiday home, and though very large and very decadent, the place feels charmingly  ‘lived in’.

“We wanted the hotel to still feel like a house, and to be very social,” says matriarch Fatoş Büyükkuşoğlu, who led a group of young architects on the design, and who lives in a smaller house on the property. “We designed a lot of inner courtyards and spaces where guests can come together – at the dinner table, in the lounge or by the pool”.

The hotel is largely made of local stone and is hewn with courtyards. It’s a modern take on the Anatolian style, a Greek-Armenian mix that was common before the formation of the Turkish republic. The family has its roots in Anatolia, and on a trip there a few years ago Büyükkuşoğlu had been upset to see old Kayseri houses being knocked down. Her decision to give them new life gave the Casa an extra layer of history. A charming mix of century old relief work – a slab here, a gargoyle there – with angular modern architecture lends the building textural and cultural accents.

The hotel stretches down to the coast in a series of linear spaces, all linked by a view of the sea. Guests enter the property at the front by way of a grand 200-year old front door (from Edirne, the old Ottoman capital) and check in with a glimpse of ocean; the view hurdles a classic courtyard pool, a series of open chambers, a large living room and a lawn on the way down.

Though the property is sizeable, the family settled on just twelve suites. As the name suggests, Casa Dell’Arte was designed so that the Büyükkuşoğlus could share a portion of their 300-piece-strong art collection, and each suite displays four or five well-sized canvases. The paintings are by modern Turkish artists such as Devrim Erbil and Anan Coker, and they inject colour into an otherwise crisp cream and white landscape. Light retro furniture adds a little chic, with glam accents from the odd animal skin rug. Each room has been named after a sign in the zodiac but the references are subtle, in most just a sparkling blue optical fibre panel in the ceiling that loosely mimics the constellations.

The Casa’s common areas are large enough to find privacy in: a beautiful outdoor pool with a covered art gallery each side, a series of small ante chambers with lone love seats, sculptures or book shelves, and, at the end of the house three connected spaces overlooking the lawn. The double height dining room and the two large day rooms all subscribe to Fatos Büyükkuşoğlu’s home vision, and they blend the very old and ornate with the new and modern. “I like old pieces,” said Ms Buyukkusoglu, “but modern design is much more comfortable so we selected very ergonomic furniture and combined it with antiques”. This sees items such as a contemporary beige couch and plate glass coffee table feature together with display cabinets from the 18th century France. A modern dark wood dining table supports antique candelabras; rare old religious frescoes from Russia perch above a salvaged Anatolian fireplace. “In Turkey this mixing is common,” says Büyükkuşoğlu. “People inherit old antiques, but they like to use them in interiors that are modern and comfortable.”

Out on the lawn white furniture pieces, alone and in pairs, are scattered like statuary, while the terrace provides a good spot for an ocean-view cocktail at sundown. In this place – part house, part hotel, part museum – guests tend to socialize much more, there’s an unmistakable pull out of the suites and into the rest of the house. In fact it’s hard not to throw your bags down, put your feet up and move in.

Spurred on by the success of the hotel yet loathe to extend it, the Büyükkuşoğlus have created another hospitality concept next door. The Casa Dell’Arte Village opened this summer with 38 suites, with plenty of art, a stylish ocean view pool and a free program of art workshops with in-house artists. The design concept is similarly eclectic, but it can’t help but pale slightly next to the original. There really is no place like home, when it’s a mansion.

 

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Minding their Business

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 5, 2008
Asia’s designers find a silver lining in the credit crunch

Speakers at Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week have long pushed design as a money-making tool, but this year audiences will probably be listening to the advice more closely than usual. With big business in trouble, the question on everyone’s lips at the event, December 8 to 13, will likely be, how are we going to weather the storm?

Developer Morgan Parker thinks designers are in for a leaner time. Having spent more than 13 years in Asia developing luxury real estate, he is now the president of Taubman Asia, which is behind Macao Studio City and Seoul’s flashy Songdo IBD Shopping Center, both still underway. “Business is the origin, the genesis of design. We use design to improve the world around us but it really starts with the consumer,” says Parker, who will be showing the firm’s retail projects at the event. “It’s a mistake to think otherwise. Iconic buildings around the world come from a social need, and the architects are influenced by society around them.”

A look at any city’s landscape can give a hint of the design to come. Find a building from the 1950s or 60s and you’ll notice a kind of austerity: simple, efficient shapes and durable materials. Modernist, Brutalist and Bauhaus schools of architecture were partly the design world’s response to a time of tight budgets, and the buildings stand in contrast to the grandiose skyscrapers that have been erupting in Dubai or Shanghai in the last decade and a half. Architecture may be able to revitalise a city, but only if the city can afford it. “We’ll see materials change; architects who specify expensive kinds will see the [materials] value engineered out of the process,” says Parker. “Designs that are structurally complicated will be simplified.”

The developer’s greatest concern is that projects are not rushed. In the construction industry time may be money, but careless mistakes can be lethal.

For Asian designers, who have started to turn heads with daring, complex work, this aesthetic cool-down could be a blow. Until recently Hong Kong architects had been flocking to the mainland for briefs that demand bigger, bolder buildings. An exploding luxury market has had interior and industrial designers creating just as hard. But though work may be starting to slow, industry insiders are sounding convincingly optimistic.

“I’m actually looking forward to it,” says Wong Mun-sum, whose firm WoHa designs buildings and interiors from Singapore. “I think in the boom architects and designers have been spread quite thinly, and they’ve been trying to do too much. This kind of adjustment will go back to the pace that we should be moving at.”  The architect, whose studio was born out Asia’s economic recession in the mid-nineties, fondly remembers a period in which projects could be lingered over.

Also, if adversity is, as they say, the mother of invention, there could actually be more innovation on the way than ever before.  “I think designers will have to think twice about how they can make their ideas stick out better,” says the director.  At the speakers’ forum he will be showing how WoHa has done just that.  Last year the firm won numerous awards for No. 1 Moulmein Rise, Singapore, a high-rise complex with “monsoon windows”, horizontal sliding windows that can stay open without letting rain in. This year its Newton Suites project [pictured], Singapore, won another slew of awards, and was chosen as one of the world’s top five high rises by the city of Frankfurt, for its use of community gardens in an apartment complex; there’s a garden on each of the 36 floors and a 100m high vegetation wall. Both, Wong says, came from the idea that western high-rise formulas need to be reworked for the Asian lifestyle and climate. “In a boom period there’s a lot of repetition and pushing projects out too quickly, meaning that a lot of ideas are not developed,” he says. “Now, hopefully, there will be more discourse.”

Other designers agree, from Hong Kong interior designer Kenneth Ko to homegrown graphic whiz Raman Hui, who is based in Hollywood. “Now is a great time for restructuring and rethinking the basic fundamentals of different businesses” says Hui, who worked on Disney’s Shrek movies. “Even though the economic environment might be very challenging … that makes everyone more critical and serious about the creative business they’re doing. I hope this period will stimulate creativity.”

Ko, meanwhile, thinks that the period could be useful for the mainland by forcing a much needed “time out” for its generation of breakneck designers, who can now stop, take stock and reassess their priorities. Many people on the mainland, opines Ko, haven’t yet gained a deep enough understanding of the quality of life.  Without this, he believes there cannot be good design. “The problem is the blind leading the blind,” says Ko, who has an office in Shenzhen. “China is developing too quickly and its people are not going through an educational period. In Europe people may be introduced to culture as teenagers, or even younger, but here in China they come from the countryside, go to university and expect to bring out good design.” Ko hopes that the mainland’s young designers will start to travel and gather life experience before returning to the drawing board; his talk at BODW, he says, will be on how to enjoy life; a brave message for a time of tightening belts.

Michael Young, a British Hong Kong-based industrial designer and a speaker at the event, believes that a change of tack will be necessary for design businesses that aim to stay ahead. He advises them to choose their sector carefully and make the most of emerging technology.  “I have watched design become a tool for communication over the years and this is how companies must see their products, to stay ahead of the game,” he observes. “They can choose to enter the higher end and offer good ideas, or compete at the lower end by price competition.”

“Here in Hong Kong we can integrate with advanced technology; partnership is more important than ever. Designers have much more to offer, we must assist in marketing and sales as well.”

Because just as design studios will be struggling to stay ahead, so will every kind of business, which may be the industry’s saving grace. Among the many changes in our world since the last major recession is the utter reliance of business on branding; design has become the ultimate marketing tool. As long as this doesn’t change, the status of the world’s creative minds should be secure; they will simply have more time to enjoy it.

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Built to Last


South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 12, 2008
Tadao Ando has 40 years of genre-defining architecture under his belt, but don’t assume he’s ready to retire.

As a veteran architect in high demand, Tadao Ando knows how he likes his press meetings to run. “Give me three or four questions and I’ll answer them in a row,” he instructs through his interpreter, before delivering a series of diplomatic clichés and being whisked off to his next gig. But Ando can hardly be blamed for being perfunctory; he is just part of the way through a 24-hour publicity spree that includes a Hong Kong architecture tour, a speech at a business lunch, a series of interviews and an evening lecture at Hong Kong University to an arena of slack-jawed students. Despite the jaunty bowl cut and the kindly eyes, the 67-year-old is tired.

This schedule is a just hint of the demand Ando finds himself in after 40 years in the business. His small, 30-strong design studio has whipped up projects around the world for clients from Armani to UNESCO, and its trophy list is long and illustrious. At the pinnacle of these is the Pritzker, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel. “Ando’s architecture is an assemblage of artistically composed surprises in space and form,” noted the jury in 1995, when he was awarded the prize. “There is never a predictable moment as one moves through his buildings.”

