This is a flash back post to January, 2012. Chris and I decided to make our first trip to the Asian continent, which included Beijing, China, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and many cities in Thailand. We chose to visit Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had heard from a friend that was an absolutely amazing experience. Tourists have to be careful with attractions where you are getting up close and personal with wild animals like these. There are a lot of reports of abuse. We chose Patara because it had a stellar reputation for being a sanctuary and successful breeding facility, and we were not disappointed!
Patara's claim to fame is "owning an elephant for a day," and they are not kidding. Unlike other elephant meeting destinations where 50 people ride one sad elephant, Patara provides each of its visitors with their own...FOR THE ENTIRE DAY! There are small groups as well, and each elephant comes with a unique handler who stays with you the entire time.
Our day started off with a meet and greet with some babies. Patara is known for their successful breeding. If you follow them on Facebook, you will be privileged to LIVE birth footage!
After the meet and greet, you get some information on how your day will go and Pat Patara takes the time to size each of his guests up, choosing the right elephant not just by size, but by personality! We were also given elephant riding appropriate clothes. My elephant was Teelorzu (a name I couldn't begin to write in Thai), and whom will always have a place in my heart. Here he is below, after we had finished up for the day, coming to see me just one more time.
Once we had been assigned to our partner for the day, we learned all about how to care for them. We fed them and learned how to check for health issues. We checked their dung and we looked to make sure they were nice and dusty (elephants are so large their weight will crush their organs to death if they lay on their side too long, so a healthy elephant should flip over many times during their sleep). I practiced feeding Teelorzu and then I "whipped" him with a large fan to help get all the debris off of his body.
Doesn't he look SO happy? :) The whipping was the first part of the process to make sure that we removed all the dirt and debris like rocks from his body before we climbed on top. I walked Teelorzu over to the local water hole to give him a nice bath and a serious scrub down with a brush to make sure he was extra clean. If you don't remove all the debris, it will get lodged into the skin and cause an infection. You can see in the pictures below that I am giving him a really detailed scrubbing!
Once we knew our elephants were clean and fed, we learned how to climb up on top. Chris's elephant was named Muang Bong Thong and she had a baby named August.
From here, we rode into the jungle to another local watering spot that the elephants enjoy playing in. We had a beautiful lunch prepared for us by Patara and then one at a time (for safety), we got into the water to play some games with our friends.
After a nice long play and rest, we headed back. Many of us decided to walk our elephants home (if you thinking riding a horse is tough on the thighs, try sitting on an elephant's head!) When we got back, Pat decided to give awards for the "best elephant owner" and guess who won!?! Me!! My reward? A kiss...but not from Pat, from Teelorzu! He essentially sucked on my arm, but it was cute, and I loved him for it.
When we left Patara Elephant Farm that day, we both cried. It was, and still is, the most amazing experience of our lives. We didn't just ride an elephant. We spent an entire day with our friend, learning all about their lives and how to keep them healthy. We made loving connections with our friends. Did you know...
1. That elephants have the same life cycle development as humans?
2. That once an elephant's last tooth falls out, they know they cannot survive and so they travel away, lay on their side, and pass away quietly?
3. That elephants can sense the smallest changes in their environment? A hotel had moved in about 6 miles up the road and it changed the water holes the elephants were willing to drink from.
We haven't been back to Thailand yet, but we will. According to Pat, Teelorzu will remember me and I'm holding him to that! See you soon my friend and thank you to Patara Elephant Farm for the most incredible experience of our lives!