One of our greatest experiences in Chiang Mai was staying in the boutique 137 Pillars House – a luxurious 30-suite hotel near the city center established around a colonial teak home built in the early 1880’s, that simply uses of local history.
After spending several days in Bangkok, we were really excited to be heading to Chiang Mai. I had a feeling this would be one of my favourite parts of our trip. We decided to explore the mountain range that surrounds the northern capital first and stayed at Panviman Resort Hotel. But we were never going to miss out on the actual city itself. In fact, we couldn’t wait to explore this city filled with magnificent temples and surrounded by forests and national parks. So after two days, we packed our bags and drove down.
We wanted to be close to the old city center so that we could spend our days visiting the many temples and get an up-close sense of what Chiang Mai is all about. So when I read about 137 Pillars House Hotel, a small boutique hotel, stemmed in history and within walking distance of everything, we knew we found our home for the next few days in Chiang Mai.
Being an architect, I am naturally curious about the origins of a building and get very excited when it has an interesting history. And Gary is a real history buff. So 137 Pillars House Hotel truly was the perfect place for us to stay during our visit to the city also known as “Rose of the North”, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Lanna.
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HOW 137 PILLARS HOUSE ROSE FROM THE ASHES
When on holidays I always attempt to find and book a hotel full of character, that either has a unique selling feature or an attention-grabbing history. And 137 Pillars House Hotel certainly has an interesting origin story.
The hotel is centred around a teak bungalow, once known as “The Bornéo House” and built at the end of the 19th century by Louis Leonowens.
Louis Leonowens was the son of Anna Leonownes – the British tutor of the king of Siam who inspired the book “Anna and the King” – and one of the founders of the Borneo Company. His teak bungalow, a massive stately house supported by 137 pillars on the eastern bank of the Ping River in Wat Gate, served as northern headquarters of the Borneo Company in Chiang Mai. Although Louis Leonowens lived here for a short while, the bungalow was mainly used as a residence for the company manager until 1927.
During the Japanese occupation in 1941 in World War II, Baan Borneo was taken over by the Japanese army. It was then eventually sold by the company after World War II to William Bain, a Scotsman educated at Harrow. William married a local Mon girl, and together they raised a family of two daughters and two sons in the historic building. The bungalow belonged to the Bain family until it was sold to the Wongphanlert Company, a Thai company based in Bangkok.
Panida Wongphanlert, a Harvard graduate architect from Bangkok, was looking for a holiday home in Chiang Mai when an estate agent showed her the house locally known as the “Black House” due to the colour of the weather-beaten teak.
At this point, left to rot in an overgrown compound, the bungalow was in a ruinous state. So much so the locals were afraid to go near the spooky house. But, as an architect, Wongphanlert could see past the buildings desolate state. She not only fell in love with it, but found it to be full of potential. She was determined to share this historic legacy with the world.
And in 2002 the old bungalow was converted into a splendid 30-suite boutique hotel. With a team of historians, conservationists, architects and designers, the Borneo House was brought back to its glory days.
It was lovingly and faithfully restored, keeping the original wood and foundation with the wooden pillars elevated 3 metres higher to protect from floods. Keeping all 137 pillars was essential to the integrity of the building. Back when it was built the more pillars a house had, the wealthier the family inside it.
Today, the property of 137 Pillars consists of 30 suites – spread throughout several newly built two-story colonial-style bungalows scattered around the premise – a pool, a spa, and a reception hall. At the center of it all stands the Borneo House, resplendent and reinvigorated, it now serves as the lobby and dining area of the hotel.
LOCATION OF 137 PILLARS
Whilst the local surrounding of 137 Pillars House is serene and peaceful, it is actually only a stone’s throw away from Chiang Mai’s Old City and the famous Night Bazaar, with easy access to all of the cultural and heritage sites of Chiang Mai.
137 Pillars house is actually located in the Wat Gate district near the banks of the Ping River. The area of Wat Gage was named after the local Wat Gate Khar Rham Temple, a traditional Thai complex with a multitude of pagodas.
Although Gary and I hopped onto a tuk-tuk a couple of times for a bit of inner-city sightseeing, we also enjoyed walking along the east bank of Ping River. Here, literally, a five-minute walk from the hotel is where we enjoyed one of our most entertaining evenings in Thailand. Not only do the riverside restaurants of the area sell cheap but delicious food, they also host live ban.
CHECK-IN AT 137 PILLARS HOUSE
After a relatively strenuous taxi drive from Panviman Resort in the surrounding mountainous region to the city centre of Chiang Mai, we were glad to arrive a 137 Pillars House.
Sequestered in an upscale residential enclave near the Ping River at Thanon Nawatgate, 137 Pillars House is set in a walled sanctuary of tranquillity and elegance. On entering the gate, we were immediately transported to a different planet from the bustling streets of the touristy side of Chiang Mai on the western bank of the river.
