Combining the tropical beauty of Thailand with the concept of an African-style safari adventure, an Elephant Hills safari is a stunning addition to any Thailand holiday, as W&O’s Ricky Coates found out…
Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Koh Sok National Park, the Elephant Hills luxury camps are a slice of paradise somehow both secluded in rainforest wilderness and easily accessible from popular beach destinations such as Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lak.
For my Jungle Lake Safari I arrived at Phuket Airport, where I was met by representatives from Elephant Hills and driven the two and a half hours to the remote campsite. Transfers are provided by the camp, and can be arranged from a selection of locations.
Upon arrival at the camp check-in was quick and my luggage was delivered to my luxurious tent. Elephant Hills is made up of 35 luxury tents that are divided between the two camps: Elephant Hills Camp and Rainforest Camp. I was lucky enough to take part in the Jungle Lake Safari, which includes a night in each camp for visitors to truly soak up the Elephant Hills experience. The tents themselves are all well-equipped with proper beds, electricity and en suite bathrooms with hot and cold water showers.
First up for my group was a presentation to welcome us to the camp and give us all the information for our upcoming adventure. We met our guide, Vim, and then were treated to a delicious lunch with tonnes of food for everyone. After lunch we had a quick rest in our tents before making our way to canoes for a guided tour of the river. Vim told us there were snakes in the river but they were so well camouflaged I couldn’t spot them!
After our fascinating water tour we were taken to our safari truck to visit the elephants. After a short talk from the experienced guides we saw three elephants wandering out of the forest, accompanied by their dedicated mahouts who are responsible for the animals’ wellbeing.
We were able to watch the elephants enter the waterhole for a bath and a splash around together. It was an unforgettable experience; in particular I’ll always remember the animals’ happy shrieks as they played together! After a very, very muddy bath it was time for the elephants to actually get clean, and we helped gently wash them with a hose pipe and coconut skins. It was great to see them being treated so well, and the exclusivity of our group made it a really special experience. Soon enough it was dinnertime for the elephants, and a few more arrived as if powered by clockwork for their feast of bananas, pineapples and sweetcorn.
There’s no elephant riding at the camp, and instead a much more kind, sustainable and interactive experience is provided for lucky guests. The camp has won awards for its treatment of the animals, and it’s clear straight away that the welfare of the elephants is a top priority. It’s a phenomenal experience for guests to get up close and personal with the elephants, and to watch them happily playing in their natural environment, free from chains and tiny cages.
Everyone in our group was on a high after the fantastic experience, and we headed back to our camp for a swim and a rest before a fantastic dinner (even for a picky eater like me!). Mosquito nets over the tents are the only barrier between you and the jungle atmosphere – so the tents are fully protected but also filled with the sounds of the rainforest. We went to sleep serenaded by chirping bugs and croaking toads.
The next morning I awoke to a wake-up call from monkeys somewhere deep in the jungle and after a leisurely cuppa in my hammock it was time for breakfast and then departure for our second day of adventure. We were taken on a visit to a colourful local food market in Takhum that, apart from us, was exclusively populated with locals: that’s how you know you’re getting an authentic experience!
Back in our vehicle we visited the breath-taking Cheow Larn Lake, and then had a short road transfer to our 45-minute long tail boat ride over to the floating Rainforest Camp. This camp isn’t suitable for families with young children, and children under seven-years-old aren’t permitted. After an excellent lunch we embarked on an optional jungle trek; this was a bit of a demanding trek but we were lucky enough to see lots of wildlife on the way. We reached a pitch-black jungle cave and, with the torches provided, were able to spot bats, snakes and spiders – in fact this would be an ideal setting for a series of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
The descent back to the camp was quite slippery, and my tip here would be to bring shoes you don’t mind getting muddy! Back at the camp I enjoyed a refreshing dip in the lake before sipping a beer and listening to the sounds of the forest. There’s no Wifi at this camp, so it was an ideal opportunity to bask in the wonderful natural surroundings, relax and get to know my fellow campmates before turning in for the night.
After breakfast the next morning we set off for a guided kayak tour; kayaking through the lush rainforest I could hear lots of gibbons but didn’t manage to spot any. After a relaxing break back at the camp it was time to bid a fond farewell to the floating camp. Vehicles were waiting for us at the jetty to transfer us back to the airport and back to reality. My time at Elephant Hills was truly special and is an experience I’ll never forget.
The Jungle Lake Safari package includes one night in the rainforest luxury tented camp and one night in the floating luxury tented camp on a full-board basis. I would advise visitors here bring extra cash to purchase any items from the rainforest camp’s small shop; tea, coffee and water is complimentary with all meals and your tent is equipped with bottled water.
To have your own unique Jungle Lake Safari experience, make an online enquiry here.
This article first appeared in the ITC Travel Group magazine Other Shores. To order your copy, please click through to our brochure request page.