Anantara Golden Triangle

near Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai & North, Thailand Book from THB30,600

Reviewed by Rosanna de Lisle
Laid-back, luxurious resort in the heart of the mysterious Golden Triangle - where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet - with an award-winning elephant camp
This exotic, stylish and supremely cosseting hotel is one of the best 5-star resorts in Asia; expect frangipani garlands, cold flannels and friendly, welcoming staff. But 2 things make it truly distinctive.

One is its location: at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers, in Thailand but only a mile from Burma and Laos. Once upon a time, this was serious no-go territory: the Golden Triangle produced most of the world’s opium and was ruled by druglords. Since then, a concerted clean-up, initiated by the Thai royal family, has opened the region to visitors, who are drawn as much by its mysterious past - this was Lanna Thai (the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields) - as its mountainous and riverine landscapes. The second distinction is an elephant camp, where animals rescued from the streets of Chiang Mai and Bangkok now offer rides through the forest; braver guests can even train as mahouts. It's such a hit that a third of guests, from honeymooners to families, come principally to spend time with these gentle giants.

Highs

  • The award-winning elephant camp, which sets standards in mahout training and elephant conservation around the world
  • The dramatic architecture and idyllic gardens, pools and terraces, plus 160 acres of grassland, riverbank and bamboo forest, which guests can explore on foot, bike or elephant
  • The option of private dining, with a chef cooking to order, at a table set in a rice paddy, or on a ridge with views over the entire Golden Triangle
  • The infinity pool, which seems to merge into the Mekong valley
  • The 3 Country View Rooms have views over Thailand, Laos and Burma

Lows

  • For all its striking design, lovely location, creature comforts and excellent service, this is very much a resort, and the scale of the place won’t appeal to those who like their hotels small, quirky and homespun
  • Rates look terrifyingly expensive - but they do include all meals and activities
  • Our in-room internet access was glitch-prone
  • Yoga classes, when not held on the terrace, happen in a rather functional, unconducive ballroom

Best time to go

We recommend visiting from October to February, when the Golden Triangle enjoys warm, sunny days (average 30C). Temperatures can drop to 10C at night.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Spa Resort & Elephant Camp
  • 77
  • All inclusive
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Tennis Court
  • Bicycles Available
  • Elephant tours
  • Cookery classes
Room: Deluxe 3 Country View Room

Rooms

There are 58 Deluxe 3 Country View Rooms, 6 Anantara Suites and 13 Anantara 3 Country View Suites, housed in 2 wings either side of the temple-like main building. Paths wind through carefully planted tropical foliage to semi-external staircases which in turn lead to just a few rooms: there are no long, institutional corridors and consequently you’re largely unaware of your neighbours.

All rooms and suites fuse traditional and contemporary Thai design, with gleaming teakwood floors, locally woven cottons and silks and a harmonious mix of old (or repro) and modern furniture. Beds are kingsize (twins are available on request) and supremely comfortable - ours, in an Anantara Suite, had a pillowtop mattress. Colours are understated - natural tones with the odd dash of ochre or burnt sienna - so as not to argue with the views of the valley unfurling below your window. Glass doors lead to a balcony with a daybed cantilevered from the wooden structure like a giant windowbox. Suites are larger than the rooms, and have a distinct sitting area with a sofa and 2 armchairs. But we’d recommend you gave the Anantara Suites a miss, and opt for one of the Country View Rooms or Suites, as the view is simply breath-taking, how often can you sit in one spot overlooking 3 different and fascinating countries (Thaliland, Laos and Burma)?

Bathrooms are large and semi-open-plan, with twin basins and terrazzo baths big enough for 2. In the rooms, the bath is rectangular with shower overhead; suites have separate showers and oval tubs filled with flowers on arrival. There’s a wooden bookrest, a stack of handtowels deftly arranged to look like an elephant and if the petals aren’t soothing enough, you can add a tea infusion to the water.

Mod-cons are as standard; the minibar runs to 2 cabinets, for hot and cold drinks respectively, and fruit is replaced daily. TV and hi-fi, including an iPod connection, are housed in a wooden cupboard, which swivels to face either bed or sofa. All rooms have fans as well as air-conditioning.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Iron
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Tv
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

There are 2 restaurants, Sala Mae Nam, named after the surrounding mountain range, and Baan Dahlia, a smaller, more intimate restaurant with the atmosphere of a wine cellar.

Sala Mae Nam serves a mouth-watering array of Thai dishes such as Naem Chiang Rai (Chiang Rai sausages), Nor Oua (deep-fried young bamboo shoots stuffed with minced pork), Gai Ob Samliam Thong Kum (roasted marinated chicken with Thai herbs and spices) and Gaeng Hung Lay (traditional northern-style spare ribs served in a spicy curry sauce). Staff are happy to advise and recommend food.

