A luxurious tented camp in the hills of northern Thailand is taking a holistic community approach and redefining sustainable tourism along the way

By Ken Scott

Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of Thailand. The city and its province is a quieter version of Chiang Mai. However, the landscape equals and exceeds Chiang Mai in many aspects, including mountainous grandeur.

Here is a recommendation of where to stay in Chiang Rai – in style and comfort, surrounded by nature, with more than a few touches of opulence: Visama Mae Chan luxury tented camp. And from there you can venture out on a series of day trips that will give insights into Chiang Rai’s heritage, hill tribes, temples, history of opium cultivation, food and handicrafts.

If you base yourself in the luxurious Visama Mae Chan luxury tented camp, a 40 minute drive north of Chiang Rai airport, you can immerse yourself in northern Thai culture without even leaving the resort.

Food as Culture Experience

The tented camp, which opened in December 2023, serves delicious northern Thailand dishes under the guidance of expert chef Suphanit ‘Miu’ Amnuayrit.

For northern Thai classics, Chef Miu recommends Khao Soi Gai Nam Nah, northern curry egg noodles soup with generous portions of chicken, lime, chili, red onion and pickled cabbage.

Also Sai-ua Salad, the flavorsome northern sausage, this time served with green broccolini, tomato, ribbon cucumber and red chili.

And don’t forget Geng Hanglay, the North’s signature succulent braised pork, served in a rich sauce with aromatics, accompanied by rice.

If food is a massive part of your travel experience, try the Visama private cooking school, which uses 100% organic products.

Visama Mae Chan’s kitchen also excels at classic international dishes such as Thai Wagyu Striploin Steak, Baked Barramundi in Tomato Jus, and maybe the ultimate comfort after a day of sightseeing: the Visama Jasmine Beef Burger.

Luxury Camp Amid Nature

Beyond food, the ten luxury-appointed tents at Visama Mae Chan are a destination experience in themselves. Nestled in a mature teak wood grove with mango and fig trees and occasional bursts of color from orchids, allamandas and palm lilies, the whole ambience is serene, interrupted only by birdsong such as the distant and soothing call of coucals.

The spacious well appointed tents on raised platforms come complete with hot shower wc, bathtub, air conditioning, valuables safe, king sized bed, coffee machine, bathrobes, slippers, writing desk and an outsize balcony with plenty of room to relax, eat, drink, read – and have a massage under dappled shade of the surrounding canopy.

In homage to local hill tribe culture, the tents have names such as “Akha”, “Yao”, “Lahu”, and “Lisu”. The sumptuous tents range in size from 48 to 80 sqm, including a 12 or 20 sqm veranda. The largest ones have two bedrooms, suitable for families.

One of the many nice touches are the complementary herbal teas and dried fruit canapes left in your room when you go out.

While it may be tempting to relax all day on your balcony, Visama Mae Chan offers a diverse and full selection of thoughtful in-resort activities and external excursions.

Within the lodge, learn how to paint, make clay pots or practice your hand at archery. Fire-lit movie nights at the outdoor Ambalama gathering place are also popular.

Visama Mae Chan as a Gateway to Chiang Rai

To fully appreciate the hill culture and Buddhist heritage of Chiang Rai province, Visama Mae Chan has created a selection of half- and full-day trips.

For example, the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suen Ten) and the White Temple (Wat Rung Kun) are remarkable. The White Temple is a modern marvel, a breathtaking architectural masterpiece, conceived by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, that transcends traditional Thai temple design.

The Blue Temple was designed by another local artist, Phuttha Kabkaew, a student of Chalemermchai, as both a Buddhist sanctuary and a visual feast for the senses. The vibrant blue facade symbolizes the Dharma, while the interior is adorned with mesmerizing murals depicting Buddhist teachings and mythical tales. A harmonious blend of tradition and contemporary artistry, the Blue Temple invites contemplation and appreciation.

A day trip to Chiang Khong on the Mekong River reminds guests of the cultural and trading influences of the Golden Triangle, the fabled and infamous opium growing region that straddled the mountains of northern Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Since 2013, Chiang Khong market town has had a bridge across the river to Huay Xai in Laos.

Similarly, a half day trip from Visama Mae Chan gives insights to the lives of the Akha and Yao hill tribes. The Yao originated in China and are influenced by Chinese traditions, the Akha originally hailed from Tibet. The lodge also offers trips that give insights into the Karen ‘long neck’ people.

Still traveling comfortably by private vehicle with guide and driver, guests can visit other attractions such as Doi Mae Salong, where nationalist Kuomintang refugees from China fled in 1949.

There are trips to Doi Wawee coffee plantations, an ‘opium trail’ hill tribe village tour, and the Doi Tung botanical gardens in the mountains.

For more physical experiences, guests can hike or mountain bike with guides or try an elephant safari.

The activities and tour options at the resort are flexible and can be tailored to meet guests personal interests. In short, Visama Mae Chan offers multiple thoughtful options for engaging with Chiang Rai past and present.

Wellness and Giving Back

Guests at Visama Mae Chan are also invited to engage with self as well as place.

Massage and yoga are key experiences. Visama has engaged the best local practitioners. On yoga, for example, their advice is: listen to your body; be in the moment; forget about what you used to do; choose function over form; avoid seeing yoga as a competition, even with yourself; choose function over form.

Visama’s commitment to wellbeing extends to the local community. The luxury tented camp employs women from the neighboring Friends of Thai Daughters Foundation. The charity, registered in the U.S., helps prevent child trafficking by empowering vulnerable girls to become valued daughters, educated women and independent adults.

As Visama’s commitment to sourcing and using local and organic food products grows, it will start monthly farmers’ markets. Proceeds from these events will go towards helping the Friends of Thai Daughters Foundation.

As part of giving back, Visama guests can plant a tree species of their choice. They pay a small fee to do so. That sum goes to the foundation.

Visama Mae Chan co-founder, Mr Christopher Stafford says: “Our luxury tented camp is a holistic experience. We give guests the opportunity to learn from northern nature and culture, embrace the art of living well, and at the same time give back in a meaningful way to the local community.”

Apart from ‘a la carte’ bookings, Visama Mae Chan offers a range of three- and four-day packages showcasing the best of Chiang Rai for the discerning visitor.

Welcome to Visama Mae Chan, an opulent basecamp for experiencing the best of Chiang Rai.

Lost your password?