Thailands Golden Triangle steeped in intrigue

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Room Key: Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle

Address: 229 Moo 1, Chiang Saen Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

Phone: (011) 66-5378 4084

Fax: (011) 66-5378 4090

Reservations: (800) 525-4800 (Small Luxury Hotels of the World) or through Web site directly.

Web:www.anantara.com

E-mail:[email protected]

General manager: Caroline Dey

Rates: Seasonal. Superior, $188 to 288; deluxe (better view), $213 to 325; suites, $480 to 738. Add 7% government tax and 10% service charge.

Rooms: 90 (23 superior, 54 deluxe, 13 suites)

Commission: 10% with bonuses. Packages are commissionable (elephant camp, spa package, etc.)

Facilities: Data ports, satellite TV, in-room safe, air conditioning, ceiling fans, minibar, coffee/tea bar, hair dryer, bathrobe and slippers, room service, library, business center, meetings rooms, spa, pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center, nature trails, mountain bike rentals, kids club, child-care services, handicraft shop, concierge services, tour desk.

Noteworthy: Many accolades for decor, service and setting.

Not worthy: A lot of steps and no elevator, but manageable.

The Golden Triangle in northern Thailand, once a region of mystery, intrigue and devious doings, now has beautiful sights and interesting people, but that trace of mystery still whispers in the background.

The name stems from the confluence of three countries where the opium trade once thrived: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (still called Burma in these parts).

Golden refers to the golden poppies that supplied a profitable livelihood for drug lords.

In case you missed the road sign identifying this now-peaceful land, long rows of tall, black lampposts, adorned top and bottom with gold trim, will clue you in.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of the Thai Royal Family, several initiatives supply a living to the hill tribes, turning the spigot of the poppy trade to a mere trickle.

Today, the curious are free to wander the mountains of Thailand without fear and visit projects begun by the kings mother, Princess Srinagarindra, in 1988.

The first was the Doi Tung development, deep in the border highlands. The focus was to reforest great sections denuded by logging and replace poppy fields with enterprises to support the people.

A garden high on a mountainside, a seed and plant business, a tea plantation, tours through the royal villa, tribal villages in the hills and the markets are all contributing to a legitimate life for residents.

Princess Srinagarindras endeavors culminated in the opening of the Hall of Opium in 1994, where visitors take a graphic tour that relives the tortures and profit of the opium and heroin trade, cleverly done in a mood setting.

Dramatic lighting, artwork, tools of the trade and Opium Wars photos detail the magnitude of the regions plight, while the Hall of Reflection encourages all to help in the eradication efforts.

Elsewhere in the Chiang Rai-to-Mai San neighborhood, serene waterfalls, caves, brightly costumed tribal people, several Buddha statues, temples and chedis (towers containing relics of Buddha) vie for visitors attention along with vibrant street markets and new food tastes.

Where to stay

To give your clients this experience without the hassle of finding each site, send them to the magnificent Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle, where every possible tour can be booked. Many are commissionable.

An elephant camp is on the grounds of the Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle.The resort is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Its spa is an ideal spot to unwind after a days exploration.

And right on the resorts grounds is a fascinating and popular elephant camp.

During a three-day adventure, guests learn the signals of the elephant driver, feed and bathe the animals and trek on the backs of these amazing pachyderms.

Anantara also has cooking classes that begin with food shopping and end by enjoying the lunch you cooked.

Fruit carving, tree planting and early-morning meetings with monks who come for food are a few more unusual adventures available at the resort, not to mention the comfortable accommodations, excellent service and Thai touches that center around elephants.

Cuisine is both Thai and Western and served in two restaurants, by the infinity pool or at a special barbecue for two on your balcony.

The intimate Italian restaurant has backlit brick walls and its own glass-enclosed wine-storage room.

Suite balconies spread the length of the living room and bedroom, with sliding doors from each.  Two balcony divans have netting drapes plus typical Thai backrests.

Bathrooms contain separate showers and the signature tub with sliding doors that open up to a view of the outdoors.

A new package, Islands and Highlands, offers seven nights at the recently opened Anantara Resort and Spa Koh Samui for beachside romance, and three nights at Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle to chill out between adventures.

The commissionable price is $1,500 for two, plus taxes, sharing a basic room. The price includes daily breakfast and airport transfers at each end.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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