INTRODUCTION TO 137 PILLARS HOUSE, CHIANG MAI
Set minutes from the centre of town, the beautifully boutique 137 Pillars House is a hotel with a story to tell; the main building, Baan Borneo, used to be the headquarters of Borneo Trading Company. This was our surprise hotel of 2018, the one we expected to be good but surpassed our expectations in almost every way.
Date of stay: December 2018
Room: Rajah Brooke Suite #14
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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS by CHINMOYLAD
WHAT I LOVE
- Location. The hotel is conveniently located for daily trips into town, just a short 10-minute tuk tuk ride, yet sits in a more residential neighbourhood, removed from the chaos of town. There are plenty of great restaurants in the neighbourhood too, within walking distance (we enjoyed multiple meals at Woo Cafe).
- Design. Walking around our suite, we immediately realised a startling similarity, as if we had seen parts of this design before, and we had – at The Sanchaya resort in Bintan, Indonesia. The hotel used P49Deesign from Bangkok, and the design for 137 Pillars House acutally predates the work the studio did for The Sanchaya. It also fits in much better here, as the hotel is built around the old teak house, and really resonates with the surrounds. The colours are also more coherent here, and there are no weird surprises (like the Thai Lawan villas at The Sanchaya). The accommodation wings were built around the old teak house, which formerly housed the northern headquarters of the Borneo Trading Company, and the interior design and overall look and feel of the hotel complement this historic structure beautifully. The old teak structure itself was restored (and raised on stilts to prevent further structural damages). While the rooms offer a Victorian-era themed design with clean, modern looks, the hotel’s food and beverages spaces have the look and feel of a contemporary but historic club (such as Jack Bain’s Bar), with vibrant colours woven into the overall ensemble, and sometimes featuring Asian motifs (such as at the Lanna/Thai restaurant, The Dining Room).
- Rooms and suites. Apart from four suites housed in a separate structure past the pool (which could be rented out in its entirety for privacy for families – see below), all the other 26 suites are featured within the main wing, either in a lower floor with a large verandah, or an upper floor with more privacy. The lead-in Rajah Brooke Suite, which we stayed in, starts at 70 sqm/730 sq ft, and are plenty spacious with a four-poster bed, a sizable settee and lounging space by the bed , and the piece de resistance, a spectacular oversized outdoor verandah. The bathrooms are a sight to behold, featuring classic twin washbasins set by a huge walk-in closet, featuring an outdoor shower (and indoor shower is also available), and a freestanding Victorian claw tub. Other rooms are larger still (up to 135 sqm/1,453 sqft for the Louis Leonowens Pool Suite), and feature coherent design motifs/themes throughout.
- Service. Each suite is assigned a shared butler (between different suites). The butler is also your personal concierge, and ours was excellent in assisting with arranging our tours, suggesting food options, and also helping seek out a very particular item we wanted, and then assisting in acquiring it, and shipping it back to our home in Hong Kong. You can communicate your butler via direct, traditional methods, but also quickly via WhatsApp for easier/quicker communication. The team is run by General Manager, Anne Arrowsmith, who is a real pleasure to get to know, being very warm, welcoming and friendly, but also quickly alert in anticipating guest’s needs. Apart from one housekeeping snafu (mostly our fault) and an errant pool staff not servicing us at the pool (he was too busy chatting with us, and forgot to actually assist us with pool duties!), service throughout was warm, friendly and alert.
- Pool. Nature (cliffs, beaches, mountains etc) lends itself to stunning pool designs, as does height (particularly in a city/urban landscape). So how do you create a memorable pool in an urban city that is in a quiet part of town, on ground level? You do what 137 Pillars House did, and place it next to a dramatic vertical garden. The end result is a relaxing 25-metre lap pool next to a jaw-dropping 12-metre high wall lined with vines and plants.
- Food. Breakfast is served as a small buffet selection with hot items to order a-la-carte and was excellent every day. We also had meals at The Dining Room which serves Lanna and Thai cuisine, and it was absolutely sensational, some of the finest food we had during our Chiang Mai stay. Our only complaint would be the humongous serving sizes (detailed below) which stopped us from ordering more!