We were greeted by the courteous staff in a bright and well-appointed open-air reception lobby. From the very start, I was impressed by the intricate interior design and intrigued by the wall and ceiling in the lobby, which appeared to have been fashioned out of traditional chests of drawers.
After checking our details, we were offered cold towels and a refreshing drink, before being ushered to our suite through the gardens. Our personal concierge met us in our room, where she showed us all the amenities and upon enquiring how long we were staying in Chiang Mai, gave us some great recommendations on what temples were a must to visit.
DESIGN AND ATMOSPHERE OF 137 PILLARS HOUSE
137 Pillars House Hotel has been designed to center around the main historic teak bungalow. The 15 newly built bungalows are scattered around the premises within a jungle-like thicket. Thus every corner becomes a great photo opportunity.
At 137 Pillars House Hotel guests get to re-live the elegance of the past in the comfort of the present. Although modern in all the right ways, the design of the new buildings takes inspiration from the old.
Vintage, tropical and very luxurious, this hotel celebrates, colonial architecture, open-air spaces space high ceilings and organic finishes.
The attention to detail at 137 Pillars House Hotel is simply incredible. I quickly fell in love with the vintage ceramic tiles, traditional ceiling fans, and turquoise ceramic stools strewn about the place. Inside, carved wood ceiling panels, patterned details, and bright textiles capture the old-world charm and elegance of the Orient.
Outside – bamboo tree-lined pathways, century-old banyan trees, palm trees, and mimosa trees covered in orchids and other tropical flowers line the pathways around the main house while a gorgeous vertical garden cascades into the infinity pool. Doesn’t this place sound like paradise?
FACILITIES AT 137 PILLARS HOUSE HOTEL
As I have mentioned multiple times, Baarn Borneo is the pulsating heart of this hotel. The architects of 137 Pillars House Hotel, did a great job respecting his buildings illustrious past whilst converting it into an amenity for the guests.
It now houses the lavish Parlour Lounge, where guests are welcome to enjoy high tea, the Jack Bain’s bar which serves as a library and a guest room, the wine cellar, and both the hotel’s restaurants.
Underneath the house is a small but well-equipped gym and an exhibition space preserving and displaying historic artifacts found during the restoration.
The teak bungalow has certainly rekindled its old charm. Memorabilia of the past and Asian artwork adorn the walls, shelves, and display cabinets, whilst hanging turquoise lanterns, oriental lattices, and organza drapes add that distinctive Thai flair. It is like walking back in time to the buildings colonial days and the spirit of the past still clearly lingers in the air.
Baarn Borneo offers the perfect setting for a weary traveller to relax in. After a day spent sightseeing in the center of Chiang Mai, Gary and I retreated to the Jack Bain’s Bar. Here we enjoyed a pair of truly unique cocktails and indulged ourselves by browsing through the amazing collection of coffee table books. The experience was only improved upon by the gentle sound of a talented pianist who was playing in the background. After the cocktails, Gary and I enjoyed a fabulous meal in the Palette Restaurant. But more about that later …
A tempting swimming pool is tucked away in a quiet corner of the compound. The pool, albeit small, is absolutely stunning with its clear turquoise water set against the backdrop of a 45-meter high green wall of cascading money plants.
The space is further adorned by adorned by 20,000 potted plants and canopied daybeds, chairs, sofas, and chaises for lounging in all day long are strewn throughout the cooler, shadier spots in the garden.
You really cannot visit Thailand without experiencing a massage. Indeed most hotels in this country feature a spa. 137 Pillars House is no exception.
Their unique selling point? Taking advantage of their local surroundings, the spa at 137 Pillars integrates local ingredients into their treatments and even distils their own essential oils and freshly made beauty products from their organic onsite garden.
I was treated to an oil massage, the first night of our stay. Oil massages tend to be a lot gentler than your typical Thai Massage and as far as oil massages go this was probably one of the best ones I had on this trip
TWO NIGHT IN THE RAJAH BROOK SUITE AT 137 PILLARS HOUSE HOTEL
A rather small boutique hotel 137 Pillars House features only 30 luxurious suites. Each suite is slightly unique and located either on the ground or first floor of a two-story-high villa. The constructions of these villas is meticulously supervised by heritage architects, who ensure that the integrity of the architecture and style of the era of 1889 was maintained.
Each suite is named after one of the founders of the East Borneo Company. Gary and I were led to the back of the compound, where Rajah Brooke Suite was to be our home for the next two days.
Although generous in space, with only 70sqm the Rajah Brooke Suite is, in fact, the smallest suite of the hotel. Nonetheless, this well-appointed room with a King size bed, luxurious bathroom, and large veranda offered us all the amenities we could possibly need.
Each suite is furnished with rich wooden furniture and sumptuous Jim Thompson silks and fabrics in navy blue, deep green, sunny yellow, vibrant red or dark teal.
