At a Glance
There are only 15 tents and one explorer's lodge at this luxury camp, situated where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar along the Mekong Delta, and staying here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Guests arriving by longtail boat get a full view of the expansive grounds, grasslands and bamboo forests, and, tucked into the landscape, the luxurious tented suites. Featuring architect and landscape designer Bill Bensley’s beautiful design, the accommodations have soaring ceilings, romantic canopied beds, photoshoot- worthy handmade bath tubs and outdoor decks for lounging—and wildlife sightings. Guests can explore the surrounding sites in the Golden Triangle area, including Chiang Rai, the Chinese Temple, the Blue and White Temples and the Hall of Opium museum, or arrange private excursions to see the remote hill tribes and experience local markets. Pinch-me days end with equally special sundowners at Burma Bar, on the roof of a 1970’s Land Rover or on the guest’s private deck, followed by dinner of Thai specialties in the open-air restaurant or in a private jungle setting.
The Standout: The Explorer’s Lodge, a two-bedroom villa suite, which sleeps up to six, with a private infinity pool and a perfect sunset view Don’t Miss: A traditional Thai massage using locally sourced herbs and spices in the camp's open-air spa situated amid the bamboo forest
- Safari-style canvas tents, designed by Bill Bensley for minimal environmental impact
- The exhilarating longtail boat ride to the camp on the Ruak River
- Learning traditional bamboo fishing techniques from local fishermen
Arriving by longtail boat after a short, exhilarating ride up-river, past a massive golden Buddha and some nonchalant water buffalo, you may catch your first glimpse of the elephants. But if you don't see them upon arrival (after celebrating the auspicious event with each guest sounding an enormous gong), you'll have plenty of opportunities to interact with some of the camp's most impressive creatures, the 12-foot-tall resident elephants. In fact, they are the stars here, second only to the stylish canvas-covered tents, envisioned by architect and landscape designer Bill Bensley, to have only minimal impact on the natural surroundings, along the edge of the river, in the area known as the Golden Triangle. (Guests arriving late in the afternoon will have to forego the boat ride, as the border patrols and passport control don't operate after 5 p.m.) The five-star resort is a five-hour drive by car from Chiang Mai, and an hour from Chiang Rai airport, and the experience of the camp is well worth the detour.
The elephants are definitely a contributing factor. But the experience of the camp itself leaves a lasting impression. Scattered across expansive, landscaped grounds that include grasslands and riverine and bamboo forests running along the Thailand-Myanmar border, with views into Laos, the camp's 15 roomy tented suites are all surprisingly private, with outdoor decks for lounging and rain showers, along with giant bathtubs and dual vanities. (Some have outdoor jacuzzis.) It is clear that no detail has been overlooked in these luxurious cabins, which are cozy and comfortable and themed by local inspirations—culinary arts, Hill Tribes, opium, textiles and more. Water closets and showers are located in separate zippered compartments, which may take a moment to figure out—a reminder that you are, in fact, staying in a very large tent (albeit one with air conditioning). There is also the Explorer's Lodge, located at the far end, near the Burma Bar and the camp's boutique that would work for a family or couples or friends traveling together. It has two large, chic bedrooms separated by an open outdoor living room, along with its own private infinity pool. The extensive bar and mini-bar offerings (assorted alcohol, espresso, tea, bags of nuts, coconut cookies and Toblerone to name a few) are all included.
Each guest will also find a denim mahout top and pants and a woven shoulder bag waiting for them to wear while walking or spending time with the elephants. Guests should expect to encounter plenty of flora and fauna here. There will be spiders and animal sounds. Adventurous guests will enjoy walking the paths, from tent to the restaurant, possibly via an impressive suspension bridge, or the trek to the spa, at the far end of the property. The path is the only way in or out and starts to feel remote enough that humorous signs along the way inform guests not to give up. The reward for the seven to 10-minute hike: an exceptional view from the open-air treatment rooms (with showers), all perched high above the edge of a mini jungle, with a view of massive palms and bamboo providing the canopy. The treatments themselves are also unique and well-executed; they range from traditional Thai massages and bamboo massages to reflexology using Burmese crystals to restore balance, as well as facials and wraps using local ingredients such as lemon grass.
Appropriately, dining at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is typically in the chic, open-air restaurant, which like many of the public spaces, has recently been given a refresh by Bensley, where you may choose between appealing classic Thai and Western dishes. Guests can also opt for a private dinner in the wine cellar or elsewhere on the property; celebratory parties are also made possible upon request, sometimes with a private visit from the elephants and a sendoff of lanterns into the night sky. If you sleep through breakfast, you’ll miss Linda and Plum, who stop by with their mahouts to begin the day feeding on bananas and vegetables (an adult elephant consumes 330 pounds of food per day and up to 40 gallons of water). Much of the resort’s produce comes from Thailand’s Royal Project, a retraining initiative for former opium growers, spurred by the royal family, that is highlighted at a nearby museum devoted to the region's history.
In keeping with the intimate, home-grown feeling of the resort, the staff is extremely friendly and the service feels quite personalized and genuine. The Camp Manager greets guests by name and guests join each other's tables to share their experiences with the elephants or their sojourns in the region and beyond. Cocktail hour is also a social affair. Guests gather at the Burma Bar and watch the light change as the sun sets or gather together in the wine cellar for tastings. After dark, some brave guests walk the paths, which are lit by torches or staff escorts with lanterns. Most guests opt for a ride back from Burma Bar in the camp's refurbished 1975 Land Rover, adding to the safari feel.
Spending time with the elephants, however, is the most memorable part of a stay here. Guests can walk the property, watch the elephants bathe or help the mahouts with various tasks such as feeding and bathing. Few leave here without learning a basic elephant command or two ("Pai, Pai," means go forward) and guests are likely to want to make a donation in support of elephant rescue and to help with the upkeep of the hotel’s exceptionally well-managed Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (www.helpingelephants.org/howhow.html).
Indagare can also help guests with additional touring and trips to the unusual White and Black Temples, a half-day trip to Myanmar or the Hill Tribes, as well as hiking and biking, or a visit to the nearby Opium Museum to learn more about the history of the region. Celebratory parties are also a possibility at the Elephant Camp.
Who Should Stay
Couples, families (with children 10 and older), friends. Safari lovers and first timers alike will appreciate the combination of indulgence and authenticity of the experience. There's always the option to reserve the entire camp for a special occasion, so you can have it (and the elephants) all to yourself.
Indagare Impact hotels have been carefully vetted according to our Sustainable Hotel Standards.
With elephants as a highlight, it’s no wonder that this premiere tented camp from Four Seasons makes sustainability a key part of its operation. In addition to rescuing the 20 elephants in its herd, the hotel is constantly updating its policies to conform to new best practices around their care, and partners with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to have an impact beyond their property line. The camp seeks to have a people-first impact by supporting local hill tribe communities in their education and health care initiatives.
Please note that while physical contact with wildlife is against Indagare’s Wildlife Welfare policy, this property has proven itself to be an important contributor to the conservation of the species. Please follow all recommendations when interacting closely with wildlife in the care of this property.
Written by Jen Barr