My most recent trip sets me in the heart of the Golden Triangle – the point where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma converge – and with an arrival that is incredibly James Bond-esque. In traditional Thai longtail boats we are zipping through the waters of the Mekong River, the lush Thai landscape racing past.
We arrive at the jetty of the Four Seasons Tented Camp which is nestled away in dense tropical jungle and each of us are asked to hit the arrival gong three times to encourage good karma. The camp itself is a small and intimate property and the accommodation reminds me of an African safari lodge. Be warned - the camp is set in quite a hilly location with quite a few steps and even a suspension bridge linking different sections of the camp. This means it can be quite tiring walking around, but I really felt that it added to the feeling of being immersed in the natural surroundings.
The lodges are beautifully decorated in a rustic style and you get the sense that every little detail has been thought of - the tap handles are in the shape of elephant tusks, an old gramophone shaped as an elephant ear sits on an ornate table in the bathroom and in the dining lodge there is a beautiful open fire. The Burma Bar is set high on the hillside and sitting on the terrace enjoying a drink allows you to absorb the spectacular views over the jungle canopy stretching all the way across the river and on to Burma.
After spending an afternoon exploring, I decided to treat myself to a spa treatment. The spa is set at one of the highest points in the camp and is quite a hilly walk to reach; signs marking the way give encouragement such as 'Keep going - almost there' and, oh my, the effort to get there was most definitely worth it. The Spa rooms look out over the tree canopy, with the sounds of nature all around - a truly spectacular and unusual location.
Staying at this intimate camp offers a unique experience that provides an insight into Thai culture and a way of life that is hard to find nowadays. I was very sad to leave and, as I hit the gong three times to say goodbye, I felt incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit this inspirational place.
From here we headed to Chiang Mai. Although it is quite a lengthy journey - around four hours in total - I would recommend taking this journey by car. The roads are great and it is possible to break it up with a visit to the White Temple - a continuing working project from artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. This building is an intricate and breath-taking vision that seems to literally shimmer - even on a cloudy day - and most certainly worth a visit. Another welcome stop on the journey was the hot sulphur springs where our guide cooked an egg in the heat from them. An interesting - if slightly smelly - interlude on the trip! The alternative, should you wish to get to Chiang Mai via a more direct route, is a helicopter transfer between the Four Seasons properties.
The Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai is set in thirty two acres of greenery at the foothills of the Mae Rim Valley on the outskirts of Chiang Mai and offers superb views over the city. All of the accommodations are built on stilts around terraced rice paddies and the resort has been designed to sensitively fit in with the natural environment. Guests are able to take part in the harvesting of the rice - which is given away to local communities - and are taught how to plant the rice seedlings in the traditional way. There are buffalos used to work the rice paddies too - animals so synonymous with rice production in these parts - and these gentle and friendly beasts are brought up for guests to meet. They are so well looked after their coats gleam.
There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai so you really have the pick of which ones to visit; I would definitely recommend the temple set high at 3,500 feet and the highest temple in the city. The views from here are incredible, as is the temple itself. The elaborate and intricate gold detailing is quite awe-inspiring and even more so when we learn that the gold leaf is replaced every two years.
When we return to the resort, I decide to take part in a class at the cooking school. This started with a trip to the market with the chef to select our ingredients and was a fantastic experience being in the midst of the buzzy, busy and bartering atmosphere. When we returned to the school we watched the chef prepare a range of dishes before challenging ourselves to replicate the delicacies. We then sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labours - and it was a delicious feast, although maybe some of our offerings weren't produced with quite the same level of panache as the Thai chef!
The next and final stop on our mini tour of Thailand was the Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui; an established resort with accommodations set into the hillside that cascade down to the white sand beach and blue sea beyond. It is quite a steep and hilly resort but there are golf buggies that are really efficient at transporting guests around the property with the minimum of fuss and effort; it is this hillside setting that I feel actually makes this a very special resort. From here the views are simply breathtaking. The Gulf of Siam and the surrounding islands stretch out before you; basking in the sun whilst floating in your private villa pool, taking in these spectacular vistas is really something special.
Wherever you are in this resort, there is a sense of seclusion and - as at the Tented Camp - of being immersed in nature. On land, the gym has jungle views and the Spa salas are surrounded by lush vegetation. In the water there is exceptional snorkelling in the Ang Thong Marine Park, or swim out into the shallow lagoon to one of the hammocks and while away the hours suspended above the blue, blue sea. Exquisite!
This trip really gave me a taste of how much Thailand has to offer. Such a melting pot of experiences, visions, tastes, smells, all melded together with the delightful and gracious Thai charm.