Thursday, 30 December 2010

Travels with Li Dongni – Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang, Thailand (May 2008)

Off we went with a trumpety trump...

When my wife was working in Bangkok, I went out to see her and we spent some time travelling around.  We avoided the party towns of southern Thailand like the plague and decided to head north to see some of the ruins of the ancient capitals of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and historic towns like Chiang Mai.  While we were in Chiang Mai, we decided to go and see some elephants.  We looked at a few places, but they seemed to be more like circus freak shows, and that was an element of the Thai economy we certainly didn’t wish to support.  One place, however, caught our eye.  The Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre seemed to offer us the chance to get up close and personal to some elephants, but at the same time reassure us that they weren’t being exploited to give us that opportunity, and that the money we were paying would be supporting a good cause.

One of the attractions of the centre is a show by the elephants and their Mahouts (handlers). You can pay to spend a few days at the centre learning to be a Mahout, and a number of the people in the show were such people.  The experience must be fantastic – I’d love to hear from someone who has done it.

The show itself was fun – elephants parading, moving logs around, putting hats on Mahout’s heads – the usual, everyday stuff elephants do, and there was the chance to feed the elephants some bananas afterwards.  The pictures and videos below are from the show.

The show did throw up one very freaky coincidence, however.  In one part of the show, some of the elephants paint pictures, holding the brush in their trunk, and you can buy the paintings afterwards.  When I got back to England I was talking to a colleague about this (she’s absolutely mad on elephants and has done lots of travelling to similar places in Asia herself), and she said that her sister had bought an elephant painting from Lampang (over the internet) the year before.  When we checked it out, it turned out that we had met the elephant that painted her picture!  It’s a small world...

The image and video below show an elephant artist in action.

We decided we couldn’t leave without taking a little ride on an elephant ourselves, so we signed up for one of the short trips around the centre.  The Mahout was a friendly chap, and it was rather fun to be tromping around the forest paths and through a river on the back of a large elephant, and definitely something I’m glad I can say I’ve had the chance to do.  I’m sure the elephant (which I’m ashamed to say I learned the name of but have now forgotten) remembers us just as fondly...

The centre is of course always looking for ways of raising money to support itself, and one way it has decided to do this is to use one of its natural assets – elephant poo!  There is a factory at the centre which turns ‘elephant output’ into lots of different paper products and sells them.  I personally am now the proud owner of an elephant poo paper photo frame resplendent with an appropriate photograph of my wife on the back of an elephant

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