The Four Seasons Tented Camp is an unforgettable experience celebrating closeness to nature and bonding with some of its most magnificent creatures.
Maybe it was my obsession with The Jungle Book or growing up surrounded by pets, but over the years I’ve developed a sort of “animal bucket list” that includes everything from riding camels in the desert, seeing pandas in China, pink dolphins in the Amazon to photographing the big 5 in Africa and watching wild horses run free in Patagonia. One of the biggest entries in this bucket list was seeing elephants in their natural habitat. I wanted to go for a walk trunk-in-hand with one of these adorable giants!
While planning our trip to Chiang Mai, Chris and I discovered that there was a chance for me to see the elephants just a few hours north of the city at the Four Seasons Tented Camp – a Four Seasons hotel set within an elephant sanctuary close to Thailand’s northern border. There I could see the elephants every day, learn about them, ride and feed them and play around with them throughout our whole stay. Chris would get the chance to shoot the fabled landscape of the Mekong basin, the lush tropical jungles and –of course – all my goofing around with the elephants! This was going to be a big bucket list check mark and I was ecstatic!
Arriving to the Wild
Remoteness and the complicated journey to get there are part of the Tented Camp’s appeal. Depending on where you’re coming from, getting to the Four Seasons at the Golden Triangle will include a combination of both a long car ride to the Golden Triangle area, and then a boat ride to the hotel’s main entrance.
We were coming from Chiang Mai, so we had a private car come pick us up and drive us four hours north to the Golden Triangle area. Our ride included a stop in Chiang Rai to visit Wat Rong Khun, an art exhibit created by a local artist and made to look like an all-white Buddhist temple featuring hundreds of sculptures mixing contemporary and traditional Thai styles. This was a fascinating stop and it was a nice break from the long drive. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and art, you won’t want to miss this! Once we made it to the Golden Triangle area, a speedboat took past the shores of Laos and Burma and into the Ruak to the Tented Camp’s private dock.
About the Four Seasons Tented Camp
The Tented Camp is located in an area known as The Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet – Burma starts just across the Ruak while Laos can be seen a bit further down where the Mekong starts. Set amidst the jungle, it sits on the riverbanks of the Ruak River just a few miles before it meets the larger Mekong. The surrounding shores are filled with countless towns, villages, markets, temples and plantations that provide plenty of opportunities for adventures and great excuses to venture outside the hotel’s grounds.
The Camp consists of fifteen luxurious suites designed to look like cross between vintage explorer tents and tree houses, all built at the canopy level of a bamboo forest on the Ruak River bank. Each tent has its own private patch of jungle and a veranda with stunning views of the river below and whatever elephant may pop up around the landscape. Dirt pathways lead the way around the property and it’s quite common for guests to share them with the sanctuary’s elephants and their mahouts (keepers).
A riverside pool, an open-air spa area, a beautiful bar/lounge and a hanging bridge that crosses over the forest canopy can all be found on site. The Camps décor is meant to evoke a glamorous 19th century explorer expedition with plenty of maps, curiosities, handcrafted furniture, hanging lanterns and roped wood finishes to set the mood. There are no shortage of elephant sculptures, carvings and pictures either!
More than luxury glamping, The Four Seasons Tented Camp is a celebration of closeness to nature and the bonds that unite us to its creatures. The hotel doubles as an Asian elephant sanctuary and the main highlight of visiting the Camp is the chance to spend some quality time with the resident pachyderms. The sanctuary, however, is not a simple petting zoo – care and keeping of the elephants found on the hotel’s grounds is overseen by the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and trained mahouts are in charge of instructing guests on how to interact with the animals in a way that is safe and comfortable both for them and for people. All the elephants have been rescued from the streets of Thailand with the help of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and have been brought to the sanctuary for a chance to live a comfortable and happy life in the company of their peers.
Our Home Under the Stars
Wooden handcrafted furniture, hanging lamps, luxurious textiles and vintage-style washbasin, chairs and fans made our Superior Tent feel more like the set of an adventure film than a hotel room. A gorgeous handcrafted copper bathtub sat near the bed for added drama and everything in the open-plan room was positioned to offer the best views possible. It was such inspiring experience!