Ando is often spoken of as having reinvented the ‘art of building’, but few would have guessed it in the 1969 when he set up his firm without college training; he’d simply ‘self trained’, he says, with an architectural study tour of the world, from the landmarks of Finland and Siberia to those of Mumbai. But wedged between the cheap post-war duplexes of Sumiyoshi, Osaka, Ando’s debut project gave a hint of things to come. It reworked Japan’s skinny, low-income row house into a stark shield of concrete, with a complex light-filled home hidden behind it.Ando later admitted that the design was a kind of retaliation for the house he and his grandmother had lived in while he was growing up. “After World War II I lived in a narrow, oblong, wooden two story row house,” he remembers in one book.  “Winters were so cold you could practically see the wind race through, and summers were stiflingly hot, admitting no breeze… I grew enraged at society and felt inspired to improve living conditions.”

Ando has continued to use architecture as a tool for social change, but his projects are also famous for their respect for materials – he likes them bare – and his high sensitivity to nature. His buildings harness the natural elements as decoration, with complex shadows giving depth to a wall, light creeping through a skylight or snow piling up against a window. His is a ‘haiku-effect’ notes professor Masao Furuyama: like the Japanese form of poetry, his work is concise, traditional and all about the changing seasons. His religious buildings, such as the Church of Light and the Church of the Water, have become iconic the world over for an almost spiritual use of the elements.

Ando is in town to help promote a new project in Japan’s snowy, northern Hokkaido. When finished in a few years Cappella Niseko will have a 70 room hot spring hotel and 149 residences, about two hours from the capital, Sapporo.  It’s only Ando’s second resort. “It was a new challenge,” he says, through friend and architect, George Kunihiro. “A totally new environment and climate, with world famous conditions of light snow powder from Siberia. I wanted to somehow incorporate this into my idea.”

The resort makes use of Ando’s favourite material, concrete, combined with glass, raw wood and stone in the shape of two intersecting rings, which open up to a 360 degree view of the mountainside. It has similarities with his first resort – an art museum and resort on Naoshima Island, which he worked on over a period of about twelve years.  Here The Oval arranges six guestrooms around an elliptical garden, each flooded with views of the landscape. If you’re going to travel somewhere, Ando seems to say, you’d better feel it to the full.

The architect also thinks that it’s an interesting time for the Japanese tourism industry, noting that the country offers the best of a developed society – including hygiene and safety from terrorism – and giving the impression that his decision to work on a resort was partly patriotic. It’s a fair notion; the architect draws hoards of design buffs to the country each year. ‘If you can’t afford an Ando-designed house,’ one fan exclaims in an online travel blog, ‘at least you can stay in this hotel.’

It is an interesting time for architecture, too. Ando agrees with the many other designers who have welcomed the economic slowdown as a chance to produce more thoughtful work. “It’s going to be harder for buildings to be put up,” he admits, “but it’s the kind of time where architects can really put energy into each project, to make it their best. Until a few months ago they were all working so quickly the quality of each building was probably not at the highest.”

He believes that architecture will be able to help. During the great depression in the 30s, says Ando, Roosevelt and other world leaders took a leaf from the book of economist John Maynard Keynes, who had pushed public projects as a way to keep a struggling economy afloat. The period saw housing projects springing up in countries like the US, Sweden and the UK, and the creation of landmark public buildings like London’s Royal Institute for British Architects. “Maybe economists will come up with some ideas like this to overcome the depression,” he says.

Still despite his achievements, Ando can’t relax; he feels Japan’s younger generation of architects barking at his heels. Unlike the many stars who tend to look down on young upstarts, Ando sees them as worthy adversaries. “When you’re at the top for a long time there’s always someone new coming up. The younger generation is in demand, and they are the one who are going to knock you out,” he explains. Though he has kept his studio small and flexible, he still tries to stay aware of design trends. Still, at 66, could he not just take it a little easier?

“[Architect] Oscar Niemeyer worked until he was 102 years old; he got married when he was 75,” the designer says with a laugh. “My clients Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld are at least ten years older and they still have powerful personalities and high energy levels. This inspires me, so I’m sure I can keep going for at least another ten years.” Perhaps next time around he’ll stay for a proper chat.

 

 

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Playground Attraction

July 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China Dubai is the fastest growing city on earth, and as the strategic financial centre the Middle East it is becoming a playground for the very, very rich There is a frission of guilty pleasure to be had from heading to one of the earth’s hottest, driest places to ski, […]

July 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China

Dubai is the fastest growing city on earth, and as the strategic financial centre the Middle East it is becoming a playground for the very, very rich

There is a frission of guilty pleasure to be had from heading to one of the earth’s hottest, driest places to ski, swim and indulge in climate-controlled shopping sprees, and it is one that this year prompted around seven million to pack light and head to Dubai. This small nation of 1.3 million people will soon have forty mega-malls, 7 new theme parks and over 530 hotels to its name, not to mention a pulsating new club scene and a penchant for luxury sporting events. And with that kind of party laid on – well, it would be downright rude not to show up.

Back in the early sixties, when Dubai had one hotel and a lot of sand, there were few who could have looked at the old trading port and camel herding turf and thought: “chi-CHING”. But oil – oil changes everything, and after its discovery the emirate turned itself into a thriving commercial hub. It got its World Trade Centre in 1979, a beautiful 39-storey testament to modern Islamic architecture, then a lucrative free trade zone was established, with more to follow in the 90s under the new crown prince: starry-eyed, business-savvy General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Now, tap ‘Dubai’ into Google news and you won’t just find pages on the new airport (the world’s largest when completed) or the latest height report from the Burj Dubai (629m); you’ll get camels going for US$2.7 million in beauty contests, the chance to buy an island the shape of Switzerland and CEOs boasting of a “Disneyland on steroids”.

As a record breaker Dubai ticks a lot of boxes (largest pair of chopsticks? Look no farther), but it’s also competing quite seriously as a business destination. It is the commercial capital of the seven United Arab Emirates, and though the old industries –pearls and oil – have dwindled they’ve been happily replaced by financial services, manufacturing and top tier sports championships from horse racing to power boating, placing it firmly on the international circuit, with a running supply of the world’s rich and famous. Freehold property developments like The Palm Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches have done the same, but they tempt more than just the nouveau riche trying to keep up with the Beckhams. Property rushes in the earlier part of the decade reduced would-be investors to fisticuffs as they fought to get their deposits down.

In Dubai business and pleasure are locked in an amorous clinch. Mega malls, theme parks and hotel projects push ever farther out into the desert, and stretches of bare sandy road are littered with billboards boasting of that area’s future as a theme park or residential oasis. It may make life tough for taxi drivers (the city layout changes more often than Paris Hilton’s arm candy) and for an abused migrant workforce that continually crops up, overworked and underpaid, in the news, but for those born to shop, the emirate’s arms open very wide.

Dubai residents are very proud of their malls, which are formidable in size and assortment with wares that are tax-free. While the Burj Dubai aims to outdo Minneapolis’ record-breaking Mall of America in girth when complete this year, the Mall of Dubai is the biggest the UAE has to offer right now, and is the only mall in which shoppers can hit indoor ski slopes between sprees [pictured above]. Each giant has its own character: Deira City Centre is best for local people watching and international high street chains; Wafi City serves up Diors and Pradas; Souk Madinat’s outlets are smaller and more boutique.

For those expecting the musty pandemonium of Morocco’s souks Dubai may be a welcome relief – the covered shopping alleyways are easy to negotiate and the same can be said for the prices. They can also give the best blend of both worlds, local and tourist, with goods that range from delicate pashminas, silver and henna kits, to rosewood furniture, saffron and kitchen implements.

For the retail weary there are other kinds of action to be had, and the water parks and pristine, waveless beaches make it a worthy family destination. Fresh water may be scarce but there are at least ten golf clubs, all with courses designed by the best in the business, from Greg Norman to Robert Trent Jones II. Thrill seekers hit the sand dunes and wadi (dry river beds), either by board or full pelt in 4X4s, and many tour companies venture briefly into neighbouring emirate Sharjah, where the colour of the sand deepens from pale ash blonde to a spicy orange, and belly dancers serenade diners over Arabian barbeque as the sun dips.Desert hotels such as Bab Al Shams capitalize on the ‘desert castaway’ vibe with infinity pools among sand dunes and cocktails on floor cushions. Adrenaline can run as high as the prices at the Nad al Sheba’s Dubai Racing Club, especially during the world’s richest horseracing event, the World Cup, in March. The annual calendar sees everything from the PGA Dubai Desert Golf Classic to the Dubai Open Tennis Championship.

This emirate is the most cosmopolitan of the seven and it is free from many of the restrictions of Muslim law in neighbouring Sharjah, Ajman or even the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. Laws governing alcohol intake have relaxed  (though officially just for non-Muslims) and there’s a high tolerance for western clothing and customs, which has helped fashion one of the hottest party scenes in the Middle East. “The scene has completely changed,” says Sadiq Saboowala, whose family has run a gold jewelery business in town for more than two decades. “Five years ago it was calmer, more about visiting sheesha bars and having long meals. With the new wave of foreigners the party venues have boomed, bars are getting much bigger – in every sense,”

Sheesha is still imbibed, but the venues carry an extra layer of glitz. There are at least 300 hotels in Dubai and each has a bar or two vying for the attention of the young and the wealthy. Expect plush interiors, ample VIP provisions, top name DJs and six liter bottles of Dom Perignon that can run to about 31,000 dirhams. A nightlife milestone was hit when Grosvenor House bagged the rights to Paris’ uber trendy Buddha Bar in 2005, and another was reached soon after, when Naomi Campbell chose to throw down a couple of million US dollars on her 38th birthday at the Burj Al Arab. Though there’s no particular district for clubs and bars, The Madinat Jumeirah and the Dubai Marina boast a good, upscale gauntlet, as does Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, with its popular beach-side lounge, Barasti, an Italian restaurant that gets its beat on after midnight.

However this is still a Muslim land, where calls to prayer waft across rooftops and public displays of affection can cause alarm. Women in the black abbaya are a familiar sight, whether melting mysteriously into doorways or shopping for shoes in H&M, and in souks and boardrooms across town the men, in airy white dishdasha, are their photo negatives. For resident Muslims, drinking alcohol in hotels or at home can be a challenge.

