Your Mum is coming to visit. You want to make it special for her, not in an over-the-top, jam-packed, tourist activity overload sort of way, just special. Memorable.
Okay, that you is really me. But if you’re anything like me, you’re planning the trip in a ‘I-want-to-make-it-perfect-even-though-she-is-just-here-to-see-me-and-I-know-that-but-I-still-want-it-to-be-perfect’ kind of way. No? Alrighty then..
I’d heard about Chiang Dao, a small town 80km north of bustling Chiang Mai city, but other than its proximity and the fact that it cost 40 Baht ($1.30) by local bus to get there, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured if it was indeed a hideous place, we weren’t too far from ‘home’. At worst, we could go for a night, see some nice scenery and come back the next day.
A small resort called Chiang Dao Nest kept jumping out at me during my accommodation searches. A pool? Award winning restaurant? Twenty five dollars a night? It seemed too good to be true.
But something told me to give it a try. It had great reviews on ‘Travelfish’, which was a good sign, but I had become a little suspicious of internet claims and chose to be realistic about the fact that this was in fact budget accommodation (even though we have been staying in digs about half that price for the last three months!).
I needn’t have worried.
After our 90min bus ride, we took a taxi 7km out-of-town to the ‘Nest’. I was apprehensive about what we would be greeted with, as I wanted Mum’s short time in Thailand to be special. I have stayed in so many bungalow style guest houses over the last few months, so I warned her that it might be a little ‘rustic’.
My previous experience has taught me it’s all ‘Gilligan’s Island’ in the beginning, but eventually the crappy bathrooms and armies of insects make life less than enjoyable. But still, something told me this place would be different, and I decided to trust my gut.
After a warm welcome by the owner Wicha and restaurant manager Puk, we sipped chilled lemongrass tea and took in the magical surroundings. Giant trees towered over the simply designed property, finished in wood, bamboo and thatch. The immaculately presented bungalows arched around a central garden, providing an attractive foreground to the main event, the dramatic limestone mountains that looked like they were trying to escape the clinging jungle and become part of the milky, misty sky.
This is perfect, I thought to myself, overwhelmed by natural beauty and genuine hospitality.
When we were shown to our bungalow, I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite their rustic exterior, carefully thought out touches like locally produced linens, miniature bottles of kaffir lime shampoo, handmade soaps and carefully folded bathrobes, immediately made me feel like we had stumbled upon a very special place indeed.
And that was confirmed over and over again during the next three days (yes, we stayed an extra night).
Now before I go on, it’s not everyday I rave about a place, in fact most places we have stayed have been pretty mediocre, and lets face it, on a backpacker’s budget that’s all we are entitled to expect. But I was so genuinely impressed, that if I was to own something like it, I’d want it to be exactly like this.
It wasn’t just the amazing mountain views, the stunning pool surrounded by giant bamboo and frangipani plantations, the immaculate bungalows or the delectable food that was amazing. It was also the staff.
The manager Puk would bounce in at around 8am to begin her day shift.
“Did you sleep well?” she would inquire sincerely, suspending her usually bright smile whilst she waited for our answer.
One day after lunch she brought out a small plate of jackfruit cooked in honey that her Mother had prepared.
Another day, I popped back to the bungalow after a swim to be greeted with a knock at the door. When I opened it, another staff member presented me with a small basket of Thai fruit – hairy rambutans, scaly snake-fruit and deliciously tangy mangosteens.
Mum and I spent one afternoon reading, laying on Thai-style day beds spread across the floor of an open-sided bungalow. Just after we settled in, a jug of ice water and two glasses was delivered. It was small, thoughtful touches like these that made our stay so enjoyable.
On the first evening we dined on delicious European fare at the on-site restaurant. Our meals would not have been out-of-place at a five-star hotel or michelin-star restaurant. On the second and third evenings, we dined at the neighbouring property ‘Nest 2’ that is home to an amazing Thai restaurant. Multi-course menus are designed to introduce a range of different flavours and textures, and they were all delectable. One stand out dish was a crispy noodle salad with pork, shallots, lemongrass and coriander. I’ve never tasted anything like it.
‘Nest 2’ is the newest property, situated 700m from number 1, and whilst the restaurant was amazing, we were glad to be staying at ‘Nest 1’ due to the genuinely friendly service we received.
Of course, Chiang Dao itself has a lot to offer outside gourmet food and comfortable digs. We climbed the five hundred and something steps to the top of hill-side monastery where monks prepared to eat breakfast.
We did attempt to extricate ourselves from the comforts of the Nest to visit Chiang Dao cave one afternoon, but we got there after five and it was already closed. I can’t say I was really that bothered.
Oh well, off to dinner…
That was about the extent of our ‘sight seeing’. There was a couple of lovely Dutch girls staying at the property, who would come in panting after an afternoons’ trekking, whilst we lazed around the pool devouring books and inhaling the magical view.
“How was it?” we’d ask, interested to hear about their adventures, but not at all inclined to follow suit. All that sweating and dirt…
Usually I’m an antsy traveller, always wanting to see something different or explore an activity, but the Nest was just so relaxing and so beautiful, that I really didn’t want to leave its cozy embrace.
The ‘sights’ came to us anyway. Every morning, we would throw open the door, excited to see which mountain would be there to greet us. Would it be the stark, dramatic silhouette against a clear blue sky, or shrouded in mist, barely visible?
In the afternoons, we sat on our terrace in bamboo armchairs sipping Thai iced-tea with lime, reading or just staring up at the view.
When it was sadly time to leave, we were presented with bottles of water and a small packet of pineapple biscuits for the bus ride. Wicha, the owner, drove us to the bus stop herself, as she was on her way to town.
As Mum and I were carried away by the rickety local bus, a light rain dotted the glass and the mountains of Chiang Dao glided past. We munched on our little biscuits, a final reminder of the ‘Nest’, a place that had given us what we hoping for but didn’t think we’d find – total bliss.
This is not a sponsored post, we were full paying customers, though my Mum’s jaw dropped when she saw the bill because of how cheap it was. For around $25 per night for a double bungalow, I just cannot think of anywhere that would deliver more value. The Nest isn’t just somewhere to stay, it is an experience unto itself, one that I would encourage anyone visiting North Thailand to have.
Chiang Dao is quiet and picturesque, you can trek, do tours and visit caves, monasteries and temples. But it doesn’t appear an overly touristy place, which is part of its charm.
The Nest is also very family friendly. There is a designated play area for kids and lots of room to run around. The owners have two kids of their own, and five-year old Alice seems happy to show new friends around.
Though I don’t think the website does this place justice, you can make inquiries and bookings here.