After reading about Chiang Mai, you quickly learn how important elephants are to the Thai people. In fact Chang means elephant which explains why Chang beer has the cute drawing of elephants on it.
Selecting Patara Elephant Farm
As a true animal lover, it was very important to me that I spend my money supporting a humane elephant farm. I did quite a bit of research and Patara Elephant Farm kept coming up as the top rated elephant farm in the area. I really liked that their goal is to breed their elephants and ultimately release them back into the wild where they belong.
Another thing that I really liked was that they allow fewer people on their premises than they have elephants. This shows that they are truly about the education and health of the elephants above making a quick buck. Since they are the top elephant farm in the area, there is a high demand and they could easily increase the number of visitors they allow, in turn making more money but they choose not to.
Once I read the Patara Elephant Farm yelp reviews I was sold. It is the #1 attraction in all of Chiang Mai. With nearly all 5 star ratings, everyone that seemed to visit the place absolutely loved it.
I emailed Patara to get Andy and I set up to partake in their elephant owner for a day program. After a few emails back and forth, we were all set.
While it was a little pricy at 5,800 baht or $170 per person, this was our special excursion during our time in Chiang Mai. Plus, ever since I visited the site and saw that I would be able to interact with baby elephants I was sold – it was something that I knew we had to do.
Getting to Patara Elephant Farm
Our elephant owner for a day fee covered transportation from our hotel. We ate breakfast at our hotel, the Sakorn Residence and were picked up shortly after. The van already had a few other people in it. Ironically they were staying at the luxury hotel right next door 137 Pillars House.
Arriving at Patara Elephant Farm
Once you arrive, the first thing that you see are elephants roaming free. Not only elephants but also baby elephants! My smile was huge and I was so excited to get so close to them.
I’m sure that the driver is used to everyone getting super excited and rushing to the elephants, so before we got out of the van, he gave us the rundown of how to approach the elephants and what not to do. Once we had our instructions I was off, heading right over to the babies.
It’s crazy how large adult elephants are. When you see elephants at a zoo, you are normally far away, but standing side by side with them you realize not only how tall they are but also the sheer size of them.
Once you have a little time with the elephants you’re shuttled up the hill for orientation and paperwork. The paperwork is what you expect – basically just saying that you won’t sue them if something were to happen.
We then got to pick a shirt to wear for the day. Since the elephants are exposed to so many different people on a daily basis, this helps them recognize their “new owners” easily. I selected a purple top and Andy went with a blue. Ironically when our family and friends saw pictures from our visit to Patara, they almost always commented on how they liked our tops so much.
Before we met up with our animals, we took a quick bathroom break and those who weren’t already wearing their swimsuits changed. The bathrooms had western-style toilets and sinks which was nice.
Learning How to Spot a Healthy Elephant
One of the missions of Patara Elephant Farm is educating the public about elephants. We learned how we can spot a healthy elephant and some interesting elephant facts.
- Have dirt on the side of their body from laying down to sleep at night. Sick elephants will sleep standing up.
- Flap their ears a lot
- Have moisture by their eyes. Elephants do not have tear ducts so they’ll constantly have moisture running through which keeps their eyes clean.
- Produce fiber-rich, moist feces
Fun elephant facts:
- The only place that elephants sweat is on their nail beds
- They only sleep 4 hours a night and have to move positions throughout their sleep as the pressure is too much if they lie in 1 position the entire time
Being their owners, we had to check all levels of their health including checking their feces. We pulled it open to check that there was a lot of grass in it and squeezed it to make sure that there was adequate moisture. They also had us smell the poop which smelled like fresh cut grass.
We learned that the elephants at Patara Elephant Farm were either rescued from inhumane conditions or born on the farm. I really like that elephants that were being mistreated had a new home where they were treated well.
Becoming Elephant Owners
Each person was partnered with an elephant and the elephant’s trainer that would be by our side for the day. The trainers got everything that we needed, guided us through everything that we would be doing and taught us verbal commands. In addition, they also took our camera and shot pictures of us throughout the day.
My elephant was named Bang and was one of the smaller elephants that was at the farm. Andy’s elephant was Mataseen who had an adolescent baby. That meant that Andy had twice as much work to do as I did.
Feeding our elephants
One of the easiest ways to make anyone happy is to feed them. The same theory holds true for elephants. We were given a basket of bananas and sugarcane, two of their favorite treats. We gave our command “Bon” to get them to open their mouths so we could feed them. Once they got the food, we would tell them “Dee” which meant good job.
