Elephants, it seems, like to be hitched. They’re all very friendly to each other but they pair up. Linda, on the left above, was an orphaned baby when she first met the other mighty beast, who had lost her unborn baby in a confrontation with a car. They’ve been together ever since, looking after each other at FOUR SEASONS TENTED CAMP GOLDEN TRIANGLE, in Northern Thailand.
Girlahead’s greatest pairing of the last 24 hours? The hour-long complimentary wine pairing offered everyone staying there. The dedicated multi-sided wine room, its walls clad in charcoal to fight humidity, is the stage. Khun Lae is the solo performer, taking us through four local wines – sparkling, white, rosé and red – with local cheeses and Thai snacks as well. Favourite of the assembled company was the Monsoon Valley 2018 Signature Red, with a creamy blue cheese with significant veins. Lovely! Girlahead is growing quite fond of Monsoon Valley’s 2020 Rosé, from the Hua Hin winery and theme park started by entrepreneur Chalerm Yoovidhya, heir to the Red Bull fortune and said by Forbes to be worth $20.2 billion.
The wine-tasting was a prelude to dinner. It’s a four-course set menu, choice Thai or Western or mix-match, working to a 4-night rotation – stay longer, and you get bespoke. Tonight it could have been local burrata with Kalamata olives, mango; Tom Kha Gai chicken and coconut soup; Panang Pla Salmon with wild rice; Khao Niew Mamuang mango and sticky rice. Another glass of the Signature Red went down a treat – this place is all-inc, which encompasses alcohol and spa and depending on a customer’s choice of Adventure, the most popular package, or Culinary or Romance, perhaps a drawn bath. All 15 tents at this resort, designed by Bill Bensley, are identical, 54sq m with in-room bathtubs as well as outdoor showers: there’s also a two-bedroom villa, once home of the Resort Manager, who now has to rent outside, in the real world.
Indiana Jones was to come to mind at bed time. A powerful torch and human support help navigate the 75m walk up a metre-wide path of uneven bricks edging round a steep forested hillside. Tent two is fortunately first. It’s a battle with the mosquito net, but somehow one gets into bed. Be prepared to be part of nature. Elephants, even 30m below and far away, can sometimes be heard hollering, or snoring – they only sleep for about four hours, invariably after midnight. There are raucous birds, and last night there was definitely a torrential downpour. In the morning, find a way out of the mosquito net.
Want to salute the dawn from the rear terrace?. Another battle, with one of the tent’s long-side windows (there are four). Unzip the mosquito-resisting blind to be able to get to the clear blind. Swearing silently yet again that all those connected to zips – designers, manufacturers, purchasers and operators – have no regard for fingernails, manage said zip, carefully step out of the tent on to its teak terrace, cantilevered 15m above the undergrowth. It is just light enough to look down and out from these 101ha of Thailand, and across the milk-chocolate Ruak river at Myanmar, with Laos a kilometre upstream. The Golden Triangle.
And now, dressed in mahout kit – denim jacket and fit-anyone trousers – it’s time for Breakfast with the Elephants. An American honeymoon couple is already seated – a couple of mature males pad in, lean one side and then the other in flipflop fashion. Servers bring copious menus, omelette with smoked salmon seems part of Chelsea Flower Show for its exquisite decoration. Linda and her significant other slowly lumber up, reayd to siphon up tray after tray of small squash and cucumber. Next it is Walk with the Elephants, which turns to be sensational and much more meaningful and serene than merely riding them as one did in the past. Ton, a hill tribesman who learned his perfect English while drinking beer with foreigners, is guide.
Elephants never forget. If they do not like you for any reason, they never will. They have long eyelashes but not good eyesight. Their hearing and sense of smell are exemplary. The main beauty need is monthly pedicures, effected with a saw: five nails on front feet, four on the back. They can swim: they covet the watermelons the other side of the river, in Myanmar (which, Girlahead also learns, is half an hour back from Thai time).
Manager Macall Newman, an African Studies and Spanish grad from Boston, has glasses of gentian-blue iced butterfly-pea tea waiting. Departure time is here. The Mercedes SUV has had its WiFi checked. Cardboard lunch boxes are delicately labelled, chicken satay (with attendant flowers, naturally.