Early wake-up to visit the Elephant Conservation Center

Around 7 o’clock in the morning, I wake up. That is because today I want to go watching elephants. I need to calculate enough travel time if I do not want to miss the show at the Elephant Conservation Center. Yesterday when I was heading to Lampang from Chiang Mai, our bus passed the center, which is about 40 minutes from Lampang city. There are elephant shows at 10 and at 11 o’clock.

Easy to reach by local bus from Lampang

Around the corner of the guesthouse, I catch a songthaew to the bus station. As we are crisscrossing the city, I cannot orientate myself clearly, but I am correctly dropped off at the bus station. I take a regular bus – no air conditioning, and the ride costs me 20 baht. Yesterday I noticed that the entrance of the Elephant Conservation Center is indicated clearly, so I manage to get off the bus on the spot. My travel guidebook mentioned some shuttle services from the entrance to the center itself, but there are none. So I start on foot on the 2-kilometer long trip. Luckily almost immediately a motorcycle driver stops signing that I can go along at the back.

The Center is divided into several units

watching elephants in Lampang

The Elephant Conservation Center itself is divided into several units; in one place there is a dung factory (where they make paper from the excrement of the elephants), there is the space where you go watching elephants performing their daily show, an exhibition hall, and some souvenir and food stalls. Furthermore, there are also 2 hospitals where they take care of injured elephants. These parts form the publicly accessible places. There are also project sites for veterinary medicine and the like.

Watching elephants performing their tricks

elephant show at Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang

I buy a ticket for the 11 o’clock show; watching elephants performing their tricks is somewhat touristy, but also educational. The animals greet the audience, lift their teachers, move beams, and even make music on a kind of bamboo organ. After the show, we can feed bananas and sugar cane. The trunk of such a beast feels rough, but the elephants are immensely cute. The center focuses primarily on elephant population preservation. Throughout Asia, injured or neglected animals can be treated by an intervention team and/or transferred to the center. They also try to use the elephants – including their excreta – in an ecologically responsible manner.

Instead of just watching elephants it is also possible to follow mahout training courses

elephants and their mahouts in Lampang

The shows and the souvenir shops are a kind of investment for these purposes. In the afternoon the animals hike into the jungle with their companions. There are also mahout training courses for those interested in becoming an elephant caretaker. Out of sympathy for the project I buy a polo shirt. Unfortunately, I do not find books about elephants. In the exhibition space, I inquire again, but that too is bootless.

Taking care of wounded elephants

At the elephant hospital, you encounter poignant situations. There is, among other things, an adult animal with a broken leg; it stepped on a landmine, something that happens more often. But on the other hand, watching elephants can also be endearing; at the hospital, I also see a mother with her little one, 2 years old.

injured young elephant at hospital in Lampang

Back to Lampang by songthaew

Even though it is not that late, I have seen the most important parts of the center, the heat is scorching, so I walk back to the exit. Before I get there, a songthaew stops next to me. The driver asks if I am going to Lampang, for 25 baht he will drive me there, a godsend. One of the project employees had hired the driver to do shopping in the city. After delivery, he returns back to the center of Lampang, and that is my luck.

mother and child elephant Lampang

Deciding between the train or the bus to my next stop

Back in the guesthouse, I prepare my trip for tomorrow. The train would have the advantage that I arrive near the city center, but then I have to leave at 9 am at Lampang railway station. By taking a bus, there is more choice regarding departure times.

Mekong whiskey as a digestive

After some rest and a shower, I am hungry. Starving as I am, I make a mistake, I order three dishes: fried rice and green curry, noodle soup, and fried vegetables. Way too much of course, even though I eat everything, my stomach feels like exploding afterward. I try to remedy this by ordering a glass of Mekong whiskey as a digestive. It is much sweeter than our whiskey, but it is still good to drink.

Country music and mellow ballads for dessert

Like every evening, a band starts playing at around 8 o’clock. The pattern is always the same, Thai musicians that play Western covers. Today there are two bands, one that tends more towards country and folk music. It is funny to see, a Thai with a checkered shirt, a cowboy hat, and a ponytail; musically it doesn`t appeal to me. The second band is the same as yesterday; they bring more mellow, poppy ballads – Eagles, Beatles, and the like. As I saw them perform already yesterday, I return to the guesthouse. After all, around 9 o’clock I want to take the train heading to Bangkok; I will get off in Phitsanulok, my stop for tomorrow.