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Visitors to Chiang Rai province’s famed Golden Triangle experience a heady mix of stunning landscapes, historical mood and intriguing culture

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The charm of the Golden Triangle far outstrips the legacy of its notorious reputation – made famous by its name, allegedly coined by no less than the CIA. Visitors to this lush, beautiful and sparsely populated region in Thailand’s far north can expect an absorbing experience that goes to the heart of some of the country’s most potent historical heritages, alongside more recent colonial influences.

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It’s here – where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge and the mighty Mekong River meets the Ruak River – that peaceful countryside and misty mountains provide a stunning backdrop to fascinating tribal lifestyles, mostly unchanged since ancient times. We entered the Golden Triangle through its gateway of Chiang Rai, the easygoing city on the banks of the Kok River. This was the first capital of the region’s Lanna Kingdom in the 13th century, its tumbledown collection of old temples and buildings, with Lanna relics and imagery, hinting at its former stature. The conventional tourist focus of the Golden Triangle is Sop Ruak, a symbolic icon where the Mekong and Ruak Rivers meet to form a natural border between the three converging countries. Almost 10 kilometres downstream from here on the banks of the Mekong is sleepy Chiang Saen, another ancient Lanna capital steeped in the history of the regions culture.

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And close to Chiang Saen, deep in the jungle – although it’s exact location is a closely-guarded secret – was our destination, Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, where accommodation under canvas offers privileged guests the nearest thing to a 19th century jungle explorer experience. But with luxurious tents that boast air conditioning and all the trappings of modern comforts such as phones, mini-bars and hot tubs, this isn’t exactly a replica of Victorianera jungle hardship. There’s also a fully-equipped traditional Spa and sumptuous Thai, Laotian, Burmese and Western cuisine options at the resort’s Nong Yao restaurant that bring this jungle outpost bang up-to-date. Despite all this it does provide an authentic encounter with rustic jungle life and colour that’s all too rare in the modern world. We arrived at this fabulous resort by the only guest access possible – aboard a small boat on the Ruak River.

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It was a fitting entrance to a colonial ambience of of living under canvas in untouched jungle, with hurricane lamps hardwood floors, handcrafted furniture and mosquito nets for company. There are just 15 tents available, all linked by quaint walkways, as well as the option of an Explorer’s Lodge for larger families or groups of friends. Elephants are a focus here, and we spent a memorable time interacting with the gentle residents of the resort’s Elephant Camp. These majestic creatures have been rescued and rehabilitated, and close interaction with them here in their natural habitat seems apt and appropriate in this unspoiled jungle environment.

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Inspired by what seemed to be the lingering spirits of 19th century explorers in this remote spot, we did some exploring of our own, following rough-hewn trails into the enveloping jungle and up into the mountains surrounding the resort. Buoyed by these adventures, we took a trip on a long-tailed boat out to the waters of the mighty Mekong to see Sop Ruak, and its convergence of three countries, from a water-borne vantage point, our skipper carefully skirting around the sandbar where the Mekong and the Ruak Rivers meet. We took the opportunity to alight from these calm waters to wander touristorientated Sop Ruak, with its souvenir shops and Buddha and elephant statues, as well as its must-see Hall of Opium, a carefullycurated museum detailing the history and dangers of the product that gave this region its worldwide notoriety. Tucked away in a secluded setting deep in the northernmost reaches of Thailand, this glorious resort personifies the intriguing confluence of mysterious ancient and modern heritages that is the Golden Triangle.

fourseasons.com/GoldenTriangle

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