The sun had just broken the horizon far to the east over the
mountains of Laos as we pedaled out of the town of Lampang. Shops
had not yet opened. The streets were deserted. The monks were
strolling aimlessly and the old ladies who typically sweep the stoop in
preparation for the giving of alms where nowhere to be seen. Earlier
when we descended the stairs to the lobby of the hotel we found the
entire staff sound asleep on the couches and front desk so we quietly
slipped away into the ghost town of Lampang
Legend has it that the Buddha sent a hoard of white roosters to rouse
the slumbering residents of this sleepy town in order to save the
monks from starvation. The town promptly adopted the white rooster
as it symbol but continues to sleep late. The monks somehow
Route 11 led us directly toward a large mountain looming to the
northwest but the shoulder was wide and we were making good time.
Just before the road headed uphill we began seeing signs for the Thai
Elephant Conservation Center. Remarkably, the sign advertised the
annual Asian Elephant Festival scheduled to begin in a few hours.
Amanda squealed and yelled to me from behind, "Elephant festival.
Did you see the sign? Rich? Did you see it? They're having an
elephant festival today. Let's go."
"We've got a long way to pedal and it looks like the event doesn't start
until 1 p.m.," I said.
"Let's call the hotel and make a reservation from the center," she
insisted, "then we don't have to worry."
It was the beginning of high season in Thailand and earlier in the
week we had spent a few sweltering, exhausting afternoons scouring
towns in search of a vacant room in a guesthouse before giving up
and trying the more expensive hotels. I imagined another such day
and wanted to arrive early.
While paying the entrance fee for the conservation center Amanda
picked up a brochure for a hotel and said excitedly, "Wow, this one
looks niiiiiiiice. Let's stay here. It's in Lamphun. That's only 50
kilometers from here. We can do 50 kilometers in three hours."
Looking over her shoulder at the brochure I had to admit it did look
good and said, "Ok, let's call"
There was no telephone nearby but the young woman in the ticket
booth heard our plight and offered her cell phone. Amanda called,
booked the room, and said triumphantly, "Great, now we can stay for
After cycling the steep two kilometers from the gate to the arena we
found the center in complete chaos. Hundreds of volunteers worked
feverishly to create ornate, artistic offerings for the elephants using
tropical fruits, vegetables and flowers from all over the nation. Trucks
overflowed with pineapples and watermelons. Pushcarts wobbled
under loads of string beans, papaya, cucumber, and tomatoes.
Mounds of tangerines were organized into pyramids on the streets
and hundreds of bright orange squashes were carved with exquisite
Lounging in the shade for a few hours we watched as some of the
elephants bathed in the nearby lake in preparation for the big event.
Just as things were about to begin Amanda stood up with a start as if
suddenly realizing something and said, "Oh no! Where is the
brochure for the hotel?" As she dug through her handlebar bag she
said, "Oh no. Oh no. Oh no." Then she found it and said louder,
"OH NO! I knew it."
"What? What's wrong?" I asked.
"This hotel. It's not in Lamphun. It's in Lampang. They are so easy to
confuse. Lamphun. Lampang. Last night we slept in Lamphang. We
need a hotel in Lamphun." She dug through her pack looking for the
guidebook, paged through it frantically and found that there is only
one hotel in Lamphun. She marched over to a pay telephone, called
the hotel only to find out that they were full - because of the elephant
Yikes. The next city with a place to sleep was Chiang Mai, the largest
town in the north, at least 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. With about
five hours of light left in the day we would have to leave immediately
and cycle at a good pace to make it to Chiang Mai before dark.
Turning out of the Elephant Center the road headed up a steep
mountain. Pedaling furiously we average a paltry eight kilometers in
the next hour and a half. After a brief downhill the road flattened and
we continued at our normal pace. There was no way we were going
to make it before the sun disappeared.
At the bottom of another hill we stopped for a momentary breather.
The gray outlines of dusk began to settle over the road as we
strapped on our blinking headlights and switched on the red flashing
taillights. If the road stayed perfectly flat we would arrive in the
bustling city of Chiang Mai by about 8:00 p.m.
Climbing back onto the bikes we continued to climb. After pedaling a
few hundred meters I saw a small sign in Thai on the side of the road
with an arrow pointing down a well-tended, paved driveway. At the
bottom of the sign the words "Home Stay" were printed in English.
The driveway led to a lush tropical garden with bubbling fountains,
colorful flowers bursting from impeccably landscaped beds and a
lovely green manicured lawn. Perched on a hill were four traditional
teak bungalows with floor to ceiling windows and connected to one
another by a wooden walkway.
The Lap of Luxury
Together we called out,
"Sawadee Kap" (hello).
A young woman with a
baby balanced on her hip
came from what appeared
to be a maintenance shed
and welcomed us,
We were having trouble
communicating so I used
the universal gesture for
sleep by putting my hands
together next to my head
and pointed to the
bungalows. She nodded
yes. Amanda asked in
Thai what the cost would
be and the woman said a
number but we were
unable to understand.
I took out a pen and asked
her to write down the
amount but she was
confused by my request so
I wrote the number 500 on
a paper. She shook her
head no and motioned her
hand up insinuating a
higher number. After a few
more attempts we
determined the price to be
1200 baht, much more
expensive than what we
normally pay for
accommodations, but after
looking at the bungalows
and feeling our tired legs
throbbing we happily
It was then that we found
out that we had the entire
residence to ourselves, a
kitchen, living room, dining
area all in one bungalow,
our own private bedroom
bungalow, and if we
wanted, a second
bedroom, all to ourselves.
The sleeping quarters had
Direct TV with a zillion
stations and the kitchen
was fully stocked with food,
coffee and wine, all
included. The young
woman raced around
opening the glass walls
and switching on the
elegant lighting throughout
the main bungalow.
We could not believe our
luck. This was obviously
the second or third home
of a wealthy Thai and we
were experiencing, for one
short night, the lap of