aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Ourminds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
Browse by Travel
Browse by Food
TheRoadUnleashed.com
trained by elephants
at patara elephant farm

Riding an elephant with mahout through forest

Patrick riding Saithong with mahout

When I first heard about Patara Elephant Farm from 3 Star Traveler, a blog written by fellow food and travel junkie Lori, I jumped up and yelled to Patrick that we HAD to be an "elephant owner for a day" when we got to Thailand.  Patara is not like the typical elephant camps spread across northern Thailand that focus more on pleasing tourists with gimmicks and novelties, like an elephant playing piano or painting, than treating elephants humanely and respectfully.  Owners Pat and Dao wanted to create a place where elephants could be rescued from inhumane treatment, trained, and bred to prevent their extinction.

Meeting Bo Chang at Patara Elephant Farm

Akila meeting Bo Chang

Patrick's elephant, Saithong, a beautiful huge female arrived at the elephant hospital in Chiang Mai several years ago with a thick lesion caused by  a rope digging into her neck.  Ben, our guide, helped remove the lesion from Saithong but she still bears a 20 centimeter (about 10 inch) scar. Of the six elephants in our group, she was the most recalcitrant and, at times, was less trustful of humans than the other elephants; given her history, we didn't blame her.  On the other hand, Bo Chang, my seven-year old elephant born at Patara, was the product of a life filled with love and happiness.  He played with everyone, led me on little walks away from the group, followed his trainer like a small puppy dog follows his mother, and wagged his ears so frequently that they were in danger of falling off.

Feeding elephant Patrick feeding his elephant
Akila smelling elephant dung Elephant eating grass

Feeding an elephant sugar cane; feeding Saithong; smelling elephant dung;elephant eating grass

We began our day feeding our elephants.  This sounds easier than it is because an elephant's mouth is BIG and we had to quickly place the bananas on the elephants' tongues before the elephants began chewing.  After feeding Saithong and Bo Chang, we inspected the health of our elephants by checking that they slept well, were in good humor, and had eaten properly.  And, this is where we smelled elephant poop.  Surprisingly, elephant poop looks like balls of compressed grass and doesn’t smell like much of anything so it wasn't too tough of an experience.

Akila dusting elephant Washing Saithong
Washing elephants Washing Saithong at Patara Elephant Farm

Dusting and washing elephants

Then, it was time for the elephants' beauty treatments. Every day, the mahouts and guests brush and bathe the elephants so that dirt and rocks do not embed into their skin.  There are few things funnier than standing on an elephant's leg, dusting dirt off its back with a giant duster made from leaves.  We could barely contain ourselves.  We waded into the creek and scrubbed them with a brush and threw water over their bodies.  After half an hour, they emerged brown and clean, while we walked out with soaked pants, bedraggled hair, and huge smiles on our faces.

Getting ready to jump on an elephant Jumping onto an elephant
Jumping onto an elephant Jumping onto an elephant

Jumping onto an elephant

The full enormity of their size hit us as we realized that we had to climb onto the elephants’ backs and ride them bareback.  No stepstools are used here so I asked Bo Chang to lift his leg, then stepped up, and clambered over his neck.  “Thomlong,” Patrick said to Saithong to ask her to lay down.  Then, in a single (semi)graceful jump, he leapt right over her head onto her neck.

Akila with Bo Chang Climbing onto an elephant
Elephant commands Riding elephants 

Akila with Bo Chang, climbing Bo Chang, commands, riding

"Pai, pai," we said to our elephants, asking them to go forward.  More often than not, the elephants moved or stopped as they felt like, listening to their mahouts, and on the rare occasion, listening to our feeble commands.  And, let me tell you, riding an elephant bareback is not all that comfortable.  We sat on their necks, with our legs tucked behind the ears, as if we were doing squats on an elephant back, for about three hours straight.  Patrick was sore for a full day afterwards.  But, we loved watching them walk in a straight line, carefully taking each step, so their giant feet stepped into large elephant-sized crevices in the dried mud.

Elephant drinking water Patrick swimming with elephant
Akila swimming with elephant Akila swimming with elephant

Swimming with elephants

After an hour’s trek to a nearby lake and small waterfall, we were all hot and dusty and needed a swim to refresh us.  We lounged on our elephants’ backs, clinging to them as they laid in the cool water, and watching them spurt fountains through their trunks. 

