Perhaps it is time to think something different, say Thailand and tents.
Put the two words together and it’s FOUR SEASONS TENTED CAMP GOLDEN TRIANGLE in Northern Thailand (why ‘golden triangle’? It’s rumoured that a lot of people in that little triangle, surrounded by Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, made a ‘certain amount’ of money from drugs).
So, what’s unique about elephants and Thai massages, temples and space? There’s another tented camp in the area, right? And both are owned by US-born Thai hospitality giant, Bill Heinecke, right? Correct, but Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is designed by trend-setter Bill Bensley.
The camp has a 232sq m two-bedroom Lodge, with pool, and 15 tents (identical, 54sq m, good WiFi but no televisions). Tent #8 is about a 30-metre hike up from the camp’s arrival pier, main pool and Nong Yao restaurant. The tent’s freestanding bathtub is interior showpiece, but since the canvas walls are usually rolled up for the view, it’s outside that grabs the attention. Look far down, over bamboo, figus, kapok and more, to the Ruak, a feeder river to the Mekong.
Everything except buying silverware or other souvenirs in the camp boutique is included here. Meals are bespoke. Kids, who must be at least ten years old, might ask for fries, and choose hot chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream from the main menu, which offers global as well as Thai, say, spicy beef salad with young eggplant, and green curry with prawns.
Take a long-tail boat and then a tuk-tuk for temple-traipsing in the nearby region. Back at the camp, head to the spa. Its treatment rooms are five metres high, on stilts, completely private among the bamboo (the Ruak Bamboo special uses bamboo lengths as rollers).
A resounding elephant trumpet is a reminder that the camp’s six elephants, retired from heavy logging, await. Walk alongside these venerable beasts, learning mahout life and tricks of the trade. Feed’em – animals not mahouts – apples, bananas and bamboo lengths and tuck into your own picnic. Depending on the time of day, you might have chosen full afternoon tea, or deep-fried spring rolls and other Thai snacks.
And when it’s time to leave, reverse the way you have come. Depart in a long-tail boat for a 20-minute river trip, then a 90-minute drive to Chiang Rai airport for the flight back to Bangkok.
Listen to Bill Heinecke, when you have a moment, on MARY GOSTELOW GIRLAHEAD PODCAST.