Having everything ready “just in case” seemed to be a major theme of the property. They seemed fully staffed, with more employees available at all times than guests anywhere you went. They have an activity schedule of such things as archery, Thai boxing, ball exercise, Batic Art (I admit, I had to look it up) and Yoga. Guests almost never showed up, but the staff members were prepared and in place – just in case anyone did.
The same is true for the pool, and the gym. The fitness facility is lovely, with a large supply of bottled water and towels and a nice bathroom to accompany the brand new machines with built-in TV (I didn’t notice if there was internet, but don’t think there was) and weight machines as well as ample free weights. The gym attendant would offer to assist with workouts. I don’t think anyone else visited the gym besides us during out stay. [Tip: if you want self-service complimentary bottled water, and for whatever reason the hotel doesn’t give you enough – they do deliver to your room more than once a day, and provide it at the pool, but only a bottle each at a time – you could grab some down in the gym.]
The pool, at least with how deserted it was during our stay, was a highlight.
There’s a pool attendant whose job is to make up lounge chairs and bring each guest a cold bottle of water and cold towel. He’s invisible and non-intrusive, while you approach and pick out your preferred spot. But once you make your selection he comes running and springs into action. (I did like that the pool lounge chairs had stowable drink trays built-in.) The staff member at the pool would wait hours and hours on end, just in case somebody decided to come out to the pool. Chances are, no one would.
The pool-side menu was served from the Italian restaurant, Favola, right next to it. The food arrived quickly and was high-quality.
The revenue manager explained that the Italian restaurant focus was aimed to some degree at the local Chiang Rai market – a nice Italian place on the water to bring in outside business. We did see some non-guests there our first evening (a Saturday) but not again during our stay.
The one criticism I’d have of the pool service, and it’s minor, is that one day during our stay it began to rain heavily. We gathered up our stuff, and retreated back to our room. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the pool staffer to come out with an umbrella and escort us.
In addition to the pool, there’s a lovely spot to relax with lounge chairs right on the river.
Consistent with Le Meridien’s branding themselves with art, there’s a complimentary hotel shuttle which takes you not only to Chiang Rai town and back (four times daily) but also to the Royal Collection of Lanna Art at Rai Mae Fah Luang (twice daily, timed to give you a little over an hour to visit before bring you back).
Evening turndown service included not just refreshed towels and more waters. They also brought a different history card each day, talking about the local area, for example Doi Mae Salong, Wat Prakaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Monument of King Mengrai, and Phra That Doi Tung.
And each evening different chocolate treats were delivered complimentary, along with a note about an honor or accolade the hotel had won (it’s on the Conde’ Nast Hotlist for 2009, for instance). Usually the accolade was written in chocolate on chocolate, accompanying the chocolate.
The spa was an outstanding facility. And of course nobody was using it. They were offering 20% off as well as treatment specials in order to encourage use, and the spa manager would accompany a masseuse out to the pool on occasion when guests were there to offer a complimentary brief massage, in the hopes that such might stimulate the thought of additional treatments. I didn’t take them up on it poolside, but did have a couple of excellent treatments.
There’s wireless internet in the lobby, and wired internet in the guest rooms. It’s complimentary in the lobby, you just need to get a code (which you sign for) for one-hours’ use from the library attendant (the library is a very peaceful space) or from the concierge if it’s outside of the library’s usual hours. One tip is that the code they give you for wireless in the lobby will also work for wired in your room, so if you load up on those codes then internet in the room can be had for free as well.
Personally I’m not a fan of wired-only internet in the room, which is why I bring my own pocket router. That way we aren’t tied to the desk, and we can both be online at the same time.
One little frustration was the desk area, there just weren’t enough outlets, they really could use a power strip by the desk. The outlets are universal, so I never took out my converters during the trip, so that was a positive.
The room has a menu of extensive Instant Award offerings, from room upgrades (the bottom room category up to the Grande Deluxe River View runs 2250 points/night), late checkout (6pm checkout is 2250 points), DVD Player – which the hotel website lists as standard in all rooms though mine didn’t have one – at a whopping 4500 points per day, airport transfer, spa services, meals, internet access, day tours, even sundries like floss and shaving gel.
I realize in re-reading this review that I’ve focused mostly on the small negatives, and other than the room service issue on our first night they weren’t even really negatives at all. In point of fact, Le Meridien Chiang Rai was amazing. On the whole, it may well have provided the best service I’ve had at a hotel – in large measure because it was universally warm service. Everyone knew you, knew your name, knew your preferences, sought to engage you (but also to be unobtrusive).
When we left the resort, the General Manager was there again to see us off. But she wasn’t alone. We had mentioned to her how much we had enjoyed the food, and so the hotel’s chef was there to thank us for the compliment and bid us well. And that last morning we had done a cooking class at the hotel (more on that in a subsequent post), and so the chef who guided our instruction joined them in seeing us off.
I have no idea how well the hotel will execute with occupancies at 70% (or for that matter even 50%!) but it was a special place, indeed. I’m truly lucky to have visited and to have had the place virtually to myself. I like the Le Meridien Khao Lak, for instance, because it offers the best value for money in hardware – an oceanfront bungalow with private pool for less than $250 a night. But the food, service, and ambiance were so much better here. And in essence we had our own private pool – the resort’s main three-layered infinity pool.
All in all it’s better than what I have seen at one of the Four Seasons properties in Bali. And such a value, with rates running around $135 a night or $45 plus 2800 points for a cash and points redemption. And there’s some chance perhaps that if they’d reduce rates a bit (and perhaps they do, in package offers?) that they would wind up a category 2 next year.