Wake up to wildlife: Asia's best luxury tented camps
Posted October 3, 2017 11:15 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — The glamping trend has swept through Asia, with new luxury tented camps setting up in the region's most pristine locations.
The latest additions include the soon-to-open Cardamom Tented Camp and Bill Bensley-designed Shinta Mani Wild, both in southwest Cambodia, and Rosewood Luang Prabang in the jungles of Laos.
Better yet, many of Asia's hottest spots provide glimpses of elephants, gibbons and leopards through safari-style excursions.
"It is different than an African safari," John Roberts, director of elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, tells CNN Travel.
"The nature of the forests and wildlife allow you to be much more intimate. Even in deepest tiger, leopard, rhino, sloth and bear territory -- with a good guide, you can safely walk and spend time concentrating on birds, butterflies and plant life between encounters with large mammals."
Looking for adventure that doesn't sacrifice comfort? Here are the top luxury tent experiences in the Asia region.
Cardamom Tented Camp
A collaborative project from YAANA Ventures sustainable travel group, Cambodia's Wildlife Alliance conservation organization and Thailand-based Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, the Cardamom Tented Camp sits on a protected stretch of land that was once a hotbed of logging and poaching.
Accessible only by boat, the camp's nine luxury tents overlook the Preak Tachan river and nearby grasslands in a stretch of land in southwest Cambodia, between Botum Sakor National Park and the Southern Cardamom National Park.
"The wildlife is slowly coming back after decades of unhindered poaching," says Roberts, who is the group director of sustainability and conservation at the camp, an initiative of Bangkok-headquartered Minor Group.
"We have Asiatic wild dogs, clouded leopards, mouse deer, sun bears, hog badgers, gibbons, macaques, elephants and more."
The tented experience is complemented by a riverside restaurant, a floating pier and a slew of safari-style outings -- led by Wildlife Alliance rangers -- where travelers are bound to spot a mix of wildlife.
"It's important to pick camps and lodges that actively preserve the forest," says Roberts.
"They will tend to have the best guides who are often either local community ex-poachers or research scientists -- or a combination of both."
The camp is due to open November 1.
Shinta Mani Wild -- The Bensley Collection
A new project from acclaimed resort designer Bill Bensley -- in partnership with Wildlife Alliance, Fauna & Flora International, The Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government -- Shinta Mani Wild aims to be an unparalleled wildlife sanctuary.
Hugged by three national parks -- Kirirom, Bokor and Cardamom -- in southwest Cambodia, the 15 tents promise an immersive experience with nature.
A typical day could include multiple adventures, from river expeditions on what's said to be Southeast Asia's last wild estuarine system, to trekking through the forests where travelers can spot wild elephants, gibbons and bears.
To spot animal migrations, the best time to visit is the dry season -- from November to March.
Better yet, the beautifully designed tents incorporate elements of Cambodian architecture together with retro motifs that recall the days of colonial expeditions.
When open in early 2018, the resort will feature a restaurant and bar perched next to a waterfall serving locally sourced food, a spa and also highlight conservation projects from The Shinta Mani Foundation.
Rosewood Luang Prabang
Also scheduled to open in early 2018, Rosewood Luang Prabang will sit about 10 minutes outside of Luang Prabang -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- in Laos.
It's glamping 2.0 -- picture a dense jungle, waterfalls, open-air showers, private dining decks and a mix of 23 palatial villas and luxury tents nestled in an untouched natural environment
In addition to the stylish accommodation, Rosewood also has a Laotian bistro, bar and Rosewood Spa in the works.
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
Claw-foot tubs, antique furniture, open-air showers, massive decks -- the all-inclusive Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle transports travelers to the early days of exploration thanks to the handiwork of resort designer Bill Bensley.
there are 15 tents scattered amidst the jungle, plus one massive Explorer's Lodge with two separate bedrooms and a private plunge pool.
The setting of the Golden Triangle -- where northern Thailand, Myanmar and Laos intersect -- combines dense jungles, grasslands, rivers and a camp for rescued elephants.
The elephants make appearances around the tented camp in the mornings for bathing times with mahouts (elephant trainers) and can be seen wandering around through the vast sanctuary.
Elsewhere on the grounds, travelers will find a bar with excellent sunset views, an open-air Thai restaurant, a wine cellar (where you can enjoy private tastings before dinner), cooking classes and a spa that seems to float in the middle of the jungle.
Claiming its own private island and marine reserve in eastern Indonesia, Amanwana takes camping to the next level.
Located on Moyo Island, the property's 20 "tented suites" have been kitted out with high ceilings, air-conditioning, hardwood floors, king-sized beds and large windows.
The two types -- one surrounded by jungle, others beachfront -- are within easy walking distance of the coastline, where snorkeling and scuba diving will reward travelers with colorful reef life.
On the grounds, there's also an open-air restaurant and the Jungle Cove Spa -- a chance to unwind in the company of macaque monkeys and tamarind trees.
Those in search of more animal interactions will find loads of wildlife on jungle treks around the island.
That is, if it doesn't find you first: Many types of fauna, including deer, are said to make appearances around the tents in the early mornings.
