This month, between Sept. 12 and 17, a special event called the “King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, will be held at the Anantara Resort & Spa Hua Hin. More than just a sporting and spectator event, the tournament has far reaching benefits reflecting the importance the pachyderms play in Thai life.
Practically every tourist who visits Thailand wants to go elephant riding; it has become an integral part of any visit to the kingdom. And that’s not hard to do considering that anyone can ride well-trained elephants everywhere you go, from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son, from Pattaya to Phuket, from Chiang Mai to Hua Hin.
And you don’t have to go to forests to see and ride them as there are elephant camps and villages are part and parcel of Thai tourism. Elephant shows are popular and even if you don’t go to an elephant village or zoo, there are easy to find. Tourist attractions throughout the country, even the beaches of Phuket, often have a resident elephant.
But if you are looking for some serious trekking and elephant ride, the best place should be the north of Thailand where opportunities for a richer experience are a-plenty. Some elephant rides can be incorporated into a long trek also combining mountain biking and rafting.
Among the most special places to find and enjoy them is the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, which allows eco-tourists to stay with real-life mahouts. The typical program lasts three days and two nights, and participants get a chance to gain first-hand experience of the elephants, not to mention nature and local wildlife. Of course, they’re fun and eco-friendly.
There’s a place called Elephant Hills (in Khao Sok), which is regarded as the country’s first luxury jungle camp. The program includes a scenic canoe trip on the Sok River and a ride on elephant back through the forest and various trekking routes that can match all skill levels. In Chiang Mia’s Mae Sa Valley, a big family of elephants lives side by side with their mahout caretakers in a place called Maesa Elephant Camp. The camp is said to be home to one of the largest assembly of elephants in the north of Thailand, a natural habitat to aiming to help save the dwindling number of Asian elephants in the wild.
Another special place for the beloved Thai jumbos is the Ban Ta Klang Elephant Village in Surin, which offers a home tour designed to provide a glimpse into not only the elephants but also the Kui culture, which has always been elephant related. The Kui has a particular ancient ritual performed before they capture the wild elephants. The tour of the village includes a 3km elephant ride that is more than a ride, really but a wonderful insight into the life of life of the elephants.
Elephant trekking can be enjoyed – even in Koh Chang although we personally recommend the. Mae Taeng Elephant Camp in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai, which included bamboo rafting and talent shows in the elephant riding program. Again as we said earlier, elephant trekking and riding options are available practically everywhere in the kingdom whether you’re on near the magnificent sn-kissed beaches of Phuket, Krabi, and Samui.
Closer to Bangkok, elephant trekking can be enjoyed in Kanchanaburi, where an elephant-ride through the jungle is popular with visitors; and in Pattaya, where there are some dedicated elephant villages catering to tourists. For more information and recommendations, you can contact your particular travel agency, the nearest tour operator, and even your hotel concierge.
Far reaching benefits
Since its inception in 2001, the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament has built a reputation as a not-to-be-missed charity event that attracts visitors from all around the world to enjoy a unique sporting occasion. Having previously taken place in the Golden Triangle in the north of Thailand, the event moved to Hua Hin in 2011, where it will again be held this year.
The welfare of the elephants participating in the polo tournament is paramount, with strict rules in place to ensure that they are well cared for at all times. Thanks to Thailand’s advanced micro-chipping program for all legal domesticated elephants and research into DNA tagging, by imposing a “no micro-chip, no game” rule, Anantara guarantees that all elephants who play have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighboring countries.
Anantara’s concern for elephants is wellknown. It even has its own elephant charity – the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF). Through the generosity of participants and spectators at the annual charity auction and during the tournament, Anantara has raised almost US$500,000 to date, which for charities that benefit the elephants of Thailand.
Funds raised from last year’s event support research and clinics for children in Thailand living with autism, in addition to helping build the first elephant hospital in Krabi (For more information visit www.anantara.com and www.anantaraelephantpolo.com).