I’ve stayed at a lot of nice hotels. So when something stands out these days, it’s saying something. Le Meridien (“LM”) Chiang Rai is such a standout for me – a genuine 5 star resort with truly impeccable service, beautiful grounds, and spacious rooms. Best of all, it was a category 2 SPG hotel until last year, redeemable for 3-4k SPG points per night. Now it’s a category 3 at 7k/night, but I booked the old rate before the change.
In my article The Great Paradox of my Travel Aspirations, I mentioned hotel redemptions play a decreasing role In my travels as I gravitate towards more local, boutique experiences. However, I also enjoy “free” pampering once in a while, so I concluded with a hybrid model, alternating between the two options. Before Chiang Rai, I stayed in a modest but lovely guesthouse in Luang Prabang. Then I moved onto the pampering part of the trip. And boy, was I pampered. This was an exemplar hotel redemption – low in category and points, high on luxury and service. They took excellent care of me for 5 nights.
Here’s my review of this beautiful property.
The resort is not centrally located, rather about 2 miles from city center, on the bank of the Mae Kok River. This is good and bad. Good that it feels secluded (fitting the resort concept), bad that you can’t walk everywhere a la LM Chiang Mai. A free shuttle to the Night Bazaar (city center) is provided with limited hours; reservation is encouraged but not required. I used the shuttle every day to go into the city and back. One night I came back late, after the last shuttle; Uber delivered me for $2 USD. For some reason Grab was consistently 30% more expensive.
As a SPG Gold member, I was automatically upgraded to IMO one of the best rooms on the property – more on that in the next section. 4 bottles of water were refilled daily. There’s no executive lounge in this resort, and upgrade to a suite is extremely uncommon even for Platinum members due to there only being 1 or 2 suites onsite. However, the normal rooms are extremely spacious already (570 sqft).
A fruit basket was waiting for me in the Room on arrival.
My upgraded room was 4301. It’s a high floor corner room facing the pond and main building. The generously sized balcony has views of both due to the corner location. The views are somewhat obstructed by beautiful palm trees, but that was a positive for me due to the elevated privacy – pretty much no one can see inside the Room even with drapes wide open.
I loved the oversized bathroom, which could be the entire room at Sheraton Hong Kong and Intercontinental Geneva. Shower is separate from the bathtub. Bathroom window slides so you can see balcony view while enjoying a bubble bath.
I’m not sure I ever exchanged so many smiles with staff at a hotel. They were so friendly and helpful. This is a place where everyone will bend over backwards to satisfy you. Asian hospitality at its finest.
Front desk was always well staffed. I stopped by daily and never waited more than 5 seconds.
As a Gold member, I was offered 300 THB (including tax) for breakfast buffet, which I indulged 4 out of 5 days. It’s a very good buffet with 7-8 hot Asian style items plus waffle, omelet, Thai noodle choices, Indian, bakery stuff, fresh fruits, salad, and of course – freshly squeezed tropical juices, a must in SE Asia. There was also a daily special, ranging from plain roti to Thai-ized youtiao and soymilk.
This is probably only the 2nd time I ever elect to pay for breakfast at a hotel. Were the location more central, I would have gotten something cheap externally. Being tucked away and with limited shuttle schedule, I opted for the sumptuous breakfast, which I thought was priced reasonably enough.
There are free daily activities organized by the resort. Here are some I noticed during my stay:
- 1hr long tail boat ride on the Kok river.
- Alms Giving to monks. Food for monks provided.
- 5 minute free massage from 9 to 10am.
I partook in the boat ride and the massage. Both were very good. The boat was motorized so not very romantic or relaxing, but we saw some nice mountains in the distance. End point was the Buddha around Chiang Rai Beach. The massage, being in front of the resident pond with spa music and the sound of waterfall from the pond, was heavenly soothing. Perfect Environment.
The hotel grounds are stunning, especially after dark. It’s as if you are in a floating fortress. A mix of tropical and continental vegetation dot the grounds. The majority of guests are Asian – Chinese language was pervasive, while I heard no Korean or Japanese. Everyone I encountered was reasonably well behaved. Other than at breakfast, it didn’t feel crowded despite high occupancy. Everywhere is spotless. This place takes care of its beauty.
If you wanted to, you could stay at the resort all day and relax. Personally I headed to the city in the afternoon for massage, followed by food and browsing the Night markets – there’s a daily Night Bazaar, a Saturday night market, and a Sunday night market, all in different locations. More on those in an upcoming review of Chiang Rai, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
In a Nutshell
I thoroughly enjoyed staying here. It reminded me why I collect hotel points. Paying 3-4k SPG points per night in high season (when paid rate is around $150 all in) makes it one of my favorite hotel redemptions. Unfortunately it increased to 7k per night, though you get 5th night free. This is just one of the many low category sweet spots in the SPG award chart – I will post my top 10 soon.