When visiting Thailand, riding an elephant is one of the top attraction for tourists. Having done it once, I can’t deny hopping on top of an elephant is quite an experience. As the journey began along designated route, the excitement quickly subsided. Even though my kid enjoyed it very much, I couldn’t help but feel it was just a tourist trap. Since then, I had been reading news that many wild elephants captured were treated cruelly in preparation for tourist rides and entertainments. You can read one of the many news here. So when we went Chiang Mai, we planned to visit a different type of elephant sanctuary, where no riding of elephant is provided. I was skeptical but went along with it.
Patara Elephant Farm provides hotel pick up and drop off. Upon reaching the farm in a forested area, a handful of elephants were already milling about enjoying sugar canes. Once all the guests had arrived, we were brought down to the interactive area. We were briefed on how to understand the creatures, much like how to know when a dog or cat behave. We were also taught simple verbal commands so the elephants know we will be feeding them. Our first interaction with the elephants were to feed them under the watchful eyes of the guides. Most elephants eagerly gobbled up the treats we place in the mouth, since they have tremendous appetites. Once the treats were gone, we took selfie with the affectionate creatures. Their trunks would hug you or simply stand there while you pat them. Just by being so close to the elephants and allowed to interact freely was quite an extraordinary experience.
After 30 minutes of feeding and endless selfies, the elephants moved to nearby stream where we guests will bath those oversized creatures. The water was chilly and below knee deep. The elephants laid about in the water while we splashed water and scrubbed them gently. They certainly seem to enjoy the SPA treatment from us. Although the idea of bathing an animals seemed like a chore, but it brought forth a different level of connection with the majestic beast. Other fun available was having a quick swim with the elephants. Swimming was overstated, it was more like a couple quick dip into the deeper end of the stream. The guides would also help with photo opportunities by spraying water while couples get passionate. Overall, it was an incredibly fun journey for my family, except for just one thing. The elephants tend to poop even while bathing, and they sure release multiple HUGE floaters in the river. Often we had to scuttle out of the way before the guides had the chance to scoop it up. I believe they peed too? *cringe*
Before our adventure ended, we were given a special treat. We were brought to another location to visit a newborn elephant. She was only a few days old and we were given the chance to take pictures with it. It was lovely to see the little one and her sibling huddling by their mother. On top of the interaction with elephants, the farm will take pictures for all guests and let us download them at no additional charge. After our visit to the farm, everyone in the family had a memorable and deeper understanding of the animal. I’m not sure if the elephants went through cruel treatments before they were allowed such close interaction with tourists, but it was an amazing tourist trap I will recommend.