From the lookout at the highest point of the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, I could see Myanmar and Laos from my Thailand perch. To make matters even more exceptional, I had just come from meeting a herd of rescued elephants I would trek with the next day. In a state of shock and awe, clutching a flute of Champagne—it is the Four Seasons after all—I stood in silence surveying the landscape, wishing I had the power to freeze time.
While “Once in a lifetime” is overused in travel, this is one of very few experiences in the world I would offer this phrase. Because the Golden Triangle is an incredibly unique coordinate; because trekking with elephants who have been saved from dire straights is a sensitive way to explore the landscape; because watching the sun rise over Northern Thailand’s lush plains while rinsing off in your tent’s outdoor shower is refreshing.
In the wide world of glamping, the Four Seasons Tented Camp crosses at the high point of luxury and experiential travel. As the only all-inclusive Four Seasons, no service is spared, not even a trip to the private tree house-style spa, open on two sides to the bamboo jungle below.
Starting with a splash, your stay begins by boat. My capable captain picked me up an hour from the city of Chiang Rai and whisked me to camp in one of Thailand’s famous long-tail boats. Tousled hair and all, I floated into the petite and undecorated dock with my purse and a boatload of anticipation.
Within seconds of my arrival on firm ground, I spotted a trio of just-bathed elephants who’d come to welcome me. I knew I’d see many more of nature’s gentle giants over the next few days, still, I couldn’t help but linger. When I was finished the mammal meet-and-greet, I climbed the stone-built stairs leading to camp only to find a world of umbrella drinks served in hand-crafted bamboo tumblers.
Over fresh papaya-guava smoothies, I was welcomed to camp with three clangs of a gong, given a brief orientation and swiftly guided to my 581-square-foot tent. (Intuitively, camp hosts know guests are eager to get straight to their jungle dwellings).
Each of the fifteen Bill Bensley-designed tents sit scattered over a half-mile, nudged against the hillside for the best view potential. The foliage is so near and dear around each tent, you feel as though you’re entering a chic tree house—the kind a 19th century explorer would fashion with treasures from afar.
Inside, dark hardwood floors, elephant-inspired bathtub fittings, an outdoor shower, and a veranda complete with ropes securing the railings runs the entire length of the perch. Though, it was the bed overlooking the roaming elephants and the copper tub that made me want to take up residence (for research purposes, of course).
I love it when hotels host nightly traditions, and the camp custom I treasured most was pre-dinner cocktails in the thatched-roof Burma Bar, not surprisingly, overlooking Burma (Myanmar) in the distance. Here, over lemongrass martinis, I had a chance to meet other adventure-prone guests and discuss our shared trekking tales as the sky turned from orange to pink. Dinner, worthy of a well-traveled explorer, followed fireside in Nong Yao Restaurant.
During the day, every hour takes a different tone from learning how to ride elephants bareback, to practicing serenity-now by the oasis-like pool. Then came my spa appointment. Over the suspension bridge and through a bamboo thicket, I came upon my treatment hut, one of two at the property, a 10-minute walk from camp for the utmost in escape and privacy.
Inside the wooden-platform bungalow blending into the verdant valley like a chameleon, I changed into my spa robe in the open as if I was a free spirit without a worry in the world. The setting in and of itself was enough of a spa treatment, yet I welcomed my mahout recovery treatment (the perfect remedy after a day of trekking) with its au naturel soundtrack of chirping birds and wind-blown palms. And again, felt the urge to freeze time.