The contrast of sky with sand and gleaming architecture makes outdoor Dubai seem attractive, but the heat does not – temperatures can hit the high forties. Bus stops are air conditioned pods, car park spaces have their own umbrellas and beaches are free from all but the hardiest of sun worshippers during the day. Using this to their benefit, hotels have evolved into self-contained wonderlands with entertainment, food and boutique wares making it even harder for their guests to leave.

The Jumeirah Group is one of Dubai’s main hotel players. Three of its properties – the family friendly Jumierah Beach Hotel, the traditionally themed Madinat Jumeirah, and the showy, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab – are connected by golf buggy taxi routes and guests hop between the three. Striking a pose out in front of Jumeirah Beach, ‘the Sail’ plays home to many of the city’s wealthiest visitors, including many guests of the Maktoum monarchy, who reportedly put up house guests there. Its glitzy innards may be a little too fabulous for some – there’s a lot of gold – but people watching is at its best – you’ll never quite know who’ll be stepping into your elevator. Though public tours were discontinued, many waft through on their way to restaurant Al Muntaha on the 27th floor, with its 360 degree sweep, and cocktail mixology platters that move between tables.

Other exclusive temporary addresses around town include the recently-opened Raffles Dubai next to the Wafi City mall and the One and Only Royal Mirage Hotel, with its Givenchy Spa. It’s worth visiting at least one spa or salon in town for an Arabian-style pamper, and the Givenchy hammam has a menu of Moroccan massages, black soap scrubs and rose clay facials. H20 in the Emirates Towers Hotel is a men-only destination for grooming that ranges from spray tanning to a flotation tank.

Friday brunch is the highlight of many a week here – Friday being the day of rest – and bookings should be made for those who plan to eat out between ten and three pm. “[Brunch is] very much similar here to other countries,” says Atinirmal Pagarani, a resident who works in real estate. “It does get beautiful during winters when the sun’s not so strong and everyone’s sipping beer, smoking Shisha and tucking into great food beside the beach.” Dubai’s hotels have really brought its culinary scene up to speed, with offerings such as Verre in the Hilton Dubai, a Gordon Ramsey affair with a seven course taster menu that’s consistently rated one of the best eats in the city. Few are a muted as Verre, however, and perusing the showy décor in many restaurants is as much fun as surfing their menus.

Since the temperature drops at night, many spots make full use of roofs and terraces. Bastakiya Nights, in the old town district combines flavours of the region with low tables, torch light and a vat of open-air rooftop ambience – the stars shine brightly over Dubai. Middle Eastern cuisine is aromatic and deftly spiced, and delicacies such as Quozi – a whole roasted lamb with nuts on a bed of rice – are bolstered by tasty staples, from hummous and baba ghanoush to wara einab, stuffed vine leaves.

At pedestrian level modest Lebanese and Indian joints are popular for a cheap meal, especially in places like Dhiyafa Street, which closes to traffic at night – but Iranian grub can be sampled at the Radisson’s Shabestan, and the tagines are rated at the Shangri-La’s courtyard restaurant, Marrakesh. The seafood in Dubai shouldn’t be overlooked – the gulfs are a source of red snapper, lobster, rock cod and crab. But those wanting to be even closer to the water should try dinner on the dhows that cruise the still waters of the creek.

Dubai has been described as having all the culture of a casino, which should perhaps be expected – the place has sprung up from almost nothing into a bewildering ethnic mosaic. Flavours of Arabia can be sampled at hotels and through arranged tours though, and these often involve falconry, belly dancing and desert barbeques. Dubai’s monarchy also keeps it firmly tied to its history:  back in the 1800s when a branch of the Bani Yas tribe settled at the mouth of a shallow coastal creek it was led by the Maktoum family. The Maktoum empire now owns and develops much of the emirate (known in many circles as ‘Dubai Inc’) and it is responsible for a series of ornate, peacock-strewn palaces, as well as Dubai’s liberal, capitalist credentials.

Find the Dubai museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, which dates back to the early 1700s and offers dioramas, artifacts, and swallows that blanket the sky come dusk. Other cultural interludes take place in the Jumeirah Mosque – the only one that welcomes curious sightseers (in twice-weekly tours), or the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding, with its walking tours and Arabic lessons. Some high culture meanwhile can be tracked down at the traditionally-styled Bastakiya village, complete with wind towers, narrow lanes and contemporary galleries. The white-washed Majlis Gallery is just one of these and hosts a mix of contemporary art and local crafts.  Culture buffs should perhaps consider a cultural excursion to the strict but historically-loaded Sharjah, just a twenty minute drive away in good traffic.

It may not have the texture or the depth of the world’s older cities, but Dubai has unique appeal as a  twenty first century product in which money, both silly and serious, calls the shots and where almost anything is possible. For those that seek excess it has the goods, and for the rest it offers countless chances to gawp and marvel, before making the most of that age-old vacation tripartite: sun, shopping and sand. Because some things never change.

 

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Mad World

South China Morning Post Style Magazine, Hong Kong, June 2008
Young and radical, Ma Yansong is pioneering a new, ideological path for Chinese architects

Having your business name linked with madness might not seem a savvy move, but it has served Ma Yansong remarkably well.  During the past few years both his name, and that of his small architecture studio, MAD – which stands for Ma Design – has built an enviable reputation. Ma has buildings under way in countries from Canada to Costa Rica and is the first Chinese architect to win an international competition outside of China.  For a guy not too long out of his master’s degree, and with only one thing actually built, he certainly knows how to create a buzz.

This psychic angle makes more sense when you look at his buildings; they’re almost like people. Underneath each image of steel, concrete or glass sits an ideology, a thought process about technology, society or quite often, politics.  “I think we use architecture as a tool to communicate, not as a product,” says Ma, a casual, slightly hunched 33-year old with a goatee and radical shoes. He leans forward in conversation, as if to balance out a languid, sleepy-eyed demeanor. “We use certain formats or shapes to comment.  We make topics, not buildings. It’s like art work.”

This puts him in a similar boat to his one-time teacher and employer, Zaha Hadid. After a degree in Beijing, Ma applied for a Masters at Yale so that he could study under the radical Iranian architect, a visiting professor who is now to architecture what Bjork is to music. Back then, pre-Pritzker (a prize dubbed the ‘Nobel for architecture’), few of Hadid’s conceptual designs had made it to the building stage, but she fascinated Ma with her molten modernism. He had followed her career through magazines from his university library.

The time at Yale widened Ma’s horizons – he had only traveled within China before that – but more importantly it gave him the guts to run with his more outrageous ideas.  Debate was rare in China in the nineties, but at Yale it was a way of life. “All their professors are famous visiting architects and during school time if they have a different opinion, they fight,” says Ma. “Students get this idea that there’s no right or wrong. After all those arguments I found there is no answer, you have to believe in your own ideas”.

After his degree, Hadid offered to employ Ma in London. He’d caught her eye with a project proposal for the new World Trade Centre; “an organic mushroom cloud” of a building that had horrified the more sensitive of his peers. Where most balked, Hadid was intrigued.  She put him on a Beijing-based urban planning project, which took him back home for part of the time. But the project was eventually axed by an incoming mayor, and Ma decided to stay, though he’d only been with Hadid a year.  It was a bold move. He had built nothing at this point and was leaving a studio that was growing notorious as a hatchery of extreme ideas and edgy young architects. But being home had reminded him of the work waiting to be done in Chinese cities. “I think after I came back I discovered what our task is here, as young designers. There are many challenges from a political view, from an architectural or physical view,” he says. Where Hadid is concerned with radical ideas of form, Ma felt that architecture could become an interesting social tool.

While getting MAD up and running with fellow architects Qun Dang and Yosuke Hayano, Ma would enter it into countless competitions and art exhibitions, which kept their conceptual output high. The designs that won didn’t get built for one reason or another – sometimes the developers just weren’t brave enough, says Ma – but the prize money came in handy. Just one building made it into 3D, and that was all thanks to one rather maverick act of barefaced trickery. “It’s a funny story…” Ma begins, grinning.

Hongluo is the white, spacey clubhouse of a Beijing villa complex, and from a distance it seems to melt into the lake it rests on. For the last year it has drawn hosts of admirers out from the city, an hour away. But Ma’s original meeting with the developer hadn’t gone very well: he’d been told that European-style buildings sold much faster, and that “although he liked it, he didn’t have time to educate his customers to like it,” Ma remembers. The job went to a more established architect who was a friend of Ma’s, and he offered to put forward a MAD design himself. The design was eventually approved, and the developer, pressed for time, let MAD onboard. He ended up with a clubhouse that made it into the London Design Museum.

Still, Ma’s game plan for subtle social activism was underway. Each competition took his designers to a different part of the country, and in each project he saw a way to significantly raise the quality of life there:  whether spatially, socially or politically. Even a fish tank, produced on a whim, had a message. It was designed with the idea that people were like fish, with little choice about the ‘tanks’ that they got to live in, and it went for RMB 400,000 at a charity auction.

A few years ago one project, Beijing 2050, took MAD ideas to an international audience at the highly respected Venice Biennale. “We did the whole project because nobody talked about the future very much in Beijing” Ma says. “They’re too practical.” The three schemes that made up 2050 each tackled a big social issue in China’s capital city: congestion, its treatment of old buildings and the lack of public leisure spots. For the last theme Tiananmen Square got a makeover, from concrete pasture to forested park. It was a clear protest but was quite soft in its way; after all, Ma notes; who doesn’t like a park? Last year two members of congress saw the proposal and suggested that the studio take the idea to the national committee. Debate, it seems, is no longer so rare in China.

“Because I’m very interested in ideological topics, even Tiananmen Square is not about the trees, it’s about the whole of China,” Ma says. “In all the cities around China you can feel a power behind them… Now I think architects could have more of that power to change things. We are not politicians, we cannot make decisions about open spaces being public, but from our level we can do something.”

