Where to Glamp in Style Around Thailand

Joe Cummings

11 Apr 2022


Enjoy an elevated camping experience in the Land of Smiles

[This story originally appeared in Koktail Magazine issue 2.]

 

The term “glamping”, an awkward mashup of  “glamourous” and “camping,” first appeared in British media in 2005 to describe a trend that has only intensified since then. In simple terms, glamping seeks to elevate traditional tent camping by using tents one can stand up in and by adding amenities more typical of luxury hotel holidays, such as fine bedding, electric lighting, furniture and a washroom. The experience taps a growing demand among experienced wanderers who are seeking a deeper immersion in nature—and sometimes culture—without having to sacrifice too many creature comforts. It’s a niche market made up of people who realise the contradictions inherent in sleeping in climate-controlled boxes in the mountains or at the edge of the ocean, insulated from the immediate natural surroundings.

At its best, glamping offers a way to maintain physical comfort and a certain level of luxury without giving up the delightful sights, sounds and smells of the environment. The concept has roots in pre-WWII African safaris, the tented desert camps of the Arab world and even 16th century Scotland when the Earl of Atholl pitched lavish tents in the Highlands and filled them with provisions of his own home palace for visiting King James V and his mother. A certain nostalgia for the romance and ambience of such historic caravanserais adds to the attraction.

Around Thailand, the typical glamping resort offers large safari-quality canvas tents moored on permanent platforms and furnished with decks, firepits, attached semi-outdoor washrooms, fine linens and simple rustic decors. The sides of the tent typically roll up in sections to allow ventilation through screened panels, aided by fans or—rarely—air conditioning. Variations on the theme may include yurts (round Mongolian-style tents), cabins and even treehouses.

From south to north, here are some of our favourites.

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9 Hornbills Tented Camp, Ko Yao Noi

Named for an original flock of nine hornbills roosting at this site (the number has since increased), this high-end resort camp on Ko Yao Noi, a small island near Phuket, stands on a hillside a few minutes away from a private beach. The resort can only be reached via boat from Phuket, and the resort operates its own longtail boat for that purpose.

Each of the seven tented villas boasts a sizeable 60-square metre living/sleeping area (the extra-large bed is fitted with a uniquely designed air-conditioner meant to keep you comfortable without taking away from the glamping experience) and is equipped with furniture locally made from sustainable teak, a separate bathroom with a clawfoot bathtub and vanity and an outdoor open-air rain shower. Outside each tent is a 48-square-metre outdoor lounge and a private swimming pool.

Complimentary kayaks, bicycles and stand-up paddleboards are available at a private beach at sister property Koyao Island Resort down the road. Dining options include a floating breakfast in the pool and private seafood barbecues or dining at Koyao Island Resort where guests have full use of the facilities and Pumpui Restaurant.

From 11,000 baht per night
Ko Yao Noi, Ko Yao District, Phang-nga
065-640-0064
9hornbills.com

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Khwan Beach Resort, Koh Samui

Set amidst groves of coconut and frangipani, Khwan Beach Resort is a short walk from quiet Maenam Beach on Koh Samui. All seven luxury tented villas, ranging from 45 square metres to 110 square metres in size, include a furnished living/sleeping area, a private garden and terrace, a semi-outdoor shower and bathtub and a swinging sofa. The one-bedroom tents sleep two while the two-bedroom, two-bathroom tents can take up to four guests.

The resort’s open-air, wood-and-bamboo Passa Restaurant is a destination in its own right, emphasising fresh seafood, Thai cuisine, steak and French nouvelle cuisine. A swimup bar at the resort’s sizeable pool serves cocktails, fruit and herbal concoctions, salads and sandwiches. Through nearby Miskawaan Health Rehabilitation and Immune Center, Khwan also offers a variety of wellness programmes from body detox to immunotherapy and anti-ageing treatments.

From 3,499 baht per night
Maenam Beach, Koh Samui, Surat Thani
062-565-0796
khwanbeachresort.com

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Roost Glamping, Phuket

This eco-friendly, boutique glamping property is located in the south of the island between Nai Harn and Rawai beaches. Nineteen cosy bell tents—set amongst tropical gardens, natural rocks and landscaping—come in three sizes. The Tikaokao Private En-suite sleeps two guests in one queen bed with a choice of air conditioning or fan. Also included are a bamboo-bedecked bathroom in a separate structure and a lounge area with camp chairs in front of the tent. The Sonder Private Tent takes two guests with fan only and shared bathroom and shower facilities. The Trouvaille Shared Tent sleeps up to four guests in four single beds—dormitory style—and has two large fans and shared facilities.

Roost Café & Bar serves affordable, healthy beverages and dining options all day, including vegan-friendly meals, seafood and Thai classics. Aside from the usual beach activities, Khwan can arrange a zip-lining experience at a site four kilometres away where guests can glide from tree to tree, stopping off at 35 different platforms along the way.

From 2,000 baht per night
Rawai Beach, Phuket
063-508-4319
roostglamping.com

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Hintok River Camp, Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi

One of Thailand’s most unique tented camps stands next to Hellfire Pass near the Khwae Noi River—more famously known as the River Kwai—in Kanchanaburi. From July to September 1943, during the Japanese military occupation of Siam in WWII, Japanese forces operated the camp to hold 300 British prisoners of war used as forced labour to build the infamous Death Railway. The prisoners cut Hellfire Pass by hand through a hill of solid rock to provide rail passage for supplies en route to Japanese troops in Burma. The war ended and the surviving prisoners were liberated before the railway was completed; many prisoners died of malnutrition, tropical disease and mistreatment. Today’s camp pays homage to its predecessor with the preservation of railway ties and a guard tower.

Guided hikes along the four-kilometre Hellfire Pass Walking Trail and other trails in the vicinity are a perfect way to learn more about the history of the war and the natural environment. Other popular guest activities include kayaking and bamboo rafting on the river, cave exploration and elephant treks. A rock pool fed by a natural spring next to the River Kwai is a perfect spot for catching sunsets and relaxing tired muscles.

An open-air dining terrace overlooking the historical river serves a broad range of Thai and international dishes along with world-class wines, beer and spirits.

From 14,300 baht per person per night
Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi
02-642-5497
hintokrivercamp.com

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Elephant Hills, Khao Sok

Located next to Khao Sok National Park, the country’s largest stretch of rainforest, Elephant Hills is one of Thailand’s oldest luxury tented camps. It makes a great base from which to embark on two to four-day adventure tours (available separately or as part of a resort package) led by TAT-licensed, English-speaking tour guides. Safari-style tents are well furnished with hardwood and bamboo and come with en-suite bathrooms and private terraces. From the surrounding rainforest, canopy singing birds and whooping gibbons—rare elsewhere in Thailand—provide a natural soundtrack.

At its own elephant park, the camp can arrange an educational, close-up experience with Southeast Asia’s largest land mammal. At the Rainforest Camp on the huge Cheow Larn Lake nearby, the same owners offer tents on floating platforms. A stay here can be coordinated together with a stay at Elephant Hills. Free kayaks are available for exploring the lake’s vast emerald-green waters.

Healthy buffet meals are served in a common dining room at both camps.

Three-day packages available from 25,115 baht
Khlong Sok, Phanom District, Surat Thani
05-200-1186
elephanthills.com

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Lala Mukha Tented Resort, Khao Yai

Amid the rolling hills and grasslands near Khao Yao National Park—somewhat reminiscent of African plains albeit considerably greener—this eco-friendly resort features 31 elegantly appointed tents and treehouses. Eco-Safari Tents sleep two and measure 32 square metres. Equipped with air-conditioning, these tents surround a campfire under shade trees and alongside a pond. Each comes with a generous outdoor wooden deck. Shower and toilet facilities are shared. Deluxe Savanna Tents are larger at 36 square metres and come with spacious en-suite bathrooms.

A large infinity-edge swimming pool, set by the pond with a view of limestone mountains in the distance, is a focal point for the camp. The lantern-lit Jabulani restaurant is another pull, serving Thai and international dishes with an emphasis on grilled and roasted specialities.

The resort can arrange a “swimming with elephants” experience on request along with Khao Yai National Parktrekking, visits to Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall, sunrise at the cliffs of Pha Diao Dai and tasting tours of local vineyards, including the esteemed GranMonte.

From 2,990 baht per night
Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima
04-430-0691
lalamukha.com

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Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen

The most luxurious of all glamping resorts in Thailand was founded in 2011 near the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong, right at the epicentre of the Golden Triangle where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. Built on elevated grounds along a forested hillside, the camp commands magical views of all three countries. From Chiang Rai  International Airport, guests take a 75-minute drive through villages and farms before reaching a river dock at the Thai apex of the Golden Triangle where they board a longtail boat for a 10-minute ride to the resort (via road by a four-wheel-drive vehicle is an alternative).

The 15 fully air-conditioned tents—five Deluxe tents and 10 Superior tents—named after local hill tribes, fauna or flora, are pitched on wooden platforms connected by a jungle pathway. Elegant decors feature liberal use of leather and teak, and a private deck comes with its own wooden hot tub. There’s also the opulent 232-square metre Explorer's Lodge, designed by legendary American designer Bill Bensley, which features a tree-flanked private pool. The lodge can sleep up to six guests.

Nong Yao Restaurant specialises in authentic Lao, northern Thai and Burmese cuisines. Set menus for dinner change daily, highlighting seasonal produce and the chef’s choice of the day. The Wine Cellar offers wine and cheese tasting sessions, along with a private wine pairing for two. The open-air, thatched-roof Burma Bar overlooks  Myanmar and the Ruak River, a stunning location for inspired sundowners. Leather couches flank a large stone fireplace in the lounge, a welcome source of warmth during northern Thailand’s cool season from December to February.

The semi-open-air spa emphasises novel treatments inspired by local wellness systems, including massage, body scrubs and herbal compresses.

Four Seasons works in collaboration with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to rehabilitate elephants rescued from elephant shows and street begging so that they can live in a protected way in the forest. The “My Elephant & I” programme invites guests to observe and interact with the animals at the nearby Elephant Camp, guided by an experienced mahout. Guests may walk alongside the elephants on their daily walks through the jungle to bathe in the Ruak River and, every morning from 7am to 9am, have the opportunity to take breakfast at the camp where they can feed and water the majestic animals.

Other available activities include longtail boat trips along the Mekong with brief stops in Myanmar and Laos, fish trapping and bamboo fishing alongside local fishermen and a day hike to a Lahu hill-tribe village winding past waterfalls, bamboo groves and tea plantations. A guided visit to the nearby Hall of Opium Museum offers an in-depth look at the region’s historical opium trade through well-researched and well-designed multimedia displays.

From 76,518 baht per night with a two-night minimum stay
Sop Ruak, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai
05-391-0200
fourseasons.com

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Lam Na Wild, Mae Kamphong

Mae Kamphong, southeast of Chiang Mai in Mae On district, is one of the steepest and most beautiful valleys in the province and home to several coffee plantations. It’s a perfect location for an outdoorsy, nature-oriented accommodation like what Lan Na Wild offers. In Lan Na Wild’s unique approach, safari tents are installed on platforms well off the ground amongst large trees, resulting in a cross between tent and treehouse. Award-winning Thai designer Amornthep Kachanonda made liberal use of bamboo and fabric to bring the tents closer in harmony with the surroundings.

Of the nine villas here, three are tents. The Onsen Tree Tent boasts a private onsen (Japanese-style hot bath) and a 360-degree panoramic view from its platform in the trees along with a private semi-outdoor bathroom and two large beds suitable for two to four guests. The Wild Camping Tent sleeps two with one large bed, a private semi-outdoor bath and a sunset view from the wooden deck. Meanwhile, the Deluxe Gang Tent sleeps up to four with similar features. Departing from pure tent accommodation, there’s also the Secret Onsen Villa, a part-tent, part-treehouse affair sleeping up to four with its own private onsen.

A beautifully designed open-air lounge raised to tree level offers stunning forest views, a fully-stocked bar and a restaurant specialising in Thai cuisine, hotpot and tempura. Hot springs on the grounds are especially welcome during the cool season.

Starting at 4,000 baht per night
Huai Kaeo, Mae On District, Chiang Mai
089-143-9225
lannawildresort.com