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in the



The Four Seasons Tented Camp


s that a rodent in your flag, Sir?’ – the London envoy asked his Thai counterpart pointing to the appliquéd white elephant on the silk red flag. This insensitive witticism was followed by an accidental upside-down raising of the elephant flag, in the presence of the King. This blunder was the last straw that broke the ‘elephant’s’ back and led to its demise. In 1917, within months of this last incident, the distinctive flag created by King Mongkut (he of The King and I) in 1855, was changed to the present arrangement of blue, white and red bars. The elephant may have been dropped from the national flag but it never left Thailand’s collective consciousness, nor lost its place in the country’s heart. The new Four Season’s Tented Camp, deep in the centre of the Golden Triangle in Thailand’s north, successfully weds the ancient Thai symbol to luxury travel in the elephant’s natural habitat. Part rehabilitation reserve, part luxury resort, the Camp perches ethereally on a mountainside overlooking the Ruak River, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. Arrival at the Camp is spectacular as it can only be accessed by riverboat. Guests are picked up at Chiang Rai Airport for the transfer to the river, or as in our case, are driven all the way from the sister property Four Seasons Resort in Chiang Mai, a scenic 102

drive worth taking. Expectations rise when high up in the riverbank the first white double-apex tent appears, wings spread like a giant egret poised for flight. On the opposite bank, Myanmar elicits a frisson of excitement, mystery and danger; memories of green gold and poison poppies. The river leads to a world of understated luxury with an edge. Here it would be easy, but silly, to forget that the jungle and bamboo thickets surrounding the tents are real. The dignified service provided by the staff and the superb facilities can lull the visitor into a dreamy state until the native inhabitants make themselves heard. The imperious trumpeting of a pachyderm might break your afternoon slumber or something much more subtle, like a faint rustling in the thicket at night, will remind you that some of the camp’s elephants are freely foraging for food 15 metres down below your bed. As for early morning, well, be prepared for a deafening dawn chorus from the feathered brethren. It doesn’t last long, but for a wild second you’d be forgiven for thinking they are inside the tent, flapping around your head. It is a delicious moment when you look out from your bed through the panoramic windows (no need to lower the privacy flap as all tents and beds back onto the river and Myanmar) and know it’s too early to get up. Instead you burrow deeper into the down pillows

TENTED LUXURY Private outside shower

to contemplate how your first encounter with your own elephant might go. When the time does come, the outside shower delivers a cascade of soothing, heated rainwater. Inside the 15 tents – perched on stilts and anchored into the mountainside – nothing has been overlooked: from field glasses to a well-stocked bar; bath robes to mahout outfits to be worn for elephant training. The king-size bed occupies roughly one-third of the space, while the central area is taken up by two stylish washbasins and the signature free-standing, hand-beaten copper bath providing the ultimate touch of decadence. The last third, houses the outside shower and the toilet, both separated from the living areas by a soft wall with zippered access doors. The open plan flows classily over recycled teak floors. The sundeck boasts not only a daybed where guests can lose track of time but two massage beds – should anybody decide the walk to the spa sounds like too much work. The décor and furnishings reflect the accoutrements of a 19th-century adventure expedition including mosquito nets and hurricane lamps, although windows have insect screens and there is electricity to power not only lights, but air conditioning. There are no television sets but every tent has fast internet connection ports. The feel is of total seclusion as tents are spread along a 1km mountain jungle path bisected by the San Valley. An 80m long suspension bridge spans the gap. Beyond, the Burma Bar beckons, an open pavilion framing spectacular sunsets. The wine cellar – where wine-tasting is a nightly event – showcases an impressive collection of international wines kept at a steady temperature. We loved the experience of walking away with our preferred bottle straight onto dinner to accompany a first class choice of Thai, Laotian, Burmese and Western cuisines. The all-inclusive tariff resort is designed for active adult travellers as the terrain and activities are not suitable for children. The Camp’s interest centres on their herd of rescued-from-citystreets elephants. “Rescuing elephants doing dangerous and degrading work in the city is a difficult enterprise. Logging with elephants being now outdated, both man and beast are jobless, except for what the tourist industry can offer, but there is no life for an elephant on the streets. Cars, broken pavement and drinking from polluted gutters bring disease, unhappiness and ultimately death,” says Thomas, previously associated with the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre. He now oversees the welfare of his new charges at the Camp. “We quickly learnt that if we bought the elephant from his mahout the money only enabled the man to go and get another animal to continue in the only occupation he has ever known. We decided to offer a package deal where the mahout and his elephant take up residence in our reserve. This way they remain together (elephants suffer from separation anxiety) and can work in a natural, unpolluted environment,” he says. After a day’s outing with my elephant the recommended palliative is a Mahout’s Recovery Treatment, a combination of Thai massage plus hot herbal poultices. I follow the advice and bliss out as the vapours of the steaming herbs rise in the pavilion, which virtually floats over the green gully. A LUXE LIST The Camp is located 100km north of Chiang Rai Airport, which is a 75-minute flight from Bangkok with Thai Airways and Orient Thai Airlines. The drive from Chiang Mai takes 4 hours. The Camp offers 2 and 3 night packages from USD$1675 per night (double occupancy). A special 5 nights package including 2 nights at the Four Season’s Chiang Mai Resort (or the Four Seasons Bangkok) start at US$1,170 per night (double occupancy). Rates vary seasonally. Details, www.fourseasons/goldentriangle 103

