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Macau is a place of contrasts. Macau, or Macao as it was better known when it was a Portuguese colony, is officially the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Like its many names, the SAR is filled with more people, culture, and history than its small size suggests. Sitting on just 29.5 square kilometers (11.39 sq. miles) of land, some of it reclaimed from the Pearl River Delta, Macau has a population of more than 600,000 with a density of more than 18,500 people per square kilometer (48,000 per square mile). Although crowded, its denseness does not seem so much from its small footprint as from its rich and colorful history. The former colony still retains much of its Portuguese and indigenous Cantonese character but has grown more Chinese since its return to China in 1999. As the country’s only destination for legalized gambling, a Portuguese legacy dating back to the 1850s, Macau has become a tourist draw with its growing array of gambling and Las Vegas-style entertainment and conference venues. Nestled amid the grand casinos are neighborhoods steeped in colonial and traditional Chinese heritage. Like its sister across the delta in Hong Kong, Macau is worth highlighting as a semi-autonomous region because of its unique character and heritage.
This is the final article in a six-part series about Hua Hin, Thailand, a coastal city near Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. Hua Hin hosts the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, a fun and unique sporting event. The 2012 tournament inspired me to write the children’s picture book Ellie the Elephant about an elephant that dreams of playing in the tournament. Enjoy this and other travelogues about the Hua Hin area.
Elephant polo is a fascinating sport to watch. A variant of equestrian polo, elephant polo originated in Meghauli, Nepal and is played in Nepal, Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. Teams from England and Scotland also participate in organized tournaments. The sport is governed worldwide by the Kathmandu, Nepal-based World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) and in Thailand by the Thailand Elephant Polo Association.
The sport features Asian elephants ridden by a polo player and a mahout who steers the elephant. Players hit polo balls into goals with a mallet attached to the end of a long stick. Goal posts are located at either end of a pitch that’s three quarters the size of an equestrian polo field. Teams of four players, mahouts and elephants square off for two ten-minute “chukkers” (time periods) with a 15-minute time out (“interval”). The team with the most goals at the end of the second chukker wins the match. A full list of elephant polo rules is available here.
Thailand-based luxury resort and spa company Anantara Resorts hosts the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament in Hua Hin. Military marching grounds south of Hua Hin Town make an ideal pitch for a week’s worth of elephant polo matches. Dozens of sponsors set up pavilions on the sidelines that cater to visitors and polo players who come from around the world to watch or participate in the games. My family and I watched the 2012 championship match on the final day of competition; other spectators spent the entire week at the event.
While the sport has come under some scrutiny for the use and treatment of elephants, the elephants participating in the King’s Cup seemed content on the sidelines and competitive on the field. They appeared as engaged and eager to participate as the human players. Elephant Polo in Nepal and Thailand is played under the auspices of the WEPA, which enforces strict rules on elephant welfare and game play. To my knowledge, no instances of alleged mistreatment of elephants related to elephant polo have been reported in Thailand.
We enjoyed mingling with the elephants on the sidelines where the polo teams waited to saddle up. Several elephants huddled near the edge of the pen watching the matches and munching on feed like popcorn. They didn’t seemed to mind the spectators who gathered around them for photos. It was all part of their duties as star athletes. We enjoyed taking photos with a jovial pachyderm who inspired the character Ellie the Elephant in my book. This elephant was doing what Ellie aspired to do – play competitive elephant polo.
The mahouts tended to the animals, feeding them, saddling them up, and guiding them on the pitch. They appeared to have experience working with the animals, while the skill of the players varied according to their familiarity with elephant polo. One replacement player took the field for the first time and had trouble handling the cumbersome mallet taller than an elephant’s shoulders. Watching the elephants, mahouts, and polo players work in tandem was mesmerizing. When a player missed hitting the ball, the elephant would back up so they could try again.
All the teams we watched did a splendid job. While only one won the King’s Cup, every team took home a trophy in the shape of an elephant’s head. The tournament was competitive and fun with all the excitement you would expect at any sporting event. There were scrimmages, breakaways, and the occasional error – all in the name of fun.
This is the fifth article in a six-part series about Hua Hin, Thailand, a coastal city near Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. This post is about Wat Khao Takiap in Hua Hin Town. Hua Hin hosts the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, a fun and unique sporting event. The 2012 tournament inspired me to write the children’s picture book Ellie the Elephant about an elephant that dreams of playing in the tournament. Enjoy these travelogues about this fascinating area of Thailand.
Wat Khao Takiap is a Buddhist temple complex on “Chopsticks Hill” (Khao Takiap) south of Hua Hin Town center. One of the most recognizable temples in Hua Hin, it straddles a 272-meter (890 feet) tall hill that juts out into the Gulf of Thailand and is visible from beaches to the north and south.
A shrine shaped like a blooming white lotus flower sits halfway up the hillside. Although the 80 or so steps to it are a quick workout, one can drive to a parking lot part way up Chopsticks Hill. The view from the shrine and the shrine itself are both picturesque.
The parking lot area is even more interesting with an eclectic mix of Buddhist statues, including a Hungry Buddha and many-headed Buddha, dinosaur statues (seriously!), a prayer pagoda, souvenir and snack shops, and…
…monkeys! Hundreds, maybe thousands, of macaque monkeys live on the temple grounds. They are the inspiration for Monk the Monkey, one of the characters in my book Ellie the Elephant. People who work at the temple are the protectors of the macaques, who like to get too close to human comfort in their tireless search for food and drink. Tourists need to be careful because the monkeys target and steal bags, bottles, and anything else that looks like an easy meal. They’re not prone to bite but can become aggressive when the food runs out.
The chickens that wander freely around the parking lot don’t seem bothered by the monkeys. Why should they? Some are larger than a mid-sized macaque and mean serious business in their hunt for chicken feed.
This rooster did not consider it a laughing manner when he crossed the road.
At the base of Chopsticks Hill is a large Golden Buddha standing 20 meters tall who looks out on the Gulf of Thailand with his arms outstretched. While he gave his blessing to the fishermen trolling the waters off the coast, we were blessed with delicious Thai food served by the outdoor restaurant at the base of the hill.
If you visit Wat Khao Takiap, don’t forget to give a donation. It could bring you good luck. Just leave it on this painted concrete block and someone will pick it up.
You’re in luck because Ellie the Elephant’s school, the Pachyderm School, is not far from Wat Khao Takiap. Stop by for an incredible adventure with Ellie!
Ellie the Elephant is now available as an e-book or in print from Amazon and other booksellers! Get your copy today!