Hotel Review: Four Seasons Tented Camp: Golden Triangle

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DSC_9787The Four Seasons Tented Camp (FSTC) was the second destination in our two-week trip to Thailand. In short, we had a wonderful stay. Everything was orchestrated flawlessly…well, almost.

DSC_9787We arrived at the camp after a short flight from Bangkok. After collecting our baggage, we exited and found our driver waiting with a Four Seasons sign immediately outside the exit. He quickly confirmed our name, asked if we needed to use the restroom (I declined), then grabbed our bags and directed us to the car (a Lexus SUV).

After providing a short briefing on our upcoming transfer, “it will be about a one hour drive to the camp”, I quickly realized he inquired about the restroom for a reason (I was for some reason expecting a shorter drive). Luckily we hadn’t left the airport yet and he quickly circled back.

Once we were on our way, we made some quick chit chat with the driver, but mostly relaxed and enjoyed the scenery (honestly, it wasn’t all that exciting).

About 50 minutes in, the driver made a quick call, then handed his cellular phone over to me, “the camp manager would like to speak to you” (never a good sign). I was informed that the overnight storm (we were traveling during the rainy season), had created some issues and the river was rougher than normal. If you aren’t familiar with the FSTC, part of the experience is a long-tail boat arrival into the camp. Instead, we would be taken by car to reception (a much less dramatic entrance). I’ll be honest with you, this was not a great start to our stay and I was quite peeved as we drove through the FSTC’s sister resort Anantara…a resort I was specifically trying to avoid. I expressed my concerns to the manager on arrival and was assured we would have another chance to experience the long-tail boat during our included Golden Triangle Excursion (more to come on that later).

On arrival we were guided to the outdoor patio and provided with some chilled tea (quite tasty).

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Once we confirmed our room reservation details, we were escorted to our tent (by car or walking…we chose to walk) by one of the front office managers.

 

After a 15-minute walk through the woods and over a suspended bridge (a little longer than expected), we arrived at our room, or tent, for the next three days.

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Each tent is adequately spaced about 50 feet apart (although I’m always looking for a little more space) and provided enough privacy for even the most discerning traveler.

Our escort led us to our tent and opened the door (each tent comes with a pad lock…more for effect than need). On entry, there is a large claw foot tub to your right and king size bed to your left. Everything from the faucet handles to the bed linens are elephant themed.

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I read quite a few reviews before I arrived that described the rooms as “over the top” and “cheesy”. I have to disagree. The FSTC is truly a special place and even though the details are extremely thorough (elephant décor everywhere), it fits the camp perfectly. After a quick tour of the tent, we were left to relax and enjoy the room. Our travel agent had left us a small token of appreciation and the camp had provided a few welcome cards and a bottle of Prosecco to take the edge off.

 

On arrival we were provided with an itinerary for our 3-day stay, which included mahout training, guided tours of the region, and massages. I had requested the itinerary before we arrived so I knew exactly what to expect. Quick Tip: I would recommend emailing the camp prior to arrival to arrange your itinerary in case you want to make any adjustments before arrival.

 

On the afternoon of our arrival we were scheduled to visit the Hall of Opium, but after a long day of travel, we decided to cancel our afternoon excursion and spend the day lounging by the pool (the prosecco may have helped with our decision as well).

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The sun peeked through the clouds so we wondered up to the pool, which was completely empty. On arrival we requested towels and a couple chairs (all 8 lounge chairs were covered due to the earlier rain). The staff quickly accommodated our request and we spent the next few hours lounging by the beautiful pool.

 

As the day came to an end, we headed back to our tent, took a quick shower and dressed for dinner. Per our itinerary, the Burma Bar was next on the days’ itinerary.

 

Our tent was #11 (of 15), which meant we were 4 tents away from the Burma Bar (located on the opposite side from the restaurant and pool). Quick Tip: If you have trouble getting around or don’t want to take a car to your tent every night, definitely request a tent closer to reception (that is where you’ll spend most of your time).

 

The Burma Bar is an idealic space with tons of “safari” like swag. Quick Tip: Get there early if you want to snag the only two-top in the bar (overlooking the river). We arrived a few minutes late the first evening and ended up in the middle of the bar (not the end of the world but definitely not the best seat in the house).

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You’ll find very quickly that everyone knows everyone at the camp (there are only 15 rooms on property after all). And if you don’t, you soon will. After a few minutes, we met 3 other couples (all on their honeymoons). We enjoyed the next couple hours chatting with the group until it was time for dinner (or maybe another quick drink at the wine cellar before dinner).

We called for a car and were whisked off to dinner. On arrival we were seated at a romantic table for two (candle lit with jazz playing in the background) and provided the menu. After a wonderful 4-course meal (the menu changes nightly), we called it a day and were quickly driven back to our tent.

On arrival at our tent, we locked our door (with two manual locks at the bottom of the door) and climbed right into bed.

