Although this post has no direct association with food, I felt it was important for me to share my experience of the Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Let’s face it – a tourist’s trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete these days without some form of interaction with an elephant… the problem is – many of those tourists still visit camps that have been established purely for the tourist industry. This means that the elephants are not living in the right conditions, they are hit with various tools for simple commands and are often chained when they aren’t walking around the field, carrying their 150th visitor of the day.
On my recent visit to Thailand, I too wanted to experience the interaction process with one of these beautiful creatures, but I did my research beforehand. Evidently, I felt the mountain and jungle environment of Chiang Mai was probably the most natural habitat for elephants and so stumbled upon the Patara Elephant Farm’s website. After reading reviews (5/5 stars on trip advisor) I knew this was the place to visit.
Myself and my best friend contacted the farm to book on for the ‘Elephant Day Care’ programme. I really recommend contacting them at least one month in advance – because they have very limited places that get booked out quickly. The day care is a half-day programme offering the same quality interaction time as the full day, but it focuses predominantly on the healthcare and communication skills for pregnant and small elephants. For me, this trip was to learn more about and be educated on elephants – not particularly to ride them, however you do still get to ride elephant along the farming area and river.
Upon arrival, we huddled under a thatched roof hut and were given refreshments and a special ‘mahout’ outfit so that we could be easily identified by the elephants. We were greeted by one of the farms owners, Pat who began an introduction on the farm. Essentially, the farm has been in the family for many generations and they are dedicated to the well-being of the few dozen elephants that inhabit their property. Upon birth, each elephant is ‘assigned’ to a human and they spend their entire lives together. The villager’s main prerogative is keeping his elephant healthy and happy.
Pat spoke at length about the farm’s mission to rehabilitate the terribly endangered species. The poachers hungry for ivory tusks, circus acts and neighbouring attractions neglecting to care properly for these gentle giants. We were warned that if we ever saw an elephant with a metal riding seat attached to his back, that he/she was being subject to excruciating pain, if not permanent spinal damage. The more Pat spoke, the more it became obvious that this place was worlds away from a tourist attraction. Patara elephant farm is a sanctuary and their statistics supported that. In the 30-40 years the farm has been running, they have had no mutualities and over 10 births – one more on the way in a few months!
We were split into two groups (around 8 people in each) and driven down to the camp, where a handful of elephants roamed about freely. Pat claimed his judge of character would allow him to match elephant to human based on our personalities. Interestingly, I was paired up with an adventurous 19 year old pregnant female called Bang. Only a minute into our first greeting, I was sniffed from top to bottom with her glorious trunk and started placing bananas onto her sloppy tounge!
Step one: feeding our elephants
Elephants are hungry creatures, therefore one of the easiest ways to make happy is to feed them. We were each given a basket of bananas and sugarcane, two of their favourite treats and taught the command “Bon” which directed the elephant to open their mouths so we could feed them. Once they had eaten, we would give them a pat on the head and say “Dee Dee” meaning good girl/boy.
Note: be prepared to get your hands dirty!
Step two: elephant health check
As mentioned, one of the missions of Patara Elephant Farm is educating the public about elephants – and that they did! The following facts are just some of the ways that you can spot a healthy elephant…
- Healthy elephants have dirt on the side of their body from laying down to sleep at night. Sick elephants will sleep standing up.
- Healthy, happy elephants should flap their ears every 2-5 seconds
- Healthy elephants should have moisture by their eyes. Elephants do not have tear ducts so they’ll constantly have moisture running through which keeps their eyes clean.
- Healthy elephants produce fiber-rich, moist feces
Step three: cleaning our elephants
Cleaning the elephants was a two-part process. Firstly, we had to command our elephant to lay on the ground by saying “No-long” this allows for you to clean the dirt off of their backs. Using some greenery, we then brushed the dirt off of the elephant. Remember: elephants have such thick skin that you have to use a little force so that they can enjoy it!
Once the majority of the dirt was removed, we then walked our elephant down to the water to give them a thorough clean. We climbed onto our elephants backs so that we could reach to scrub them everywhere.
After we had finished washing our elephants, everyone lined up in the water for a group photo with the elephants behind us. Just as they took the photo, the elephants sprayed water from their trunks making the perfect picture!
Step four: riding our elephants
The elephants were now all clean and ready to ride. The mahouts clearly demonstrated the best ways for us to mount our elephants which involved using their legs (ankle and knee) to climb up.
One of the best things about Patara is that you ride the elephants completely bareback. This is much better for the animals in comparison to the chairs mounted to their backs.
We then embarked on a 20 minute ride in the mountain environment which was rather humorous for those of us with hungry elephants who gave us their own tour of bushes and hillside where they could have a quick snack!
I cannot recommend this farm enough, aside from being completely humane with no bull hooks in sight – this is a once in a lifetime, educational experience that you get to share one-to-one with your elephant.
The cost of the trip was 3,800 baht per person which calculates around £70 and lasted from 1pm – 6pm. This price included the specialised training activity with the elephant, transportation to and from your hotel/hostel, drinking water and snacks and a DVD containing the most beautiful images and videos from your trip. Get booking!