Friday, November 15, 2013

Anantara Elephant Camp in Chiang Rai

After a couple of weeks of shopping in Bangkok, Tom and I were ready for a different kind of adventure. A very special one. We flew to Chaing Rai (about an hour’s flight from Bangkok) to spend three days at Anantara Resort Golden Triangle Elephant Camp.

While the resort hotel is five star all the way, the elephant camp is designed along the lines of a traditional mahout’s village found in the hills of Northern Thailand back in the days when logging employed the majority of Thailand’s elephants. Unsustainable use of the forests led to the disappearance of large teak trees from the land and commercial logging was banned. Overnight, this put elephants out of work and forced many more into illegal logging camps. They were subjected to all manners of abuse including the force feeding of amphetamines – a practice which enabled them to work many hours a day and often lead to addition and death.

The Royal Thai Government with Royal Support stepped in and set up the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC) to act as a central body for the conservation of elephants, both domestic and wild, and the communities that depend on them for their livelihood. At Anantara, these beautiful rescued animals lead peaceful, full lives and we were honored to spend time learning about them and sharing their routines.

The best time of day in the forest is dawn and what better way to see it than from the neck of your own elephant. Leaving the hotel at sunrise, Tom and I, together with our mahout and an English speaking guide, went into the forest to the place where the elephants spend the night. We got to know “our” elephants and fed them bananas and sugar before our mahout commanded them to lie down. He dusted the big girls off and up we went. There were no saddles or straps to hold, just a few prickly elephant head hairs. Frankly, I was terrified at first, but once we started our amble down the mountain to camp, I felt secure, trusting my elephant to get me there safely. 

We rode the elephants to the bathing area for a bath, then back to camp to learn more about the facility and daily routine; believe me, these elephants have it good! Finally, it was back on the elephants for a leisurely stroll back to the hotel.

My next stop was the resort’s spa where I had booked a 90 minute massage; it was just what I needed after spending the day on top of an elephant. 

The resort itself is five star luxe… With only 77 rooms and suites, there's a feeling of space and peace throughout. All the rooms have large balconies with build-in sofas in traditional Thai style. The wood used throughout the resort is reconditioned teak; no new teak was cut for the project. There's an infinity pool with views across the Mekong Valley, a gym and spa and clearly marked nature trails.

As expected, the food was wonderful. The main restaurant, Sala Mae Nam, serves traditional Thai dishes, all delicious. Another option is the Dinner by Design; we chose to dine beside the resort's rice paddy fields and were joined for pre-dinner drinks by a group of baby elephants and their mahouts. The just no way to describe the magic of being in the middle of a paddy field, feeding elephants bananas as chefs prepare a gourmet feast. 

We finished the evening by releasing mum ploi, hot air balloons with small burners inside. Once lit, gases collect in the balloons, lifting them and all the cares and worries of the world into the night sky.

Check the resort website,, for special promotions, spa menu, etc. 

Big thanks to Anantara Resort Golden Triangle Elephant Camp for hosting us!

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