Giant plastic windows created the impression of our tent’s walls disappearing to leave nothing between us and the surrounding jungle and afforded us views of three different countries right from our bed – Burma was right on the on the opposite shore of the Ruak and the mountains of Laos could be seen in the distance. Every night, we would leave the window covers open and fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle and in the morning we would wake up to a breathtaking view of the mist floating over the landscape. It’s a place where you can get some serious thinking done :)
Spending the Day With Elephants
At the Tented Camp you could spend an entire day – from sunrise to sundown– doing all sorts of activities alongside the elephants. Breakfast with views of the sun rising over the mountains of Laos and elephants taking bananas from our hands was definitely worth getting out of bed for. In the afternoon we spent more time at the elephant camp and the mahouts taught us how to interact with the elephants, how to ride them and the basic commands to guide them. After our mahout training session, we rode the elephants into the jungle for a few hours. Bonding with these creatures and getting to know their personalities has been one the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had!
Exploring the Golden Triangle
A very unique aspect of the location of the Tented Camp in the Golden Triangle is that allows you to see and experience three countries at once: Thailand, Burma and Laos. The super busy shores of the Mekong are filled with many towns, villages, temples and interesting things to see and do and the hotel offers excursions around the river and the Golden Triangle area and into Burma and Laos. Be warned, though, if you want to visit Burma, you’ll need a visa that can take some time to obtain. Since we did not have a visa for Burma, we were only able to visit Laos. A private guide took us there on a longboat and then returned us to Thailand where we spent the rest of the day exploring the temples and markets.
A Spa Unlike Any Other
Included in our stay was what was probably one of our best spa experiences ever. Our treatment started as we walked from our tent to a secluded space in the jungle where we were greeted by our therapists in one of the most scenic treatment rooms I’ve ever seen. Just like everything else at the Tented Camp, the spa’s treatment rooms blend in perfectly with the landscape and are all open-air spaces. The room felt very much like a tree house surrounded by bamboo and tropical flora and there was no ambiance music save for the sounds of nature. Right on the deck, was yet another gorgeous bathtub – this one made out of wood – looking out into the jungle.
Since we spent the day learning to be a mahout, we decided that the Mahout Recovery treatment would be fitting. Chris was telling me afterwards that he was a bit taken aback when he looked over to me and saw the therapist with her knees in my back while she stretched and cracked it. “I knew I would be facing the same position in a matter of minutes”, he told me, “and before I could think if this would feel good or not, it was happening…and it was the best feeling! I have no idea how this tiny therapist could manipulate my body so effectively and satisfying”.
Gourmet Dining in the Jungle
Dining options at the Tented Camp reflect all the cultures that meet at the Golden Triangle and include a mix of Thai, Burmese, Laotian and Western dishes. I found the Burmese influences particularly delicious! Wines were perfectly paired and everyone was eager to provide us with recommendations. The fireplace area at Nong Yao restaurant are great opportunity for socializing with fellow guests – or privately in a table for two – for both breakfast and dinner. Of course, there is also the better option of breakfast with the elephants at Camp Peak! For lunch, you can pick up a custom-made picnic basket featuring either Thai or Western flavors and enjoy a meal out in the hotel’s gardens. In the afternoons, Burma Bar was a great place to curl up with a cocktail in hand and enjoy the sun setting over the river and the jungle.
So Would We Come Back?
Did you see the pictures and the goofy grin on my face? Of course we would come back, in a heartbeat. Romance, privacy and plenty of adventure makes the Four Seasons Tented Camp a very special place. It’s a place where long lasting memories are made, a place I want my future children to experience and a place that is making great strides in the conservation of Thai elephants. As I sit here and write this, I can smell the jungle, feel the dampness in the air and remember with great fondness and appreciation the touch of a gentle giant. See you soon :)
For more information about the Four Seasons Tented Camp, visit their website: