If you're visiting Chiang Mai and are hoping to spend time with the elephants in Northern Thailand, check out my article on the Chai Lai Orchid elephant experience. For those adventurous enough to sleep among the elephants, Chai Lai offers a variety of accommodations choices, each of which has its own unique specialness.
CHAI LAI ORCHID JUNGLE BUNGALOWS
Chai Lai Orchid Bungalows is an eco-lodge situated on the Mae Wang River, about an hour south of Chiang Mai. The lodge has nine comfortable bungalows, accommodating groups from 1-5 people. The common area is wrapped in colorful rugs and has panoramic views of the river. Breakfast is included, and there's an adjacent restaurant serving great Thai food.
Though the Bungalows are your cushiest option, don't expect room service or an infinity pool. You won't forget you're in the jungle—key features include mosquito nets and constant dampness. Some rooms have A/C and private bathrooms, but not all.
The Bungalows are also home to 11 rescued elephants, who roam the grounds and like to say hello to visitors. You can bathe and feed them as part of their elephant experiences.
CHAI LAI SISTERS NATURE RETREAT
Chai Lai Sisters Nature Retreat is a bit closer to camping on the lodging spectrum, though what it lacks in amenities it makes up for in pure magic. Located deep in the Doi Inthanon mountains, the Nature Retreat has no address and is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle or by foot. It's off the beaten path, literally.
The seven bamboo huts are equipped with plush beds, solar-powered lighting, and mosquito nets. Our cabin in particular had only three walls—the fourth was open to the river, making for a pretty surreal wakeup call. Guests can swim in the waterfall on property, and evenings are spent around the fire pit with locally distilled "happy water." Cell service at the Nature Retreat is essentially non-existent, so you can live in the moment and not on Instagram.
There are several retired elephants on the property, giving you plenty of opportunities for up-close-and-personal interactions.
KAREN VILLAGE HOMESTAY
For a true cultural immersion experience, you can also request a village homestay, spending the night in the home of a local Karen hill tribe family. The accommodations are very basic—you'll sleep on a mat on the floor with a mosquito net and outdoor bathrooms. You'll learn about the traditional Karen way of life, eat a home cooked dinner, and get to know your new friends over a few beers. This isn't just a place to sleep—it's an education in the Karen culture. It's not for everyone, but it's a truly special experience.