Sandat Glamping Tents
Hidden away in the jungles and rice paddies surrounding Ubud, central Bali, Sandat Glamping Tents offers five luxury tents and three lumbung -- essentially thatched roof bungalows inspired by traditional Bali barns.
The whimsical accommodations marry elements of Balinese culture with romantic accents imported from Italy -- where the brand introduced its first glamping experience near Venice, in 2009.
While each room has its own unique characteristics, many feature billowing drapes, Venetian-style chandeliers, four-poster beds and private pools.
After a day of exploring the temples, biking through rice paddies or river rafting, there's a lounge and bar, a cathedral-like bamboo restaurant, or even a private dinner served under the stars.
And if you're here for a wellness retreat, good news: One of the prettiest parts of the property is the yoga pavilion -- a gorgeous bamboo structure encircled by rice paddies.
One of Thailand's first luxury tented camps, Elephant Hills brings the tropical jungle right to your doorstep.
The company has two distinct camps -- both inside Khao Sok National Park, in southern Thailand -- that offer differing experiences.
As the name suggests, The Elephant Camp promises interactions with these gentle giants, many of which have been retired from the logging industry.
Visitors can admire the elephants in their natural habitat, as well as bathe and feed them at select times during the day.
Meanwhile, the Rainforest Camp floats along Cheow Lan Lake, where canoes and trekking adventures are close at hand.
But the best part might be the tranquility. Travelers open their tent flaps and are just a few feet from the still lake -- a peaceful way to start the morning.
To visit both glamping spots, travelers can opt for a Jungle Lake Safari, which includes a night at the Elephant Camp and two nights on the lake.
Damodra Desert Camp
Offering a totally different type of safari, Damodra Desert Camp, in northern India, showcases the beauty of the desert.
Here, travelers can experience the vast, windswept dunes of the Thar Desert -- about 18 miles outside of Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan -- without sacrificing any creature comforts.
The Swiss cottage-inspired tents include air-conditioning, private patios, and colorful upholstery that pays tribute to the area.
During the day, visitors will most likely partake in a camel safari or enjoy a sandboarding session on the dunes.
Come nightfall, the camp comes alive with live music and Indian dinners -- all under the starlit desert sky.
Owned and operated by a local Tibetan couple, Norden Travel -- in China's central Gannan region -- the camp showcases the beautiful pastures and rich culture with eight pinewood cabins and four luxury yak-hair tents.
The rustic decor and hardwood floors feels at once sophisticated and cozy -- the kind of place you could hole up for a while and clear your mind.
Each tent and cabin is slightly different -- some nestled in the brush while others alongside the river -- but all have outdoor seating areas, stoves, and peaceful, pastoral views.
While it's not quite a safari, a trek around the surrounding mountains and hills will likely reward guests with sightings of gazelle and pheasants, yaks and of course sheep.
In addition, the camp also organizes horseback riding, village visits, guided hikes, yoga and private tours of Labrang Monastery, one of the six major Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
SUJÁN JAWAI and Sher Bagh Relais & Chateaux
A rustic retreat in Rajasthan, SUJÁN JAWAI provides 10 white canvas tents and all the modern amenities you could hope for, including an on-site spa, restaurant, swimming pool, yoga and more.
Dotting the sandy Aravalli hills -- a three-hour drive from either Jodhpur or Udaipur in northern India -- the camp takes inspiration from its rugged surrounds, using leopard motifs, wildlife photography, and lots of bright red accents throughout.
With their luxury tent as a home base, travelers can be as lazy or as adventurous as they please.
The options include private bush picnics, sunset game drives, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and leisurely campfire dinners.
There's also a half-day excursion to the incredible carved Ranakpur Jain Temple and the 15th-century fort Kumbhalgarh -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even just wandering around the property -- which is actively involved in big cat conservation -- there's no shortage of flora and fauna to admire.
Of course, the best experience will be with guides in town. On a Jeep-led safari, the camp's experts will lead travelers across grasslands, granite hills and lakes for the best views of leopards, antelopes, crocodiles, boars and flamingos.
SUJÁN JAWAI's sister property, Sher Bagh, transports travelers to 1920s-style safaris within India's Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.
By day, enjoy safaris and excursions and British-Raj style lunches; by night, settle into a tiger-themed pad.
A pioneer of sustainable tourism in Nepal, Tiger Tops was one of the first companies to set up a tented camp in Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in south-central Nepal.
"Perhaps because I spent so much time there, some of my most memorable (safari) experiences were in Chitwan," recalls Roberts.
"From the breakfast golghar (a thatched, central building) at the old Tiger Tops Tented Camp, I watched rhinos mating, as well as a mother tiger and her four cubs."
In 2012, government policies required all hotels and lodges to move outside of the national park.
Today, the company operates three locations across the country -- including recently opened Tiger Tops Elephant Camp, with comfortable tented accommodations.
The British-Nepali company provides elephants a chain-free refuge in their natural territory, where travelers can interact and observe the pachyderms' daily routine.
Typical activities include cutting grass with the mahouts (elephant caretakers) to feed the animals or taking a jungle trek side by side.