I met Phuang Phet, the world’s cutest elephant, at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, an all-inclusive luxury retreat, its 16 stand-alone tents set amongst the tea fields, verdant bushland, and gleaming golden buddhas of far northern Thailand. Once notorious as an opium-growing region, this remote area follows the ridges and valleys of mountains, and the banks of the Mekong. A misty landscape that edges the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation — a longtail boat ride away from Chiang Rai — the resort stretches out over several kilometers. A fanciful suspension bridge serves as part of a hilly path that winds through the property. The resort’s stand alone villas, glamping tents as luxurious as palaces, perch cliff-side. Whimsically and opulently, they immerse guests into a 19th-century dream world of explorer’s artifacts, exotic fantasy, and historical gravitas. The retreat’s only tent/villa large enough for a family, The Explorer’s Lodge, sleeps six. Like the other tented suites, it has a private outdoor shower that recalls an al fresco campground, while grand, hand-hammered copper bathtubs punctuate the heart of the room. An ample deck holds mood-making comforts, such as couches, stacked vintage suitcases, and old lanterns.
More About Explorers’ Lodge at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai
Overlooking the lush bamboo jungle, hidden amongst the greenery, this approximately 3,000-square-foot enchantment, designed by the inimitable Bill Bensley, has one king and two twin-sized beds, with ensuite showers and handcrafted bath tubs in each room. The custom private pool dominates a tempting outdoor deck. Don’t miss the resort’s array of activities, including opportunities to meet and care for elephants, such as Phuang Phet, private BBQ dinners and movies under the stars. Linger at the end of day in the hideaway’s evocative Burma Bar which showcases a sunset that matches the arcane allure of the setting. Drink to order: a Tom Yum Martini drenched in gingery galangal Martini, complete with Tom Yum soup herbs.
Villa Kitalay at Kimpton Kitalay Koh Samui
With its mishmash of riveting properties, island paradise Koh Samui offers abundant resort options, so many that choosing where to stay has been a problem for luxury travelers. Leading the mix for its contemporary motifs, inspired by the romance of the sea, Kimpton Kitalay Koh Samui opened in early 2022 on idyllic Choeng Mon Beach with 21 villas. But nothing compares to its creme-de-la-creme residence, the eponymous, pet-friendly Villa Kitalay. Utterly private, Villa Kitalay encompasses nearly 7,000-square-feet with two bedrooms. Oceanfront, it opens to private beach access, also featuring a private pool and courtyard, as well as access to all resort amenities, including a spa, four distinct restaurants and resort experiences — such as outings to an elephant sanctuary.
Villa Pamela (a.k.a. Villa No. 29) at Trisara, Phuket
A stunningly intimate resort on Phuket’s less developed northwestern corner, Trisara occupies a private bay. Translated from Sanskrit, its name means “Third Garden in Heaven,” a moniker the eden-like retreat has no problem embracing. Home to Pru, the first and only Michelin-starred restaurant in Phuket, admired for its celebration of local produce and seafood, the resort equally deifies Thai gracefulness and culture throughout. Among its variety of suites and villas, Villa Pamela stands out. Poised above the bay with sweeping views of the Andaman’s turquoise waters, the six-bedroom villa spans 32,000-square feet with two pools, a boathouse, a billiards room, a private pétanque court, and a personal cinema — among other virtues.
Sunset Ocean View Pool Reserve at Soneva Kiri, Koh Kood
With celebrity style panache and appeal, this sustainable, eco-style haven on Koh Kood island can be reached in 90 minutes from Bangkok aboard Soneva Kiri’s own plane. An unspoiled parcel of tropical delights with gin-clear water and soft sand, Koh Kood is Thailand’s least populated, but fourth largest, island. With just 33 variously sized villas on the resort’s personal beach, Soneva Kiri coddles with private butlers. Tuck into the dramatic five-bedroom Sunset Ocean View Pool Reserve, which hovers over the hillside with 19,859-square-feet. With a treehouse section and a sea-peering master bedroom, the villa lures guests to linger in its freshwater pool, complete with water slide; tempts them to fill their personal wine cellar with favorite labels; work out in the gym; and all the while offers them the ease to occasionally head to the resort to partake in its plethora of satisfying culinary concepts.
Bean Paa Talee, Kamala Thailand
Between the scenic Andaman Sea and the rain-forest carpeted mountains, Kamala, a tranquil beach on Phuket’s west coast, still retains the character of its one time fishing village appeal. Delve into that aura of peacefulness at Bean Paa Talee, a sleek, contemporary, nine-bedroom villa. Ocean views a given, this villa sprawls more than 100,000 square feet toward the water. Its four levels, attended by attentive staff and a dedicated chef, include gardens and a tinier, two-bedroom honeymoon hideaway villa on the manicured, Buddha-statue-adorned grounds. A living area, dining room, gym, kitchen, media room, 82-foot pool, jacuzzi, and outdoor tree sala make this villa as pleasure packed as any hotel.
Royal Beachfront Pool Villa at Avani+ Khao Lak Resort
Ideal for families and couples, Khao Lak, a diving mecca, provides a laid back alternative to Phuket, ever touted for its buzzy nightlife. Take advantage of Avani’s stylish offerings on the Andaman Sea, where the 377-room resort, rising over a white sand beach, entertains travelers with four swimming pools, five dining venues, and the AvaniKids club and adrenaline pumping water park. Your personal, quieter, sanctuary on the beach, the lavish Royal Beachfront Pool Villa boasts a flashy private pool deck and Jacuzzi.
Villa Moonshadow, Koh Samui
Travelers choose Koh Samui, one of Thailand’s most celebrity-brimming islands for its beauty —palm tree-edged beaches and crystalline water. Imbued with a known glitterati factor and abundance of tourists, it nevertheless maintains a welcomed profile of affable Thai authenticity. Discover its loftier mood at Villa Moonshadow, an awe-inspiring domain on the west coast between Lamai’s renowned beaches and Chaweng. Award winning for its architectural gravitas, the home comprises three curving pavilions that soar over Coral Cove. Its main, central pavilion, sheathed in windows, lies below mezzanine level and holds common areas, such as the dining room and kitchen. Prime for gathering, a sun deck and terrazo infinity pool present riveting 180-degree views of the Gulf of Thailand. A full staff, including an on-call Thai chef await your commands.
Villa Samujana 12, Koh Samui
Part of a luxury estate community located near the airport, patrolled with 24-hour security, Villa Samujana 12 occupies a key position on a leafy hillside, with compelling views of the blue sea. Only ten minutes from Chaweng and its famous beach, the villa brandishes pampering attributes from a floodlit tennis court to a state-of-the-art gym, including a heart-rate-raising, full-sized boxing ring, basketball court, and trampoline. For quiet time, a yoga pavilion, meditation nests, spa room, and massage sala await, the trained therapists at your beck and call. The retreat’s 7 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms easily accommodate 14 children and adults.