Patara Elephant Camp (Chiang Mai, Day 2)
Swimming with elephants. Three words that can only give a hint at how incredible of an experience we all had at Patara Elephant Camp, near Chiang Mai, Thailand.
It had been 6 days since our USA wedding — the first of four on our Wedding World Tour — and tomorrow was to be our Thai wedding ceremony. So much had already happened, it was hard to believe our first ceremony had only been a few days earlier. We were traveling with my best-friend Missy, and Aprilâ€™s brother, sister, and her boyfriend … and were soon to meet up with my parents. And although expensive by Thai standards, we had done lots of Tripadvisor research and finally all decided to go together to Patara Elephant Campâ€™s â€œMahout for a Dayâ€ Program.Â
We were picked up from our fabulous hotel, Baan Orapin, and 30 minutes later were staring at a beautiful field with about a dozen elephants standing around. We first learned from Pat the mission of Patara, and why most elephant camps in Thailand — although they are much less expensive — arenâ€™t so great for the elephants. By the end we were all fully convinced that Patara was the only camp that weâ€™d ever recommend. (Thereâ€™s lots to look out for if youâ€™re researching a camp to go for … but whatever you do, avoid the camps where the elephants are doing tricks!.) Pataraâ€™s efforts at conservation and understanding the elephantâ€™s needs are truly impressive.
We then â€œsuited upâ€ and headed out to meet our elephant. My â€œbest (wo)manâ€ from the USA wedding, Missy, was the first sent out to her elephant. Itâ€™s a bit (okay, a lot!) intimidating to approach a 14-foot tall animal with gigantic tusks, and to essentially stick your hand in his mouth as he eats each a bunch of bananas out of your hand. Itâ€™s even more intimidating when youâ€™re the first one of the day, with the largest elephant … but Missy did great. Even so, when I approached my elephant Maesi Noi — I have no idea how to really spell her name — it was daunting. She iss about 35 years old, pregnant, and very stubborn. Her ears werenâ€™t flapping in happiness as we were told they should, and I took this as a bad sign. (Turns out, she just really isnâ€™t much of an ear-flipper.)
Into her massive, wet mouth my hand (and several large groups of bananas) went. (I still have my hand, so I consider this a success.)
(If you can’t see the rest, please click through!)
We then learned about elephant poop (doesnâ€™t smell, can tell you all sorts of things about their health, look for at least 6 droppings for a healthy elephant), how they sleep how we can tell if they got a good nightâ€™s rest, and how they sweat (toenails). We learned a few words of Thai to help â€œcontrolâ€ the elephants (not that Maesi Noi listened to one word that I said all day), had them lay down, and brushed the dirt off their skin, prior to taking them into the river and scrubbing them down.
After a surprise shower …
… we rode on the elephantâ€™s neck for about 1.5 hours, up steep hills and down, while our elephants would try to veer off and eat anything from the side of the road they could, to a pool under a waterfall. This area was the highlight of an already amazing day.
One-by-one, we slid down the waterfall into the exceedingly cold water and swam with the happy elephants. They rolled over and over in joy, making it quite the challenge to stay out of their way. But they seemed always conscious of where we were, and apparently knew how fragile we were. No words can do justice to the experience of floating in a pool with 4 or 5 happy elephants, having them play with you, with each other, spraying water. It was truly amazing being that close to gentle, smart, giant animals.
This was followed by what I consider my best lunch in Thailand: all sorts of local-made food, mostly wrapped in banana leaves, served at a little hut near the pool. The elephants were like begging dogs, sitting just outside, awaiting a treat. At one point, a very long trunk made itâ€™s way inside the hut, grabbing bananas off the floor in front of us. It took about 4 trainers to move her back. But soon enough, we were done, and the elephants rushed the hut while we fed them the (elephant safe) leftovers from our meal. It was pandemonium, and if one didnâ€™t know better, theyâ€™d think that the elephants were about to overrun our place and stampede us.
Another hour-and-a-half elephant ride took us back to Patara, where I spent some time with the 5-day old baby elephant. The funny coincidence about this baby was that she was the 11th baby born at Patara. And she was born on February 11, 2011 — our wedding day. Another odd coincidence was that April and I were assigned the two elephants that appear on Pataraâ€™s logo (although in the logo, hers was a baby still).
Now, if you know us, you know that the number 11:11 is very special to April and me, and so we felt that with all these coincidences the new baby elephant should be named the Thai word for â€œFateâ€. We sent our name suggestion to Patara … weâ€™ll see what happens!
Next up … our Thai cooking class!!
Below … a gallery of the photos above and another 10-15 from the day. (Note: these images are a mix of the images supplied by Patara and the images that I took.)