Escape to Chiang Mai for a yoga retreat

Explore the quieter side of Thailand's Chiang Mai at a new mountain resort

Chiang Mai has seen something of an explosion in Chinese tourist numbers in recent years, inspired by the film Lost In Thailand, and the country’s open visa requirements for Chinese nationals. Driving around central Chiang Mai, it is easy to see the influence of this – there are signs in Chinese, Chinese restaurants and many people speaking Mandarin. It’s not long before we start to feel we’ve not come that far from Shanghai after all. But Chiang Mai’s real attraction lies outside of the tourist traps in the city centre, in the stunning, rolling folds of mountains wrapping around the city.


Set about 30 minutes from the city in the lush countryside, The Pavana Chiang Mai Resort has established itself as a health centre in a natural paradise, promoting relaxation and well-being. The whole resort, nestled between local villages and farms, oozes peace and tranquility, with dark wooden huts, an abundance of greenery and an army of smiling staff with their palms pressed together, namaste style.


The Pavana is built not so much as a holiday resort, but as a rejuvenation haven for these who need to recharge. Morning meditation classes are offered free for all residents, starting at sun-rise at the top of a hill that looks down over fields and farms of luscious green.


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One of The Pavana’s key attractions is its comprehensive detox programmes, run by the extremely charismatic ‘Doctor Tony’. Detoxers are put on a programme of juices, smoothies, soups, supplements and teas, with the occasional light meal thrown in. Doctor Tony seems suspiciously jolly for a man about to starve you, but he also says he regularly practices what he preaches and he certainly looks healthy enough. If you’ve time, he recommends going for the full seven-day cleanse – which sounds like a scary amount of time without any food, but is apparently the most optimal for your health. Luckily, there is such a full schedule of refreshment that practically every hour detoxers are delivering something into an otherwise-empty tummy. For those too weak (or lazy) to collect it themselves, smiling staff will deliver a smoothie to your sunbed while you lounge by the pool.


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But if starving yourself of all that delicious Thai food doesn’t appeal, there is a plethora of ways to get healthy. The resort offers a range of fitness opportunities including invigorating morning yoga, Pilates, Muay Thai boxing, aqua fitness, tai chi, mindfulness sessions, and guided hikes with campfires. And to round off your complete relaxation, you can indulge in a Thai Massage at the open-air Bamboo Spa (140RMB for one hour).


Almost too-cruelly, for a resort where many residents are fasting, the on-site Radiance Restaurant offers delicious Thai food at its best. Using ingredients from its own organic farm, the outlet prepares lipsmacking dishes; we highly recommend the Kaow Soi, a Chiang Mai local curry noodle soup with chicken (35RMB), the Thom Yum Goong spicy prawn soup with lemongrass (36RMB) and the Green Thai Curry (22RMB).


Wonderful as Pavana is, it would be a shame to spend a week in a resort without exploring the local area, and it’s well worth hiring bikes and spending an afternoon pootling about your surroundings. Peddling through the neighbouring villages gives panoramic views of farms and water buffalo, along with friendly locals and waves of endless, characteristic smiles. If all the health and detox-ness is getting a bit much, then there are also local restaurants and a small array of local shops en route should you feel an urge for a sneaky bar of chocolate or the like, and there’s also a village temple to stop and admire.


In short, The Pavana is the kind of place that will make you feel whole again. If like us, you enjoy your food a bit too much for a full-week detox, dive into trying a range of exercises, explore Chiang Mai without the tourists, and soak up a perfect week of the best that Thailand has to offer.


Getting there Direct flights from Shanghai to Chiang Mai start from around 3,080RMB with Spring Airlines, and take four hours. The Pavana can arrange airport transfers.


Where to stay Prices at The Pavana range from a Pool Deluxe Room at 418RMB per night up to a four-bedroom villa for 5,117RMB. Packages including detox treatments, therapies and fitness classes are also available; prices vary depending on season. Visit The Pavana website for more details.

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