Fun with Elephants at Patara Elephant Sanctuary

Gimme Shelter

Gimme Shelter

The Patara Elephant Sanctuary allows you to get up close and friendly with elephants of all sizes.  The sanctuary’s advertisement says you can be an elephant owner for a day.  With the elephants walking around freely, our first task was to scrub the mud from their tough skin, then walk them to a large pond and give them a bath.

Elephant Owner for a Day

Most of what the elephant sanctuary site suggested for a successful visit was ignored by us.  My goal was to get some great photographs, so I did not wear the suggested swimsuit.  I expected to hang out in the shadows and click away.  I failed to get the desired photographs and unfortunately could not take part in the water activities to the fullest with the camera hanging around my neck.

The baby elephants are certainly not afraid of the dozen or so visitors.  We were warned that the babies may playfully come over and strongly bump into you.  While I was crouched over looking through the camera taking this photo, another baby did exactly that.  It trotted over to me and knocked me down.  The only ones who thought this was funny were Gayle and the baby elephant.



We initially had to put on baggy canvas pants and a smock to make us ‘look and smell’ like trainers to the elephants.  However, few of the trainers wore such outfits.

Harold feeding bananas to the elephant

Bathing the Elephants

So how does the day begin?  Smelling elephant poo, of course.  The lead trainer first squeezes out the excess ‘water’ from the poo with his bare hands then passes it around so you can verify for yourself it does not smell.  With my poor sense of smell, what do I know?

smelling the poo

Harold smelling elephant poo

The guides likely do this since you will soon be in a large pond with the elephants and will quickly realize the elephants are not ‘pool trained’.  Consequently, it is the job of one young girl at the park to retrieve all of the elephant poo with a large fish net.


The elephant bathing pond.

The scrubbing and bathing of the elephants seems to be an actual task that must be done daily and not merely done for the entertainment of the tourists.  Plus the elephants really enjoy this activity.  They roll around and seem to wait for the scrubbing.  Clearly they are having a good time.  My trainer below had to do most of the scrubbing of the elephant assigned to me since I was busy taking photos.

Scrubbing the elephants

Mom and a baby rolling around in the pond.    Note the interesting pattern on this elephant’s ear.  We were told that these patterns are as unique as fingerprints and are used to identify each elephant.

Enjoying the pool

After all the scrubbing and bathing is completed, the trainers ask us to line up for a group photo.  During this time the elephants have climbed down out of the pool and are standing behind us.  At the direction of the trainers, all the elephants squirt us with water (yep, the same water they have been bathing in).  I think this was the elephants’ favorite part.  I’m most concerned with protecting my camera.


Getting hosed by the elephants

Riding the Elephants Home

The last task of the day was to learn how to get up on the elephants and ride them home.  Once up on top of the elephant and having only walked a short distance, I was hoping for it to be over fairly soon.  Each time it seemed we were at the top of the hill and the ride would be over, there was yet another hill to climb.  The elephants know we are not trainers so they misbehaved and would veer off the trail, climbing the steep hillside for a bit to eat until a trainer moved them along.   I was hanging on with one hand and attempting to photograph the elephant from an unusual perspective with the other hand.  Again the camera just got in the way.  My leg muscles were quite sore the following day from squeezing to hang on.

Harold riding the elephant home.

After the ride was over, the sun was getting lower in the horizon and shown on the eye of my elephant.  It was one of my goals of the day to get a close-up of the elephant’s eye.


At Patara elephant conservation sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, you have the option of full day or half day adventures.  If you have the time, it is a day filled with great experiences and I would like to do it again.  Have fun!

Goodbye To Chiang Mai, Thailand

We were very happy with our lodging selection in Chiang Mai, the Pingviman Hotel.  It is certainly a comfortable Thai hotel with authentic accommodations and balcony overlooking the pool, without being over the top in luxury.

Our room at the Pingviman Hotel

The hotel had a very nice breakfast buffet included which offered both inside and outside dining.  Not having to search for a breakfast spot each day was a big help.  Here is a link to the hotel for those lucky acquaintances we know who are going to visit Chiang Mai in the next year or so.

Pingviman Hotel

It is also where we met our guide Lucky

Next week we go to Bangkok.


14 thoughts on “Fun with Elephants at Patara Elephant Sanctuary

  1. Ancient Elephant saying: “Eye for an eye, tusk for a tusk, if you don’t bathe me, bathe you I must.”
    Does the sanctuary provide visitors a proper bath afterwards, or was the whole purpose of the first sniff to indicate you won’t stink when the show ended?
    What a great way to spend a day with nature at its largest.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Entertaining Lou, as usual. There were showers and change rooms back at the departure point. We brought no change of clothes.
      Each week I count on a good comment from you, thanks.

  2. Love your very entertaining writing style, Harold! Thanks for sharing this fun episode in images and word.

  3. I read most of the blogs you post. They are interesting and a great source of history and information, which make for good reading. Continue to be safe!!

  4. Thanks for the link to the photos Harold, sounds like a waterproof camera is the trick here even thought they don’t have quite the quality as the DSLR’s. I think my daughter has already chosen a place to go so I think I am just tagging along. I appreciate the commentary about your elephant day!

  5. You and Margie are into elephants me not so much they just got in the way of photographing birds 🙂 I did not get that cool of a closeup of an elephants eye. But I was shooting wild African Elephants and the couple of charges, false or otherwise, resulted in vehicular movement backwards 🙂

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