I have spent a while touring Thailand from the less traveled roads of Ko Lanta in the south to the northerly hills towards the Burmese border. Slash-burning and little rain made the atmosphere somewhat claustrophobic but never distracted from my time with the elephants.
Thailand offers many tourist-style elephant activities from uninspired rides to watching retired circus elephants paint or do other clever tricks.
But to learn about and participate in the care of elephants at Patarra Elephant Farm is quite a different matter.
Breaking up elephant dung to inspect and smell its vitality, feeling the silky softness of their mouths, and brushing their long eyelashes are bonding experiences like no other.
At Patara, the concept is as much about education as it is eco tourism, the latter having become a byproduct that supports them financially. The difference is that unlike other elephant ‘gigs’ in Thailand, this farm operates an authentic breeding program with the goal of re-establishing small herds of elephants in their natural environment. Breeding is done in tandem with government-sponsored reforestation programs with the hope that within two generations (of elephants), Thailand will have enough resources to once again sustain these beautiful animals in their natural surrounds. To date, reforestation now accounts for more than 30 percent of Thailand’s landscape; the target is nearer to double that.
It’s an enlightened plan with our grandchildren in mind, which is why Patara Elephant Farm is such a terrific ‘school’ for youngsters, too.
While the charm of Thailand and the hospitality of its people is always a joy to encounter, it’s this kind of back-country experience that stays in your heart.
And, if you’ve not ‘done’ Thailand is the last 10 years, put it on your agenda. The change in Bangkok alone makes the visit worthwhile: the highway flyovers and and skytrain transit system has really shifted the smoggy chaos that used to characterize the city. At least you no longer feel you’re taking your life in your hands when you hop aboard a Tuk Tuk.