Two-page article on the luxury 5-star property, Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai.
When I first heard of the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, I thought of the latest ‘Glamping’ (Glamorous-Camping) trend, used mainly by people who identify themselves as ‘Gypset’ (Jetset Gypsies). Instagram-hype and the love of creating compound words aside, this resort will soon reach its tenth year, yet the magic surrounding these dreamy tented camps transcends fads and rises straight into timelessness.
One aspect that may contribute to this is the exclusivity. The location alone is nearly as far north in Thailand as you can go—right on the notorious Golden Triangle where three countries meet—and where decades ago, these same countries clashed in a deadly opium trade. The resort overlooks neighbouring Myanmar, and you may hear the rhythmic chanting of Burmese monks early in the morning, making it nearly impossible to imagine a time when this area was more a war zone than the tranquil bamboo jungle it is now.The Ruak River borders the property, it is by this waterway that guests arrive. Your adventure begins with three resounding clangs of a gong, accompanying musical notes and a rough itinerary. Sticking to schedule is easy as everyone in the resort acts as your personal assistant, addressing you by name and helping you remember that ever-so-important spa appointment.
The air-conditioned tents are much sturdier than they seem. There are fifteen tents in total, each decorated accordingly with themes such as butterflies, bird watching or beads. Occasionally, a tap on the door breaks the silence, but it’s only to deliver fresh pineapples and other treats like coconut and tamarind candy. These are best enjoyed either from the comfort of your in-tent bathtub or on the terrace that overlooks elephant territory.
“There are no televisions or radios to disturb the wildlife,” says Mr Alvin Tham the Assistant Camp Manager, “but we have plenty of other activities for the guests.” One such engaging activity is the open-air spa, perched among treetops overlooking a lush jungle ravine. There is no spa lobby, no music, and nothing to distract you except for the jaw-dropping view. Perhaps the most famous programmes centre around the elephants. The camp was created in part to support a conservation foundation, and you’ll see the much-loved pachyderms everywhere.
From morning bathing rituals where they playfully trumpet to breakfast feedings where the elephants are spoiled with baskets of bananas. But the reason many visitors decide to experience the camp is to become a mahout (even if for a day or two). Here, you don’t train the elephant but instead the elephant trains you. Everyone is assigned their own elephant, and mine was the beautiful ‘Phouang Phet’ (พวงเพชร), who under my completely unbiased opinion, is the best of all the elephants in the world.
“I was Phouang Phet’s mahout, she was the first elephant in the camp,” says Mr. Seng (แสง), “She used to walk the streets waiting for tourists to buy sugar-cane to feed her, sugar-cane is still her favourite, but she can have as much as she wants anytime now.”
There are no chains during training, no circus tricks, and respect for the animals is stressed from beginning to end. The option to bathe with your 2.5-tonne trainer in the river is not to be missed. Even people who dislike water are often swayed by seeing their assigned elephant’s excitement to frolic in the rushing stream. “It’s truly a special place,” says Camp Manager Mr Reza Jafari, “When I first heard I was coming here I thought secretly, ‘The Jungle? Did I do something wrong?’ but then I arrived and it was good. Very good. We have an amazing team, and it’s wonderful to see happy elephants every day.”
As I left the camp, I was blessed for a safe journey with a small parting ceremony. I took a long breath of that unique fresh air, cooled by the rain and perfumed with wild ginger flowers. Time has made the Golden Triangle a symbol of renewal. The forest reclaimed fields of opium, the elephants are reclaiming their roaming grounds, and even the rivers are locked in an endless cycle of give and take. Anyone who has been here longs to come back, and no doubt, I will find myself here again.
The Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is best visited in the cool dry months from November to February, making this an ideal spot for the winter holidays. (fourseasons.com/goldentriangle)
WE Smile Magazine, Inflight Magazine of Thai Smile Airlines
October 01, 2015