If you visit Chiang Mai and never get out of town for at least a night, you’re to really experiencing Chiang Mai. While there’s plenty to see in Chiang Mai’s Old City and surrounding neighborhoods, the region’s real charm lies in its rural rice fields and jungle covered mountains. Just drive 30 minutes outside the center of town and you’ll start to see open spaces and how . Go a little bit further and you’ll feel worlds away from the northern Thai hub.
Like when you head out to Mala Dhara Eco Resort.
A new eco resort in the Doi Saket district, Mala Dhara offers the perfect place to get away, especially if you only have a night or two available. The intimate resort and organic farm is just under an hour drive from the Old City yet surrounded by mountains and rice fields. With earthen adobe brick villas, a bamboo dorm building, saltwater pool and organic vegan restaurant, Mala Dhara offers incredible comfort and design while still being eco-friendly.
Here you can lounge in your own spacious villa (for around just $60 USD per night), enjoy a leisurely breakfast overlooking the resort’s rice fields, fit in a yoga class and simply unwind.
As with any destination, however, the true draw of Mala Dhara isn’t the place – though that’s what will first catch your eye – but the people who are passionately working to bring it to life. The resort started out with the largest building being owner Ploy’s house. Inspired by other organic farms and permaculture communities in northern Thailand, Ploy found the perfect plot of land and went about building her dream house surrounded by a modest garden and beginning of a rice field. The house turned out big and beautiful, and she had more space, so thought about building a smaller house for friends to come stay in while visiting. From there the idea grew and after nearly five years of building up the property bit by bit, and adding even more land for larger gardens and rice fields, Mala Dhara opened last year. The passion project may have grown into a larger undertaking than she originally set out for, but the purpose and atmosphere around the property continues to stay true to Ploy’s initial dream: learning to be humble and be grateful for the Earth and Mother Nature. (You can get an inside look on what life is like at Mala Dhara by following Ploy’s Instagram!
While the resort is open to overnight guests, it was also designed to function as a unique retreat space for yoga groups and wellness practitioners to hold retreats. With that in mind the property has two open-air yoga shalas (platforms) and runs its own monthly weekend yoga retreats throughout the year which you can find on their events page.
If you don’t have time to stay at Mala Dhara during your time in Chiang Mai, driving out to do the yoga class and steam is a great way to still experience the special space and beauty of northern Thailand – climbing out from the steam room and dousing yourself with cool water under the stars with fields surrounding you and a bonfire is pretty magical.
Of course, any experience in Thailand wouldn’t be complete without the food and staying at the Mala Dhara is no different. The vegetarian and vegan restaurant, Kin Dee (which translates to ‘eat well’), offers a creative menu that often changes depending on what produce is in season and what its vegan chefs are in the mood for with many ingredients (including vegetables, peanuts, limes and all the rice!) coming straight from the Mala Dhara organic farm. Here slow food is savored, but not stuffy. Yes, they have raw, vegan desserts…but there’s also plenty of red wine.
Villas at Mala Dhara Eco Resort in Chiang Mai are priced starting at 2,000 baht in the low season and 2,300 baht in the high season from October – February. (The rice harvest is at the beginning of December so one of the nest times to stay at the property in is November when the fields are a brilliant green.) The property also has a bamboo dorm with beds for just 300 baht per night, however guests attending an event, workshop or retreat at the resort receive priority, so dorm beds may not always be available. As always, it’s smart to book well in advance online at http://maladhara.com. I know that the resort is nearly solidly booked with retreats for this upcoming high season so the best way to find when rooms are available is to search availability and book instantly online from their website.
To reach Mala Dhara, its also best to contact the resort and have them organize a driver to pick you up from the Chiang Mai International Airport or anywhere else in town. You can easily drive yourself out with a rented car or motorbike but I wouldn’t suggest trying to organise your own driver and having them try to figure out where it is…surprisingly drivers here seem to often get confused with directions even if they have a map.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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