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Birthday Wish Come True

Very Early on Sunday morning we arrived at the Elephant Conservation Camp in Haang Chat, Lampang. The drive took only one hour to reach the center. The Lampang Elephant Center is in the middle of luxurious jungle with reservoirs of water nearby. We were very excited to be celebrating a special moment in a friend's life, Ruth Eastmond. Her unusual birthday wish was to become a Mahout. On this Sunday, she was graduating from the three-day Mahout training course. This gave her the opportunity to appear in the elephant show and receive her diploma.

That Sunday an unusually large crowd had gathered for the show. Visitors from all over the world could be heard making comments about the two westerners that were appearing in the demonstration show that morning. Those in the audience most likely did not realize how much training the two mahout trainees had to get under their belts before appearing in public.

Though I had been to this center several times, I never had any idea about the "grapevine" and knowing the 'ins and outs' of the camp. I had a chance to meet the locals such as Khun Pom, the 20-year-old mahout who attends "Nong Kaew", the four-year-old male elephant. Nong Kaew was the smallest trained elephant most suitable for the birthday girl.

Among Ruth's fond memories, "Meeting my elephant for the fist time was just magical. His name was Kaew, Glass in English, an extraordinary coincidence as I am a Glass Artist. He is four years old and like me, he is still learning. His Mahout's name is Pom and they have a really special relationship. Armed with sugar cane and bananas as an early morning snack, the day begins at 6.30 by collecting Kaew from the forest, where he has spent the night feeding and sleeping. After a more substantial breakfast, I helped bathe Kaew and he is ready for our training".

"Getting on and off an elephant even with his help is not as easy as it sounds. This is the hardest thing to master. When I am completely exhausted, we have a rest although Kaew seems to be oblivious to the rigors of my training. He just looked on with what I think is amusement. He is so gentle and accommodating nothing seems to ruffle him. We tackle going forward, backwards, sitting and laying down, all in a day's work to Kaew, but am I really doing it or is he just putting me through the routine?"

"Just sitting up behind his ears and feeling his huge body beneath me with all the power he has is extraordinary and yet I feel this absolute gentleness coming through and I have complete trust in him. Joining in the show at the end of the course, I feel both honored and humbled to have spent time with these majestic animals and their Mahouts. To have joined in their village life is an experience hard to express but one that will live in my heart forever. I can only thank the center and my husband for the best birthday present ever. And of course, the elephants that made my time with them so special. I hope readers will be encouraged to enjoy the same memorable experience I had".

I met and spoke with JR, the English speaking coordinator who looks after the student mahouts and their charges of several tons. JR is very proud of the number of women graduates of the mahout-training program. When asked the specific number, he replied, "too many". I understood this as a direct translation, meaning in a good way, too-many-to-count women graduates.

Another local resident I met was a dog who was kicked by an elephant. The dog had a permanent relocation of its jaw and tongue but receives special feedings from dog lovers.

Home stay rooms are Baht 500 per night. All meals are taken at the canteen. The canteen's specialty is large fluffy light omelet stuffed with ground meat or seafood or shrimp. The squid in Indian curry over steamed rice is delicious, also.

After lunch was completed, we drove another 40 minutes to Lampang city. The number of horses and carts in the city moving through the streets seemed to be more than ever. A caravan of horse carriages with western and Asian visitors was heading through town past the clock tower. We wondered where the caravan was heading.

After taking several wrong turns, we ended up at the Baan Sao Nug private museum. And who should turn up at that time but the caravan of visitors in the horse carriages. The museum entrance fee is Baht 30 that includes an English language brochure, glass of homemade tamarind juice and a snack of rice crackers. The souvenir shop at the museum has for sale a selection of lovely handloom cotton garments and a large supply of fresh crispy rice crackers among other handicrafts.

Next we took our own City tour to the former Kad Chine(Jeen) located on the Mae Wang River edge. A large outdoor billboard explains the history of the Kad Chine. There are several old vintage wooden residences and cement buildings still giving the old neighborhood a lot of personality. A sign announced the forthcoming project of an Arts & Culture Center currently underway for Lampang city.

In the Kad Chine area are two beautiful teak houses now serving as guesthouses. The quaint charm of the Boonma Guest House with four rooms, Rents for Baht 250 while a larger room with connecting bath rents for Baht 300.

We inspected one of the four rooms on the second floor facing the Mae Wang river in the Riverside Guest House. We were again charmed by the interior of vintage wood. One of the rooms has a bathtub in the attached bathroom. The rooms are Baht 350 per night. The dining terrace on the first floor faces the river. For the contact address of each of the above, please call us at the magazine.

When visiting Lampang, buying ceramics at Indra Ceramics on Mae Moh Road is a must. On this road there are nearly 100 ceramic factories. Those who have time can stop in most of the factories to buy. (Not every factory is open to the public for retail sales). The Indra Ceramics showroom was having an end of run sale on nearly every ceramic item sitting on the shelves. Even though it was a Sunday, the staff of Indra Ceramics was on hand to help us with our selections.

On the drive back to Chiang Mai we talked about a future visit to stay overnight in the Kad Chine area. We returned in time for 6.30 p.m. Sunday dinner in Chiang Mai. A great day devoted to camaraderie and celebration of meaningful moment in a friend's life.

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