Part 2 — Elephant Owners for a Day
Ever thought about being an elephant owner for a day, see the Karen Long Neck Villages or go to the Golden Triangle and visit 3 countries in a matter of minutes? You can do so from Chiang Mai, Thailand! In fact, the two former have been on my bucket list since its inception!
Trip to Chiang Mai:
First day: Chiang Mai
Second day: Elephant Owners for a Day
Patara Elephant Farm
On the second day, we were going to Patara Elephant Farm, to be Elephant Owners for a day!
I’ve had a few experiences with elephants before, but I felt that they were not extensive enough, and they were largely “touristy” without adding any positive contribution to the elephants lives themselves, such as my elephant trip in Phuket in 2014 and my elephant showering and photoshoot in Bali in February 2016.
This, on the other hand, was not a mere quick photo shoot or trip, but a full day dedicated to learning and interacting with the elephants, learning how we can help, and appreciating these giants in their native habitat.
From activities such as cutting the sugar canes to feed these ever-hungry animals, scrubbing their bodies, cleaning them, learning commands ranging from “hou” (stop), “ma” (go), “open mouth”, “didi” (good boy/girl), to taking a swim with them!
Our Experience – Being an Elephant Owner for a Day
We were picked up from our hotel at 7.30 am and the ride was going to take a little more than an hour. As I find it impossible to sit and sleep I stayed awake while everyone else was in sweet dreams. I couldn’t complain as the scenery was both interesting and beautiful. But as we got further I noticed there was a lot of minor fires and smoke coming from seemingly random places. It almost felt like a scene from a dystopian movie. It turned out it has been so dry for a long time now in Chiang Mai that there’s a lot of fires. Thankfully it hasn’t had any impact on the elephant farm (and thankfully it rained the day after we were there).
When we arrived we had a brief information session about everything that would take place, got our training outfits for the day, registered ourselves, and eagerly waited for the activities to commence.
Training Session (9 am – 12 am)
Initially, we were only introduced to one elephant baby and her mother. This was to get us accustomed to being around elephants, and learning more about their breeding program and amazing farm management.
We then were trained in how to command the elephants, how to observe their temperament, and how to assess their daily health.
We also learnt a lot about elephants current situation in Northern Thailand. One of the reasons for their diminished importance and caretaking is due to the younger generations moving into the cities and thus being unable to carry forward their parent’s traditions of having elephants as both pets, friends and work companion.
They also help rescue elephants from abuse, particularly from circuses and some hostile companies heavily commercialising the elephants in the cities by offering trips there.
The information session was also packed with interesting facts about this marvellous mammal. Did you know that they sweat through their toenails? Or that they flap their ears back and forth when they’re happy? Or that elephants “cry” all the time – which is a natural way for it to protect its eyes?
We even got to smell their poo and look at it. We were then also told that we could see through the poo whether the animal was healthy and also estimate the age of the elephant by examining it. Other health examinations included that sick animals sleep while standing up – and thus caretakers can spot whether the elephants have any dirt on their back or not in the morning.
After the introduction and learning some initial commands we were then assigned our very own elephant for the day. Both Elaine and I were excited about this, and we wanted the biggest elephants. So, when Elaine was allocated the biggest male elephant with huge tusks, we both smiled happily (and slightly anxiously?).
It was important that we fed and got to know our elephants for the first 20 minutes. Simply by feeding and giving commands to open up their mouth, and saying “di-di” (good girl/boy), we would ensure that the elephants would trust us and let us give it commands later on. That was also a reason to why we all were wearing different coloured training outfits so that the elephants could tell us apart. Originally we were gonna cut down our own sugar canes to feed the elephants. But due to some minor delay and very warm weather – the staff did it for us. I didn’t mind that!
After we had fed our new buddies it was time for some brushing and grooming.
After the brushing, we had some time for a short break and some random fun, which, among others, led to me being kissed by one of the younger elephants. It basically sucked onto my face (something it must have been trained to do). Haha, a very surreal experience. And, while it was fun, it also smelled so bad that I nearly vomited…
We then took the elephants out for a brief dip in the shallow river to wash them, especially their back. Elephants throw dust on their bodies quite often to repel insects (perhaps also to reduce heat?). So we had to clean them before riding them. However, after having thoroughly cleaned Marek for about 15 minutes – to my disbelief – she then went straight to the dusty sand and rolled around in it. I thus had to ride a dirty elephant…
The elephant hair is also very stiff. So we got training pants so that we wouldn’t “hurt” ourselves during the ride.
At the end of the training session, we were instructed on how to get on the elephant neck with various techniques.
One included the leg-approach depicted in the photo below. Another involved telling the elephant to lower its head and let one step on the trunk to jump on top of it. Yet another involved making the elephant lie completely on the ground so one could easily just climb on it. I did neither, and ended up doing a weird approach to it all…
Riding & Bathing Session (12 am – 3.30 am)
We then walked a trail through the forest for about 20-30 minutes, before we arrived at a large waterhole. Once we arrived, we jumped off and headed for lunch. I didn’t want to though! I wanted to run straight to the water and swim with my elephants. But. Sadly, I had to wait another 30 minutes before I could do that. Those 30 minutes felt like 30 hours. Come on, just let me go and swim already!
Finally, the highlight of the day. Swimming and taking a bath with elephants!
Wohooo I could tick this off my bucket list!
We then had another short break before embarking on a longer journey up a large hill. I’m sure the view would have been spectacular had it not been for the very dry season and recent forest fires that made the scenery quite grey.
That concluded our amazing day at Patara Elephant Farm. One of the absolute coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. Simply put, should you ever be in the near vicinity, you cannot pass on this a terrific once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Goodbye Marek. Thank you for such a wonderful day and for letting me be your owner.
Activities | Patara Elephant Farm
Patara Elephant Farm Private Tours | Tripadvisors
Videos | Patara Elephant Farm
Price. 5800 Bath. Easily worth it for a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Research. I cannot speak for the other elephant experiences in the area, but Patara Elephant Farm is really legit and act in the best interest of the animals. They do have a focus on what they call the 4 “R’s”, namely, recovery, reintroduction, rehabilitation and rescue.
Transport. Included in the price. Takes about an hour each way from Chiang Mai.
Duration. The total duration with the elephants is around 6 and a half hours.
Click here to read about our third day, in which we visited the Golden Triangle, White Temple, Karen Long Neck village and more!