Thailand’s most luxurious ethical elephant experience

Hiding in the lush, mist-shrouded bamboo jungle of the Golden Triangle is the exclusive Four Seasons Tented Camp. With only 15 exceptional ‘tents’ and one two bedroom lodge, the Camp offers a truly unique luxury experience. Guests have the opportunity to explore the culture and history of the area where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet, and, most importantly, to have close, ethical interaction with the Camp’s resident, rescued Asian elephants.

After handing over passports to the Four Seasons greeter in the nearby small town of Chiang Saen, guests board a motorised long boat for a short and exhilarating journey up the River Mekong.  This part of the Mekong is an international border (hence the need for passports) and as you push off you can gaze up at the giant, golden Buddha in Thailand or across a few dozen metres of the muddy brown water of this legendary river to the verdant fields of Laos on the opposite bank.

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Ten minutes later you will be skimming the waters of the River Ruak, a Mekong tributary, with Burma on the opposite bank. All too soon the jetty of the Four Seasons Camp comes into view and it’s time to proceed up the wooden stair case and give three hearty slams on the ceremonial gong to mark the beginning of your jungle adventure.

The resort works in close partnership with Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation which provides a safe, humane home for elephants, away from the street begging and trick shows they endured earlier in their lives. Crucially, the Foundation also provides a good income for the elephants’ mahouts (owners) and their families, including livelihood opportunities for wives and education for children.  Without financial support, mahouts, would have little option but to return their elephants to unsuitable lives of pounding city streets or performing in shows.

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Resort guests have an array of exciting and ethical elephant activities to choose from and the thrill of being so close to these gentle giants cannot be overstated. There’s the romantic early morning elephant trek to the highest point in the camp to watch as the sun rises from behind the mountains of Laos. Or the pre-breakfast elephant bathing where you can be sure it won’t just be the elephants getting wet as they may just decide to playfully spray you with water!  Mahouts and an English-speaking guide will accompany you as you walk with elephants through the jungle; learning about their favourite foods and getting to know ‘your’ elephant’s unique personality and background.

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Although controversial in elephant conservation circles, the Foundation does allow guests to ride the elephants, as they believe there is no scientific evidence to show this is harmful. Riders sit on the elephant’s neck and there is no use of heavy wooden howdahs or chairs. The elephants work a maximum of five hours per day but usually average three and a half hours. Much like resort guests enjoying the abundance of fine food on offer, elephants need their daily exercise to keep healthy and prevent them becoming overweight.

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While the elephants are most definitely the stars of the show , the tents themselves are outstanding, giving a real 19th century explorer feel.  With dark wooden floors and beams, sturdy canvas walls and roofs, the tents are as luxurious and comfortable as any five star hotel room. A wonderfully aged-looking bath – comfortably big enough for two – sits in the room, and outdoor shower gives a ‘back to nature’ feel. All tents have very large outdoor decks, some with Jacuzzi, supremely comfortable beds, and luxuriant amenities.  The mini bar and nibbles are free, as are all meals and snacks, evening cocktails at the atmospheric Burma Bar, and nightly cheese and wine tasting inside the suitably chilly wine cellar.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience for many guests, most will tell you over sunset drinks in the Burma Bar, that their stay at the Four Seasons Tented Camp has been the highlight of their tour of Thailand.

Candice Bain is Founder at Desert to Jungle.

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Comments (2)

  1. marina verdugo says:

    This is such an interesting article! The experience in this elephant camp sounds ethical and beautiful. I appreciate all the information provided. It really made me interested into experience an adventure like this one.

  2. Phillip says:

    Thanks for this lovely article with such amazing photos. Your description of the elephant tours really has me leaning to book something for next year.

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