Thursday, December 31, 2009

Photo by angie tan burns Text & painting by gregory burns (All rights reserved)

From 35,000 feet, Thailand’s northern border with Burma and Laos is nothing to write home about - a
fairly flat pancake affair with some shallow hills of auburn dirt. A sea of vegetation sprawls from the jungles to envelope that which has not been cultivated. Several rivers divide up the landscape here and there but again, from the air, the landscape is nothing spectacular.

It’s when you get onto the ground and into the life of the Golden Triangle that things get interesting. Our residency at the Anantara Resort began quietly as we entered their lavish gardens. When an elephant with a mahout (elephant trainer) strode past our car, we thought we had mistakenly veered onto a movie set. It all seemed so natural yet a bit surreal. This would be our home for the holidays and a unique chance for Angie and I to explore the elephant world and the sacred Buddhist sites that pepper the area.

The resort has a serious thing for elephants. Some three-dozen reside in and roam around the plain beyond the manicured resort grounds. Many of the animals were rescued from the tourist trade of Bangkok or have been retired from the logging industry. Each elephant requires a minder and the Mahout takes care of the needs and controls the wanderings of the beasts. Gentle giants though they are; if permitted, they wander across borders and create international havoc.

Angie takes the two-day, ‘Mahout Training Course’, learning to feed, mount, ride and bathe the animals. Besides eating 10% of their weight, their daily rituals include a soap-less bath in the river. Man and mammal enter the water and nobody can be sure of who will exit riding on top of whom. Being in intimate contact with these giant yet sensitive animals is a treat, my only fear being that Angie will want to bring one home with us.
Buddhism, the national religion, spread throughout Thailand long ago. The remains of temples and chedis pop up on hillsides and in tranquil forest settings. In active temples, golden-ochre robed monks sit peacefully, reminding me of the strong spiritual path which pervades this land and people.

After a period of painting and picture taking, Angie prepares an exhibition of my works in the hotel’s grand entryway along with a slide show that highlights our experience. We are grateful for the warm reception we have received and find it hard to

tear ourselves away. But fortunately, we leave before Angie tries to adopt a 700-pound baby.