Julie Miller discovers the ultimate in luxury and exclusivity at a private guesthouse in Chiang Mai.
Browsing through accommodation listings for Chiang Mai, you might come across a homestay called Howie’s Place. Sounds like a friendly, humble abode, right?
Well, you’d be partly right – this private guesthouse located in Mae Rim, on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, is warm and welcoming – but downmarket it certainly isn’t!
Howie’s Homestay is the palatial home of ex-pat Bostonian businessman Howard Feldman and his Thai wife Jerri, a magnificent Lanna-style compound designed by Bill Bensley in 2001. Bensley, of course, is the brilliant architect who changed the face of luxury hotel design in Thailand, his distinctive, opulent style best known through award-winning properties such as Four Seasons Tented Camp in the Golden Triangle, Siam Hotel in Bangkok and Indigo Pearl in Phuket, amongst others.
Featured in Architectural Digest magazine, the Feldman home is considered Bensley’s best residential work to date. It features all the hallmarks of his style – open-air pavilions, water features, hidden nooks, eclectic antiques and a twist on traditional Thai design. Visually, it’s a feast – yet it’s also highly practical, with comfortable living spaces, a huge kitchen and entertaining areas and private sleeping quarters.
It’s a huge space for just one couple, however – and being affable and social people, Howie and Jerri decided to share their personal paradise nearly three years ago, opening their home to paying guests. Using their friend Richard Branson’s Necker Island as a model, they now offer accommodation on an exclusive basis, accepting only one booking at a time to ensure privacy and a truly special experience for parties of up to eight people.
Such luxury naturally comes at a price – but the nightly rate of 32,000 baht per double (A$1200) includes accommodation in either a one-bedroom villa or three-bedroom guesthouse, home-cooked meals (courtesy of Jerri), all beverages, laundry and transfers from the airport. It’s five-star all the way, with all the features and amenities of a luxury hotel, but without the crowds.
You could call it a private resort – that’s how fabulous it is. It’s particularly popular with honeymooners, for family reunions or for a small group looking for a unique experience.
“This sort of accommodation attracts a certain type of person,” Howie explains to me as we wander along a walkway overlooking a tranquil lily pond. “People who stay here enjoy the one-on-one approach – they want to develop dialogue, have a chat. They like that they are sharing our private home, and become part of our world. It’s like having friends to stay – good food, good wine, great company.”
And what about the name – isn’t it an unorthodox choice for a luxury property?
“Well, it is my home, after all!” Howie laughs. “And I figure if you can’t approach your business with some sense of levity, you’re doing it wrong.”