\ Below: Four Seasons. Opposite (clockwise from top left): Aman-I-Khás; Paperbark Camp; Aman-I-Khás; Longitude 131°; Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa; Cottars 1920s Safari Camp.


Other luxury nights under the stars: The Wilderness Camp at Rohet Garh, India: This wilderness camp sits on a solitary dune in the dry Indian countryside outside Jodhpur in India. The interior design of the six tents (with ensuites) is uniquely Indian: swathes of printed fabric line the walls and teak floorboards are covered in warm coloured rugs. Go for the impressive 17km horse ride out from the sister hotel Rohert Garh, Longitude 131°, Australia: Avoid the tourist crowds and settle in for a private viewing of the sun rising and setting over Uluru at Longitude 131°. Under the white peaks of the 15 tents that appear suspended in the red landscape there are king-sized beds and relaxed surrounds. Each tent themed after an early Australian explorer or pioneer, Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai: You know you are camping in style when your tent comes with a staff of two (housekeeper, and private chef or security), Bulgari products in the ensuite, and three large bedrooms. Set on 225square kilometres of

desert park surrounds, 45 minutes from Dubai, Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa’s Presidential Suite takes tenting to a new level, or Aman-I-Khás, India: Make sure you pack your best safari outfit when booking into Aman-I-Khás. Operating for only seven months of the year from October until the end of April (the best period for wildlife spotting), the tented camp sits on the edge of the Ranthambhore National Park – one of India’s Tiger reserves, Amanwana, Indonesia: Here you can wander down sand paths from your tent to the beach or dining room under a canopy of rainforest. Set on Moyo Island (east of Bali), Amanwana’s tents are surrounded by coralstone decks; inside in cool air-conditioned comfort you can laze on the king-size bed, or sit at the writing desks listening to the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, Cottars 1920s Safari Camp, Kenya: There are many luxury tents in Africa, but this one

is modelled after the originals, and has a real Karen Blixen atmosphere. Filled to the brim with safari antiques, you can have your own ‘Dr Livingston’ moment. Don’t be fooled by the historic feel, the camp, set near the Maasai Mara National Reserve, still comes with the necessary luxuries: ensuite, separate reading room, and private game tours, Paperbark Camp, Australia: This tented camp is set in bushland on the Australian South Coast. Hidden away on the banks of the Currambene Creek, Jervis Bay, there are 10 safari style tents. Luxury-lovers should book into the ‘luxury safari tents’ which come complete with bath, and a private bush-view, Wilson Island, Australia: Pure barefoot luxury. The six permanent tents on this coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef all have ocean and reef views. Hang in a hammock and soak in the view, or snorkel straight from the shore. While there are no ensuites, each tent has its own bathroom in a central block, 105


‘I s that a rodent in your flag, Sir?’ – the London envoy asked STORY BY MARIA VISCONTI EXTRA RESEARCH BY ALICE COOMANS THE FOUR SEASONS TEN...

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