You know all the things you’ve wanted to do? You should do them!
Who would’ve imagined that an extensive two days of research on Google, two-hour flight to Chaing Mai, Thailand, and a night of little sleep would allow me to experience one of the best days of my life. While living in Thailand, I knew that participating in a full-day at an elephant sanctuary was a must. This was more than crossing off an item on my bucket list, it was a chance for me to love, engage, and learn about a species that I hold dear to my heart.
It is no secret that I have a love for animals, all animals. Ever since I was a young girl, I have been surrounded by animals of all sorts, including elephants. Although I had not been in the physical presence of these incredible animals, my dear grandmother collected elephants and had over 50 ceramic elephants perfectly staged on the bottom shelf of her entertainment center. She loved their strength and gentleness. It was no question, that one day I would make her and my dream come true of visiting these lovely creatures a reality.
This past weekend, my hope of meeting and interacting with elephants came true. I visited the Patara Elephant Farm in Chaing Mai, Thailand and it was the most incredible experience of my life. Here’s a recap of my day as an Elephant Owner:
Get to Know the Elephants
We first arrived at the Elephant Clinic and Vet where we were acquainted with a few roaming elephants. As a group, we were able to break the ice and interact and watch the staff feed the elephants. We learned the basics of their mannerisms, food intake, growth characteristics, age, personalities and were on our way to split into small groups to get paired with our very own elephant for the day.
My Very Own Elephant
Pairing us up based on our interaction and personalities, we were assigned an elephant and an elephant caregiver. I was paired with a “naughty and spunky” female (go-figure), named Sompol. She’s ten years old and is full of life and zest. She loves to eat (a lot), drink, and carry on by herself. We bonded for nearly an hour through her eating, a massage and a mud-bath scrub. She got the works! She rewarded me with sloppy kisses. It was during this time that Sompol stole my heart.
The Papering Begins: Eating, Massages & Mud-Baths
Sompol was a fan of all of the pampering. We bonded pretty quickly with a basket of fruit in my hand. After learning about her eating habits, I was told about her skin care and was able to give her a massage with a plant bushel and then off to a mud-bath. She returned the favor and gave me one in return. This was probably my favorite part of the day because it was one-on-one time to spend, get to know, and bond with this incredible creature.
A Bonded Hike
With a full and clean elephant, I was given instructed training on they ways to get on the elephant neck safely. There were three different techniques to getting up on the elephant taught: climbing up while the elephant is sitting, hiking up their leg, and being lifted with their trunk. Sompol and I choose the trunk method where she lifted me up quickly and I turned around to face forward. I learned how to properly sit on the elephant (high near the neck), basic riding skills and the spoken commands for Sompol. Sompol took me up on a hill, passed a waterfall to a local lunch with the group. While the humans enjoyed lunch, the elephants enjoyed a pond of water and food.
The day ended with a goodbye, photos and another evening feed. Sompol brought me laughter, tears, and joy. She will forever be ingrained in my heart.
Here are the top 3 Things that I learned when searching for an Elephant Experience:
To ride or not to ride: There is much controversy on whether of not it is ethical to ride an elephant. The two extremes: wild elephants who have little to no human riders and Circus elephants who have lots of harmful and brutal human interaction. I researched extensively on this topic and found that it is indeed okay for an elephant to carry and transport a human, correctly. The key is to ride bareback and have NO wooden benches or seating strapped. Furthermore, the elephants must be attended by their caregivers in a compassionate and loving way. Of course, these elephants understand commands and this is okay. You train your bird, dog, and cat to listen to simple commands. My experience riding the elephants at Patara was phenomenal. Having and holding such a large animal was a bond that I would not have gotten had I just walked alongside Sompol.
How they are kept and treated: Another major factor for picking THE place I would go to was how the elephants lived. At Patara, they are free roaming. The keepers and trainers of the elephants actually live on-site on the farm to track and care for the elephants 24/7. The elephants had access to shade, several ponds of water for drinking and bathing and of course food. All of the elephants were in great condition physically. The staff at Patara pay very close attention to the needs of their elephants; from weight to eating habits and even their bowel movements.
Flapping ears and wagging tails: This is the key to a happy elephant. I first saw videos of the elephants at Patara with flapping ears and wagging tails. Comparing this to the research I found and the joy my dog gets when doing the exact same thing, I was interested in exploring Patara. Even though all of the elephants have different personalities and demeanor, the common flapping ears and wagging tails were a true declaration that they were happy.
I could not have asked for a better place to experience this once in a lifetime moment. With the conservation philosophy “Extinction is Forever”, Patara Elephant Farm honored to encourage people to try, at least once in their lives, to experience this very special and sacred animal that should be treasured. I was immediately and forever touched by the elephant’s beautiful hearts. Patara says we should all “experience the heart of giving, for the heart of living,” and that exactly what the elephants gave me that day.