Sustaining Tradition

Raya Heritage is a boutique hotel in Chiang Mai that tells a charming story of local artisanship and architecture without resorting to pastiche or reproduction


In northern Thailand, culture-laden Chiang Mai has just received another jewel in the form of Raya Heritage. The boutique hotel, designed by Thai architect Boonlert Hemvijitraphan of Boon Design, stands out from the crowd of resorts for the refreshing manner in which it adopts vernacular Lanna architecture.

Hemvijitraphan has worked his magic by creating spaces that are in harmony with their natural surroundings. Lush greenery wraps gently around the entrance, a low-key portico of white walls and layered terracotta roofs. The intimate scale here belies the dramatic, lofty foyer beyond, where statuesque timber columns frame the Ping River. The dining spaces and spa tiered around this voluminous space partake in the mise en scène of spatial drama and oneness with nature.

The plan is straightforward: an L-shape with the longer guestroom wing aligned parallel to the river; this clever gesture means all guestrooms have clear views onto the water. The spirit of traditional Lanna architecture informs the design, but its application is thoughtful. Founded over 700 years ago, the Lanna Kingdom dominated most of what is now northern Thailand, stretching from China’s Xishuangbanna Province to some parts of Myanmar. Its buildings were characterised by simplicity, serenity and humility — a reflection of its people who are bound closely to the land through their livelihoods.

In order to fit 33 rooms into the modest plot, a three-storey building was necessary. This is counter to the low-rise language of the vernacular settlement, so Hemvijitraphan’s response was to stretch the roof edges as low as possible — just enough to adjust the sense of scale without obstructing the views from the interior. Here, terracotta roof tiles add a rustic touch.

The generously sized guestrooms offer relaxed living, with large, naturally ventilated verandas that are well shaded by the deep eaves. Whitewashed walls and natural materials, in the form of woven bamboo mats, teak-framed mirrors, ceramic tiles in the bathrooms, and handmade lacquerware, grace the spaces, which are subtly themed by  indigo, black and white colour palettes.

The natural fabrics used, such as cotton, hemp, linen, are sourced from weaving cooperatives in villages that are among the last in Thailand to employ age-old methods of spinning and weaving. Throughout the hotel are fabrics dyed in a rich, deep blue colour that comes from the leaves of local indigofera tinctoria.

This fastidious attention to detail means that throughout the property there is much to see and feel. For example, brick pavers lend tactility underfoot and ‘clouds’ of lighting fixtures in the all-day-dining restaurant Khu Khao reference the threshing baskets used by Northern Thai farmers in the past.   

As the name suggests, heritage is at the heart of this retreat, but it is not merely a showpiece reconstructed wholesale. Hemvijitraphan’s deftness at weaving together equal measures of history and modernity makes the hotel a work of art that delights and charms. 

Text / Jingmei Luo
Images / Wison Tungthunya