In contrast, Baan Dahlia’s menu is decidedly Western, with buffalo mozzarella from Italy, New Zealand lamb chops and Margaret River Wagyu beef (from Western Australia). In a bid to offset these food miles, the resort sources many of its other ingredients from local farms and its own kitchen garden.

The Elephant Bar and Opium Terrace serves light meals alongside signature cocktails; particularly recommended is the Street Hawker, a vodka martini with mango nectar, lime juice, coriander and red chilli.

Private dining is available (nicknamed Dining by Design) with chefs cooking to order in a choice of several enchanting locations, from a rice paddy to a ridge with views over the entire Golden Triangle. A favourite spot is the terrace overlooking the baby elephant sanctuary, understandably so!

Breakfast is a huge international buffet served in Sala Mae Nam - though it’s tastefully done without a bain-marie in sight. An array of terracotta pots holds everything from a full English to Dim Sum and Miso soup. Eggs are cooked to order, and the staff remember how you like your coffee. Try to get a table on the terrace, as a baby elephant may make an appearance for a morning cuddle and snack (usually between 8.30-9am).

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cooking classes
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Private dining available
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
Eating: Elephant Bar and Opium Terrace
Activity:

Activities

    Many guests - around a third - come especially for the elephant camp, and some spend several days getting to know these generally gentle giants. Of the 30 or so elephants, about half take guests on treks through the forest or are used for training mahouts. If that sounds fun, book a 1-day or 3-day mahout-training course which include lessons in how to get on and off an elephant, how to command and steer her, and how to bathe with her in the river or pond (key tip: hang on to her ears).

    The other half of the elephants are recovering street-rescues, babies, or new mothers, who are supported by a sister charity, the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. There is also a dedicated camp for the baby elephants. All guests are welcome to visit the camp and see the elephants feeding and bathing, between 8am and 2pm every day.

    Other elephant related activities include: elephant yoga - yes, you do get to do yoga positions while stood on an elephant and E.L.E. (elephant learning experience), in which you learn about their biology and get to work alongside the vet, washing and playing with the calves.

    Other activities include:

  • The Hall of Opium Museum, bang opposite the resort’s gates, which offers a fascinating exposition of the Golden Triangle’s infamous history (included as one of the daily complimentary activities)

  • Anantara Spa with a range of beauty treatments, Ayurveda and massages (including a special mahout massage to straighten you out after clenching thigh muscles you didn't know you had), all delivered in stylish suites with outdoor tubs and chill-out balconies

  • Shopping and sightseeing in Chiang Saen, the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom (about 30 minutes by car), or in Chiang Rai, the provincial capital (an hour’s drive away)

  • Go on an excursion into the hills to see colourful hilltribe villages, wonderful handicrafts, flower plantations and great views

  • Take walks along nature trails (with or without a guide) and keep your eyes peeled for the vast array of tropical birds

  • Play golf at Santiburi Golf Course (70km away) and Waterford Valley (50km)

  • Swim in the infinity pool - where else can you float around while looking over 2 rivers and 3 countries?

  • Take a trip along the Mekong River in longtail boats, continuing into Laos and all the way to Luang Prabang - great if you have 3 days to spare

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Golf
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

This resort is well suited to adventurous children who like being outdoors. As for adult guests, the elephant camp is the main draw, and children of any age are welcome to ride elephants, though the hotel requires a parent or guardian to accompany children under 12 for at least their first session.

Infants under 2 go free; children under 12 in an extra bed incur a small charge, and those over 12 are charged the full extra bed rate.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

All of the rooms and suites can accommodate an extra bed or a baby cot. If you have older kids, book 2 connecting Deluxe 3 Country View Rooms which have a shared balcony (request on enquiry).

Babysitting:

Babysitting available by arrangement. Prices double after midnight - see Rates.

Baby equipment:

  • Baby bedding
  • High chairs

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

High tea and early dinner sittings feature a kids menu. The restaurants serve both Thai and Western food.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Elephant camp
  • Swimming pool
  • Children's DVDs and a selection of toys and games
  • Tennis, squash and table tennis

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Explore the forest and riverbank on foot
  • Bird watching
  • Hire bikes to explore the neighbourhood
  • Take a longtail boat trip down the Mekong River

Families Should Know:

The pool isn't fenced and there's no lift. You will all need a number of vaccinations before travelling in Thailand, particularly in this jungle area.

Distances:

  • Airport: 60km
  • Hospital: 12km
  • Nearest shop (for nappies, baby food and toys): 2km from resort
Kid Friendly:

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