The elephant (photographed beautifully by Christian Haugen) is revered in Thailand and neighbouring countries such as Cambodia. Although populations have declined and the traditions associated with elephants are fading, there are still pockets of the country where the biggest of land-going mammals still retain centre stage.
Surin is just such a place. Eight hours’ train ride from Bangkok, the area is home to descendants of a Cambodian tribe famous for taming wild elephants. Though these mahouts and their families were driven from their homelands generations ago and no longer capture animals in the wild, they continue to make a life from elephants and their old-school traditions.
On the third weekend of every November, the community comes together to celebrate and show off their elephants and culture. The event is less a roundup (say, in the way of a buffalo roundup is) and more a vibrant festival.Search Flights To Thailand
The highlight of the first day is undoubtedly the “elephant breakfast”. First, a parade of floats covered in fruits and plants passes through the city from Surin’s train station to a spot in the south of the city. Following it is a procession of more than 300 elephants. Once the last one has arrived, a big feast ensues.
Srinarong Stadium’s field plays host to the festival showcase on day two. In tribute to the tribe and its elephant’s origins, women and men of the community carry out mass dance rituals that were once used to ward off danger before a wild elephant chase and celebrate a successful hunt.
Things then fast forward to the most common present day use of elephants – showmanship. Elephants and their mahouts play a wide variety of games such as football, darts and tug-of-war (guess who wins when it’s 100 men versus one elephant), all to demonstrate the impressive training and capabilities of the animals.
The festival culminates in a vast and spectacular re-enactment of an ancient war from a time when elephants were both a sign of prestige and a terrifying weapon.
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Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…