How do you know when a destination has made the must-see list?
When Four Seasons comes to town.
By that measure, the Golden Triangle, nestled at the junction of
far Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, is Southeast Asia’s
hottest new destination. Once known for opium fields and trackless,
lawless mountains, the Golden Triangle is better known today for
luxury camping, elephant treks, open-air spas and elegant resorts
all an easy hour’s drive from the regional air hub at Chiang
“Adventure travel doesn’t get much better than this, riding
elephants through the jungle and sundowners overlooking the river,”
said Lee Marona, general manager, USA, for Exotissimo Travel. “In
1990, the Thai army didn’t even come here without serious
negotiations. Now it’s the most luxurious camp in Asia.”
Camping Four Seasons-style means walking beneath canopies of
bamboo, teak and ferns and bouncing across a suspension bridge to
reach the open-air spa, restaurant and two bars. Accommodations are
in 15 tents stretched along a half-mile of trails carefully cut
into jungle hillsides.
The tents are a sybarite’s dream, complete with polished teak
floors, king-sized beds, air conditioning, massage tables on
outdoor decks suspended above the jungle and hot and cold water
from fanciful copper taps in bird and animal shapes. In keeping
with the camp theme, guest access is by river.
Daily activities are just as fanciful, from learning to ride an
elephant to visiting local villages, boating to Laos or Burma or
visiting Mae Fah Luang, an agricultural project sponsored by the
Thai Royal Family that helped convince local farmers to switch from
opium to other crops. An ornate Opium Museum nearby details the
crop that once made this triangle of jungle-clad mountains so
What’s the down side? Clients who want to extend another night or
two are probably out of luck. The all-inclusive Tented Camp has
been running at 100 percent almost since opening day in January
There is probably space a few miles down the road at the Anantara
Resort, a lavish 90-room spa enclave set on a ridge overlooking the
Ruak and Mekong rivers. The Four Seasons and the Anantara share an
elephant camp and offer similar adventures. But where Four Seasons
brings Disneyesque jungle fantasies to life, Anantara offers a more
traditional resort experience with rich wall fabrics, gleaming
wooden floors, imposing public spaces and sparkling pools.
Anantara also offers a more diverse set of activities. American
favorites include Thai cooking classes, shopping excursions, jungle
trekking, hill-tribe visits, birding, mountain biking and dawn
offerings to local Buddhist monks, said general manager Mark
Heather. The property is also a member of Small Luxury Hotels of
The mountaintop Phu Chaisai Resort & Spa offers similar
amenities and activities in a quieter setting. The 34-room boutique
property is a favorite among regional travelers eager to escape the
glitter of larger resorts without losing the luxury.
With a handful of buildings scattered along a wooded hillside, Phu
Chaisai focuses on its forest setting. Rooms evoke elegant bamboo
retreats with balcony views across misty mountain ridges and
valleys. There are no TVs (or alarm clocks) in the carefully
decorated and air-conditioned rooms. Public areas are open to the
mountain breezes and so is the low-key spa, with treatment rooms
dim and relaxed beneath traditional leaf-covered roofs and filled
with the sound of bird calls.
Clients who don’t want to spend the hour or so it takes to drive
from Chiang Rai can base their adventures at The Legend, a 78-room
property on the Mae Kok River. Set amid expansive gardens, The
Legend feels like a country estate with whitewashed walls, blond
teak interiors and enormous indoor-outdoor baths. It’s a good
compromise for travelers who want to sample softer adventures like
elephant rides, river excursions and area day-trips without
straying too far from paved highways, ATMs and cable TV.
Exotissimo creates custom vacations across Northern Thailand and
the rest of Southeast Asia.
Four Seasons Tented Camp