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I’ve gotten pretty spoiled living in Thailand these past several years getting regular massage and spa treatments. Before moving to the country I had only had two massages total in my life…now I get at least two a month. I also have been fortunate enough to try out a range of massage shops and spas in Chiang Mai from the small, simple shop run by a local family offering massages, to more therapeutic treatments (i.e. not so comfortable or relaxing but beneficial), to 5-star, full-on, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-I’m here spas at some of the city’s most impressive hotels.
If you’re looking for something special, these are three of my favorite places and hands-down some of the best spas in Chiang Mai. They each highlight Lanna (northern Thai) traditions and culture which I love.
I’ve written about Fah Lanna Spa before here, but it’s worth mentioning again especially now that they have expanded with an additional wing of and a brand new cafe, Fahtara Coffee.
Conveniently located in the Old City, Fah Lanna Spa is a little natural oasis in the center of the Chiang Mai. Everything about Fah Lanna – from the natural ingredients used in their teas and spas products, to their specialty massages, like tok sen, and even the patterns found in staff uniforms – celebrates traditional Lanna culture and practices. Each treatment room is named after a nearby village and tastefully decorated with traditional objects or symbols those villages are known for, such as paper umbrellas and textiles.
Treatments and massages here are very reasonably priced and the spa always seems to take things a couple steps further by making a sustained effort to use natural goods and ingredients while also reusing what it can. For example, roselle blossoms used for tea are then turned into (delicious) homemade jam for the cafe.
A 1-hour traditional Thai massage costs 500 baht (about $15 USD) – a steal for how lovely the spa is and level of treatment you receive. The spa is also committed to creating a positive work environment and supporting the community through fair wages and donations to local organizations, so is worth every baht. I’d recommend getting a 1-hour traditional Thai massage combined with a second 1-hour herbal compress or tok sen massage for a truly rejuvenating, and northern Thai, experience. Walk-ins are welcome but it’s better to book an appointment, especially if you want to go in the evening, and the spa provides a complimentary transfer service to and from your hotel.
After your massage, pop in to the attached Fahtara Coffee for a special snack. All the cakes and desserts are darling, homemade in rotating small batches, and the tropical back patio is cool and refreshing. I’m definitely going to try the coconut pudding or earl grey cupcake the next time I go!
First of all, the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa is one of my favorite properties in Chiang Mai. I love the relatively small size, location on the Mae Ping Rive, and fact that it’s centered around a colonial building that was originally the first British consulate in Chiang Mai. The entire place is charming and sleek all at once with subtle northern Thai touches. No surprise, the onsite spa is also lovely and tastefully decorated creating a modern, but inviting, atmosphere.
Massages and treatments here have similar prices to what you would find in the West, but the level of detail and overall luxurious experience far exceeds any spas I’ve been to in Seattle (granted that’s not many because they’re so expensive!).
When I visited the Anantara Spa in Chiang Mai my treatment room was more than double the size of my last apartment and I noticed several little touches that really took the whole experience to the next level, like the ability to choose what music you want playing in the background and the most comfortable massage table I’ve ever been on. (You know you’re getting spoiled when you can have opinions on the comfort level of massage tables…)
The spa’s 90-minute “Lanna Ritual”, available only at this location, is a real treat that is meant to not only relax and balance the body, but help calm, cleanse and purify your mind. The masseuse walked me through a brief breathing exercise before starting and the treatment ended with me washing my hands in perfumed water, believed to remove toxins and negative energy from the body after the massage, and write my name on a golden bodhi leaf often found in Thai temples as a symbol of good luck and well wishes.
Combining a mix of Thai, Burmese and Chinese massage methods, the massage itself is a unique blend of deep pressure and stretching, typical of traditional Thai massages, with the added element of using oil, common in Burmese massage, and the Chinese technique of soothing strokes. I’ve gotten so used to Thai massages and prefer them to other styles (why would you simply get a relaxing massage when someone can help stretch and realign your body at the same time?) but this was pretty wonderful, balancing the intensity of a Thai massage with the relaxed, almost-hypnotic state you can feel from an oil massage.
A 90-minute traditional Thai massage is 3,500 baht (just over $100 USD) and the Lanna Ritual is 4,500 baht (about $140 USD). All prices are subject to a 7% service charge and applicable Government tax. You can walk in, but it’s best to call ahead for an appointment.
At first glance, you wouldn’t realize that The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is a resort – it looks more like an elaborate temple or palace. In fact, designed to represent an ancient Lanna (northern Thai) kingdom, the hotel is a living tribute to Lanna history, culture, art and design and much of its aesthetic is based off of temple and palace architecture. Due to the region’s past and location between Burma, southern China and Siam, throughout the property you’ll find a unique blend of Thai, Lanna, Burmese, Chinese and colonial architecture and nowhere is it more apparent, or beautiful, than at the spa. Taking more than three and a half years and 100 local artisans to build, the Dheva Spa and Wellness Centre is in a class of its own.
First of all, it’s huge. At 3,100 square meters, the spa complex is open and airy. The reception area is modeled after the palace in Mandalay and everywhere you turn you see intricately-carved wooden facades, furniture and decorations. The level of skill, time and attention to detail that went into creating the spa is astounding – it seriously makes your jaw drop. No element has been overlooked. As I was waiting for my massage I noticed soft music wafting throughout the air. When I was walking into the spa to my treatment room I realized the music was actually being played live by a single musician. Unreal.
Of course, the spa offerings and treatments themselves are also incredible. Though it offers a range of Thai, Chinese, Swedish and even African massage styles, the spa places an emphasis on Ayurveda treatments and even has an Ayurveda specialist onsite providing private consultations to determine your doshas (mind-body composition) and what treatments are best suited to your needs. Along with spacious private treatment rooms – my room featured an entryway, large bathroom and dressing area, spa tub, and massage room with two massage tables – the centre also has a gorgeous hamman and sitting areas. I felt like a princess.
The royal treatment certainly doesn’t come cheap though. A standard 80-minute traditional Thai massage costs 4,200 baht (about $120 USD) and packages combining a variety of massages, scrubs and facials, such as the signature “Lanna Ceremony” featuring can cost nearly 10,000 baht (more than $300). All prices are subject to a 10% service charge and 7% Government tax. If you consider massage and spa prices in the U.S., the prices are similar, however if you’ve gotten used to cheap Thai massages at $6 per hour spending time at this spa is certainly a splurge…it’s also about a million times nicer than your standard Thai massage shop!
Note: I was a guest at all three of these spas for various reasons but all opinions and recommendations are my own.