Let me start off by saying… I don’t regret booking Woody’s Elephant Farm. We ended up having great memories of elephant friends, fun photos, new human friends and a very enjoyable white water rafting trip. I think there’s a lot of potential here, and I really want them to do well. That being said, here’s an honest review of a place I want to love. Disclaimer: I’m not even completely sure I’m reviewing the right place. The pictures of the place we went look different from Trip Advisor pictures, and it’s possible that some elephant camps use the names of other camps as I know they use the same area and maybe even the same elephants... I could be wrong, but the elephants don’t look the same and they only had four, who we assured had been together a while either as family or introduced as new family members. I could sound very ignorant, but the elephants on Trip Advisor look very much different than the elephants I saw and I thought the guide said that they have been in the camp awhile because they were rescued. I would assume that the other ones may have passed away, but elephants have long lives...
The day started off confusing, honestly. On the brochure we were handed, Woody’s had a one, two or three day option, and my friend and I chose the one-day option. When we arrived with one couple from China who also thought they booked the one day option, but the folks at Woody’s seemed surprised because they thought it was a half day tour. There wasn’t even a half-day option in the pamphlet. However, they quickly added white water rafting to the afternoon to make it a whole day excursion. We highly enjoyed white water rafting, though it wasn’t what we paid for- the higher price tag we paid was for a day at an elephant farm, which come with heftier prices than the mixed packages usually do. We thought we were with the elephants all day and that's what normally makes the prices higher. We are pretty good with ‘rolling with it,’ so we shrugged and moved on. TBH, I don't think I could have spent a whole day with the elephants just hanging out...just thought I'd toss that out there.
We changed into ‘mahout’ clothes, and we’re GLAD we did! What a muddy and wet day we were in for. If you have the option, use their rain boots! My shoes, though made for wetness, were covered in mud and probably a good dose of elephant poo. No biggie- I should have known how sloppy it would be. Though our guide went barefoot which works too. She was very proficient in English, knowledgeable about elephants though she’d only been working with them for a year, and friendly. We were a bit scared of the big elephants- but that’s probably our shortcoming. They gave us a chance to walk our buddies (my very large elephant scoffed at me a bit- he didn’t need or want me, but he did it anyway). Then it was time to climb on up. WHAT, we grab their EARS to pull ourselves up?! With a shove from the staff and a helpful foot from my elephant, I achieved what seemed impossible with no damage to any ears. We rode bareback for a bit, which didn’t seem enjoyable for the elephants, but also didn’t hurt them in any way. Though they were very dirty, it was quite the experience- I never thought I’d be that up close and personal! We then walked down the muddy path to the lake where the bathing, scrubbing, and yes- spraying with those big trunks- began. Another review mentioned bathing suits, probably more appropriate. But it was fun anyway. After playing in the water and even getting a sloppy smooch, we headed back for some more photos and lunch.
Lunch was an experience… and even a little cooking class! I got to make my own Som Tam salad (spicy papaya salad). So here’s the thing: This was the scariest meal I’d had in Thailand (not a bad thing!) The fish sauce was homemade, and looked like brown goo with fish skin. The crabs were raw and whole, and you just kinda tear them up and throw them in (I got a lesson in chewing open the shell in your mouth, removing the meat and spitting the shell out afterwards). Again, I rolled with it and the salad was delicious, as was the other food (vegetable and chicken curry, rice, omelette).
In the afternoon, we went on their hastily thrown in white water rafting tour which was a lot of fun. We enjoyed the company of Pui, one of the CEO’s and self-proclaimed sister of Woody (which we aren't really sure is her brother). She hadn’t been white water rafting before and I thought that interesting since her camp includes white water rafting, but that made it all the more fun as we shrieked together through the rapids and helped her enjoy the day. At the end of the day, my friend and I enjoyed the people we met, the elephant experience, a home cooked meal and splashing in the water. We just felt that the day could have been enhanced by better organization, more communication about the schedule and itinerary, and the assurance that we were in the right elephant camp. However, the elephants seemed happy enough and well treated, and they seem to have a pretty good life. So even if this place isn’t what we thought it would be, if they make some changes, they have a good shot at becoming something pretty great.
I would recommend the following for this camp and hopefully they will attract more people and thrive as a business:
I think these are small suggestions and definitely very doable. There is a lot of competition with camps in the area so the extra attention to detail will be what draws new clients. Again, at the end of the day we had a good experience. One we will remember.
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"Ohhhh the places you'll go…" Growing up all I ever wanted to do was help people, learn, and travel. I'm lucky. I get to do all of those things and more.
This is just some food from some places I've been.