Chiang Mai has morphed into a rapidly growing, modern city over the last 20 years but one individual, Suchet Suwanmongkol has strived to preserve the city’s architectural heritage and has built a living museum and monument to the Lanna Kingdom –the Dhara Dhevi Hotel.
Suwanmongkol wanted to preserve the beauty of the kingdom, once a separate country, reigning from the 13th to19th century. Surrounded by Burma, Laos and Thailand, it was heavily influenced by these cultures.
The kingdom reigned for 600 years before the Queen of England who had already colonised Burma tried to take possession of the Lanna Kingdom. The Thai King protested and married the Lanna princess, Dhara Dhevi and it was once again reunited with Thailand.
Concerned at the loss of a bygone era, Suwanmongkol and a team of architects designed an ancient walled city and started construction in 2001.
As with cities of the time, the city rice barn and the market place were outside the city walls to stop enemies spying with a “sing song” bridge to warn the cities inhabitants of impending friends or foe.
The walled city is 60-acres and has working rice fields, buffalos, moats, a palace, rich man’s houses, poor man’s houses, temples, a spa, restaurants and reception buildings with seven tiered spurs, signifying the steps to nirvana.
Using all the sense Suwanmongkol wanted people to experience the real culture of Thailand where they could learn to harvest rice, Thai dance, weaves baskets, relax and reflect.
Guests ride around the city on bikes.
As Lonely Planet so aptly put it, the “It’s a kingdom unto itself.”