Umphang - An Adventure of a Lifetime:
9-day Elephant Safari to Umphang Part 2
WE WALKED ABOUT 30 minutes back to the forestry camp where 6 elephants and their handlers were waiting for us. As the supplies were loaded on the backs of the elephants, we noticed 2 baby elephants standing close to their mothers. They were so cute and we wanted to pet them but we were told it wasn't a good idea. Baby elephants don't know their own strength. They are very playful and can knock you down easily. It is best to observe them from a safe distance of 5 feet or more.
Once the elephants were loaded, the handlers had them lay down and we stepped on their leg then up onto their neck and into the chair on their backs. Each elephant carrys two persons. We had plenty of cushions for our bottoms and a cushioned back rest. There is a bar on the front of the chairs that you place your legs over. I wondered why. Our guide said you will find out when the elephants go down hill. She gave us pillows to put under our legs so the bar did not rub against them. The elephant stood up and we got comfortable. We were ready to go.
We traveled on a small path for about 10 minutes then turned into the jungle without any path at all. The lead elephant carried supplies for the convoy. The mahout cut the overhanging tree and bamboo branches. He would take out his machete (a large knife) and cut the small branches he thought might catch us in the face and arms.
We taveled through stands of bamboo that were the tallest I have ever seen. It seemed that the elephants never stopped eating. They continuously pulled the top tender bamboo branches with their trunks. All the while the baby elephants were right in front or next to their mothers. When a baby wandered too far away, the mother would give a soft roar (more like a low rumbling sound) and the baby would come right back.
We rode about 30 minutes where we came to a beautiful stream and were told we could walk awhile if we liked. The kids and I got off the elephants and the missus had the chair on the elephant all to herself so she wanted to ride a bit more. Ott, our guide from All Thailand Experiences , stayed on one of the elephants to ride along with mom. We were given our small day packs with bottled water and snacks. Our local guide, Kit, brought along a fishing pole. Our guide said we can walk much faster than the elephants can so we soon left them behind.
As we walked along the stream there were beautiful Kingfisher birds with their bright orange beaks and florescent green and blue bodies. We stopped at a nice bamboo bench to rest. Our guide started digging around the roots of a bamboo grove for a grub. He put it on his fishing hook and cast into the water. Suddenly, a fish took the bait. He gave the pole to my son who brought the fish in slowly. It was similar to a white bass and would be part of our dinner. We caught 3 more fish while following the stream. While waiting for the elephants to arrive, Kit had cut a stalk of bamboo and was making cups for us.
When the elephants arrived, we got back on as we had a stream to cross without a bridge. Here is where we found out what the front bar on the chairs were for. When we came to the bank the elephant had to go down and the front bar kept us from sliding off. It was a little scary at first but after a few times you learn where to hold on and it was kind if fun.
We rode on for another 30 minutes and came to a large bamboo bridge crossing the stream. On the other side were children playing in the water and women washing clothes at the Karen Hill Tribe village where we would spend the evening. Here we had a choice of taking the bridge or riding the elephants across. Children were running across the bridge to greet us and this made it sway from side to side. Right away mom said, "There is no way I am walking across that bridge". We all laughed and the kids said, "Let's do it Dad". We asked Ott and Kit if it was safe then Kit ran across the bridge and back again and said, "No problem".
The kids and I got off the elephants while Mom went ahead of us across the stream on her elephant. Ott told us to go one at a time and hang on to the side rails. It wasn't that scary although the bamboo did bend under my feet. The bridge was about 100 feet long and I was amazed about the manner of construction. The bridge has to be replaced each year after rainy season in November. There was a sand bank covered with thousands of butterflies of all shapes, colors and sizes. It was an incredible site. We stayed here taking photos while thousands flew up and all around in a cloud of color. I have never seen anything like it and probably never will. Again, a moment of a lifetime none of us will ever forget.
We followed the path about 200 feet up to the village. Kit took us to our own Karen style Bamboo home while Ott went to visit the headman of the village. Kit told us that the villagers built this house for visitors so we wouldn't disturb their natural way of life. We were also told that we would be able to visit other homes but for now just relax. We were given fresh cold drinks and took turns using the shower. Kit and 2 boys from the village started a fire in the kitchen and prepared food for dinner.
Ott informed us the headman and his family would be joining us for dinner. We wanted to visit the other homes but Ott said wait until tomorrow morning as it was not polite to visit when the families are bathing, preparing their dinner and eating. We were very glad that our guide knew so much about their culture and that we could be part of it without disturbing their way of life.
Ott brought out several bags that were filled with writing tablets, pencils, chalk, crayons and other school supplies. The next day we would visit the school and hand these out to the teacher and students. She also had antibiotics, antiseptic, creams for cuts and bandages to give to the headman. Many of the villagers receive cuts from their knifes while working in the fields and need these to treat the wounds.
During dinner the headman and his 3 children came to visit. We asked many questions using Ott as a translator and learned alot about the village. We found out that 80% of the villagers have never seen a TV nor listened to radios as the valley was surrounded by mountains they could not pick up signals.
After dinner two boys stayed and played wonderful harplike instruments and sang folk songs. We were all tired and wanted to sleep. We got into our soft beds with clean sheets, pillows, blankets under our mosquito nets. The soft and soothing music lulled us to sleep in minutes. What a wonderful day and we still had 5 days to go.