As a former resident of Northern Thailand who had to visit Chiang Mai on a fairly regular basis for work, I searched long and hard for a comfortable and pleasant guesthouse around THB500 price range. After two years of trying out all sorts of places, from hostels with paper thin walls and strange stains on the sheets, to expensive boutique hotels – at price ranges from THB90 to THB800 per night – I found myself repeatedly calling up Nat Len Boutique Guesthouse and reserving a room.
So what makes Nat Len so special? Well, most guesthouses in the same price range have a certain feeling of grubbiness about them. The bathrooms in particular seem to leave you feeling somehow more dirty than when you entered sticky from a day about the city. There is often nowhere to put your toiletries and, due to the open plan layout of Thai showers, water everywhere and nothing more than a grimy mat to dry your feet on. Beds and pillows ranged from passable to uncomfortable. Wi-Fi and food quality again range from sparse to downright undesirable.
As a business traveler and resident of the country, I found it very difficult to stay at the average backpacker hostel. The noise, quality and general atmosphere was more conducive to a drunken week than a rejuvenating nights rest. Though I would often meet friends in the evening and stay out late enjoying the nightlife on occasion, it was important that I had somewhere I could really feel at home to meet the next day’s work with a fresh face. Nat Len provided that, and at affordable rates for backpackers.
What I love most about Nat Len is the simple yet quintessentially Thai décor, with ample use of bamboo, most pleasant to the eye and a very comfortable furniture arrangement. The bathroom, oh, the bathroom! There seemed almost too much surface space to lay out my toothpaste and toothbrush; the long, narrow space meant that a shower could be had at one end, leaving your towels and, importantly, the floor, dry at the other end. The beds are very comfortable and extra blankets are left in the wardrobe if you should get chilly. Excepting the absolute hottest months of the year when air conditioning is a necessity for sleep, I found the fan rooms more than adequate.
For the traveler, Nat Len staff are well informed and extremely helpful. One night, when I arrived back from a long work day quite late, the young man on the front desk used his Pizza Hut membership number to order me a pizza at a discounted rate! There are motorbikes and bicycles available for rent and a wealth of activity brochures in the lobby next to the Tour Counter. For those with gadgets, the Wi-Fi quality is excellent, and there is a PC in the lobby for those that need it. Food wise, the kitchen produces a delicious array of basic, everyday Thai dishes, made just like the locals enjoy them, and at local prices; it was always a point of contention for me that guesthouses would charge almost double the norm for a plate of fried rice! The menu includes fresh fruit smoothies and lassis (a beverage made of yogurt and water and flavored with spices, fruit, or other ingredients.) is available until early evening.
Located not far from the South Gate in the Old City, Nat Len is right on the edge of the famous Sunday Walking Street market, yet somehow remains unpolluted by the noise. Set down a tiny “soi” (laneway) off a main thoroughfare, I sometimes had to direct the tuk-tuk driver there myself, but once you orient yourself on the map, it is easy to find – so make sure to take a screen shot of the address in Thai from the website! Just across the road is Wild Rose Yoga Studio, one of the best in the city, and, being in a central location, most of what Old Chiang Mai has to offer the intrepid backpacker is within a ten minute walk.
Former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is a visually beautiful city, filled with temples, museums, restaurants, ceramics showrooms and unique little art and craft stores, particularly along Thapae Road, not to mention the often wondrous arrangement of everyday Thai life. The ruins of the city wall and four stone gates leading across the moat surround the Old City, with the more modern sprawl and large shopping malls located beyond. Saturdays and Sundays see Walking Street Markets filled with local crafts, art and clothing. Visit the daily evening market along the south wall to enjoy the “street food” and a roti for dessert. It is very safe to eat food from a street cart and is common practice among the locals. Check out the North Gate Jazz Club for rousing live music nightly, or let your hair down until the wee hours at the Reggae Bar.
Chiang Mai has a little something for everyone. The best way to enjoy it is to simply get out there and see where the day takes you. There are ample online resources and guidebooks to help you get the most out of your stay. Make it extra enjoyable by basing yourself somewhere that feels just like home, such as the pleasant, comfortable and well-priced Nat Len Boutique Guesthouse. You can be sure I’ll be booking a room there on my next trip!