01/03/2016

How elephants changed our children’s lives

Elephant Owner for a Day




Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Spending a day with these magnificent creatures at  Patara Elephant Farm is one of those experiences that changes your life. We have been there twice 3 years apart and partake in their “Elephant Owner for a Day” program.

The day starts off where you are collected from your hotel in an air-conditioned van and driven to Patara.  It’s about an hour out of Chiang Mai along interesting roads, a lot of farmland, jungle and rice fields. When almost at Patara we stopped at a local street-side stall to buy a lot of fruit (bananas mainly) for our elephants. We then arrived at the farm and were each given a basket of fruit and we walked a beautiful short stroll through rice paddies along wooden planks until we arrived at a clearing where all our elephants were waiting.

We had a private experience so each family member had their own elephant and they try to match the elephants and personality to compliment each of you.  For example my seven year old daughter had a 7 year old beautiful gentle elephant named “PuJim” and my little three year old boy had a 5 year old elephant called “Lucky”.  We had detailed instructions on the various safe and kind ways you can mount an elephant to ride it as the mahouts have done for many many years.  We also learned so many interesting facts about caring for an elephant such as how to tell an elephant’s height and therefore likely age by its’ footprint; how to tell if the elephant is healthy by inspecting its poo (yes really! Don’t worry, they are vegetarian and it just smells and looks like clean grass clippings!). We learned elephant body language, what they do to show they are happy and also some commands in the Thai language that the elephants understand.

Next we use branches with leaves on the end to “sweep” all the dirt of our elephants. Their backs have a thick layer of dirt that they spray there with their trunks to act as insect repellant and also as sunscreen.  After this we lead our elephants to a clear running creek to bathe them and thoroughly wash off all the dirt.  We are given scrubbing brushes and shown how to scrub with the grain of the animal’s wrinkly skin, not against it, so it feels nicer for the elephant – it’s the constant little things like this that tell you the staff at Patara have a genuine love and respect for the elephants there.

Once the elephants were clean we climbed up on to our own elephants and headed up into the jungle for a 2 hour trek.  Our little boy had his elephant’s mahout sitting behind him and we did feel that he was in good care.  We soon stopped for lunch and it was a beautiful Thai banquet laid out under a little hut on banana leaves, it was really visually appealing and there was enough delicious food for the vegetarian amongst us (me!).

We climbed up on the elephants again in a post-lunch food-coma and after more trekking we arrived at a lovely fresh, clean waterfall where the elephants could swim.  Initially we let them go in the water and frolic and play as they wished.  The little elephants especially loved this and they dived under water, rolled over, doing everything little humans do! It’s really adorable to watch.  Then the mahouts invited us to join the elephants in the water…we first thought..are you serious???  We’ll get crushed!  But we decided to live a little and go in and it was amazing! The elephants are very aware of where they are in space and whilst they still roll with you on them, its slow and gentle so you have time to move out of the way.  They seemed to really enjoy playing with us in the water.

 

Our kids loved it so much and by the end of the day our 3 yr old son was riding his elephant by himself and absolutely loving it – the team at Patara really looked after him and our girls. Reflecting on the day, it was scary at times as the tracks are very narrow, steep and muddy/slippery if there has been rain but you learn that the elephants are very sure-footed and know exactly what they are doing so I had no need to be worried. You receive fantastic professional photos and videos taken for you all day long and that in itself is worth the extra $$ of this place versus others. Before we went my husband thought it was way too expensive for an activity in Thailand and now he says its worth that and more for the once-in-a-lifetime memories.

After the day there whenever we saw people riding elephants in baskets on their back at zoos and other tourist attractions we felt so sorry for the elephant and we could see many were so sad and in pain. You really learn so much about elephants at Patara and how to tell if they are happy – the lessons learned stay with you and your children for a lifetime.

My children are came back and did a presentation to their classes as they were so excited to share what they learned about elephants and the message of conservation of these amazing animals. We were so lucky to go back three years later and we each had the same elephants again and two of our elephants had become Mummies in that time so we had a 6 week old baby and a 6 month old baby accompany us for the whole day too. Now that was priceless!

Best Bits:

  • Patara have a professional photographer accompany you the whole way and they provide a full CD of hundreds of magnificent photos for you to take away included in the cost of the day.
  • The unexpected connection each of my children had with their elephant.
  • The education the children received about conservation of Asian elephants and their habitat.

Our Tips:

  • Don’t even worry about bringing your camera as the photos they take are incredible, we never used our own.
  • Use good mosquito repellant as there could be mosquitoes if there has been a lot of rain recently.
  • Wear a hat, it gets hot up there riding all day.
  • Have a lovely Thai massage the next day, it’s hard work caring for elephants and you will need it!

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Comments

  1. Candace says:

    I am in awe! I will live vicariously thru you guys! Such an inspiration!

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