Been there. Done that.

Yesterday was particularly special for both of us.  We got to do something Stu had always dreamed of doing and I had never imagined doing:  hanging out with elephants.

The day before, we had wandered down the street from our resort on the mountain in Chiang Mai, and came across the Patara Elephant Farm.  We heard the introduction, and decided we had to do it.  So the next day, we headed over early in the morning to become elephant owners for a day.

What does an elephant owner do?  First, he puts on the same clothes as the elephant trainers, because the elephant recognizes the clothes:

The dress up part is fun, but the you gotta get to work.  Our elephant was Bo Jeung, and he is one of the biggest elephants on the farm.  He is also a 14-year-old teenage boy, a group of elephants known for their unpredictable temperaments.  Not unlike human teenage boys.  Lucky for us, he turned out to be a doll.

First we fed our elephants, because what better way to become friends with a teenaged boy than to give him lots and lots of food?

Once you and your elephant are old pals, you have to make sure your elephant is healthy.  There are several things to do to check the overall health of an elephant:

  • Did the elephant sleep on the ground at night?  You check the elephant to make sure he is dirty on both sides, indicating that he both lay down, and that switched sides
  • Is the elephant sweating?  Elephants sweat around their toenails, so you check around their toenails to makes sure they are sweating and keeping cool
  • Did the elephant poop?  Yup, you gotta make sure you elephant is doing it, and that it is enough.  6-9 pieces of elephant dung indicate good digestive health.  And each piece is the size of about 2-3 softballs.
  • We’re not done yet with the poop.  You gotta pick it up, squeeze it to make sure it’s damp, and smell it to make sure it’s not foul.  Foul-smelling elephant dung indicates a problem.  Healthy elephant dung kinda just smells like grass.  And yes, I did all this.

All that sleeping in the dirt means the elephant needs to be cleaned.  This is done in stages:  first, you use a bundle of leaves to brush off the elephant, and then you walk him down to the river when you wash him off and brush him.  Walking in the river is also good for elephants because the sediment naturally files their toenails.  Much better than animals kept in captivity (Night Safari, anyone?), where they have to tranquillize the animals and then use harsh nail files to keep their nails trimmed.

Being in the river with the elephant was a lot of fun.  He clearly enjoyed the water, and he made sure to thank us for his bath when we were done.

The plan was to ride the elephants (bare back) through the forest in the mountain to a waterfall.  There we would have lunch, swim with the elephants, the elephants could drink from the fresh water, and then we’d ride them back.  Sounds easy, but first you gotta get up on that big ‘ol elephant.  Some people had smaller, younger elephants, and could easily mount them by stepping on their legs.  Stu decided to use the ride-the-trunk-to-the-top method:

while I got a leg up from my new Thai friend.  Those animals are big, yo!

And then finally, we were off!

We were riding these elephants up some very steep mountain trails that were maybe six or eight feed wide, often with steep drop offs on one side and a mountain wall on the other.  It looked treacherous to climb as a human – doing it on top of an elephant seemed insane.  But funnily enough, these elephants know what they’re doing.

Though they may not look it by their size, elephants are very sure-footed animals.  They walk with one foot at a time, so they always have three feet on the ground.  And they assess the terrain in front of them with both their eyes and their trunks.  The ride was quite safe, and the scenery breathtaking.

We arrived at the waterfall,

and then after lunch for both us and the elephants, we went swimming!!  This was the most most fun I’ve had in a long long time.

We rode our new elephant BFFs back to the elephant farm, said our teary goodbyes with promises to write, and ended what was a once-in-a-lifetime day.

I still haven’t swam with dolphins, but how many of you have swam with elephants?

Like Pat at the elephant farm said, all of us can now check swimming with elephants off our bucket lists and say, “Been there.  Done that.”

And had a blast.




5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Erin on January 19, 2011 at 7:08 am

    This is the best thing I`ve ever seen. I have this same dream – but it involves monkeys or apes. Keep on posting, you two!! xx


  2. Posted by Ak on January 19, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    My dream is also with apes or chimps.

    I swam with dolphins and it was a letdown. Wasn’t at all organic like your experience.



  3. Posted by Tanya on January 20, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Although swimming with elephants was never on my bucket list, after seeing the pictures and hearing the story, it’s one thing that’s made that final cut 🙂


  4. Posted by sarah on January 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

    this sounds and looks like a lot of fun…. way to go guys. glad to see you are making the most of your trip already!


  5. Posted by Mum on January 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    This looks like so much fun. Yup, on my bucket list too.


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