Last updated: 09:15 PM ET, Sun August 14 2016

Finding The Ideal Elephant Experience in Thailand

Hotel & Resort | Josh Lew | June 22, 2016

Finding The Ideal Elephant Experience in Thailand

Photo by Josh Lew 

Guest at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort can see three countries from the restaurant, the pool and their room’s balcony. Located in Northernmost Thailand, Anantara sits on 160 acres that run right up to the borders with Myanmar and Laos.

The location of this property is one of its best attributes. Guests will also find all the luxuries that one expects from the Anantara brand.

The real headliner, though, is the elephant camp, which not only offers up-close encounters with the giant creatures but also provides innovated experiences and a unique, practical approach to conservation.

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Resort basics

Anantara Golden Triangle boasts 63 rooms that are characterized by teakwood floors, oversized terrazzo tubs (large enough for two) and balconies that overlook the Triangle. It is not uncommon to see the resident elephants wandering along the riverbanks beside their mahouts from these balconies.

All the accommodations — 44 standard rooms, 14 suites and five 96 sq. meter family suites — have “three country views.” Flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and climate controls (very necessary, especially in the sweaty spring and summer months) mean that being this close to nature does not have to mean sacrificing comfort.

The infinity pool offers some of the best views on the property, especially if you feel inclined to take a sunrise dip. The pool sits adjacent to the airy Elephant Bar. Sala Mae Nam restaurant features traditional Thai specialties, a breakfast buffet and a charming open-air setting. The more contemporary, air-conditioned Baan Dhalia serves up Mediterranean Cuisine, though it is open only for dinner.

The five-treatment-room Anantara spa has a menu that consists of both standard and traditional Thai massages and treatments.

Elephant camp

The views at Anantara Golden Triangle are a highlight for all but the most difficult-to-impress guests, but a trip to this Northernmost outpost isn’t worthwhile if you don’t take part in an elephant experience. Dozens of resident pachyderms live in the camp alongside their mahouts and a staff of experts, guides and veterinarians.

Anantara offers three different experiences (Though it is possible to get up close with some of the elephants when they stop by Sala Mae Nam at breakfast time).

The Mahout Training Experience gives guests the chance to actually ride and interact with the elephants just like their mahouts do. This remains the most popular option at the resort. Thought other resorts now offer something similar, Anantara claims to be one of the first to have come up with the concept.

The Elephant Learning Experience, meanwhile, gives guests an up-close look at the work done with rescued elephants by the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Association.

The newest experience, dubbed Walking with Giants, allows guests the chance to walk alongside mahouts as they take their charges on their daily walk and give them a bath. Veterinarians or guides are often on hand to answer questions and provide insights about the elephants.

Conservation philosophy

The Elephant Camp has a unique approach. Rather than buying the elephants from their mahouts, Anantara has set up a village where mahouts can live while they continue to take care of the elephants. In effect, Anantara is hiring the mahout/elephant pair rather than buying (rescuing) the elephant outright.

This stops the cycle of mahouts selling their elephants to camps or charities and then using some of the profits to purchase other elephants that they will use for labor or street performing before selling them as well.

Area attractions

Chiang Rai is about an hour’s drive from Anantara Golden Triangle. This is a small, laid-back city with markets, temples and a vibrant arts scene that is much more accessible than it would be if it was located in a larger city.

Art Bridge Chiang Rai features the work of local contemporary artists in an unpretentious gallery. The works displayed here are very accessible and the attached restaurant serves quality Northern Thai specialties with a creative flair that is fitting for a gallery setting.

The city’s central market provides a glimpse of day-to-day life in urban Northern Thailand while the Saturday Night Market is a haven for deal seekers, souvenir hunters and sightseers (just remember to apply mosquito repellant before heading out).

And, as Anantara’s name suggests, this is the famous Golden Triangle. People who want a photo op can head to the scenic overlooks to snap panoramas of all three countries. Those who want to get a little bit closer to the geography can actually take a boat across the Mekong to Don Sao, an island owned by Laos. The overpriced souvenirs aren’t worth the trip, but for anyone who wants to cross Laos off their bucket list (and spend some time on this scenic section of the Mekong), this is an ideal opportunity.

Special events

Anantara Golden Triangle is adept at putting on special celebrations. Their unique Dining by Design offerings allow guests to plan and enjoy a personalized meal almost anywhere on the property.

This option is popular with people traveling for honeymoons or anniversaries. The concept brings a little bit of extra romance to a stay here. The romance is so evident that producers for the reality show "The Bachelor" recently chose the resort as a shooting location.

READ MORE: 3 Top Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

A different face of Thailand

Anantara Golden Triangle brings another aspect to Thailand to travelers. Some travelers are familiar with the classic jungle landscapes of Northern Thailand and the elephant experiences. For others, however, this is a completely different face of the country, totally opposite from the shopping malls and beaches that make up a bulk of Thailand’s international image.

Elephant experiences are common in Thailand, but few offer the kind of creativity, quality and conscience that defines Anantara Golden Triangle.

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