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Patara Elephant Farm

Patara Elephant Farm

  • Author: Meli Medina
  • Date Posted: Mar 8, 2014
  • Category:
  • Address: Ban Pong, Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While we were staying in Bangkok we tried to book a day at Patara Elephant Farm. This family owned preserve focuses on the rescue, breeding and conservation of the dwindling elephant population in Thailand. Carolynn and Jeremy went here during their visit to Thailand and had an amazing experience. They’ve never steered us in the wrong direction so we decided we had to go too!

When I emailed the company it took them a really long time to get back to me. When they finally did, it was bad news. They were booked solid for a month. I wasn’t surprised, considering the glittering reviews Patara gets online, but I was really disappointed. Jarred and I started looking for alternatives but we weren’t happy about what we saw. We learned many of the other places that house elephants treat them poorly, make them do tricks all day and at worst, beat them with hooks when the animals “step out of line”. As much as I thought getting a painting done by an elephant would be really cool, I would never want to encourage a practice that hurts them.

We finally booked an alternative that seemed reasonable and then pretty much put in on the backburner. We finished off our stay on Bangkok, flew to Krabi Town and didn’t really think about the elephant stuff again until we were started looking for a home base in Chiang Mai. It was there we learned that most guesthouses can book excursions for you. The place that we wanted to stay at didn’t have any room, but mentioned Patara in passing as a really popular day trip they could book for us. We asked them if they had room any day that week, and sure enough, there was space for two!

We were picked up early in the morning for our Patara trip and drove 45 minutes around the south end of Doi Suthep – Pui National Park. When we arrived we had to sign some waivers and as we were reading through, we got our first look at the elephants!

A Mahout (trainer) on his cell.

Before we could get near the elephants, we received a crash course in elephant health and emotions. Among other things, we learned that their eyes had to be moist, only their toes sweat (!!) and they are happiest while eating! When we were finally allowed to get near our assigned elephant, we introduced ourselves by bearing a basket full of bananas!

You have to say “bon” and feed the elephant directly in the mouth!


Jarred naturally got the largest elephant, Boon. It means “dad” and Boon was definitely the big man on campus, having fathered 28 babies!

Ear slappies all day!

My elephant, Bonpak, was the only one in the group with tusks.

Feeding him the grasses was fun!


With introductions made, we had to delve a little deeper into the health aspect. The most memorable part was sniffing the elephant poop. Thankfully, an elephant diet consists mostly of fruits and grasses, so the poop smelled like wet hay. That didn’t stop us from making faces though.

LOL how’s that poop smell, Jarred?


Yessir, that’s a poop I’m sniffing.


Next we had to clean our elephants! They have a habit of throwing dust on themselves to protect their skin from the sun and insect bites, so we had to dust them off good. We put together bunches of palm leaves and got to work. At first, I felt like I could hurt the elephant with how hard I was smacking him with leaves, but he was loving it!

Aww yea, get in there, Meli! I’ll just hold my trunk right here …


The dusters doubled as a snack when we were done!

Afterwards we changed into our bathing suits for my favorite part of the day – washing the elephants. There was a shallow pool to get a good scrubbing.

And there was a deep end for a nice soak.

I got to polish Bonpak’s tusks with sand.

Keep polishing, Meli! I’ll just put my trunk back on my trunk holder …

The final rinse with all the elephants in a line!

They got to get us wet too!

Once all the elephants were squeaky clean we were given a change of clothes –Mahout outfits! The outfits were the same the trainers wear. Now we were ready to ride our elephants!

Boon was so tall, Jarred was the only one who had to get on by jumping from the front!


Bonpak got in his favorite position and let me crawl up from his leg.

I was glad to learn that the rides were allowed because it’s good exercise for them – the fact that people enjoy the rides is sort of a happy side effect. Also, we rode them bareback because those huge wooden structures you sometimes see elephants strapped into are bad for their backs and skin.

Looking pretty majestic.

We rode the elephants for almost an hour. I appreciated that the Mahouts guide them down a path, but otherwise pretty much let them do what they want. If the elephant wants to jog, it gets to jog. If it wants to stop for a snack, it gets to snack for as long as they want. Jarred elephant stopped often for snackies and would even take some on the road!

The snacks were over there, so I went over there.

It was finally our turn to eat, and Patara put together a feast for the group. Like all things in Thailand, there was no rush and we ate at our leisure.

What a feast!


I don’t know what that fruit was, but I loved it!


Full nap time.

The extra chicken went to the Mahouts and the extra fruit went to the elephants. You’re supposed to feed the elephants by saying “bon” and putting the food right in their mouths, but there was a crafty mama elephant that took a whole bunch right out of my hand with her trunk!

Must have been a ninja!

We got to hang out with the babies who were absolutely adorable. They’re curious about people and really intelligent. They’re like 500-pound toddlers with no notion of how heavy they are.

So happy!


Hanging out with the family!

We had a shorter ride on the elephants down the river and then, sadly the day was over.

It went by so fast! I know several people on TripAdvisor said Patara was an experience of a lifetime. It was no exaggeration! I hope we’ll get to go back to Chiang Mai someday and visit our new friends Boon and Bonpak again.



  1. Oh my goodness! I LOVE THIS! The pictures show so much happiness!

  2. This sounds like the most AMAZING experience, something I would love to do one day. Its great to hear about humane animal sanctuaries in other countries too. Keep the posts coming, I love reading them! PS HAPPY (early) BIRTHDAY Meli!! I know it will be one you will never forget. Miss u!

  3. Awsome!!! Love this

  4. Truly a fabulous experience-human animal bonding- the way life should be!

  5. So glad you were able to get in!! Looks like you guys had a great time 🙂

  6. How lucky were you to get a slot at Patara when they were booked!

    My husband & I visited Patara when we were on our honeymoon & had an amazing time. I loved supporting such a great organization. Once I saw all the baby elephants I was very pleased – beyond being absolutely adorable, they were the next generation of elephants in Thailand.

    Check out our blog post of our visit to Patara:

  7. What an amazing post! It makes me even more gutted as I’m trying to book a trip to Patara for the end of this month but they are fully booked. Do you know any other way I can try and get a booking? I am so keen to go and it’s the only reason I’m visiting Chiang Mai.

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