Luxury camping, or 'glamping' as its also known, is on the rise. Once the preserve of high-end safari camps, you can now stay under canvas – with all the creature comforts – in destinations worldwide. In Southeast Asia in particular, a number of new luxury camping sites have been springing up over the past few years, offering the chance to get back to nature without roughing it entirely. Some camps even offer the chance to get involved with conservation projects on site, a great way to give back to the local economy and minimise the environmental impact of your stay. We've picked out four luxury camps to try out across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
A couple of hours north of Bangkok, Khao Yai is known first and foremost for its Unesco-listed National Park , the first nature reserve of its kind in Thailand (it was established in 1962). The park has an extensive network of trails, with many waterfalls and wide variety of wildlife to spot, from elephants to gibbons. But there's plenty more to do here besides the national park. The area is a popular weekend escape for Bangkok's residents, and you'll find everything from one of Thailand's few wineries to a contemporary art museum and sculpture garden. Khao Yai is also home to numerous Vegas-style themed resorts, including a Hobbit-style Shire and a recreated Italian village. Worth visiting for the novelty factor alone!
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Perhaps the most glamorous of the glamping spots in this list, Lala Mukha is a luxury resort under canvas. There's an infinity pool, stylish terrace restaurant and a choice of safari-style tents or luxury tree houses. Just five minutes from the entrance to the park, you're guaranteed unspoiled views, too.
A town filled with graceful temples and orange-clad monks, the picturesque Luang Prabang asks to be enjoyed at a nice slow pace. Although it's now a well-worn stop along the backpacker trail, this highly cultured town has a lot to recommend it. The atmospheric streets are Unesco protected meaning that those misty views over the Mekong river are still the same as they were centuries ago. Don't miss the morning market, or Wat Xieng Thong, the town's most impressive temple.
Kamu Lodge is a tented camp with solid eco credentials. The owners are committed to minimising their impact on the environment, and they work with two local Khmu villages, offering visitors the chance to experience the local way of life and learn traditional crafts like bamboo weaving. The tents (equipped with thatched roofs on top of the canvas for extra sun protection) have individual solar panels to power the lights, and there's no wifi or TV. Each tent has a veranda overlooking the Mekong river, ideal for quiet contemplation.
The largely undeveloped area of Koh Kong is something of a paradise for nature lovers. The Cardamom mountain range found here is home to some of the world's rarest species, like the Asian elephant and the wonderfully named clouded leopard. Consider organising a guided day-long trek to explore the virgin forests and impressive waterfalls hidden in the hills, though spotting a clouded leopard is sadly unlikely. For some beach time, hop on a boat to Koh Kong island, home to several pristine beaches with good snorkelling. Alternatively, explore the mangrove forests outside Koh Kong town at the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary. If you're lucky you might see a pod of Irrawaddy dolphins.
Just inside Boutum Sakor National Park, Cardamom is another camp that takes its eco responsibilities seriously. By staying at the camp you are helping to keep the lands in the surrounding area out of the hands of loggers and poachers. Guest are also encouraged to take part in conservation activities like replanting trees, in partnership with the Wildlife Alliance a US-Cambodian organisation (and part owner of the camp). Accommodation is in spacious safari-style tents with rain showers and private patios and there's also a communal restaurant (with wifi connection that comes and goes).
Some 150 km north of Da Lat in the Central Highlands, Lak Lake was once a favourite beauty spot of Emperor Bao Dai (r. 1926 to 1945), who built a palace overlooking the water. Nowadays it's a popular spot with tourists, many of whom come to take part in "traditional" Vietnamese excursions like gong shows and, unfortunately, elephant rides. Nonetheless, visitors who manage to dodge these activities will be rewarded with lazy days on the lake – you can hire a longboat operator to take you out on the water – and the chance to explore the Mnong villages of rattan and stilt homes along the lake. To head slightly further afield hire a bike and head into the countryside where there are coffee and rubber plantations to explore.
Set on a green hill over looking the lake, Y Lak Tented Camp offers both tented lodges and wooden bungalows, depending on how rustic you feel like going. All the rooms have lakefront balconies where you can watch the spectacular sunsets over the lake, and room service if you don't feel like lifting a finger. There's a restaurant housed in a tastefully restored longhouse, surrounded by an organic garden, where the chefs grow herbs and vegetables destined for your plate.