So maybe Bangkok is pure chaos and the Phi Phi Islands are over-run with tourists. That’s why I sought out the quieter, more obscure destinations in Thailand, like way up north in the Golden Triangle and down south on Yao Noi Island. Sure, people know about these places, but you won’t find the fanny-packs, frumpy t-shirts or beat-up velcro Sketchers around these parts. I’ll be the one with the camera around my neck, however. Sorry I’m not sorry. Too many photo ops exist here, and my Nikon had a date with the scenery. And, of course, the real inhabitants of the land: the gentle giants.
I’ve always dreamed of riding an elephant in Thailand. Oh, wait. Hold up. I can’t remember if I’ve had that dream for forever or if it suddenly came about when watching my BFF Catherine Lowe riding one, hand-in-hand, with her new fiancé during the Season 17 finale of The Bachelor. Those elephants really did make for the most dramatic rose ceremony yet. Either way, these animals are the real stars of Four Seasons Tented Camp in northern Thailand.
Camping has never been a strong suit of mine. I tried it once in Arkansas and after about an hour of trying to set up the tent, cooking gear, and whatever else you do on a camping trip, I hiked back up to the car and drove home. Better luck next time, and ohhh was ‘next time’ the most incredible “camping” experience ever! If the Four Seasons Tented Camp is camping, let me camp always.
I think this is what they call glamping. Perhaps this even takes glamping to the next level, mainly because this tent housed the bathtub of my dreams! It had A/C complete with snacks, a French press, beautiful décor that brought out the setting of Northern Thailand with sink handles in the shape of elephant tusks and beads crafted from local artisans.
One of my favorite parts about camp included the “windows” that led to the jungle view. Tent flaps could be folded up or down allowing for a more authentic camping experience. The great outdoors are never far away.
After lounging about in luxury and being awoken by the best possible alarm in history (elephant noises!), adventure awaits. You’ll start the day by walking from the tent over a suspension bridge and through the forest to arrive at breakfast. At that point, a congratulations is in order – you’ve just completed the day’s Jungle Gym! Good work (out). Before you put a bite of food in your mouth, it’s important to mind your manners. There are other guests at the restaurant! Sharing is caring at Four Seasons Tented Camp.
Sure, there’s a pool, a wine cellar, a bar overlooking the Ruak River into Burma…but the real stars of the region roam free among the Thai forests, making visits to staff and guests daily. While big, they are gentle. While abused, they are now well cared for.
Four Seasons Tented Camp works closely with the Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation Rescue and Adoption Program to help these gentle giants have a better life. They once played an important cultural and economical role as they provided the main workforce in the forests of Northern Thailand helping to transport timber. As cutbacks in foresting became more and more apparent, so did the burden of elephants on their owners. Believe it or not, these big creatures are expensive to keep, and many owners resorted to taking their elephants into big cities to get people to pay to photograph, feed, or play with them. This practice of begging is illegal in Thailand, and city life is not a good life for an elephant.
You can help with property as well as the Foundation by donating at www.helpingelephants.org.
I suppose the elephants will always be around, so it’s safe to leave their side and see some diversity throughout the region. Feel free to add another stamp to that passport by crossing into Burma. You’ll be able to throw a rock at it from Camp, but you’ll need to go through the legal matters in order to step foot on this soil properly.
Board a long-tail boat and enjoy a pleasure cruise on the Mekong River as you pass from Thailand into Laos. See ancient temples, enjoy a tuk-tuk ride, and delve into local cuisine available at the market – beetles and crickets and bugs, oh my!
Upon entering the region via boat, I had the chance to see how much trash actually filled the shorelines of the Ruak River. The environmentalist in me didn’t like this one bit, so I asked the FS staff if they’d take me out for an bit while I filled a few trash bags. They happily obliged, and now my hope is that the elephants will have clean drinking water for days, weeks, months, and years to come if more guests choose this activity. The best part? Seeing elephants along the way!
Take it back to camp where an isolated spa awaits. I first discovered the Four Seasons Tented Camp spa bathtub on Instagram and knew it was meant to be. That’s when I booked two tickets to paradise.
How to Arrive
After flying into Chiang Rai airport, a staff member from FS Tented Camp will pick you up for the hour and a half drive into camp – only a short ride away from living out your very own Jungle Book movie. Various airlines service Chiang Rai, but my advice would be to go with Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways – both stellar and inexpensive airlines.
Perhaps more well known than it’s northern sister is Chiang Mai, and whadduyaknow there’s a Four Seasons’s property there. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see this one, especially since I’ve heard rave reviews about it throughout the U.S. as well as Thailand during my time there. So I did what any curious travel blogger would do – I made the four-hour drive south to keep the Four Seasons’ good times rolling.
The pool villa comes highly recommended! As the name implies, guests enjoy their private pool while having access to all amenities the property has to offer.
Mmmm. Does it get any better than Pad Thai? I don’t think so. Here, Thai tastes are at your fingertips with the chance to discover Thailand’s culinary secrets in a series of courses conducted by Thai master chefs. This is your chance to practice for Chopped, people! Enroll yourself in this cooking school and impress even your mom, who undoubtedly cooks better than you, because moms are master chefs themselves.
Rice-planting was a brand new experience for me, and I’m happy to always have the memory and knowledge so that if there’s ever a need for rice planters in Arkansas, I’m their girl. Home state pride, y’all. You’ll look the part and be instructed from Thailanders.
More ridiculously amazing activities include lounging by the scenic pool, relaxing in the spa, yoga-lates (yes, please) or renting a bike and seeing the city for the day. Don’t forget to say hi to the water buffaloes who visit the lobby every morning at 9am!
Lastly, on the journey south between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, you must stop at Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. It’s breath-taking, and I’ll go ahead and let the pictures do the talking.
The temple building symbolizes the realm of the Buddha and rising to a state of nirvana. Walking paths are guarded by demons and the bridge runs over an ocean of ghostly hands reaching up from the cycle of death and rebirth. The alms bowl (background) and the sea of hands beneath the bridge.
Can’t choose between the wildlife in Chiang Rai and the beauty of Chiang Mai? Ohhh do I have a solution for you! Book three nights at the Tented Camp and get two nights complimentary at FS Chiang Mai. Problem solved 🙂
For your education, I’ve complied a list of the most important Thai phrases you should learn before landing in one of the most unique places on earth! Enjoy! (Sa-nook!)
- Hello or Bye = Sa-wa-dee-(ka for females, krub for males)
- Thank you = kop-kun (ka or krub)
- You’re welcome = yin-dee (ka or krub)
- How are you? = sa-bai-dee-mai (ka or krub)
- Cheers = chon or chon-kaew
- Yes = chai
- No = Mai
- How Much? = tao-rai or kee-baht (ka or krub)
- Water = narm or narm-plao
- Beer = beer
- Fried rice (with chicken) = khao-phad (gai)
- Fried noodles = guay dteaw phad
- Toilet = hong-narm
- I love you (female said) = Chun-ruk-tur
- I love you (male said) = pom-ruk-khun