Ask any visitors to Thailand and chances are “elephant riding” will be somewhere on their bucket list of activities to tick off. Not that I blame them – I once jumped at the chance to ride atop a gentle beast as it slowly but ever so surely lumbered along a trail. It was less comfortable that I’d originally imagined, but at least it’s crossed off my list.
On a previous trip I booked with TravelThailandToday, the Tiger Trail tour guide and I got to chatting, and she mentioned of an elephant camp in Lampang, one that focuses on conservation efforts. The center, she said, is operated by the state’s Forest Industry Organization and founded over 20 years ago.
Located just an hour or so drive from Chiang Mai, the center also comprises of an elephant hospital, offers a mahout training homestay program, houses H.M. King of Thailand’s elephants, and most importantly doesn’t have a tourist trap feel to it. Following our satisfied day tour, we eagerly signed up for another day trip.
The visit to Lampang Elephant Conservation Center was insightful and interesting. The unhurried nature of the park allows plenty of time to reflect and enjoy being in the presence of the majestic creatures at a leisurely pace. Fellow visitors on the day ranged widely from little kids to mature folk, and I’m sure everyone walked away with a bit more knowledge on pachyderms than when they arrived.
I once heard that the more you know, the more you understand; and the more you understand, the more you care. It’s heartwarming to know that there are concerted efforts to conserve Thailand’s national animal, and through the ongoing education efforts, hopefully more people will in turn learn to care about Asian elephants.
There were lots of opportunities throughout the day to get up and close with the elephants big and small.
I’m not really sure where this lumbering elephant was going, but I like the fact that they carry things on their tusks, held in place by the trunk.
One by one the elephants sauntered into the water, guided by their mahouts for a dip and rub.
Elephants spraying water on command, much to the delight of visitors.
After the watery playtime, we followed elephant procession – led by a flag waving and a trio of drum-banging pachyderms – into the performance area for the 10 a.m. showtime.
Elephants in the procession walked linked tail to trunk, except this funny fella who looks like he has the preceding elephant’s tail in his mouth.
A handful of the nearly 100 elephants in the conservation center’s care showed off their ability to obey their mahout’s verbal commands, including (clockwise from top-left): sitting down, retrieving objects off the ground, lifting their front legs to give their mahouts a boost up, and gently putting a hat back on the trainer’s head.
Despite the elephants’ abilities to perform some party tricks, the focus at the center is on conservation. Here the elephants showed their main activities at the elephant school – logging practice, as they did with teak in former times.
This center holds the distinction as the first place in the kingdom which taught its elephants to paint, mainly from memory and with verbal guidance from the trainer. If you missed your chance at getting your hands at the three paintings, there’s an on-site shop that sells them for THB1,000 (US$30) per piece.
The just-finished paintings were being traded with a THB500 (US$15) “donation” per piece. I particularly liked the one on the right, of an elephant walking off into the horizon flanked by palm trees. Proceeds go towards the conservation efforts, expenses which run from THB500,000 to THB1million (US$15,368 to US$30,736) per month for all elephants including medical expenses.
More feeding and photo ops after the show. Trivia learned during the program? Elephants sleep for an average of four hours per night, with 98% of them laying down on the ground to catch their shut-eye. They each drink some 100 liters of water per day.
Throughout the show, elephant droppings were shoveled onto a cart. After the show, our guide showed us to a nearby area where the dung is washed, bleached, spun, and dried on frames (pictured). All in all it takes four days to turn into the end paper product.
There are a few paper-based souvenirs to buy at the shop, including these colorful greeting cards.
On the way back, we stopped off at Kad Tung Kwian market for a quick stroll to buy snacks and souvenirs.
Local snacks and souvenirs, including (clockwise from top-left): pork rinds, accompanying chili paste, and an assortment of preserved fruit.
A last piece of trivia learned for the day. These ceramic bowls and plateware adorned with the cockerel motif, ubiquitous all around Thailand? Yep, they’re actually all from Lampang!