This link between politics and design can be less abstract. Throughout the country, even the lowliest of towns has a monumental town hall, and Ma has decided that these should be his next target. He has already found one: the mayor of Beihai in Guangxi province was willing to let him go to work on their centerpiece, and Ma plans to replace the hard edges and grand proportions with something more human and natural. However this has all happened in the past year or so, and as recently as 2006 Ma, Hayano and Qun Dang was still finding commissions hard to come by.

That year they entered an online design competition for a residential skyscraper in Mississauga, Canada’s sixth largest city. Their building was sensuous, almost sexy, and it was up against hundreds of entries. Dubbed ‘the Marilyn Monroe building’, it caught the imagination of both the jury and the media, and it won. The project, officially called The Absolute Tower, was MAD’s first building to be realized without skullduggery, and the first time a Chinese architecture firm has won a competition outside of China. When the developer called Ma late last year to report that they needed a second tower – all the flats had sold – Ma told him that there could never be two Marilyns. He conjured her a companion – and that sold out too.

The commissions have since gushed forth from around the globe, and though happy, Ma feels apprehensive about seeing his first large scale project in the ‘flesh’. “I feel quite nervous, because I really haven’t had anything built, not like other people who start their own studio after ten years with another office,” he admits.

One MAD-designed skyscraper in Tianjin will soon become the first super high rise designed by a Chinese architect (all the others in China have been built by large multinational firms). It’ll have over 80 floors and distinctive honeycomb shaped windows.  Ma is also looking forward to seeing another of his small projects in Denmark – one for which the owners got way more than they had bargained. “They wanted something Chinese” he says, smiling. “But what does that mean? We took a building by Mies Van der Rohe, used the same dimensions. Then we melted the whole thing.”

The Denmark Pavilion, which will be very curvy and organic inside, blurs the line between man-made and natural and will feature a courtyard. It will also be made in China. “They agreed in the end,” he says. “It’s hard to control from far away, and also, we wanted to examine the concept of Made in China… [and counteract] its meaning as low quality mass production. We’ll ship it to Denmark when it’s complete.” The developers, who had planned to sell it on have since decided to keep it as a show flat.

Despite a host of awards and accolades it hasn’t been easy taking on so much so young and Ma has endured plenty of criticism from his own peers. Many think his head far too wedged among the clouds, others look down on his youth and a sparse built portfolio. However he is already starting to sing a tune usually trilled by architects twice his age. “I’m too busy to have time to really think deeply,” he complains.”I really want to slow down actually. But China doesn’t allow you to slow down!” It seems he may soon need a new method to his Madness.

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Bay City Rollin’

April 2008, Gafencu Men Magazine, China
Times may be tighter, but the Bay City is still rolling in it

Of all San Francisco’s incarnations, the one most loved in Asia is its face from the 1990s – a thrilling time when the dot-com boom made a millionaire a minute and the city’s more bohemian, beatnik impulses were buried deep.  “There were parties every single night and they were always totally over the top” remembers Charlotte Milan, who runs a luxury travel and wine public relations firm there, C.Milan Communications.  “People were bringing in dance troupes from Israel, doing shot after shot of caviar and it was like: how much can we have? How much, how much?”

Ten years later and the brashness has gone. The Bay Area remains one of the most expensive places to be in The States with real estate prices scandalously high, a third of its households on six figure salaries and at least forty of America’s 400 richest people calling it home, according to Forbes. But: “9/11 hit San Francisco hard,” admits Milan, who grew up in the city and watches the current market dip with a nervous eye.
Now the wealthy lay low. Stretch limos have been replaced by town cars and parties are toned well down. Whether this is contrite humility or old-money smugness it’s hard to tell, but one thing is for sure: taking a fortune to San Francisco doesn’t mean you’ll know where to spend it well.

However, it’s hard to go completely wrong with word class attractions on your itinerary. You’ve got your Golden Gate Bridge – perhaps by helicopter – and a box at the Giants’ game. There are private dinners to be had at Alcatraz and a few satisfyingly expensive restaurants bordering Union Square or down at Fisherman’s Wharf, where the blues buskers growl and the sea lions honk. Hotels have also returned to the city after a ten year hiatus, and the Intercontinental broke out its 550 rooms last month (the largest in town). “San Francisco is having a great year with citywide conventions, as the city has over 900,000 rooms booked for the year. We are opening at a perfect time,” says Gail Gerber, its director of sales and marketing. The St Regis, brought new luxury highs to town a few years ago, and has expanded to include serviced apartments.

But though most local luxury lies behind the ornate front doors of the Presidio and Pacific Heights, there is one way you can still catch the elite in the act of excess.  “I think you see wealth in the way people spend here; the wines that they buy, the frequency that they dine out,” muses Milan. “Most people I know eat out five nights a week – and we’re not talking not curry or burritos.”

There is no denying that San Francisco has become a haven for foodies. The rigorous Michelin Red Guide hit Northern California in 06 (its only other US guide is for New York), and the latest edition features 34 starred restaurants. Much of the fresh, creative spontaneity of Californian cuisine comes from innovators in the Bay Area, which has amorously embraced the Slow Food movement; a return to regional traditions and home cooking from local, sustainably grown ingredients. And though some of the better established restaurants like The Dining Room and Michael Mina might be in your guide book, think ‘when in Rome’ and get the insiders’ edge at Chowhound or Yelp.com. This is a city that knows many of its chefs by name and tracks their moves, alliances and departures through local food columns that read better than an episode of the West Wing.

One to watch right now is Spruce. Tucked into Presidio Heights and serving modern American cuisine, it does a good line in organic produce and naturally raised meats as well as running an in-house charcuterie program. Getting a table here involves serious forethought and a fat wallet. Entrepreneur Bruce Lange, former treasurer at Oracle, takes his clients to Acquerello, which serves top grade Italian cuisine in ornate surroundings. “There was a time period where restaurants were designing main rooms in order to be loud, probably because they thought a loud restaurant gave out a happening vibe,” he says. “Acquarello is as good as it gets in terms of quiet places to take clients, or a date, since requirements for both can overlap! It’s more intimate and the food there is excellent.”

Chez Panisse and Tosca Café are Lange’s two other choices for a memorable meal; the former, run by Alice Waters is about 30 minutes out of town in Berkley.  Waters was one of the few who spearheaded the Californian food revolution and her menus are legendary. Tosca is an unpretentious spot in town where you’re most likely to rub shoulders with an off-duty George Lucas or Nicholas Cage, if you make it into their back room. ‘It’s understated but very San Francisco,” Lange notes. “A great place to have an Irish coffee.”
Riding the crest of the foodie wave, opened literally weeks ago, Le Club comes courtesy of Todd Traina, a film-producing member of a key San Francisco socialite family. This is actually the closest you’ll get to a members’ club here; a town disdainful of waiting lists and pricey memberships. It looks like an elegant penthouse and feels like a ticket straight into a Traina home. It’s that cliquey, intimate angle that makes those that live in San Francisco love it, and those that visit, frustrated.

The Franciscan’s passion for dining out is matched only by its zeal for dining in and the Ferry Building Farmers Market is a waterside whirl of activity four days a week, when it brings Northern California’s best organic food growers to the city. Hit up the award winning Cowgirls Creamery for cheese, sample heirloom tomatoes, batches of fresh pressed Olive oil, crates of wine, and cured meats, and while you’re chomping, find out about how the food is grown and why it tastes so darn good.

Weekend nights out can be quiet here, and there’s a marked difference to the perma-neon of New York. The best bars and clubs the city has to offer – many in the Castro, the town’s gay district – close no later than two, with its revelers planning to be up with the sun and out biking, hiking or road tripping for as long as the weekend will stretch. Post-work week nights and Sunday brunches tend to be more local and lively.

The best of both San Francisco’s shopping and its arts scene is in its small, grass roots offerings. To many an Asian shopper’s horror, there are few malls. “All the streets have their own personalities,” says Susan Lange, COO of Hexagon Financial.  “Westfield Mall is okay if you’re looking for the Armanis and Hermes, but Filmore Street is more unique, with its San Francisco-based companies. Sacramento Street has a lot of unique designer shops and clothing shops.”  Likewise there are few large museums. Though the de Young and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are top notch, a better feel for the city can be had in small venues like Varnish, an art gallery and cocktail bar downtown, or at the scruffy Make Out Room in the Mission district which hosts Writers with Drinks, a monthly, often raucous display of literary prowess.

But perhaps the best thing about this town is the ease with which you can leave it and arrive somewhere equally fabulous within hours, whether the spa at the Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton, or the Redwood-fringed hiking paths in Muir Wood. Unlike much of Asia, where the farther out of town you travel, the more humble the dining options get, it takes skill to get far from San Francisco without bumping into two or three nationally renowned eateries, with quail on the menu and a cellar full of top vintages.

Hitting wine country increases your chances of this mightily. The French Laundry in Napa Valley is the only restaurant to win three Michelin stars in the region, but 23 others in its stratosphere have earned their right to sparkle.

For wine country bed-rest the Cliff Lede Vineyards’ Poetry Inn in Napa or Le Mars Hotel in Sonoma are ultra-decadent, though many wineries offer rooms along with courses in wine blending, cooking or mushroom foraging – plus all the wine you can spit. Head there in the fall, when the landscape turns rust red and guests get messily involved in the harvesting.  If pitching in isn’t your thing however, Owl Ridge Wineries has launched Sonoma Grapemasters, a custom-crush program that allows enthusiasts to crush, blend and bottle in private, under the guidance of the facility’s winemaker, for about $8,000 a barrel (24 cases). San Francisco’s first urban winery, Foggy Bridge, will open in the Presidio this summer.