JET LAG. Even after 3 nights in Bangkok and powering through the 9 o’clock hour the previous evening, we both awoke around 4 am. The FSTC has no televisions, which we were thankful for, but does have moderately fast WiFi, which we were also thankful for. Instagram, Apple News, Twitter, etc got us through the next couple hours until it was time to get ready for mahout training.

While we have a minute (mahout training doesn’t start for another couple of hours), let’s take some time and talk about bathroom facilities. First off, as I mentioned earlier, there is an enormous claw foot tub in the middle of your bedroom. Neither of us are “bath” people, but if you are, this could be a dream come true. Definitely large enough for two people, wonderful bath salts, and enough hot water for days.

If baths aren’t your thing, there is a wonderful outdoor rain shower a zipper away (which is your only other choice if you decide not to take a bath). Yes, I said zipper. Both the toilet and shower are accessible by two layers of zippered mosquito net and plastic. This was cute at first, but honestly a huge pain after a couple days. With that said, the outdoor shower was one of the best I’ve experienced. Depending on your tent location, you have views of the river, mountains and beyond right from your shower. If you like outdoor showers, this will be a highlight of your trip.

Bath products were heavenly. I usually don’t like reusable dispensers, but for some reason it felt right at the FSTC. The jars were always filled to the top and had beautifully scented soaps; definitely the right way to begin your day.

Okay, finally time for mahout training. The FSTC provides clothing so you won’t dirty anything you brought with you. I liked to lovingly call it a “jeans suits” (it’s basically a denim shirt and pants). It takes a little getting used to, but it ended up being pretty comfortable. They also recommend that you wear a bathing suit underneath your “jeans suit” as some of the elephants like to get wet (as Xenia found out).

Xenia and I were both excited/nervous leading up to the mahout training (we had heard from other guests at the Burma Bar the previous evening that we would be riding the elephants by ourselves). We headed down to breakfast around 7 and grabbed a quick, but scrumptious bite to eat (they always had a good mix of thai and western food for breakfast). After our breakfast, four elephants wondered up to the restaurant looking for theirs. We happily obliged and served them breakfast (bananas) for the next 30 minutes (one of the best experiences at the camp). Staff members graciously offered to take pictures while we fed the magnificent creatures.

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Xenia even received a kiss from one of them.

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Seing, the self-proclaimed “elephant man” introduced himself and provided some additional detail and socks (yes, socks…an elephants skin is very rough so any contact with human skin can be quite abrasive). Once we were settled and everyone was present (3 couples in total), we jumped in a car and headed over to the elephant stables.

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Seing introduced us to all 6 elephants, giving us a little bit of background on each. He also provided us with some general rules (elephants are very dangerous, even in the best of care) so we didn’t hurt ourselves, or the animals.

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After a few minutes, we were each assigned an elephant and away we went.

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At first, the height was very scary. You don’t realize how tall the elephants are until you are lifted up onto their back. You hold on for dear life for the first few minutes, but soon after, you get used to the graceful stride of your new friend.

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After about an hour, your trek ends in the river where the elephants can cool off, get a drink and wash off. If you are fortunate (or unfortunate…depends on how you see it), your elephant may like to have some fun in the water and spray you as they bath themselves. Xenia was one of the lucky ones 🙂

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All in all, it was a wonderful experience that we both highly recommend. I could imagine this being a little difficult for those in their later years or not physically fit. Everyone in our group was under the age of 40 and quite limber (the two other couples were celebrating their honeymoons). With that said, the camp manager informed us that the week prior they had a couple in their 80s successfully complete mahout training. I hope we are that fit in our 80s.

After training, we enjoyed lunch at the restaurant and then Xenia had her first spa treatment (body scrub) at the spa. We ended the evening at the Burma Bar (meeting a few new and old guests) and another fantastic dinner at the restaurant.

The next morning, we both enjoyed a 90-minute spa treatment (included in our 3-night package) in the luxurious, yet rustic treetop spa, then finished the day with a tour of the Golden Triangle (Thailand, Burma and Myanmar). As mentioned earlier, we didn’t get an opportunity to take the long-tail boat at reception, so this was our only other chance. The tour itself was uneventful, a quick stop at a local market and a 700 year old temple under renovation.

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The boat ride was a bright spot; smoothly gliding across the local rivers, watching elephants walk by in the distance.

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The only downside was the amount of trash and pollution in the rivers (unfortunately we’ve come accustomed to this in other 3rd world countries we’ve traveled to).

As with the nights’ prior, we ended the evening at the beautiful Burma Bar and had another tasty dinner at the restaurant.

All in all, our stay at the Four Seasons Tented Camp was a solid 10 (a couple rough patches but nothing major). We would absolutely recommend it for anyone looking a mix of luxury, wilderness and adventure.

Next up, Four Seasons Chiang Mai.

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