Lunch at Patara Elephant Farm Getting elephant kisses
Riding elephant Riding elephant

Lunch at Patara; getting elephant kisses; both of us riding Saithong

We did not want to leave them.  They were beautiful and gentle, yet massive and powerful, all at the same time.  We had so much to learn from them and only just glimpsed their majesty.  At the end of the day, they  had trained us much more than we trained them. 

Details

At 5800 baht per person (about $175 per person), Patara Elephant Farm is expensive but the experience was well worth every penny we spent.  We highly highly recommend visiting Patara.  The van picked us up from our hotel at 7:45 a.m., the ride to the farm was about one hour, and we worked with the elephants until about 4:30 in the afternoon.  It is a long but wonderful day. Group sizes are limited to six people and each person works with their own elephant and trainer.  A cameraman and videographer followed us and we were given a DVD with the high quality videos and pictures; many of the pictures on this post are from Patara's cameraman.  Contact Pat at pataraelephantfarm@hotmail.com to make your booking.

02/19/2010 22:02
Thanks Jason! Thailand is beautiful and the elephants are amazing. It is one of the best experiences we have ever had.

Thanks Ant, Keith, and Manali and Terry! It really was a life changing event.
Akila's recent blog post: sukhothai in sepia
02/24/2010 03:57
Thanks Amy! I think your children will love it. The elephants are so gentle and the trainers make sure to help everyone out. It is a physically intensive day so you might want to check with Pat and Dao as to whether your kids can participate in all of the activities.
Akila's recent blog post: sukhothai in sepia
03/26/2010 21:27
Jess
Matt doesn't know it yet, but we are definitely coming here at some point! I've been trying to convince him that we should visit an elephant orphanage in Kenya, but he is not on board with that idea. We can avoid peanuts in Thailand, right?
04/25/2010 11:35
You have to do it! You can definitely avoid peanuts in Thailand --- just learn the Thai word for peanut and let the restaurant waiters know that you don't want peanuts in your food. The only Thai dishes that I can think of that must include peanuts are panang curry and some of the nut stir fries. Otherwise, we didn't see peanuts used too frequently.
Akila's recent blog post: unsettled
05/18/2010 15:37
Thanks for your comment today. I have so much catching up to do on your blog. I am way behind in my reading! Thanks so much for your mention here and I'm so glad you all did this and had a great time. The pictures are awesome! I look through ours all the time and think - wow, I spent a day with an elephant in the forests of Thailand! These brought back great memories.
07/26/2010 02:14
So just go for it and see what it has to offer. Who knows they will love it? Good luck!
09/20/2010 22:36
Very good guys!
sam's recent blog post: one year!
01/25/2011 10:47
Brilliant piece guys. It's nice to hear some positive stories surrounding these majestic animals. Thanks for passing on your experience.
Ant's recent blog post: “So Profound!”
01/25/2011 10:47
I am now an official follower! I thought I was earlier, but as I have missed many posts, I decided that I definitely was not. Hearing about the elephants made me wonder how long it is going to take me to get to Thailand.

Keep the posts coming and letting us know how things are going. My job has kept me from doing much traveling lately, and it is good to hear about someone who is. Miss you both!
Jason's recent blog post: Strangely difficult day!
01/25/2011 11:06
Beautiful experience. I would think that's a life-changing event. There's such a massive gap between seeing things on TV/internet/magazines/etc. and being there in the flesh.
Keith's recent blog post: Bridging the Gap
02/08/2011 10:22
So beautiful and elegant animal! You are so right - not comfortable at all! With all their willies small excavation in the calves and large porch - you sore for days!
04/05/2011 09:10
I definitely save this post for our trip. I also love the fact that they allow children. I think my kids will either freak out or have a blast. We will see. :)
Amy @ The Q Family's recent blog post: Thailand with Kids The Little Moments
04/22/2011 15:57
Such gorgeous and graceful animals! You're so right - not comfortable at all! With all their little spiky hairs digging into your calves and the wide straddle - we were sore for days!

*Name:
*Email (won't be shared):
Website:
*Image text:
To personalize your comment with a picture, get a gravatar.