Furthermore, all the suites feature highly polished wooden floors, black and white mosaic tiles in the bathroom, a deep soak standalone claw-footed bathtub, an outdoor shower and a large veranda complete with the signature 137 rocking chair.
It is thus fair to say that these suites feel very bespoke and offer modern comfort whilst being an excellent interpretation of the old colonial style.
What I particularly enjoyed about our stay at 137 Pillars House was the fact that our suite offered a combination of indoor and open-air living spaces, which allowed us to truly profit from the warm tropical weather and the leafy surroundings.
Sleeping in the four poster bed of the Rajah Brooke Suite, I felt a little like a Thai princess.
I especially loved the feel of the 400-thread count Egyptian cotton bed linen against my bare legs, as I brushed them against the freshly laundered material. This is the type of bed cover I want for my own home! The pillows and duvet were very comfortable and Gary and I had an enjoyable night’s sleep.
Among the various pieces of wooden furniture of the Rajah Brooke Suite stand a small bench-like sofa, a coffee table, a tv-console and a writing desk. Pops of bright blue upholstery give the vintage-style wood and rattan furniture an updated look.
Although the furniture was carefully picked to maintain the colonial style, this suite is filled with modern amenities. The 32” flat screen LCD television with satellite/cable channels can actually be set to wake you up in the morning (just make sure you check the settings or it might wake you at the wrong time) and the personal in-room music system with iPod connectivity and charger has be prefilled with music.
This has to be one of the most sumptuous bathrooms I have ever been able to call my own (albeit for a short while). The bathroom of the Rajah brook Suite is actually made up of various indoor and outdoor rooms.
A commodious walk-in closet-cum-dressing room leads to a large bathroom with free standing claw-feet Victorian bath and an indoor shower. From here a glass door opens onto an outdoor shower, for those warmer days.
We loved the pattern on the vintage floor tiling of the shower room and the beautiful Victorian roll-top bathtub.
The main bedroom leads out on to a large veranda with a rattan planter’s chair and a massive plush day bed covered in blue cushions.
The terrace overlooks the garden, with expansive views across to the Grand Lawn.
Whilst some people love to sunbathe, I actually prefer the shade. Lucky for me, the veranda was actually covered. This also provides useful protections, when the weather turns bad and it pelts it down, like it frequently does in the shoulder season.
But what made our stay at 137 Pillars House truly special were all the small little details and gestures of the staff.
Every night, a little bedtime story was left in our room together with some kind of turn-down treat (biscuits, fresh fruit, …).
There were also Nespresso coffee and a complimentary mini-bar in the room, which was refilled during our stay. And as a special touch above other hotels, minibar drinks are complimentary except for the hard liquor.
BREAKFAST AT 137 PILLARS HOUSE HOTEL
Breakfast at 137 Pillars House Hotel is served on a daily basis in the dining room or on the large terrace of Borneo House. It is inclusive with the suites.
There is a choice of both Western and Eastern dishes and impressive fresh-pressed juices. In fact, you can ask the juice bartender to mix you up your own crazy concoction from a variety of fresh tropical fruit.
We were more than satisfied with the assortment of dishes available at this buffet-style breakfast. I really don’t think anyone would go hungry here.
DINNER AT 137 PILLARS HOUSE HOTEL
137 Pillars House Hotel actually has two separate restaurants, both of wish are quite popular with locals. Whilst the Palette restaurant serves western-style food, the Dining Room serves a modern spin on Northern Thai cuisine.
Since I always try to get my fill of local cuisine in any country we visit, Gary and I decided to eat at the Dining Room.
We started off our meal with a Tom Kha Gai soup and chicken satay, and then swiftly moved on to Kao Soy – a Lanna-inspired chicken curry served with yellow egg and crispy noodles – and Gaeng Garee Gai – a mild chicken curry accompanied with sweet potatoes and French baguette. The flavours were subtle, very well balanced and we were more than satisfied at the end of our meal.
I would also like to mention that the service at the restaurant that night was spectacular. We felt very well looked after.
We would happily recommend 137 Pillars House Hotel to our friends and family. Foremost the location of the hotel is perfect for exploring the old town of Chiang Mai. But you also want to feel comfortable where you stay and we certainly did. In fact we felt incredibly well looked after.
If you are looking for a hotel with an interesting history, that has been beautifully designed, with friendly and attentive service and where every last detail has been thought off, then 137 Pillars House Hotel is the right place for you. It certainly exceeded all of our expectations and we wowed to return, next time we are in Chiang Mai.
137 Pillars House
2 Soi 1, Nawatgate Road,
Tambon Watgate, Muang Changmai,
Ph: +66 (0)53 247788
Fx: +66 (0)53 247780
Note: We received two free nights at 137 Pillars House Hotel, a meal and spa treatment for the purpose of this review, but as always all the opinions stated are our own.
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