And finally, if you’re really looking to lighten that wallet, there’s always golf.  “If you play golf and you’re looking to spend serious dosh, Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach is one of the premier locations in the world, with spectacular scenery,” says Bruce Lange, whose peers in the finance industry entertain many of the world’s wealthiest men there. “But you have to book a room to play”. And if anything is a metaphor for living it up in San Francisco, there you have it. In this town you’re either 100% in, or you’re out. Spare the effort and you’ll find your nose pressed up against the window, searching desperately for anyone without a digicam and a fanny pack.  Throw yourself in there and you’ll never want to leave.

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Chill Out Chiang Mai Guide

For Smart Travel Asia in 2007, regularly updated.

AFTER being curtly relieved of his newly acquired farm at gunpoint up in Sisaket province, my flight buddy Richard – a former management professor from the States – seemed surprisingly unperturbed. “That’s Thailand for you,” he shrugged, mildly. But he had higher hopes for Chiang Mai, his latest choice for building a home. “It’s not the same there,” he said. He was right. We landed, emerged from the airport, and there was not a gun-toting farm-grabber in sight (I’d hidden my own twelve-acre ranch in my hand luggage, just in case). Chiang Mai cuts a most welcoming picture – and not only due to its apparent lack of property pinchers.

Compared to the hot chaos of Bangkok, this is a temperate city, set on a northern plateau with a laid-back vibe. Even the hawkers seem more sedate. The sun may feel stronger at this modest elevation, but just a short trip takes the traveller to cool green waterfalls and verdant hill villages with plenty of shade. There’s a strong sense of history here too that counterbalances the grittier urban development. Wats (Thai temples) gleam around every corner. Monks amble in pairs, ignoring their Nikon-laden stalkers. Handicraft workshops and antique stores keep the suitcase shops in business.

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The city has much to do with water. The Ping (or Mae Ping) river cuts through its eastern half and an old active moat pens in the oldest quarter. In its early days (from the twelfth century on) Chiang Mai was constantly under siege and the moat is fortified by a gorgeous 700-year-old wall, partly reinforced but mostly crumbling.

There’s something about being waterside that tends to slow the pulse and this has no doubt contributed to Chiang Mai’s café culture. Hill tribe coffee blends flourish here despite ominous overtures by Starbucks. Moat-gazing is even further improved by the sputtering fountains and flower landscaping. Coffee, canals, flowers… hell, we’d try calling it the Amsterdam of Asia if only they’d throw in a sex museum and stop shooting pot dealers on sight.

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But, sex and drugs aside, this city knows how to take it easy. So loosen that collar, grab a steaming cup of hill tribe coffee and kick back. You’re going to like it here. On then to our Chiang Mai guide and hotel and resort review.

Getting around, some Chiang Mai Shopping, and Golf

Chiang Mai International Airport is small and fairly modern. If you fly in through Bangkok it may save your beleaguered cuticles to check where your baggage will touch down. I arrived in the domestic terminal, and finally found my suitcase (and my hotel pickup) a short walk away in the International wing. It’s just a 15 to 20-minute ride into town by tuk-tuk, which will set you back just Bt60. The exchange rate is around US$1 = 34 Thai baht. Hotel pickups in comparison can cost up to Bt700, so it’s time to ask yourself how much you really love that airconditioning. Plenty of car rental options are nearby, with Avis (www.avisthailand.com) right in the terminal. Spend 24 hours with a feisty Toyota Soluna Vios 1.5 for about Bt1,400.

Chiang Mai spa resorts, The Chedi
Contemporary chic at Chedi/ photo: hotel

The Central Airport Plaza nearby may not excite culture vultures in search of an offbeat Chiang Mai shopping trawl but it’s a godsend for Chiang Mai’s teenage set. Huge and modern, like nowhere else in town, it has a Body Shop and Britney ballads on tap, as well as a clothing store called Great American Body. This is a dark kind of humour in a land that teems with the svelte and wiry. The two-level Northern Village complex is worth a browse. It sells contemporary Lanna (northern Thai) handicrafts, and you’ll find both the quality and prices higher than in the outside markets. A handmade ethnic shirt for example, goes for around Bt2,000, a silk cushion cover for Bt300. A number of the boutiques are run by established Thai design labels.

It’s useful to know a bit about Lanna style, since interest in the old ways is on the upswing here. The Lanna kingdom centred on Chiang Mai and included a group of semi-autonomous city states, colonised first by Burma, and then integrated into Siam a little over 200 years ago. For the traveller, Lanna motifs are most evident in the wat architecture around town but they’ve also hit the food scene. Try them for yourself at the wooden Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre (tel: [66-53] 275-097, www.oldchiangmai.com) minutes from the mall, which does a nightly northern dine and dance show at 7pm, for Bt300. Guests sit on floor cushions and chow down on a Khantoke-style meal, which is a sort of Asian tapas selection plus crispy noodles on a round tray. For the timid of palate, the vegetarian option is non-taxing and delicious. The performance, though churned out nightly, is also pretty well done.

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The Chiang Mai Lamphun Golf Club (tel: [66-53] 283-160) is just across the road from the mall, leafy, floodlit and set to a soundtrack of thwacks, boings and encouraging cricket chirps. You can get a club and around 160 balls here for Bt150 and there’s a nice low-key little café, with classics such as “fancy shrimp paste fried rice” on the menu. (Golfing in Chiang Mai is a huge attraction. Other Chiang Mai golf courses include the Royal Chiang Mai Golf Resort, the Lanna Golf Club, the Gassan Lake City Golf Club and Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Resort.)

Other shopping highlights in the area include the Baan Muang Kung pottery village and a lacquerware factory, heading out of town on the Chiang Mai Hang Dong Road.

The Old City within the Moat

Confined neatly to a tight square inside the moat, the old city is the easiest area to navigate, especially by rented motorbike or bicycle. Circumnavigation on foot can take two hours or so, and with tuk-tuks you find yourself constantly ducking to see what’s going on around you. Try skimming around the outer Si Phum, Mun Muang, Bamrungburi and Bunruangrit Roads and dipping into the smaller, leafy sois (side-streets) at will. Here you’ll find it’s largely residential, punctuated with wats, cheap guesthouses and open fronted restaurants. Many of these little nooks are wonderfully serene.

There’s more than enough temple action here to keep the Buddhist enthusiast busy (51 to be precise). But, if you’d just like to pick just one, Wat Phra Sing on Samlan Road is one of the more important. The large, wooden Pantao Monastery offers insight into the more active, down-to-earth side of Buddhist life.

Chiang Mai temples, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

For orientation within the moat boundaries, note that Singarat and Phra Pokkhlao Roads run roughly north to south, while Ratchamankha and Ratchdamnoen Roads run west to east. On Sundays, Ratchdamnoen Road near Tha Phae Gate (also Tapae or Thapae), is closed to vehicles and becomes, simply, “Walking Street”, a hugely popular weekend market.

All the external roads have their own unique character rooted in the past. Tha Phae Gate in the east was originally popular with merchants and it remains an animated business strip with shops, massage parlours and plenty of farang (foreign) bar-restaurants. By night it’s one of the busiest quarters. Chang Phuak Gate to the north was the entrance for royalty. Here too are the usual bars, shops and small restaurants. The south, around Chiang Mai Gate, is more down-at-heel, with a fresh produce market and motorbike mechanics. Over on the west side by Suan Dok Gate things are quieter and more residential.

A wander along the moat is nice of an evening, though most of the dining options here are mid-to-low range – cheap Thai noodle joints and low-key restaurants with hybrid menus. Just off the canal, near Ratchamankha Soi 2, you’ll spot the comfy Laughing Leprechaun that does a renowned fried breakfast, and the atmospheric French creperie, Aux Amis Du Monde (tel: [08] 5709-1063). There’s also the dubiously neon Mandalay Palace disco nearby for gentlemen looking for a dance and a date. However the swishiest venue along here is The House (199 Mun Muang Rd, tel: 419-0113). Competitors sniff that this Eurasian fine dining experience is overpriced and over-hyped, but that doesn’t stop the hipsters flocking in for a bite, a martini, and a puff of sheesha in the moody lounge bar in the courtyard.

Chiang Mai spa hotels, Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai
Shangri-la Chiang Mai/ photo: hotel

Up north the best of the bunch is definitely The North Gate, a new addition that started as an outlet for creativity-starved jazz musicians. It is run by a talented Thai saxophonist and his American partner who hosts Chiang Mai’s English language radio jazz show on 106.5 FM. The place is low-key but high-energy, with constant drop-ins from the local music scene. Other popular bars around here are The Queen Victoria (tel: 418-266) for that pub-away-from-home kind of feel, Le Barfly (tel: [08] 943-2578) and the UN Irish Pub (tel: 214-554).

Chiang Mai Riverside, Dining, and Night Market

Leading out east is Tha Phae Road, a popular spot for the dreadlocked and toe-ringed set. It has a number of welcoming coffee shops – try JJ Café (tel: 234-007) for milkshakes and a good sandwich bar – second hand bookshops and a couple of good mid-range restaurants. Throwing caution to the winds and abandoning explicit instructions to just eat cooked food, I tucked into a number of rather good salads at the American-Thai, diner-style Art Café (tel: 206-365) and lived to tell the tale. It could be something to do with the hydroponic lettuce, and ice scrupulously made from filtered water, but the owner claims that most places are pretty safe these days. Art has Mexican food too. Pulcinella da Stefano (1/1-2 Chang Moi Kao Rd, tel: 874-189) will satisfy any spaghetti cravings. There’s a reliable Boots pharmacy here too (locally-sold pharmaceuticals can be dodgy) and the modern, comfortable Internet café at the Lanna House (tel: 270-348) struck me as a good temporary office space if needed. Pay Bt50 for a day’s Wireless, or Bt30 to use its PCs.

