Chai Lai Orchid: A feel-good retreat in Northern Thailand
NORTHERN Thailand is in some ways a region of contradictions – the beauty of the area is unparalleled but there are many little-known communities there that suffer due to political circumstances beyond their control.
Chai Lai Orchid presents an opportunity for guests to appreciate the beauty of this region of Thailand, and to not only learn about the darker side of Thailand, but do something about it as well. Run by an American woman seeking to help prevent women from impoverished communities from being taken advantage of, Chai Lai Orchid offers a unique and memorable experience.
What makes it special?
Chai Lai Orchid is a socially conscious eco-resort situated in the mountains of Mae Wang, about an hour outside Chiang Mai. The resort is accessed by crossing a bridge from the main road, and the property is enveloped in a sense of calm and serenity.
In addition to being picturesque, Chai Lai Orchid is staffed by members of the Karen and Shan ethnic communities. These two groups are among the most disenfranchised in Thailand. Founder and owner Alexa Pham opened the resort as a way to provide opportunities for women who are at risk of human trafficking, which is a very real threat for women in these ethnic communities. She trains them in all areas of hospitality, including accounting, computer skills, housekeeping, cooking and guest services, in the hope that they will be able to secure good jobs for themselves outside of their villages if they so desire. Villagers in the ethnic hill tribe areas often receive little formal education, and their tenuous residency status can make it difficult to gain access to schooling and job training, and Pham aims to improve the chances for those who work for her.
What to expect?
The bungalows at Chai Lai Orchid are built in a jungle setting, overlooking the Mae Wang River. These are not your standard thatched hut dwellings, however – they are built with a lovely dark wood and the sparse but comfortable furnishings convey the simplicity and elegance of life at Chai Lai Orchid. There is free WiFi in the CLO cafe.
There is a cafe on the premises at CLO where you can order yummy Thai fare, as well as Western breakfast staples such as banana pancakes or a grilled ham and cheese sandwich if you really having a hankering for one. The chef is a graduate of Pham’s hospitality training program, and you won’t be disappointed with what she turns out.
The cafe overlooks the river and is an ideal place to relax with a cup of tea or beer and reflect on your travels while the water rushes by. You’ll also get to observe the small herd of elephants at the elephant camp across the river, including a feisty baby girl who is not yet three months old.
What is there to do?
Guests can spend a day with an elephant, learning how to bathe and care for them while working alongside a trained mahout. The camp also offers elephant rides, and Pham has been working to educate mahouts and the camp owner on practicing ethical and humane elephant tourism, and discourages guests from visiting camps where a chair is used for riding.
Guests can also ride a bamboo raft down the river or trek into the mountains, which is a great way to appreciate the immense natural beauty of the area. Those who are interested in learning more about hill tribe culture can arrange for a homestay in a Karen village.
The best part about Chai Lai Orchid is that it is a peaceful place that allows guests to feel connected with the wonders and people of Northern Thailand away from the distractions of the city.
What’s the damage?
Deluxe bungalow rooms are $75 a night, and sleep two, with floor space for two additional sleeping mats. If you visit before September 30, take advantage of the discounted summer rate at $60 a night.
The Chai Lai Orchid, 202 Moo 9 T. Mae Win, Mae Wang, Chiang Mai.