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Elephant owner for a day at Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai

Spending a day with just your loved one and the magnificent rescued elephants at Patara Elephant Farm is one of those experiences that simply change your life, writes Emma Lambert.

Our best tip if you’re heading to Patara Elephant Farm? Have a Thai massage booked for the time you arrive back to your hotel – it’s hard work caring for pachyderms and you’ll certainly have earned it!

Patara Farm lies in the mountains of the Hang Dong Valley, an hour drive northwest of ancient Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern capital whose skyline is pricked with trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples. The elephant is held is high regard in this part of the world (the seal of Chiang Mai province is a white elephant in a glass pavilion) and we were excited for what unique cultural experiences our local mahout guides had in store for us. Today we’d be venturing out through exotic grasses; traversing serene farmlands, jungles and rice fields for our chance to be an “elephant owner for a day”.


Along the way we stocked up on fruits (mainly bananas) at a local street-side stall before arriving at the farm, on the western edge of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, where we strolled through more rich green rice fields and picked our way across narrow wooden planks. Finally, at a clearing, we found our new, giant and leather-skinned friends waiting patiently. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the baby elephants would join our adventure too; they’d plod along in tow as we all explored the quiet northern Thai countryside together.


The elephants gobbled up the fruits we’d bought for them with little coercion (“Boun” we say – ‘open your mouth’ – “Didi” – ‘good!’). The mahouts then demonstrated the various safe (and kind) ways to mount these ancient creatures. We learned so many interesting facts about caring for them, as the mahouts have done for thousands of years, such as how to tell their height and approximate age just by a footprint; their body language, including the various ways they show they are content; and some commands in the Thai language that the animals have come to understand.


We learnt that elephants have a thick layer of dirt that they spray with their trunks to act as insect repellent and sunscreen, so we used branches with leaves on the end to “sweep” off the excess dirt before leading them to a clear running creek for a bath and a scrub. The mahouts showed us how to brush with the grain of the animal’s tough wrinkly skin, not against it, and it’s the thoughtful little tips like this that tell you the staff at Patara have a genuine love and respect for these giant animals. Perched high atop our new friends then, we headed into the jungle for a hilly two-hour trek.

Just as little pangs of hunger were starting to set in we arrived at a magnificent Thai banquet laid out on banana leaves under a picturesque wooden hut. Satiated and reenergised we trekked onward to a fresh waterfall where the elephants could cool off and finally play! The elephant calves loved this as they dived under the water with their mothers, rolled over, sprayed each other and frolicked just as toddlers do. The mahouts invited us to join in the aquatic fun and (after a brief moment of hesitation, I’ll admit) we dived in. It seems these animals are very aware of where they are in space and whilst they still roll with you around them, its slow and gentle so you have time to move out of the way. They seemed to genuinely enjoy interacting with us in the water.


Perhaps most importantly, the hundreds of professional photos and videos capturing every step of our remarkable journey meant we could really focus experiencing these majestic animals “in the moment”, rather than simply through a camera lens.

by Emma Lambert

Frequent Sydney jet-setter Emma Lambert knows a thing or two about luxury travel. Emma enjoys travelling to beautiful places both near and far and her website is a beautiful mix of lust-worthy destinations and all things luxury travel and lifestyle. For a daily dose of escapism and wanderlust (even if it’s just to dream) follow Emma’s luxury travel mood board on Instagram @luxefamilytravel.



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