Powerful, Patient & Full of Personality: Thai Elephant Sanctuary

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They were a bit bigger than I expected . . . and friendlier . . . and more majestic! When I boarded the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai I was looking forward to a full day caring for the elephants at Patara Elephant Farm, but I really didn’t realize what I was in for!

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On the way to give my elephant a bath with his coarse scrub brush, I tripped on a small rock hidden under the surface of the water and fell, face first, into the muddy river. MeiKupa didn’t seem phased by my clumsy behavior – he’d encountered my type before. Luckily I was dressed in my swimsuit at the time, and my Canon 6D was not around my neck. Grinning from ear to ear, I hoisted myself up onto his back, using his bent front leg as a stepstool, and started scrubbing behind his large, flapping ears. (That’s one sign of a happy elephant!)

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The “Elephant Owner for a Day” program is comprehensive! It is entertaining and educational, physically demanding, in our initial trek up the mountain to meet the elephants, and calmly relaxing, sitting atop this beautiful, gentle creature on the way to a picnic beside a waterfall.

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Most exciting, one of the first things we saw when we arrived at the farm, about an hour north of Chaing Mai, was a baby elephant –  1 month old, and playful – ready to “take down” one of my fellow tourists with an enthusiastic head butt. It was early, and we hadn’t yet been trained on proper behavior around the animals, but we would learn. We would learn a lot about elephant behavior, recovery (and release) efforts, and the time and commitment it takes to care for one of these creatures.

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Powerful and patient, these animals have lots of personality, and a strong bond with their care givers. Smart creatures, eager to please their handlers, elephants have had a significant presence in diverse cultures. They have provided transportation during times of war, or were signs of high status and religion. As entertainers, from P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo to Disney’s animated Dumbo, we’ve definitely been entertained by these animals! Beyond tourism and entertainment, Patara is focused on education and conservation of the species.

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“With conservation philosophy “Extinction is Forever”, Patara Elephant Farm honored to encourage people to try, at least once in their lives, to experience this very special and sacred animal that should be treasured. Give yourself an opportunity to share once-in-a-lifetime experience with the elephants; you will be touched by their beautiful hearts and will be brought closer to their special world.”  (http://www.pataraelephantfarm.com/ )

Patara has had 33 births and 0 losses in the years it has been in operation. Family run, the elephants are under the constant care of the staff. It was a pleasure to have these creatures shared with me for the day, and I highly recommend that anyone who has the opportunity pay them a visit.

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There should be a takeaway from this experience, right? Maybe it should be about conservation. Perhaps there is a deep spiritual connection between elephants and us. For me, I was simply in awe of how big they were, and friendly, and majestic. And they seem to have a sense of humor when confronted with a troop of tourists seeking an experience beyond the gift shops and elephant rides!

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Ready for the Next Adventure,

~ Kathleen


  1. I am so glad you enjoyed that! It is my favorite elephant camp in Chiang Mai and worth every penny! I am thinking that the new baby was from my elephant last year – she was pregnant when I spent the day with her. Great photos.


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