Meeting my new elephant boyfriend

Going to Thailand equals seeing elephants.

Although it’s an amazing experience, there are a lot of questions about ethics in this matter, so my research on elephant sanctuaries started as soon as I began planning my trip.

Allow me to introduce you to Patara Elephant Farm.

Located outside of Chiang Mai, Patara specializes in the rehabilitation, well-being and reproduction of a nearly extinct species.  The farm offers two experiences for travellers;

  • Elephant owner for a day (full day)
  • Elephant daycare (half day)

From what I can understand, the two programs are quite similar, but the full-day program offers more time with your elephant and lunch at the waterfall.

The highlighted feature of this activity is that every person is paired with their own elephant and guide, meaning you get to spend a lot of individual time learning about, interacting with, and taking care of your elephant.

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The Itinerary – Elephant Daycare

13:15: pick-up from your Chiang Mai hotel (time may vary based on hotel location).

14:00 – Arrival and elephant meet & greet.  On arrival, we met a mother elephant, along with her 3-year-old daughter and 5 day old son.  We were given the basics on how to approach the elephants, touch them and got some photo ops.  We also had a chance to feed them. This is an opportunity for people to get used to the idea of elephants and begin to feel more comfortable.

15:00 – Brief orientation and waivers. You will be asked to sign your waiver form (standard) and will be given a quick history of Patara and elephants in Thailand.

15:20 – Introduction to your elephant.  The staff pair you, apparently based on personality.  My elephant was a show-off named Poom.  I think we were well-matched.  You are taught a few key words and basically buy your elephant’s love by feeding them until they like you.

15:00 – Elephant bath.  You and your elephant are escorted down to a small waterfall where you bath your elephant.  It’s very wet and a little gross, but mostly fun.

15:30 – Riding your elephant (bare back).  From my research, the real harm of riding elephants is when they are saddled first.  The weight of th saddle plus the weight of the rider is too much.

Riding the elephant was…interesting.  We had a bad weather day, so it was raining the entire time.  Getting up on the elephant was the hardest part, but the ride itself was smooth.

16:00 – Return to the farm.  After saying goodbye to your elephant and guide you are transported back to the farmhouse where you can shower (trust me, you’ll need it).  You’re then given a complimentary CD of all of the photos and videos taken that day by the Patara staff.

16:30 -Return trip home.  Expect this ride to be a little longer due to Chiang Mai rush hour.

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What to Wear and Bring

The farm will give you a poncho to put over your shirt and traditional pants, so it’s actually not THAT important what you are wearing underneath.  Shorts or light pants is recommended as it’s always hot in Thailand.

In addition, make sure you have the following;

  • Bathing suit (for the elephant bathing).
  • Change of clothes for afterwards.
  • A towel for your post-elephant shower.
  • Bug spray and sunscreen.
  • Tip for your guide.

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