Glamping in Style at Thailand's Elephant Hills

Camping in high style in southern Thailand's luxury tented jungle camp

By: By Ed Rampell

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Elephant Hills Thailand
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An elephant never forgets” is an age-old proverb and one that applies quite well to Thailand’s Elephant Hills, a memorable luxury tented jungle camp in southern Thailand. Here, one can imagine himself or herself as Mowgli, the central character of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Like Mowgli, clients will feel as though they are at one with the inhabitants of the jungle.


Elephant drivers herded the pachyderms at Elephant Hills, Thailand. // © 2009 Ed Rampell

Upon arriving at Elephant Hills, located in Khao Sok National Park, our exploits began in the rainforest. Scarlet-jacketed mahouts (elephant drivers) were bestride the beasts, while our machete-wielding group sliced tropical fruits in preparation. Once the plastic buckets were filled, we fed the floppy-eared animals, who snatched fruits out of our hands. As the voracious elephants relished their meal, clouds clung to the surrounding verdant limestone peaks.

Several members of our party later mounted the tusked critters. Those of us on foot followed the elephantine procession to the “car wash,” where we scrubbed them with soap and coconut husk sennit, watering them down with hoses. Then, the mahouts wrapped their legs around the elephants’ necks and rode them into a pond to frolic and cool off after a hard day’s trek. As the sun set, we planted crops for the gentle giants.

Besides getting to know these creatures, there is much more to do at Elephant Hills. This enchanting encampment in the rainforest epitomizes “glamping” — glamorous camping — with 30 spacious, well-appointed tents perched atop wooden platforms with patios, beneath protective tin roofs. These sort of “tent-a-lows” contained the comforts of home, including homemade furniture, double beds, electric lights, fans, etc. and are attached to modern bathroom facilities with hot and cold showers.

A boutique screening room area, fully stocked bar, restaurant and dining room are found beneath the lodge’s gigantic thatched roof, where diners serve themselves from buffets featuring delicious local cuisine and dine at picnic tables. Nightly culinary classes showed visitors how to cook Thai food, and the guests’ kitchen creations often became part of supper.

While rustic and atmospheric, Elephant Hills’ creature comforts take the rough out of roughing it, as does the well-trained staff, which exhibited the graciousness befitting the Land of Smiles. English is widely spoken by staffers.

Our excursions included a visit to Cheow Lan Lake, a manmade lake located inside of Khao Sok National Park, about an hour’s drive from the tented jungle camp, past rubber trees and mist-shrouded mountaintops. On the lake, its green, serene islands are pinnacles of now submerged limestone mountains. Our dragon tail boat lazily meandered through these peaks toward a local resort of over-the-water thatched huts hovering on rafts — a sort of poor man’s Bora Bora, where we lunched and swam. Later, as we floated past an isle, our guide spotted a tribe of Langur monkeys hanging in the treetops.

Another day, we canoed down the Sok River, which ran beside our camp. For the grand finale, we rode through the
forest atop our trusty elephants, safely ensconced in saddles, while fearless mahouts rode bareback. Elephant trekking involved lots of bucking — the paths aren’t paved and the ever-hungry elephants have a mind of their own. If they spied a tasty sprig, they might wander off course. Nevertheless, it was a thrilling adventure.

Looking back on our stay, I can say that Elephant Hills is a glamping eco-sanctuary for human and tusker alike, where one can write his or her version of The Jungle Book.