The five-star resort is part of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a charity that rehabilitates and protects abused elephants
Where Kenya has the Giraffe Manor, Thailand has the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp. The hotel, one of the most luxurious in Chiang Rai, doesn’t do low-key arrivals. Perched in a traditional longtail boat, I cruise down the mighty Mekong River, enveloped by vibrant forestry, as we approach a trio of trunks – three of the region's finest residents have turned out to herald my arrival at the world-renowned resort.
The hotel is part of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a charity that rescues abandoned and abused elephants. Often, these are captive animals working in the city centres, where they are forced to perform tricks for tourists. Their mahouts (keepers) are paid a fair wage to care for the elephants in the camp (there are 23, currently), where they chow down on coconuts, sugar cane and grass by the tonne while courting the attention of gleeful hotel guests.
Hidden in a tropical jungle on a mountainous ridge that overlooks the spot where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, the resort is a sanctuary for adults and animals alike. Misty, panoramic views are the backdrop for the hotel's traditional Thai architecture, which marries carved woods and teak floors with hand-spun silk furnishings in café-latte colours.
Luxurious Thai decor continues in each of the 61 rooms and suites, which boast sunken baths and private balconies with large daybeds that overlook either the resort’s fragrant gardens or picture-perfect infinity pool, itself framed by clouds of greenery.
Despite all of this, it is the animals that are the star attraction at the Golden Triangle. Embark on an hour-long trek, where you amble side-by-side with a herd of gentle giants, while learning about the historical role of these emblematic animals in Thailand and the foundation's essential work. In the evening, an intimate candlelit dinner alongside frolicking elephants is undoubtedly one of life’s pinch-me moments, as a private butler produces plate after plate of aromatic Thai cuisine.
The pièce de résistance is the collection of newly developed, transparent Jungle Bubble domes. Offering a deluxe safari experience, visitors can sleep comfortably beneath a starlit sky and wake to a group of jolly jumbos. Each luxurious domed suite is fully furnished with a king-sized bed, lounge and an enclosed bathroom and shower, alongside all of the hotel’s requisite luxury touches, like sumptuous bed linen and fluffy bathrobes.
The foundation is currently funding medical research into elephant therapy as an alternative treatment for children with autism, as well as working with Cambridge University to research the endangered mammal’s far-reaching capabilities. Elephants are considered to be one of the world's most empathic and intelligent species – hence the phrase, an elephant never forgets – and it’s nigh on impossible not to fall in love with their benevolent nature during a visit to the Golden Triangle.
Away from the animals, there are two restaurants: one serving traditional Northern Thai cuisine and the other unexpectedly dishing up Italian fare. The expansive wellness offering includes sunrise yoga in the paddy fields, Muay Thai boxing lessons and morning meditation with a Buddhist monk.
A paradise within a paradise, the three-storey spa pavilion overlooks the beguiling folds of the jungle and boasts soaring ceilings and an impressive menu of blissful massages and milk baths that draw on northern wellness traditions. Look closely through the rustling branches and you might just see a trunk, signalling another lucky guest’s arrival.
How to get there: Fly to Bangkok international airport and explore the city before heading north to Chiang Rai. Stay at Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort, the city's only low-rise resort hotel on the banks of the Chao Praya river, or the opulent Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, which has an outdoor swimming pool and popular bar and restaurant in the open-air Parichart Court.
From £2,250 per person for three nights including one night in a jungle bubble, all meals, soft drinks and selected alcoholic drinks and private round trip transfers from Chiang Rai airport. This rate also includes a Spice Spoons cooking class, a Walking with Giants elephant experience, a spa treatment, a private dinner, a 90-minute private sunrise yoga session and temple meditation with a Buddhist monk.