You start to get a feel of the age of this place when you come across the old brick wall that was built around the original city which at least 700 years old. Also a moat to protect the citizens against the aggressive Burmese. Crocodiles and snakes are kept in the moat as a further deterrent. The walls that are left standing date back to 1296 and there are many around that shows just how well they were built.
It is an early start at 8am and we head straight to the Maesa Elephant Camp. We love seeing the elephants take our bananas and sugar cane, have our photos taken with trunks wrapped around us and getting kisses as well as laughing at them splashing about in the water. There is a elephant show and now it is hard to work out if the elephants enjoy these activities or if they are just for the tourist dollar. It is good to know that the money does go to improving their health but when you see the elephants still being ridden its not easy – each to there own of course and I am just happy to watch them and learn about them. It is also a far cry from how they used to be treated and it does go towards their survival in this very poor country. The elephant paintings prove to be very popular often spending thousands of bht on them – again not sure if they really do enjoy this activity or not. elephant handlers are called Mahouts and it is a job that is passed on from father to son.
The butterfly and orchid farm is next – not so many butterflies which was disappointing but perhaps they were not in season. The orchids are spectacular.
Off to the silver shop which proves very popular with the ladies and I was involved in a covert operation to purchase a gift for the wife of one of our travellers – nearly getting sprung with the goods – I think now she thinks I fancy her hubby but all will be revealed soon.
Umbrella making is next and you really do get to see everything from start to finish. Even making every spoke, every string, material and artwork. The artists offer to paint things on our bags or hats but we are a little wary. At last we get started with one offering his hat and after that everyone is in. We see how they work free hand with intricate drawings of dragons, fish, birds and flowers but really there’s no limit to their artistic talents – if you can show them a picture they can paint it. It is by donation so it is up to you – one of our travellers even got his mobile phone painted.
You would think that was enough for one day but now we head to the silk factory and learn from the masters how it is done. The life cycle of the worms is 45 days from egg to the end product. The cocoons produce about 500 meters of silk thread and then the rest is up to the weavers, dyes and designs. We are warned about the many different places that do not really sell genuine Thai silk and that cotton is often mixed through to trick the buyer.