the honeymoon part 3: chiang rai
*for part 2, bangkok, click here.
|Our new friends.|
After cramming as much as humanly possible into 24 hours in Bangkok, we hopped on a quick flight to Chiang Rai, one of the northernmost cities of Thailand. The area is also known as the Golden Triangle, as the countries of Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand meet at the intersection of the Mekong river.
While the area isn't as well known for tourism as fellow northern city Chiang Mai, we were going for one reason: elephants.
|Our tent was themed for the area's hill tribes.|
I'll back up a bit: during my many, many hours of research, I came across Four Seasons Golden Triangle, also known as Tented Camp. Built along the river, it features only 16 tents: each one with views of the river, huge decks, outdoor showers and the prettiest bathtubs you've ever seen.
|Our bathtub! Rose apples in the foreground.|
I use the term "tents" loosely (this is me we're talking about, here): we had running water, electricity, wifi and heat. There is no TV though, thank goodness. One of the best parts about the resort is how quiet it is at night, save for the elephants chatting with each other. After ogling the website for a few hours, we decided extend the honeymoon by a few days so we could fit it into the itinerary.
It isn't cheap, but if you're looking to spend some quality time with pachyderms (and be pampered by a staff of 130), I don't think you could find anywhere more magical. In fact, -- bold statement coming up -- I'm pretty sure this is the most incredible place I've ever stayed (maybe ever will stay).
|On the boat to camp!|
The journey starts at the airport, where someone from the hotel is waiting for you with a car. While the drive to the river is about an hour, the car had wifi and iPads (!) to keep us entertained. From there, the only way to arrive at camp is by boat. See above photo, with yours truly looking especially Asian.
The resort itself feels like a combination of Myst and Lost. The main area, which includes the restaurant, deck, lobby and wine cellar, legitimately looks like something out of a video game.
|That's me with my Hill Tribe blanky.|
All of your meals and activities (including elephant riding and spa treatment) are included in the daily fee, which meant that someone else was doing all of the planning for us. After running ourselves ragged in Tokyo and Bangkok, this was much appreciated.
After bouncing around like kids on Christmas (Hanukah for Mike) in our tent, we suited up in our elephant training (mahout) outfits, which were already hanging in our room.
|Fashion. Notice the Crocs.|
While Asian elephants are considerably smaller than their African counterparts, these bitches (they were all lady pachyderms) are big. Mounting them can be done in a few different ways, but the most ungraceful involves other mahouts basically shoving your behind onto their backs while you reach frantically for the elephants' ears. Sexy.
After learning how the commands for go, stop, turn and slow down (that last one is pretty handy if you're paranoid), we were deemed ready for our actual trek. It ended in a dip in the river, and by dip, I mean literally getting totally submerged while my elephant splashed me with water about 25 times in a row. Mike watched on and laughed.
All our meals were held at the restaurant, which was an open-air pavilion overlooking the river. While Mike and I are not generally fans of having to eat at the same place every night (let alone all three meals a day), the food was fantastic. We had our first taste of khao soi here, one of the signature dishes of northern Thailand. It's a mix of noodles (both cooked and crispy), chicken, coconut curry and what dreams are made of. If you ever see it on a Thai menu, order it, trust me.
|The view from lunch.|
We opted to add on a few additional activities while we were there. First: a sunrise elephant trek. We woke up around 5:30 AM and traipsed to the meet-up point in the pitch black. Imagine my surprise when the mahouts arrived with flashlights and I realized there were two giant elephants who had been STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO ME the entire time. Nuts.
We hiked to the camp summit on elephants just as the sun rose.
Coincidentally we happened to be at the camp for its anniversary. Every year, they invite monks from a local temple to come to the resort to offer blessings. The guests get to participate by giving food to the monks (they're not allowed to purchase anything, from what I understand, and have to rely on donations).
Since it WAS our honeymoon, we also added on a romantical private dinner close to the elephant camp (but far enough away that you couldn't smell them). After saying goodnight to our friends and feeding them sugarcane (their favorite!), we were led to candlelit table complete with musical entertainment.
|Getting serenaded by local village musicians.|
At the end of our meal, we lit paper lanterns and made wishes as we sent them into the sky. It was one of the most memorable (and tasty) dinners we've ever had.
The resort also organizes a few trips into town as part of your stay. While the Hall of Opium museum sounds like it might be a drag, it's actually extremely well done (and there's a great exhibit on how people have tried to smuggle drugs through airports!).
We also visited the local market, which had everything from roasted corn to ... ant eggs.
One of our favorite parts about Tented Camp was breakfast, and not just because we love a good Bircher museli. Elephants need to eat too and they have the total run of the place:
Thank you to the incredible staff at Tented Camp for truly making our honeymoon beautiful.
Also thank you to these elephant butts.