I fall in love with Phuang Phet, whose name means handful of diamonds, at first sight. She’s drawn to me, too — or maybe it’s the cluster of bananas I hold that attracts her. Greedily, her periscopic like trunk grabs them from my hand. With a serpentine flourish, she pops the whole bunch into her little pink pocket of a mouth at once. They disappear down her gullet in seconds — peels and all. She’s as deft at gobbling as a hungry child after a packet of French Fries.
Phuang Phet, with her enviably long eyelashes and elephantine stubby legs, steals my heart. I’d take her home I could fit a pachyderm into my suitcase.
At northern Thailand’s Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, amid a bamboo jungle, I cavort with Phuang Phet and the fellow members of her herd of rescued elephants along with other hotel guests. We can walk with the immense beasts, wash them, feed them, and, in my case, talk to them. They seem riveted by my conversation, their soulful eyes warmly intelligent. Part of an elephant reserve helmed by veterinarians and loving staff, created to protect these beautiful creatures and to provide them a safe home, the uber-upscale glamping-style retreat lies along the Ruak River, a tributary of the Mekong. Burma can be spied across the water nearby, and to arrive I cruised past Laos in a fast-moving long tail boat. Remotely located among this region’s golden Buddhas, tea fields and forests, the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle feels exotic, remote and ruggedly luxurious. With just 16 sumptuously arranged tents, each kitted out with imaginative, coddling interiors (think stand-alone soaking tubs, oriental carpets, local art and wooden acuzzis that anchor ample decks) the hotel reigns as one of the most unique travel opportunities on earth.
What we love
• The elephants: The elephant experiences, from bathing to feeding to dinner on a platform at dusk with the elephants below, define your stay—and make for unforgettable moments.
• The rooms: Stunning permanent tents, each separated amongst the leafy terrain, provide jaw dropping views of the river and elephant-filled expanses, and brandish posh, circa 1900-style digs that seem too good tobe true.
• The camp: A fairytale of winding pathways, misty mountains, ridge top tents—even a Tarzan-worthy suspension bridge across a ravine—, and a lodge complete with swimming pool and restaurant, this resort, just 45 minutes north of Chaing Rai, boggles the mind.
• Burma Bar: An al fresco bar set at the retreat’s highest point, overlooking the elephant camp, the river and Burma itself, the Burma Bar brings out the Ernest Hemingway in us all.
• The Off Property Outings: From shopping trips to Laos to visits to Buddhist temples, not to mention forays with a guide through traditional markets and a romp through the acclaimed Opium Museum, myriad activities can be coordinated by the concierge.
Need to know:
• You can arrive by boat from Chaing Rai, you can fly into the local airport, you can drive from Chaing Mai (four hours)—or you can arrive by helicopter. I highly recommend the boat transfer.
• Due to the unique nature of the camp, only guests aged 10 and over are permitted. Children aged 10-18 will be charged the full adult rate for the stay.
• This splurge-worthy hotel is pricy but absolutely worth it.
• What to take home? Textiles by hill tribes and silk scarves
Room to book:
Superior River Tent for the view, which holds three. Only one room is available for larger family groups. It’s situated at the lodge, has two bedrooms, and holds six persons.