Si Kham, Thailand

Photo: Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort & Spa

What’s your favorite mountain destination? Vermont’s Green Mountains. Washington’s Cascades. Switzerland’s Bernese Alps. Argentina’s Sierras de Córdoba. Japan’s Akaishi Mountains. New Zealand’s Southern Alps. All excellent, if not predictable, choices. It’s time to check out some different peaks.

Thailand isn’t usually associated with mountains. Beaches? Yes. Temples? Of course. Food? Definitely. But no one claims they’re traveling to this popular Southeast Asian country for its mountains. That’s too bad. The Daen Lao Range is one of Thailand’s hidden gems.

The Daen Lao Range is part of the Shan Hills that stretch from Northern Thailand to eastern Myanmar and stop just short of the Golden Triangle. Its mountains aren’t particularly high. Doi Nang Non (Mountain of the Sleeping Lady), a karstic formation, rises only 4,500 feet. But elevated plains, steep river valleys, limestone caves, and hidden waterfalls are inserted among them. Their remoteness has left hill tribes isolated and opium smugglers largely unchecked.

Photo: Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort & Spa

One of Thailand’s first boutique resorts is also hidden in these mountains. Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort is surrounded by 800 acres of unspoiled tropical forest on the hillside of Doi Mae Salong. The family-owned resort was created by one of Thailand’s most famous interior designers. She was already a nature lover when she fell in love with the mountain and valley views outside of Chiang Rai. The property, along the Mae Nam Kham River, features two water reservoirs, a spring-fed waterfall, an organic vegetable farm, a fruit orchard, herb gardens, and hundreds of types of native bamboo. Rustling trees, chirping crickets, and croaking frogs are the only sounds you’ll hear way out here.

Instead of noise, you’ll be surrounded by lots of peaceful nooks and crannies at Phu Chaisai (Mountain of Clear Heart). It starts in the reception area. Like all of the resort’s buildings, it’s an open-air sala with bamboo beams and a high thatched roof. Low couches, soft textiles, and potted plants fill the resting area and library. It immediately puts you at ease. Terra-cotta walkways lead to the restaurant, the spa, and the pool. The dining space, overlooking a koi pond, uses locally sourced ingredients, including arabica coffee. The Bamboo Spa offers heated volcanic stone massages. While the infinity pool has an endless jungle view.

Your favorite nook will undoubtedly be your cottage, though. The private pool cottage is tucked away at the edge of the resort. A sweet-smelling, meandering path leads through the gardens to your circular room. There’s a handcrafted canopy bed inside. But you’ll spend most of your time on the open-air terrace. It has a large daybed, a hidden shower, and, most importantly, a plunge pool. It’s the best spot to enjoy the fresh mountain air.

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