The lively, mini-cosmopolitan city of Chiang Mai with its centuries-old temples and traditions is one of the world’s most romantic destinations for your wedding. However, if you prefer to stay in the beautiful, rural countryside surrounding the conurbation, you’ll have a great choice of tropical boutique resorts perfect for your honeymoon of a lifetime,
Although the city’s suburbs extend far beyond its ancient heart, the transformation from urban to rural is dramatic. Travelling along major roads lined with supermarkets, commercial buildings and rows of shophouses, you’re suddenly a midst rice fields, small villages and local roadside markets, eateries and tiny stores. Driving north on Highway 118, you’re approaching the foothills of the Himalayas surrounding the Ping River valley and the charming small hillside town of Doi Saket.
Far from being a tourist hub, Doi Saket is a typical Lanna market town overlooked by its famous temple and offering several small, peaceful boutique resorts. Just a 30-minute drive from the city centre, the town’s friendly people welcome visitors into their laid-back lives. Eateries here serve mostly Thai dishes, although there’s a well-regarded Italian restaurant and several mini-supermarkets. Tripadvisor reviews strongly recommend the Secret Garden resort for its charm, privacy, delicious home cooking, outdoor pool and lush gardens.
For a remote, mountainous retreat just an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai city on Highway 118, Chiang Dao can’t be bettered. Views here are superb, encompassing soaring mountain peaks, verdant valleys, rushing rivers and magical temples. It’s known as a hub for outdoor activities as well as for the region’s Hill Tribe villages with their unique cultures, languages, music and costumes. Tourists are relatively rare here, and the town’s local Tuesday market sees Hill Tribe vendors arriving from their mountain homes to sell their wares.
Chiang Dao Nest mini-resort is known in the region for its quaint, tucked-away cottages and excellent food.
Set just 26 kms from Chiang Mai on a fast, motorway-style highway, the town of Lamphun predates Chiang Mai by several centuries. Once the heart of the 11th/12th century Haripunchai Empire, it retains its laid-back ambience and long history, with ancient sites and a fascinating museum. It’s a small community, set along the banks of the Kuang River and surrounded by forests, mountains, lakes and traditional farming villages. The Phawana Garden boutique hotel boasts just five teakwood cottages built in the Lanna style, and Northern Thai dishes are served.
For surely the most unique week’s honeymoon on the planet, the Elephant Nature Park’s stunning setting in the forested Mae Rim Valley offers seven-day volunteer stints helping to care for Thailand’s most famous creatures. Unlike at Northern Thailand’s other tourist-aimed elephant camps, these giant pachyderms don’t paint or do tricks, they just live in a herd as nature intended, wandering around their sanctuary along with buffaloes, dogs and other rescued fauna. Elephant Nature Park has been a rescue and rehabilitation centre for over two decades, caring for mistreated or abandoned elephants and those injured by land mines or vehicles, and has received international awards for its work. A stay here is a breathtakingly rewarding experience.
If you’re looking for privacy combined with exotic luxury and aren’t planning extensive explorations of the city and its surroundings, the ultimate in spa hotels is the iconic Dhara Devi, set just outside the Superhighway ring road on the outskirts of Chiang Mai’s suburbs. Designed as an authentic Thai palace compound and including a traditional village, the resort’s construction is a masterpiece of Lanna style and a celebration of the skills of local wood carvers and stone masons. Its luxury villas and suites have outdoor pools, views over rice paddies and beautifully crafted antique-style furnishings. A health club, spa services, cooking school and upscale cuisine complete the picture. It’s expensive but, for a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon stay, well worth it for the sheer exotic fantasy of the complex.