Chiang Mai boutique hotels, Proud Phu Fah
Proud Phu Fah/ photo hotel

East of the old city but still west of the river is the night bazaar. Head to the northern end of Chang Khlan Road anytime after five and you’ll find yourself squeezing through tunnels of multi-coloured knick-knacks, blocking out the sky. From rickety paper lamps your local firemen would baulk at to less than authentic DVDs and chirping wooden frogs, quality here can drop as low as the prices. Still, there are some great finds around. Chiang Mai shopping expeditions aimed at higher-end products around here can head farther into the permanent shopping complexes. Galare Market is newly renovated with twinkly tree lights and fresh fish at the food-court gleaming on beds of ice. Just near Galare on Charoen Prathet Road, Le Spice (www.le-spice.com, tel: 234-962) is a welcoming spot for Thai-Indian food with a garden courtyard. Farther down you’ll find The Duke (tel: 249-231), famously Sly Stallone’s choice when in town. Three guesses as to the cuisine. No, not Swiss.

For more Chiang Mai dining choices, use the golden McArches as a beacon and wander down Loi Kroh Road to where the stalls tail off. Here a couple of low-key Belgian, German and Italian restaurants wait, with schnitzels and the like. Anusarn Night Market down here has some great open-air Thai eating, while nearby you’ll also find a sophisticated little northern Thai restaurant, Just Khao Soy (108/2 Charoen-Prathet Rd, tel: 818-641, MSG-free). Guitarman (68/5 Loi Kroh Rd, tel: 818-110) is tucked away close by, for those that like a good jamming session over beers and burgers.

The best Chiang Mai hotels in this area should also be explored for high-end dining. The Chedi has a very lovely club-like bar and restaurant that still harks back to its days as the old British Consulate. It serves creative tapas alongside traditional and fusion Asian meals. The Sofitel’s Mira Terrace offers a nice casual spot for international dining, with another bar for cocktails and snacks in a garden pavilion.

Across the Ping from here you’ll encounter a peaceful patch, where grassy banks lure couples and lone procrastinators. The peace comes to a resounding halt at the rambunctious Riverside Bar and Restaurant (www.theriversidechiangmai.com). You can enjoy dinner and drinks on its small river boat, if booked early. The Gallery (www.thegallery-restaurant.com) is a little more sedate (enough so for a visit from Hilary Clinton), and comes with a selection of artworks for sale and its Chang Jazz Club next door. Farther up, two finer, more romantic restaurants emerge – the simple and pretty The White Room (tel: [08] 5711-4557) and La Gondola (tel: 247-776, www.lagondolathailand.com), with wood-fired pizzas and live jazz.

Heading south from here, the dining and entertainment options dwindle, though you’ll find Muay Thai (kickboxing) at The Kawila Boxing Stadium on the east bank (choose between the “show” – often involving a ladyboy, and the real matches). On the west bank the modest Mae Ping River Cruise will put-put you around for a few hours, stopping off at a farmer’s garden for a snack.

Chiang Mai’s West, Drag Shows, and Museums

Two areas of note in Chiang Mai are the Ninmanhemin Road gauntlet of furniture shops and boutiques, and Nantharam and Wulai Roads, with silverwork stores to send your inner magpie into a gleeful frenzy. Shimmering pieces of local silver have been worked into the design of several temples like Wat Prathat Doi Suthep near Doi Suthep (a scenic mountain).

Ninmanhemin has a couple of snack spots, from Dai-Kichi’s (tel: 223-873) Japanese food to the quirky Ka-nom Fashion Bakery (tel: 212-033). Be sure to try out the Doi Chaang Coffee House (www.doichaangcoffee.com). This stylish, burgeoning chain comes courtesy of a group of villagers and coffee producers in the area. All the beans are hand-harvested and roasted in a traditional drum. You’ll find a branch in Canada too. Not too far away lies Wat Suan Dok – my favourite. It always looks stunning in whitewash and gold leaf, and houses the ancient remains of former Lanna rulers. It’s also part of the Buddhist university for monks and leaves a serene impression. Opposite, Sinakarin Health Park is good for an evening stroll.

North from here you’ll find the Chiang Mai National Museum, and high camp exuberance like you’ve never seen before at the Simon Cabaret Chiang Mai (tel: 410-3213, Bt500). This is a very popular, family-friendly transvestite show involving everything from Chinese opera and Broadway numbers, to Hollywood movie re-enactments. As our correspondent Chris Stowers once described it, Simon is “an extravaganza of lip-sync glitz”. Stop by as well to marvel at the seven spires of Wat Jet Yot. Chiang Mai is, after all, a city of temples.

Guide to Mae Rim Valley, Elephant Camps

This northern valley starts about 15km out, and is a popular choice for out of town mini-breaks. You’ll find the Four Seasons hiding here (more on this later) and, even more successfully camouflaged, the Sukantara Cascade Resort – probably chosen by Angelina Jolie a few years ago to lose the paparazzi (this journalist certainly complied, my driver weaving about in vain trying to find the place).

Chiang Mai luxury resorts, The Chedi
Stylish Chedi Club Suite/ photo: hotel

All the main attractions shoot off of the Mae Rim Samerang Road, and most are great for families. These include the Sainamphueng Orchid and Butterfly Farm, and the dubious and dusty Mae Sa Snake Farm (tel: 860-719) down the bottom end. Think rickety cages and heart-warming visions of pythons entwined with fluffy white bunnies.

Just across the road The Centre (263 Moo1, Mae Rim Samoeng Rd, tel: 297-700) is good for all things action packed, from bungee jumps and go-karts, to paintball and off road buggy rides. There’s also a small sports bar and café. Keep going and you’ll pass a couple of waterfall turn-offs, and the Chiang Mai Monkey School. Take your own monkey for training in manners, or just enjoy the macaques showing off. Farther up you’ll get to take a turn with an elephant or two at the riverside Mae Sa Elephant Camp, though if you continue onwards (60km from town) the Elephant Nature Park (www.elephantnaturepark.org) is a cause well worth supporting. The sanctuary was set up to care for elephants too old or abused to work, and spearheads a number of conservation projects.

Chiang Mai Excursions, Rafting, Hill Tribes

Chiang Mai is consistently dubbed the gateway to the northern hills and adventure tour guides pop up like mushrooms. Both gung-ho and timid trekkers flock here for hours of jungle-thwacking penitence, which is often rounded out with a bit of bamboo rafting, elephant safaris, opium smoking (we’ll deny it) or hill tribe visits. One attractive option is with the folks from Track of the Tiger (tel: 801-257, www.track-of-the-tiger.com). They are, beguilingly, “soft adventure” specialists that can also organise city-based events from cooking classes to photography trips.

A cushy alternative is offered by the Limousine Express Group (tel: [08] 5714-3083, www.limousinethailand.com), which will do private tours, including a night safari and golf package. For a couple of smaller travel operators try Northern Hill in the old city (tel: 815-115) or the affable Mr Doedee (World Story Chiang Mai tours, tel: 273-742), who will take up to four passengers out in a four-wheel-drive run. Larger groups are accommodated in an air-conditioned minibus. Most day trips start at around Bt700. Mountain Biking Chiang Mai (www.mountainbikingchiangmai.com) organizes a series of downhill bike trips out in the jungle from Bt1,450, and you can rent your own bike from Bt250 per day. There are a lot of young backpacker types here, so it’s worth discussing the age group of your companions before you book.

Chiang Mai Resorts Review

This Chiang Mai resorts review looks at a range of options from budget to beautiful. Though small and scruffy Chiang Mai guesthouses abound, a few large, gorgeously designed glamour pads are gaining prominence. There are the Big Five: The Chedi, Sofitel, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and the Shangri-La, but a clutch of attractive smaller contenders make picking a room here as lively as window shopping outside Harrods at Christmas.

The all-new Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai is pretty much smack in the centre of town within hailing distance of the bustling Night Market. The 281-room property in a high-rise building that mimics a stately Thai palace, albeit with a modern façade and trimmings, features northern Thai design motifs throughout with contemporary rooms ranging in size from 43sq m to a more than ample 215sq m. Shangri-La’s executive Horizon Club floor hosts 60 rooms for those who prefer their service a cut above. Expect steam, incense and aromas at CHI – the Spa at Shangri-La, a yoga pavilion, tennis, pool, putting green and kids’ club. If you happen to be in a suite or on the Horizon Club floor check out the pillow menu to pick from foam, buckwheat or even “anti-snore”.

D2 hotel Chiang Mai boutique hotel
Trendy dusitD2 chiang mai/ photo: hotel

Editor's choiceIf Grace Kelly were alive, young and in Chiang Mai, she’d be at The Chedi, Chiang Mai, sunning herself on the poolside lounger, gazing fretfully from her balcony at the have-nots across the river and traipsing through the strictly-for-decoration reflective pools in the courtyard. The place oozes modernist glamour. Rooms are simple, dark and Asian in décor with standalone baths that can open out to the view. There’s a flat-screen TV (with entertainment system), automatic blinds, free WiFi throughout, as well as laptops in the executive lounge that may be borrowed by guests. The deluxe rooms and spacious Chedi Club Suites are best described as contemporary Asian chic, pleasingly understated, with elegant flashes of Thai-silk. (The Chedi Chiang Mai features in our exclusive Top Asian Hotels Collection, featuring the best Asian hotels, resorts and spas in a printable A4 page with stunning visuals.)

The Club Suites have large sitting areas and roomy open balconies. You get a complimentary mini bar with carafes of whisky, gin and vodka. On the menu are The Spa at The Chedi, a sanctuary for wellness treatments, a swimming pool, a library, a fitness club, yoga, and a boutique. Though the place is very spic and span (which will appeal to many), it also has a few quietly untamed corners by the river to get the wind in your hair. The tapas are great even if the lighting is at times a bit dim to fully appreciate them. Still, the staff will leap to up the wattage of your room light bulbs should you require it. That’s a thoughtful gesture as are the ice-cold scented face sprays that greet you at the pool. The Chedi is an attractive Chiang Mai luxury resort option if you don’t wish to compromise on style and location and its spa is a huge bonus.

