Prime location? Check. Huge swimming pool? Check. Faultless service with a smile? Check. Secret agent-themed restaurant and bar for indulging spy-like fantasies? Well, it may not have been on your must-have list for a luxury hotel until now, but once you’ve dined at the Anantara’s recently opened The Service 1921 Restaurant and Bar you’ll wonder how you ever enjoyed a holiday without one.
Operational as the British Consulate from 1921 to 1978, the historic building that houses The Service now offers a variety of culinary options for any time of day against the backdrop of colonial architecture and atmosphere. Savour a vintage drop in the richly timbered wine cellar (note the bottles on hold for fictitious special agents), sit down for something more substantial from the Chinese Sichuan, Vietnamese and Thai fusion menu while enjoying pool and river views from the upstairs restaurant or try some savoury and sweet treats during afternoon tea on the terrace next to the lawn. And for those whose conversation topics are classified information, there’s a dining chamber cleverly concealed behind a bookcase – perfectly suited for undercover deals, or perhaps for getting friends together for a clandestine pre-wedding or celebration banquet (we make no secret of loving the deliciously refreshing grilled eggplant salad with crab meat!). Whatever the purpose of the gathering, the meal will end with a bang of sorts – a private cocktail show at your table by mixologist Dr X, whose science lab-inspired concoctions are a treat for the eyes as much as for the tastebuds (we spied the doc’s influence at the breakfast bar too, in the shape of test tubes containing deliciously healthy shots of banana, cinnamon and sesame).
All that indulgent intrigue might just inspire some exercise – and you’re spoilt for choice there too. There’s a 34-metre pool perfect for laps (or chilling with a cocktail and views over a lotus pond and the Mae Ping river), along with a well-equipped gym, yoga, pilates and Fitball classes and for those wanting some local flavour, Muay Thai boxing classes with a world class trainer. Any aching muscles will be easily soothed at the spa, where a selection of treatments awaits, including the signature Lanna Ritual of a full body oil massage for improved energy flow and relaxation.
Relaxation continues in the rooms, all 84 of which are fitted with screens that allow the bathroom to be opened up to the rest of the room and to the views beyond, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Lay back in the tub or on a daybed and enjoy the tropical garden surrounds and the impressive structure of soaring teak – although the hotel is 10 years old*, it continues to draw admiring architecture students from all over the world thanks to its contemporary yet timeless design, which combines massive sections of the native hardwood with whitewashed walls open to the natural light and cooling riverside breezes.
Speaking of the river, the Anantara offers evening tours in private boats complete with tapas and wine served by your very own butler on board. With a tropical sunset in the background, a more romantic Chiang Mai experience would be hard to find, unless it’s the hotel’s sunset elephant trek – but if you’re up for exploring, the Anantara’s location just inside the former walls of the ancient city means it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the night bazaar, weekend markets, shops and other attractions and an easy drive to nearby hills where serene gardens, hilltribe villages, elephant sanctuaries and adventures of all kinds await. The secret is out: whether it’s an undercover solo escape you’re after, a tryst for two or a girls’ getaway, the Anantara is the perfect luxury base to discover Chiang Mai.
*Originally the Chedi, the hotel rebranded as the Anantara in 2013.