- Landscaping. Although the resort features a small footprint (detailed below) which means exploration is limited, the landscaping throughout the property is beautiful – with manicured laws by the main structure (which features a croquet lawn). The hotel has also been built around existing nature, including 100+ year-old trees.
- History. There is no doubt the property is entwined with its history. With the main structure now raised on stilts, the ‘basement’ of the main structure has been turned into a museum featuring antique, original pieces owned by previous owners.
POINTS TO NOTE
- Check-in. Welcomed at the arrival lounge, check-in was smooth and efficient, with staff also taking you briefly through some key points of both the hotel and the location to provide orientation, but for a 30-suite property, we are surprised that check-in isn’t conducted in-room.
- Small footprint. Due to its location near the centre of town, the hotel is very much an ‘urban resort’ – a low-build hotel featuring a small footprint. While the hotel does house all the facilities you really need (plenty of dining and lounging spaces, gym and pool), with a small footprint in an urban setting, it is important to manage expectations in terms of setting – unlike at some resorts sitting on the outskirts of town which feature huge spaces, terraced rice-fields and more nature, 137 Pillars House doesn’t immediately lend itself to natural exploration or getting lost on-site.
- Large families. The hotel can certainly very easily accommodate small families in the D.F. Macfie Suites, where the terrace can be converted into an air-conditioned bedroom for a couple of young ones. However, the hotel doesn’t feature any multi-bedroom villas, which can make accommodating larger families for multi-generational travel difficult, although it is still technically possible. On the western side of the hotel, beyond the pool, the William Bain Terrace Suites and Louis Leonowens Pool Suites can combine together to house multiple guests ‘under one roof’, and by being on its own, affording a bit more privacy, although it is still of course very different from being housed in multi-bedroom villas and residences with humongous private pools in resorts that guests may be used to.
- Minor design flaw – TV. I don’t typically go out of our way to watch TV on our travels, and certainly not in resorts – in fact, if a TV isn’t even there (as at many Amans), then I don’t even miss it. However, if it is there, I might catch a movie or a documentary before sleep. The positioning of the TV in-room, by the corner, with the four-poster bed’s frame means that at least one person sleeping in bed won’t have an ideal view of the TV. We have been informed, though, that there have been slight design changes made since our visit to allow for better viewing.
- Food portions. We almost always complain that the food portions at hotels/resorts are far more than they need to be (less is more – we feel that you can always more later if you feel the need to). However, at 137 Pillars House, they really are much, much larger than normally expected – but we were not accordingly warned by the staff. Lowering food portion sizes also allows for two or smaller groups traveling together to order a larger variety from the menu. When ordering, you will want to make it a point to perhaps ask for half-portions for many items, especially if you plan to order a few different items to taste.
- Water in the restaurants. While distilled water in glass bottles is available in-room (and plenty of it), in the restaurants we were only offered charged bottles of still/sparkling water.
- Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi kept cutting out as I moved between locations within the hotel itself and had to constantly (manually) reconnect, which was a minor annoyance.
- Activities. Whether on the hotel’s own website, or even when connecting directly, it does seem as though the hotel doesn’t have a lot of off-site activities that are run directly through the hotel (but rather run through a third party, but bookable through 137 Pillars House). We ended up arranging our own activities independently. We were also surprised to find elephant riding offered as a third-party activity that guests could book, and hope that 137 Pillars House would take a stronger stance on this from a moral standpoint.
- Unsightly condominium. 137 Pillars House is a structure of tranquility and peace, set within walled gardens. Unfortunately, this peace is broken visually by an unsightly condominium development just next door which rises above the gardens (most buildings in Chiang Mai aren’t allowed to be over a certain height – this is one such exception). Although not the fault of the hotel at all, it is just something to note as it does jarringly take away from the otherwise beauty of the place.
- 137 Pillars House is about a 30-minute ride from Chiang Mai International Airport
HOTEL FACT SHEET
- LOCATION: Chiang Mai, Thailand
- OPENED: 2013
- HOTEL ROOMS: 30
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: 0
- RATES FROM: USD 500/night++
Rates are only an approximation and subject to change and availability
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