Tim and I came to Lampang for a few days, to visit the famous elephant training and conservation centre.We took a tuk tuk to a guesthouse that we though sounded interesting in the Lonely Planet, and were met with what can only be described as a 5 star hotel. It was a beautiful old teak townhouse, in a superb location with a balcony looking over the river (excellent for sipping Singh beer and playing cards!!). The interior was full of antique wooden furniture, and the showerhead in the softly lit bathroom was ENORMOUS!! The garden was full of nooks and crannies to disappear into with a book or magazine amidst the orchids and karp ponds. Bliss. It was so good we ended up staying 3 nights!
We hired a tuk tuk for a day and had an exciting time riding on their motorway, past lorries, before spitting out into the countryside. The elephant conservation centre was located in extensive, lush grounds. In fact, we had to walk quite a way to see our first elephant!! The centre has the only elephant hospital in the world, and we were impressed to learn the vets there will go and treat any elephant across Thailand, wild or domestic, for free. They also were undertaking research into artificial insemination in elephants, and we saw a very cute calf who had been conceived in this manner. In fact, there were a couple of adorable baby elephants. It is worth checking out the centre's website, as their work is so interesting and valuable; www.thailandelephant.org.
We watched the elephants being taken into a deep pool to bathe, and then were entertained by the sight of them marching in procession to a showground, complete with elephants holding flags, banging drums, and all the elephants (whose trunks were not otherwise occupied) holding the tail of the one in front in decreasing order of size. The whole spectacle reminded me of the scene from the Jungle Book when the elephants march in procession under the stern instruction of their leader!!
Various traditional elephant skills were then demonstrated as they moved logs around in various fashions, knelt and rolled, and passed tools to their mahouts. They also played the xylophone and painted pictures (not so traditional!). All very impressive. I was unsure tobegin with what to make of all this performing for the tourists, but the elephants did look like they might actually be enjoying themselves. The mahouts seemed to really care for them and treat the elephants well. The elephants working in this manner lures tourists, thus generating income for their conservation.
We ended the visit with a ride on an elephant through a tropical forest. All great fun, and it was good to know that the money we spent was all going to the conservation project.
On the way back, we visited a temple called Wat Phra That Lampang Luang. It is the oldest wooden temple in Thailand and was simply beautiful. I have noticed that I feel a sense of warmth and peacefulness entering Buddhist temples. Maybe it is the peaceful, smiling Buddha entering nirvana, or perhaps it is the gold leaf and red paint, but I have decided I prefer this to seeing a poor bloke nailed on a cross, and other nightmarish images of suffering.
After our stay in Lampang, it was time to move on to Chiang Mai.....