Patara Elephant Farm
The elephant is the national animal of Thailand and due to the logging industry being shut down in 1989, many of these majestic animals were forced into the tourism industry which resulted in harsh and unethical treatment. Out of that came a number of conservation efforts to rescue elephants from tourist attractions such as circus shows. While a number of the more unethical experiences still remain, you can visit a few of these conservation parks where you get up close and personal with the elephants.
|Samantha and I riding our elephants
|Washing one of the elephants in the river
If you are going to be visiting elephants while in Thailand you should do your research. There are a number of parks that claim they treat the animals well when that is not the case. There are going to be some obvious signs such as elephants being kept in small quarters or being forced to do tricks, but there can be other signs as well. As I was researching, one thing I was told to stay away from was riding elephants in wooden boxes as the wood can cut the elephants skin. Prior to going, I landed on two parks to choose from, Elephant Nature Park and Patara. Both had overwhelming reviews that these parks were not only highly enjoyable, but ethical as well. I ultimately landed on Patara as you are assigned an elephant to take care of for the day and they also seemed to limit the number of people into the park per day as well (Online said they limit it to 12 or so per day but it seemed more like 25 - 30).
|One of the baby elephants
Patara was about an hour drive from our hotel deep into the heart of the mountainous jungle. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a large elephant with two small one month old babies - people were ecstatic. From there, the 20 or so people visiting the park were split into small groups where each individual became a mahout for the day and had an individual elephant to take care of. This consisted of learning how to speak to the elephants, cleaning them, feeding them and bathing with them in the river as well as an hour long trek through the jungle. As mentioned, if we were going to ride the elephants in a box, I would have opted for a different experience. Yet at Patara, we ended up riding them bareback which is known to be a fine way to ride elephants. That said, there will still be many people out there who say you shouldn’t ride elephants at all.
|One of the male elephants
|My elephant, Mekam
Overall, I thought the experience was one of the best parts of the trip. Very rarely do you get up closer and personal with wildlife let alone elephants. It wasn't just riding them or going to a petting zoo, but you learned about them, cared for them and also got a first hand look into how smart elephants truly are. The six or so hours we spent at Patara were fantastic. Yes, there were parts of it where you could clearly see the elephants being used to exploit tourism but compared to other options, this is one of the best options out there and it will be an afternoon you don't forget.
|Samantha and I with the family of elephants
|Trekking through the jungle with the elephants
|Two of the baby elephants fighting for milk
|Prior to heading into the river with the elephants, they served us this massive lunch
|Mekam, my Mahout and me