Umphang - An Adventure of a Lifetime:
9-day Elephant Safari to Umphang Part 3
We were all wakened around 3 AM by the sound of roosters crowing. Most were roosting right under the house and our beds. Before we fell asleep Ott, our guide, asked if we had brought along earplugs which were on a list provided by her office via email before we left for Thailand. We had them ready right next to our beds so in they went and we fell back to sleep. We didn't want to put the ear plugs in before we fell asleep as we wouldn't be able to hear the music from the Karen hill tribe boys who played there soft sounding instruments and gentle voices before falling asleep.
The next thing I remember is the smell of coffee that woke me up. The kids and wife were still sleeping. Before I could wipe the sleep from my eyes, one of our local guides asked if I wanted a cup so I crawled out of bed and took the cup of hot beverage. I put on my flip-flops and stepped outside. There was a wonderful cloud bank hovering around the tops of the surrounding mountains and a slight fog in the village. I kept hearing the sound of pounding seeming to come from almost every home. Ott then got out of bed and joined me. I asked her what that sound was. She said come with me.
We walked through the small dirt covered streets and saw young girls in their white Karen dresses using rice pounders, which is a large log on a pivot with a wooden head on one of the ends. Under the head was a wooden bowl buried in the ground filled with unshelled rice. The girls were on the other end using their feet to bring the head of the rice pounder up into the air when taking their feet off the heavy wooden head dropped into the bowl of rice. The next process was to take the rice and put it in a large flat round bamboo tray with which they would flip the rice into the air and let the slight breeze carry away the rice husks catching the now unshelled rice in the tray.
Upon returning to our cabin everyone else was awake and taking turns in the bathroom. Ott told me to shower and she would take the rest of the family around the villages to see what I have just seen. The morning was very cool and I was regretting taking a cold shower. One of the guides carried a pan of hot water to in the bamboo bathroom and poured it into a large clay vase. I added some cold water and the temperature was just right.. Using a bowl, I dipped into the water and poured over my body to get wet, soap down and then rinse off. The good thing is that this village had running water and toilets for every home but the hot water was something special and a nice touch to what so far was a fantastic experience.
Everyone else got back and the kids wanted to wash off in the stream next to the village. Ott said they could not as soap or shampoo is not allowed as it would pollute the stream and even the villages bathed and washed their clothes using the running water at their home as not to pollute. So everyone got his or her warm shower and soon it would be time for breakfast. We had a large choice from bacon and eggs, toast, jam, corn flakes with fresh milk or Thai rice soup.
After breakfast we walked to the school with Ott and the local guides carrying the things brought along to give to the teacher and children. As we walked toward the school more and more children started following us on their way to school. Some wanted to hold our hands and guide us there. We really felt welcome and a very personal feeling of joy and warmth over came us. This was the kind of close contact with hill tribe villagers we were looking for it was great.
When we arrived at the school yard we were greeted by the young teacher of 26 years. She was also Karen and received here education through the Government help villagers program. She received her tuition to go to a University in Chiangmai and get her degree free from the government and then she must teach and live for 2 years in a hill tribe village. She only had a few months left before her obligation was finished and she could return to her normal life.
We were told to sit on the benches outside the small primitive bamboo school and wait until she got the children together and settled. There was a flagpole in front of the school and the all lined up and sang the Thai national anthem as two students raised the flag. They then all nicely went double file into the school, which was open on 2 sides and sat at their desks watching us with interest. The teacher talked with them in the Karen language and we were allowed in. We were asked the normal questions such as where we were from and if we liked Thailand and of course the age of our kids. The teacher translated all this.
The guides brought in the gifts and the teacher had us divide up the pencils, writing tablets, erasers, crayons, tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoo and soap to give to the children. Ott had just enough so everyone received each of the items. We asked her how often she does this and she said around once a month. Every year in the month of December she brings blankets, 1 for each family instead of the school supplies. She also had chalk and other teaching supplies for the teacher.
We had our kids distribute the items to the children and they all gave a Thai Wai in thanks for the items. Ott told the teacher we had to leave so she had the students walk us to our Karen home and everyone was trying to hold our hands as we walked. When we got to the house the elephants were there and everything was packed and loaded. We got on the elephants and waved good-bye to all our new friends. All the children were saying bye and waving until we disappeared into the jungle. I think was must have talked about our experience in that wonderful village hours after leaving and still think about it today and will never forget it. It was a great chance for our kids to see and interact with people so poor yet so happy. They will probably carry this thought with them throughout their lives.
If you are interested in going on this elephant safari with white water rafting contact http://www.all-thailand-exp.com