Not too far from here towards the night bazaar, the Dusit has launched the first of its new hip “lifestyle concept” hotels, the 131-room dusitD2 chiang mai . If you were wondering where all the good-looking people in Chiang Mai have gone, look no further. The hotel clearly cleaned out the local Channel V studio, and an acting school or two. To further the vibe, the lobby and bar turn into a dance club once a month, so check ahead if you don’t fancy grooving through reception.

The rooms are full of quirky details, such as the “desires” button on the phone (try it, we dare you), and look out over the city, mountain views being the greenest. Rooms have WiFi and there’s a decent club lounge, pool, a set of events rooms, a gym and a spa. Ask about the changing of the shift “performance” that happens each day. When I first heard of this the mind boggled. Retiring staff juggling custard-pie? Naked pogo stick racing? The performance is actually a bopping dance routine, with music. Some staff have all the fun.

Among the newer kids in town is the RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort (formerly Sofitel Riverside Chiang Mai) which has an expansive feel to it, despite the Lanna detailing. The open hallways make you feel much more connected to the city, as do the room balconies. The emphasis here seems to be on space, with 76 large, dark wood rooms and suites, open-air dining and a big, glam pool by the river. Rooms are fully wired and Wireless. There’s also a spa, and conference and banqueting facilities, inside and outside.

Le Meridien Chiang Mai arrived early November 2008 in the heart of the city, only a short walk from the popular night bazaar. Its 384 rooms are contemporary in design and feature LCD TVs, Broadband Internet access (for a fee), irons and ironing boards, safes, minibars, and dual-line speaker telephones. Most rooms look out at Doi Suthep Mountain. There is Wireless Internet access available in public areas (for a fee), while Club guests get complimentary WiFi in the Club Lounge. For meetings and conventions, the hotel offers 1,800sq m of function areas, and there is a wedding coordinator on hand for receptions and banquets. Lanna treatments are offered at The Spa, while the Lanna-style pool provides cool waters and panoramic views of Chiang Mai.

Located on the banks of the Mae Ping River is the 526-room Holiday Inn Chiangmai. Rooms are bright and contemporary with subtle Thai design flourishes. Amenities include LCD TV, high-speed Internet access, work desk, phone/fax and iron and board. Its 15 newly-refurbished function venues can hold everything from an intimate12-person workshop to a conference with up to 1,200 people.

Chiang Mai business hotels, Holiday Inn
Riverside Holiday Inn Chiangmai/ photo: hotel

There is also a business centre offering secretarial and translation services. After a long day of networking or sightseeing, cool off in the outdoor swimming pool or soak up some rays on the sun deck. Alternatively, work up a sweat in the sauna, steam room or fitness centre. For Thai food, head to the River Terrace or for dim sum try the China palace.

If you’d prefer quieter accommodation across the river, RarinJinda is a friendly, atmospheric resort and wellness spa with 35 rooms and nice views from some rooms. It’s quite well kitted out for a small hotel – with spa, gym, yoga studio, steam room etc – and is staggering distance from the strip of riverside bars and restaurants.

Over in the old city the residences get smaller and older, most nicely integrated into the smaller street system. Just outside, in an avenue off of Tha Phae Road, Manathai Village is an utterly charming small hotel set in a courtyard complex. Industrial concrete floors give rooms a hip twist, but they’re mostly traditional luxe in dark woods and white. En suite bathrooms have deep trough-like baths, and the sound of running water fills the courtyard. Is your weak bladder playing up? A new higher-end Chiang Mai boutique hotel in this area is the De Naga Chiang Mai near the Tha Pae Gate. This 55-room lowrise Lanna-style resort offers a contemporary setting with some views of Doi Suthep temple.

Not far is the 23-room Mandala House, a more basic Thai-style hotel with sizeable bathrooms, two small Internet stations and a pleasant little coffee bar at reception. This is around the same three-star level as the Montrara Happy House, down a small street on the other side of Tha Phae Road, which brings the luxury Thai look down to a more affordable price range.

CHiang Mai boutique resorts, Bann Tazala
Boutique Bann Tazala/ photo: hotel

Beyond the walls one reigning Chiang Mai resort favourite is the old-world Rachamankha, always good for a bit of character and intimacy. Despite being only a few years old, the Chinese-Lanna-style building manages to feel like it’s been putting down roots for at least a century. Rooms are authentically dark with old heavy furniture, teak double doors and a club-like accent that extends to the library and an elegant little restaurant (which does a nice afternoon tea). There’s a pool among the bougainvillea, and cultural shows and live music are staged in the courtyard.

An attractive, larger option is the 40-room Tamarind Village, which also has a spa, a shady pool area and a terraced restaurant. The alarmingly named Hair World Hotel near the west gate hovers below the grade of luxury hotel, but offers a nicely furnished spot to lay your head… or hair. It has 22 rooms, free WiFi and a small spa, but you may find staff a little befuddled, if you’re conversing in English.

If you’re short on time and just need somewhere simple and businesslike, try the Amari Rincome (a Chiang Mai hotel stalwart just outside the old city, with two swimming pools, tennis, WiFi, and satellite TV), the neighbouring Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel (a functional, if bland, veteran that was once a Hyatt Regency and now amazingly offers “baby-sisters” on its facility list, online), Amora Tapae Hotel, or Novotel Chiang Mai. Both the Amari Rincome and Chiang Mai Orchid are well positioned on Huay Kaew Road that leads up to Doi Suthep. The Home Place Hotel and Sri Pat Guesthouse are clean, comfortable low-rangers with air-conditioning.

A short drive out of town, unabashed luxury awaits at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. This is another Lanna-style complex that appears ancient, but is really just a toddler. It is palatial, perhaps even gargantuan in scope. Old trees were brought in and transplanted, hundreds of traditional wood carvers employed, and more than one Burmese relic disassembled, transported and recreated on site.

Chiang Mai luxury resorts, Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
Mandarin Oriental colonial suite/ photo: hotel

Stay in one of sprawling luxury villas, or suites, all packed with antique-style furniture. Some gaze out onto manicured rice paddies, others have their own pools. The colonial suites are big, traditional-looking rooms in a two-storey building, which overlooks a large swimming pool. There is WiFi. Facilities here all work to make the Mandarin a “kingdom” in its own right, from an amphitheatre to shopping village, a cooking school and health club, all connected by quiet, overgrown paths. There’s even a traditional rural village (another recreation) complete with a couple of old ladies on hand to teach local arts and crafts. Pick Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi if you like your privacy – you could probably wander quite happily all day and see just a handful of people. This is a Chiang Mai luxury resort with a difference.

The Mandarin has a friendly relationship with the eight-room Chiang Mai boutique hotel Bann Tazala just across the road, and sends its overflow there during the busy season. This is another charming, narrow courtyard property with Chinese-Thai décor, antique details and an upscale homey appeal, with flat-screen TVs and individual touches. There’s a small pool and, as in the Rachamankha and Mandarin, a library, which seems almost quaint in this age of Wireless, hands-free techno-gadgetry. There’s still WiFi in the rooms though.

Up north heading into the Mae Rim Valley, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai is another sprawling escape. Snuggled into a small, forested hill, pavilion rooms and villas are connected by sloping garden paths. Golf buggies are ever on hand. Many of the public areas open out to trees and rooms get paddy-field views or foliage close-ups, as do the private salas (outdoor pavilions). Even the bathtubs get windows. It’s a little far from town, but for families or couples wanting to explore the area from a comfy sanctuary, it works admirably, and there’s a shuttle five times daily. There’s plenty to do if you have transport, but the hotel also has a country-chic cooking school, a spa and a large pool.

Chiang Mai hotels, Four Seasons
Four Seasons pool/ photo: hotel

The Sukantara Cascade Resort is out here too, also with woody overtones and very much jungle-enveloped, but smaller. Sukantara offers just six rooms and one suite pool villa. The lobby terrace and restaurant hug the river, where a small series of waterfalls enhance the atmosphere. Mosquitoes might wage war, but hey, it’s the jungle. Sukantara does have more of a rustic feel to it, with comfy cottage rooms and bathroom showers open to the sky, but your reward is complete seclusion. Internet access in the lounge is free. Rooms have satellite TV and DVDs are available on request. There is also a small spa pavilion. The Sukantara is about a 35-minute drive from the airport but, if you get utterly lost, look for the petrol station on your right on the Mae Rim Samoeng Road for the turn-off.

Also in this general area is the Proud Phu Fah, a whimsical little hideaway. This Chiang Mai boutique resort is about 10 minutes on up the Mae Rim Samoeng Road past the pump. Guests are lured to a seemingly abandoned gate structure piping soft jazz, before being led through the trees by walkway to a hip lounge, restaurant and garden.

A handful of standalone houses are tucked into the undergrowth, each coloured with arty details and murals, some designed by the owner. Beds are simple four posters, and some cottages have small outside plunge pools or terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows. Dishes here are prepared with fresh local herbs from the highlands, and there’s a small pool. I’m less sure about its “outdoor meeting facilities”, but it seems thoroughly prepared for a secluded, romantic Chiang Mai getaway. “Proud Phu Fah” is also fun to say. Try it aloud.

As staff will happily tell you, Veranda Chiang Mai: The High Resort, is “way out in the hills beyond busy Chiang Mai”. So this resort is a choice for those who appreciate seclusion.

The 80 rooms, suites and pavilions are set on the valley slope all with views over mountain streams and rice and tea terraces. While décor is distinctly smart and modern there are subtle touches of Thai to soften the straight lines and block colour. Deluxe rooms start at 43sq m with 15sq m of balcony. The open plan bathroom has a separate tub, rain shower, twin vanity and hair dryer. There’s the ubiquitous iPod dock, 42″ LCD TV, DVD and WiFi. The Plunge Pool Pavilion offers a generous 88sq m with 45sq m of balcony and plunge pool space overlooking rice terraces. There’s a Kid’s Club, two yoga classes a day and a cultural pavilion to keep you busy, plus a full spa and all day dining with views over Veranda’s private valley.

