Our mahout whirled around confused. "Bo!" Bo? Towering Napier grass forests gave no clues. Moments earlier Bo had covered her back with dirt; apparently the perfect sun protection. Now we couldn't see her because of dust.
"BO!" The scream fell again on deaf, oversized ears. "He lost his elephant," grinned seven-year-old Felix.
It was the first day of our family adventure in the Chiang Rai wilderness in northern Thailand and we were enchanted.
Fiona's daughter Rose poses in front of the elephant Bo Derek in the wild in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand
Picturesque: A breathtaking aerial view of the city of Chiang Rai, which shares its name with the province
The jungle patrol with four grazing giants had led us into the Ruak plains. On the other side of the river, the fog from Myanmar. To our right are the hill tribes of Laos. And somewhere in the bushes behind us is an elephant named after Bo Derek who plays hide and seek.
It turns out that laying a four-ton Nellie is easier than you think. Your step is deceptively soft. A prima ballerina is more like a thud. And less of an entrance when I found out when I bent down to tie my shoelace, I suddenly felt the warm air of her 6-foot torso on the back of my neck.
For today's Instagram daughters – in my case Rose (13) and Evie (12) – an elephant that emerges from the undergrowth just a few inches behind you means only one.
Gentle giants: elephants play in the tropical rainforest in green Chiang Mai
"Elves!" They shrieked and turned into position. IPhones held up to get the perfect shot.
My husband and I had long dreamed of taking the children further away than a roof box would allow. But five seats in an airplane on the other side of the world are not for the faint of heart, neither financially nor otherwise. And the closer we got to our departure date, the more I panicked.
What if the 11-hour flight was a horror? What if Bangkok, our first stop, was too frantic for a family used to pottery through the vineyards of rural France?
Nonsense, said my husband, the eternal backpacker, nostalgic for the fake tapes and sweaty youth hostels on Khaosan Road. It would be the trip of a lifetime.
Hardcastle's Odyssey started seriously with a glass of sparkling water at the Anantara Siam Hotel in Bangkok (Image)
Paradise: The view from Fiona's bedroom window in the Golden Triangle Anantara Hotel
The Holiday Hardcastles: Fiona with Rose, Evie and Felix
The welcome glass of champagne at Bangkok's Anantara Siam, the pinnacle of city elegance, has certainly got off to a good start. When we were a second behind, I couldn't remember what I was worried about. We only had one day in Bangkok. The first stop was the Wat Pho temple complex and the reclining Buddha, a 150 foot golden wonder.
I could have stood for hours in the glow of his blissful smile, but consumerism called and my girls were hungry to bargain.
The Chatuchak market, a maze of chaos and color, did not disappoint. We barely blinked before we packed two fake Mulberry bags, three bootleg backpacks, five fans, four purses, a dodgy Barcelona football shirt, and a fake Gucci clutch. We literally spent our time returning to Siam for dinner and sleeping before flying to Chiang Rai and his sister hotel, the Anantara Golden Triangle, which was named after the infamous breeding ground for opium production that once was defined the region.
But it's pachyderms, not poppies, that are now the draw. All 22 of them roaming the 160 acres under the eyes of British conservationist John Roberts and his team, a band that not only focuses on animal welfare – most were saved from the streets – but also unlocked their potential. As we walked down a polished teak path lined with gilded elephant heads, the trunks of which were attached to the sacred orange sash, I became silent as if we were in church.
Excited chatter softened as we stood at the foot of a colossal carved candlestick. Below is a huge bowl of lotus flowers.
Rarely less relaxed than in the kitchen, I was happy to sit back in the Spice Spoons cooking class and watch how chef Gino rustled some typical dishes with my husband and children, a glass of wine for the audience at hand. Gino had other ideas. He smiled through my protests and showed me to my hob.
"Don't break it, mom," Felix whispered as I tried to copy the seemingly simple steps of his Tom Kha Gai.
Although my version of the chicken soup in coconut milk won't bother the hotel restaurant's menu in the near future, I have gracefully accepted my shortcomings. Liberate the ego, so goes the Buddhist teaching.
The Hardcastles had an exciting ride up the Mekong on a long-tail boat with a Nissan car engine
It is impossible to travel to this part of the world and not be moved by the spirituality of its people. A morning when we explored temples with our soulful guide filled our minds with philosophy and fables. Felix, who sounded like a young Ben from Outnumbered, kept asking if the Naga (Buddha's partly dragon, partly snake protector) would beat the Garuda (partly bird, partly human) in a fight.
Rose lit up at the sight of a bodhi tree under which the Buddha is said to have sat in his search for enlightenment. Evie quarantined a Thatcherite message. "I like the way you can make money and still have good karma," she said.
Then it was time for an exciting ride on a long-tail boat with a Nissan car engine up the Mekong and back to the base, where our preferred welcome committee accompanied us for dinner, in return for our own cane starter.
Our last night and the Anantara Golden Triangle had saved the best to the end; A starlight banquet in the rice fields while our four-legged friends chewed nearby.
Saying goodbye has never been easy. And when we flipped through the pages of the hotel's Golden Book – an encyclopedia of gratitude to the late guests – we were speechless.
Color pencils were in demand. Felix took up the challenge. The result? An elephant at the head of a speedboat.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Travel (t) Escape (t) Thailand