The fresh, crisp air of Chiang Mai, at the heart of Thailand's northern hills, offers cooling relief from the heat of Bangkok and the south. An ancient walled centre, several stunning temple complexes, and a thriving arts and crafts scene also make it one of the country's biggest draws.
For the past few years, most of Chiang Mai's luxury hotel accommodation was found on its fringes – good for peace and quiet but a hassle if you want to experience the pleasures of Thailand's second biggest city up close. With the opening of The Chedi, Chiang Mai, visitors can now indulge in five-star bliss and be within walking distance of the city's many attractions.
Sited on the banks of the Mae Ping River, The Chedi is constructed around what was once the British Consulate. The consulate building, a handsome, early 20th-century colonial villa which now hosts The Chedi's restaurant, is surrounded by a new low-rise complex of spa, fitness area and accommodation. This newly built wing pays little homage to the site's colonial heritage but is a marvel of cutting-edge design, all light and space.
A large, leafy garden, infinity pool and terrace, all overlooking the river, provide plenty of public spaces to laze around in and also form a neat counterpoint to the hubbub of central Chiang Mai.
The Chedi's real triumph is its interior spaces – if the lobby emits the kind of contemporary design that is both accessible and aspirational, the club suites and deluxe rooms raise guest accommodation to a superior level. Darks woods, tiling and glass, delivered in clear, uncluttered lines are rounded off with enough of an arty Thai feel to remind you of your location. Get a room on the upper floors and your balcony will come complete with a river view. The huge bathtub should loosen you up enough to enjoy the giant bed, plump with pillows and soft Egyptian cotton. The massive suites come with complimentary mini-bar and laundry, Bose hi-fi (ask your butler for an iPod cable) and day-beds on the balcony. Satellite TV is available on mammoth flat-screens and there is WiFi broadband if you need to catch up with home.
The food and drink
While The Chedi, Chiang Mai, shines in terms of location, facilities and design, the food does not quite reach the same standard. It is good, just not as exceptional as everything else on offer (they are relaunching the menu in January). The best the restaurant offers is Northern Thai specialities – the Yam Hua Plee Gai, or banana flower salad, and Kao Soi Gai, or curry noodles, are recommendable, as is the awesome Thai dessert of Khao Niaow Mamuang, or sticky rice with mango and sweet coconut sauce. Otherwise, there are Indian and international dishes. The bar, located in the same airy colonial villa, is a great place to absorb the vibe, sup a cocktail, or smoke a cigar.
Lifts, doors and bathrooms are wide enough for wheelchairs though there are no specific facilities. Ask for a ground-floor room.
It's just a short walk from the Chedi to one of Chiang Mai's most famous attractions – the Night Market. This can be a lively place, though, these days, it does tend to cater primarily for tourists. For something more authentic – and contemporary – take a tuk-tuk for roughly 80 baht (£1.50) in the direction of Chiang Mai's university and the lively student area along Nimmanhaemin Road. You'll find some great cafés and hang-out spots, plus local designers along Sois (side streets) 1 & 4.
Travelmood (0800 8408 305; travelmood.com) offers five nights at The Chedi from £1,099 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights with Etihad and B&B. Andrew Spooner flew to Asia with Etihad Airways (0800 731 9384; etihadairways.com), which offers return flights to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi from £428. Onward flights to Chiang Mai with Air Asia (airasia.com) cost from £30 single.
The Chedi, Chiang Mai, 123 Charoen Prathet Road, T Changklan A Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand (00 66 53 253 333, ghmhotels.com).