The last family vacation before the kids head off to college is a Big Deal. Obviously, you want it to be extra-special. Elephants can help; also, a resort in the form of 15 luxe tents tucked into the jungle along a river. Thailand’s Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle may be your spot. (The camp is open to kids 12 and older.)
*Exotic Thai culture and the people: warm, kind and gentle.
*A luxury tented resort à la Ralph Lauren, centered around an elephant camp.
*Rub elbows with hill tribes.
* Be an elephant researcher: With the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and Think Elephants International, you and the kids can take part in important elephant intelligence research that aids conservation efforts for the remaining wild populations.
*Beautiful textiles, jewelry and silverware.
*Pretend you’re 19th century explorers elephant trekking through the mountains.
*One for your Life List. Fans on TripAdvisor call the experience “an incredible adventure” and the “only one of this kind in my life.”
Elephant Trekking Images Courtesy of Yvonne Yuen.
• Elephants! Getting to feed them bananas and sunflower seeds. Learning the ancient skills of elephant riding, including the key commands, from the mahout (a Hindi word meaning “person who rides elephants”). Riding bareback.
• Arriving at camp on a traditional longtail boat.
• Sleeping in the tent—a canopy of stars overhead and the sounds of the jungle. (Use your iPhone app to ID the constellations.)
•The Spa. The Burmese Body Polish and Hair Mask uses fresh ginger, papaya and rice to refresh skin and hair.
• Cooking: authentic local dishes like Khao Soi Hor (northern egg noodle curry with chicken and coconut milk), Yum Nua (Thai grilled beef salad) or Larb Gai (Laotian chicken salad with roasted chilies and herbs).
• The camp’s freeform pool bordered by teak logs and granite boulders.
• A private wine tasting in the “wine cellar,” a thatched-roof building built in the local style.
• Chiang Saen: visiting a temple and market with your private guide, shopping for traditional handicrafts (silk hand-woven by women in nearby villages), silver jewelry, ceramics and locally grown coffee and tea.
• Cooking classes in the camp’s organic garden, using herbs, vegetables and especially chilis.
• Bird watching in the jungle: more than 50 species of birds, including kingfishers, coucals, woodpeckers, white-rumped shamas, pigeons, red-whiskered bulbuls, pelicans, herons and sunbirds.
• Your tent’s hand-hammered copper tub, outdoor shower, private hot tub and A/C.
• While the kids are visiting with the elephants, a romantic spa treatment for two: the Mekong Meditation.
Peace. No TV, DVD player or radio.
Dine in—(For families) Burma Bar overlooks the Ruak River, ideal for sunset. We like the por pia thord (deep-fried spring rolls with plum sauce) washed down with mocktails: mae khong punch (orange, passion fruit, and mango); “Elephant Cha Cha” (mango, orange and cranberry); and “Bamboo Leaves” (grapefruit, pineapple, mango and cream soda). (For parents) “The Golden Triangle of Beers”—local beer from three countries.
(For kids) Nong Yao Restaurant is an open-air, thatched-roof venue with long tables for family-style dining: phad Thai, khao phad (fried rice with crab, chicken or pork), spaghetti with fresh camp-made Pomodoro sauce or meat sauce with parmesan cheese, or an Australian beef burger (teen favorite). The bamboo cups, cutlery and drinking straws used onsite are hand-carved by Khun Uncle Bamboo, a local elderly gentleman.
(For parents) Sample the local cuisine: phad Thai, som tum poo nim (traditional young papaya salad with soft shell crab); khao soi hor (northern egg noodle curry with chicken and coconut milk); and yum nua (Thai grilled beef salad). You can try dishes from the neighboring countries of Burma and Laos, too.
Dine out—Because the camp is tucked away in the hills, you’ll be doing all your dining on-site. That said, the camp can offer all sorts of special, private dining options: from an Elephant Camp Dinner at the west end of the property lit by torches, with glimpses of elephants nearby, to a sunrise breakfast at the Camp Peak or a jungle picnic. The camp team is ready with imaginative suggestions.
1. Cruise the river aboard a traditional longtail boat. Take an excursion along the Mekong River (seasonal water levels permitting), passing rustic villages and temples along the way.
2. Play games: No TV, no movies, no problem: choose from a selection of board games for an old-fashioned family games night.
3. Meet the locals: The mountainous areas of Doi Mae Salong, also known as Santikhiri, are home to tea plantations settled by Chinese who lived in Burma for a number of years during the Chinese Civil War. A guided tour teaches about the fascinating history of the area, as well as the high-quality High Mountain Oolong tea cultivated here.
4. Become an Elephant Whisperer. Through a partnership with The Golden Triangle Elephant Research Foundation, the family gets to help scientists learn more about elephant intelligence, how these creatures view and interpret the world.
5. Adopt an elephant. An elephant trek goes without saying as the top activity here. But you also might want to help out one of the resident elephants, most of which have been rescued from arduous life on the streets of Thailand’s cities. Through a monthly sponsorship or a one-time donation, guests can aid the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to get elephants and their mahouts off the city streets and placed in a caring natural environment.
Note: Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle welcomes kids 12 and older.
Tweens & teens: Trekking through the jungle on elephant-back. Learning how to ride and care for elephants. A spa date. Cooking classes. Conducting elephant research. Bird watching. A trip to a local temple or market. A river cruise.
Explore all of the Special Offers at Four Seasons Resorts across the globe.
A Four Seasons contributor, Bonnie Schiedel is a freelance writer and editor for print and web, specializing in parenting, health, nutrition, fitness and the outdoors. She lives with her husband and young daughter in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, on the shores of Lake Superior. Bonnie looks forward to introducing her daughter to some of her favorite destinations, such as St. Lucia, Costa Rica, Britain and Canada’s east coast—in particular, the tantalizing variety of food and beaches! You can read her work at North Star Writing.
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