There are numerous other small Chiang Mai boutique resorts and alternative options. Baan Deva Montra is a 25-villa boutique hotel with gardens, Jacuzzis, pool villas, and cooking classes. Maninarakorn strives to be contemporary Thai, with meetings facilities, spa and shopping, while the 35-room two-star Suan Doi House (on Huay Kaew Road) offers simple, low-key hospitality in floral surrounds. The 30-room Puripunn goes one step further, describing itself as a “baby grand boutique resort”. Puripunn offers Lanna Thai flourishes in its design, a pool, children’s pool and spa. The small Tri Yaan Na Ros Colonial House is a cosy, if dark, hangout, with eight rooms and friendly staff, while the Yaang Come Village on Sridonchai Road has 42 air-conditioned rooms with satellite TV, WiFi, a library, and even small meetings facilities for up to 40 persons.

Also in the centre of town – and also just a skip away from the Night Bazaar – is the 24-storey, four-star Centara Duangtawan Hotel Chiang Mai. The 507 air-conditioned rooms and suites feature satellite TVs, Internet access (wired and wireless), mini-bar, safe, and separate bath and showers. You’ll need to book a Business Plus room or higher to get bathrobe and slippers. Dynasty Club guests get access to a lounge that serves breakfast, all-day snacks and nightly cocktails. There are three restaurants, two lounges, and several meeting rooms for business types, including a ballroom catering for 800 people. The renovated SPA Cenvaree opened in September 2008, featuring an aerobics studio, pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, six therapy rooms and dozens of treatments on the menu.

Take your pick of these Chiang Mai boutique hotels, budget pads to crash in without fuss, and swish luxury spa resorts.

Chiang Mai Spas and Spa Resorts

Chiang Mai spas are never a problem. There’s always one within hailing distance. All of the big resorts here have exclusive, luxury spa complexes, as do the dusitD2 chiang mai, RarinJinda, Sukantara and Tamarind Village. The streets are lined with small mom ’n’ pop affairs that offer competitive foot massage (from just Bt150), and Thai or oil body massages. These won’t come with cold towels and lemongrass tea, though you might get a fan trained on your mattress.

The Legend Spa (64 Huay Kaew Rd, tel: 406-520) is a high-end day spa in serene surrounds with a range of luxury treatments from green tea body masks to hydrotherapy. For a few spas in the mid-range arena try one of the Chiang Mai Oasis Spas (www.chiangmaioasisspa.com), rustic luxe in a garden setting, or Let’s Relax (145/27 Chang Khlan Rd, www.bloomingspa.com), a light day spa near the night bazaar with packages from Bt600.

Multi-taskers can try the Artist Beauty & Day Spa, (www.artistspa.com) for spa and hairstyling, and Prasina (tel: [08] 6916-6585) for a massage with a manicure thrown in on Ninmanhemin Road. Alternatively try teeing off before your treatment, at the Chiang Mai Green Valley Country Club’s Angsana Spa (www.greenviewresort.com). Escape (6/1 Kotchasarn Rd, tel: 208-225) does well-priced massages in an atmospheric old teak house. Most of these will start to turn customers away by 10pm, but a basic 24 hour pummel can be yours at Chiang Mai Traditional Massage (tel: 818-944) opposite the Empress Hotel. Most spas offer free transport from your hotel.

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FAST FACTS

Visas can be issued on arrival for several nationalities from 15 days to three months. The exchange rate is around US$1 = Bt34 (Thai baht). Most of the rates below are rack (or published) rates but hotels may add a 10 percent service charge and 7 percent for VAT. Cheaper guesthouses may not always have hot water and air-conditioning. In terms of etiquette it’s considered rude to beep in traffic (people get visibly angry) so use the horn prudently. You may be required to take off your shoes in people’s homes, in temples, and massage parlous. It may seem natural to pat the heads of Thai children, especially in the hill villages, but this is also considered bad manners. Listed below are key hotels – cheap and cheerful to cosy and cosseted – included in this Chiang Mai resorts review, with contact information.

Chiang Mai Hotel Guide

Chiang Mai Resorts and Higher-End Hotels

Baan Deva Montra. Tel: [66-53] 432-972, (www.baandevamontra.com). Rates from Bt2,500 for a garden cottage.
Bann Tazala, Chiang Mai
. Tel: [66-53] 850-111, fax: 851-211, (www.banntazala.co.th). From Bt6,500.
Centara Duangtawan Hotel Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 905-000, fax: 275-429, (e-mail: cdc@chr.co.th or www.centarahotelsresorts.com). Internet rates from Bt1,020.
De Naga Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 209-030, fax: 208-598, (e-mail: info@denagahotel.com or www.denagahotel.com).
dusitD2 chiang mai. Tel: [66-53] 999-999, fax: 999-900, (e-mail: d2cm@dusit.com or www.dusit.com/d2cm).
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
. Tel: [66-53] 298-181, fax: 298-189, (e-mail: res.chiangmai@fourseasons.com or www.fourseasons.com). Garden-view rooms from US$475.
Holiday Inn Chiangmai. Tel: [66-53] 275-300, fax: 275-299, e-mail: reservations.chiangmai@ihg.com or www.holidayinn.com/chiangmai). From Bt1,680.
Le Meridien Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 253-681, fax: 253-667, (e-mail: reservations.chiangmai@lemeridien.com or www.lemeridien.com/chiangmai). Rooms from Bt4,800.
Manathai Village. Tel: [66-53] 281-6669, fax: 281-665, (e-mail: reservations@manathai.com or www.manathai.com). Deluxe rooms from Bt7,000, family rooms from Bt9,000.
Maninarakorn. Tel: [66-53] 999-555, fax: 999-500, (e-mail: rsvn@maininarakorn.com or www.maninarakorn.com). Superior from Bt3,000 with American breakfast, Suites from Bt6,000.
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. Tel: [66-53] 888-888, fax: 888-999, (e-mail: mocnx-reservations@mohg.com or www.mandarinoriental.com/chiangmai). Standard rooms from US$385, deluxe villas US$510++.
Proud Phu Fah. Tel/fax: [66-53] 879-389, (e-mail: relax@proudphufah.com or www.proudphufah.com). Villas from Bt4,800.
Puripunn. Tel: [66-53] 302-898, fax: 303-121, (e-mail: info@puripunn.com or www.puripunn.com). Rates from Bt7,200 for a deluxe room.
Rachamankha. Tel: [66-53] 904-111, fax: 904-114, (e-mail: reservations@rachamankha.com or www.rachamankha.com). Singles stay from Bt5,500, Bt 5,900 for doubles, Suites Bt15,000++ and can take up to five people.
RarinJinda. Tel: [66-53] 247-000, (www.rarinjinda.com). Standard rooms start at Bt6,500.
RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort. Tel: [66-53] 999-333, fax: 999-332, (www.ratilannachiangmai.com). Rooms from Bt8,000.
Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 253-888, (www.shangri-la.com). Value rate for Deluxe from US$270++.
Sukantara Cascade Resort. Tel: [66-1] 881-1444, fax: 881-7040, (e-mail: info@sukantara.com or www.sukantara.com). Deluxe Lanna cottages from Bt4,970.
Tamarind Village. Tel: (66-53) 418-8969, fax: 418-900, (www.tamarindvillage.com). Rates from Bt4,200.
The Chedi Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 253-333, fax: 253-392, (e-mail: chedichiangmai@ghmhotels.com or www.ghmhotels.com). Deluxe rooms from Bt12,324, club suites from Bt18,486.
Tri Yaan Na Ros Colonial House. Tel: [66-53] 273-174, fax: 273-137, (e-mail: info@triyaannaros.com or www.triyaannaros.com). Rates from Bt3,675 with American breakfast.
Veranda Chiang Mai: The High Resort. Tel: [66-53] 365-007, fax: 365-362, (e-mail: rsvn-chiangmai@verandaresortandspa.com or www.verandaresortandspa.com/chiangmai/). From Bt5,000.
Yaang Come Village. Tel: [66-53] 237-222, fax: 237-230, (e-mail: info@yaangcome.com or www.yaangcome.com). Rates from Bt5,000 for a single superior room.

Chiang Mai Budget Hotels and Mid-Range Options

Amora Tapae Hotel Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 251-531, fax: 251-721, (e-mail: info-cnx@amoragroup.com or www.amoragroup.com). Rates from Bt1,648 for a superior double.
Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel. Tel: [66-53] 222-099, fax: 221-625, (e-mail: info@chiangmaiorchid.com or www.chiangmaiorchid.com). Singles from Bt 1,350.
Hair World & First Spa Boutique Hotel. Tel: [66-53] 287-555, fax: 287-555, (e-mail: info@hairworldhotel.com or www.hairworldhotel.com). Rooms from Bt800.
Home Place Hotel. [66-53] 276-468, fax: 206-209. From Bt250-Bt350 for a double room with fan/air-conditioning.
Mandala House. Tel: [66-53] 272-488, fax: 274-696, (e-mail: info@mandalachiangmai.com or www.mandalachiangmai.com). Rooms from Bt850 including breakfast, Bt650 without.
Montrara Happy House. Tel: [66-53] 232-8002, fax: 252-619, (e-mail: sales@montrara.com or www.montrara.com). Rooms from Bt790.
Novotel Chiang Mai. Tel: [66-53] 225-500, fax: 225-505, (e-mail: reservation@novotel-chiangmai.com or www.accorhotels-asia.com). From Bt 1,008.
Sri Pat Guesthouse. Tel: [66-53] 218-716, fax: 218-718. Double, airconditioned rooms for Bt700.
Suan Doi House. Tel: [66-53] 221-869, 406-09, fax: 221-869. Rates from Bt950++ with American breakfast..
Tapae Place Hotel. Tel: [66-53] 270-159, fax: 271-982, (e-mail: tapaehotel@hotmail.com). Double, air-conditioned rooms from Bt590

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