Andy’s elephant’s baby was a little sneaker, reaching right into the basket with his trunk when Andy was occupied feeding the mom. He kept doing this over and over again, frustrating Andy but also making him laugh.
After our elephants had their treats, we hauled over some greens which they enjoyed eating as well. Some of the elephants were really whipping them around before they ate them which we learned was an animal instinct to ensure that there was nothing that would cause them harm hiding in the greenery.
Cleaning our elephants
Cleaning the elephants was a 2-part process. Your elephant lies on the ground so you can more easily clean them. You use some greenery which was shaped into a type of brush to sweep off of the elephant. I personally felt bad doing this since you kind of have to hit them a little hard, but was told that with their thick skin that it doesn’t feel the same that it would for us.
Once we got the main dirt off, we went to the washing station. There was a hose where you sprayed the elephants down. They seemed to really enjoy getting wet and you could see tons of dirt coming off of them.
Andy’s elephant was quite thirsty and kept stealing the hose from him, sticking it right into her mouth to get a drink. This happened several times during her cleaning which was pretty funny. Actually in hindsight, Andy had the troublemaker and I was lucky to have such a nice, obedient elephant.
Riding our elephants
The elephants were now all clean and ready to ride. Since the elephants came from different places, some elephants only knew one way to mount a rider while others knew several. I mounted my elephant by climbing up her leg while Andy mounted his elephant by climbing up the trunk.
One thing that I really liked at Patara Elephant Farm was that they allowed you to ride the elephants bareback. This is much better for the animals than other places that have some sort of chair mounted to their backs. Elephants aren’t meant to hold weight that way and the chair rubs their skin which can hurt them.
The position that we were told to ride had our legs near the ears and folded back. It wasn’t the most comfortable position after a while, but partway through our hike, my trainer noticed that I was uncomfortable, he told me to dangle down my legs if that made me feel better which it did.
I think the hardest part of the ride was the counter intuitiveness of leaning forward when you go down a hill. Your body’s natural reaction is to lean back so you wouldn’t fall forward, but by leaning forward it is actually more comfortable for not only you, but also your elephant.
The ride down to the river was around a half hour. I arrived earlier than Andy since my elephant was going at a pretty good pace but Andy’s elephant was taking her time. Her baby reminded Andy of his nieces and nephews, since the baby felt the need to screw around the entire walk and touch everything on the way down to the river.
Bathing our elephants
Once we arrived at the river, our elephants were eager to get into the water and splash around. The babies were particularly cute to watch splash and roll around.
After the final person arrived, we all stripped down to our swimsuits and joined the elephants in the water. Our trainers gave each of us a brush and they had buckets. They would wet an area and we would get to scrubbing. The trainers did not allow us to slack either – if we didn’t do a good enough job they would make us keep washing. It is important for an elephant’s skin to regularly bathe so by washing them in the river we were helping keep them stay as healthy as possible.
After we were done washing our elephants, we hiked up the river to a waterfall where we took a few pictures. Then everyone lined up in the water for a group photo with the elephants behind us. Right when they took the photo, the elephants sprayed water from their trunks making for a great picture.
Lunch at Patara Elephant Farm
We were now officially done caring for our elephants. It was hard work and we had worked up quite an appetite. The Patara staff created a feast of a lunch which was served on a banana leaf.
I tried just about everything on the spread and nothing disappointed. We had fried chicken, pork skewers, a wide variety of local fruits and sticky rice. For dessert we had coconut sticky rice which was amazing as well as assorted cookies.
Needless to say, that evening Andy and I opted for a light dinner since we had eaten so much for lunch.
After we finished our lunch, we rode our elephants up the hill and hopped into the van. The driver dropped us off at the front desk where we all paid for our tours and picked up our disk with photos and videos that the staff took of our day.
We tipped our elephant trainers, thanking them for their help throughout the day and took the van back to our hotel. While it was sad to leave, we had a memorable experience with lots of photos of our adventures from the day.
Even though our day at Patara Elephant Farm was the most expensive excursion that we had during our 3 week honeymoon, it was also the most memorable. We’ll never forget our trip to the farm and have tons of truly amazing photos to remind us of our day.
Like most places in Thailand, Patara Elephant Farm doesn’t take credit cards so make sure that you bring cash for your tour fee as well as additional to tip your elephant’s trainer.
I highly recommend anyone visiting Chiang Mai take a visit to Patara Elephant Farm. It will be a truly memorable experience. Just remember to book early since they don’t have many spots available during any given day.