Elephant Polo!


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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (9)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (5)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (10)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (11)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (1)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (3)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (4)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (6)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (7)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (8)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (12)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (13)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (14)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (15)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (16)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (17)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (18)

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (20)

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.

2012_09_06 Thailand Hua Hin Elephant Polo (21)

If Ellie the Elephant were at the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament, she would have enjoyed playing or watching from the sidelines.

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And you would have too! Here’s a video clip of elephant polo in action.

Elephant Polo in Thailand

Ellie the Elephant is now available as an e-book or in print from Amazon and other booksellers! Get your copy today!

More about Hua Hin, Thailand

Hua Hin Town

Hua Hin Night Market

The Countryside near Hua Hin

Khao Takiap Village in Hua Hin

Wat Khao Takiap Temple in Hua Hin

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clip_image0023222[2]M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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Farm Chokchai – The Old West in Thailand


This is the second of three articles about the Khao Yai area in Nakhon Ratchasima, a province in northeast Thailand. The first article focused on Palio Khao Yai, an Italian-themed village, and the next will feature Khao Yai National Park. This post is about Farm Chokchai, home to Thailand’s largest dairy ranch.

With more than 5,000 head of cattle ranging over 8,000 acres, Farm Chokchai is Thailand’s largest dairy farm and one of the largest in Asia. Established in 1957 by Thai cowboy Khun Chokchai Bulakul on 100 acres, the farm has grown during its 55 year history. It has had a colorful history experimenting with different businesses ranging from selling machinery and construction materials, raising beef cattle and exporting beef, operating steakhouses, and selling dairy products. Its current iteration is as a dairy farm. Farm Chokchai went through some setbacks during the mid-1990s Asian financial crisis but bounced back in the next decade. It is now one of Thailand’s major dairy brands with a variety of milk products, including its Umm…Milk line.

Farm Chokchai is a tourist attraction for those who want to see how a dairy farm and ranch operates. A two-hour drive from Bangkok, it gives those who have limited knowledge of western-style farms the opportunity to get away from the city and “experience” a farm with a “Wild West” flavor emphasized by its owners, the Farm Chokchai Group. The wood false-front stores reminiscent of the American West, souvenir shops with assortments of dairy products and plush farm animal toys, and carnival games give the place a theme park atmosphere. The farm offers a daily tour geared to children as well as “Farm Chokchai Camp,” a facility where visitors can stay overnight and enjoy the countryside. It seems to tap into the same nostalgia for rural life as the online game app FarmVille.

My son and I toured Farm Chokchai in May 2012. We watched a movie about the farm’s history, then joined a Thai-speaking guide who showed us equipment once used around the farm, including a John Deere tractor that is reportedly one of just two still in existence — the other sits in the company’s headquarters in Moline, Illinois. We then entered a showroom where the farm processes some of its milk products such as yogurt and ice cream. Conspicuously absent was cheese, a food that few Thais eat. The showroom demonstrated how the farm turns milk into dairy products but did not operate as a full-fledge processing plant.

We proceeded to another building where a man demonstrated how bulls are “milked” for sperm to sell to other farms. I was glad that he didn’t show the group of kids on the tour how it’s used!

After our biology lesson, we tooled around the farm in a wagon pulled by a tractor. I enjoyed the beautiful views of the Thai countryside surrounding the dairy farm. The scenery reminded me of places I’ve seen in the United States, especially Northern California and the Mid-Atlantic coastal region.

We stopped at a corral surrounded by a ring of frontier-style buildings to watch Thai cowboys demonstrate skills once needed to survive in the Wild West. The crowd watched in awe as a cowboy astride a horse rounded up a calf and took it down with a lasso. A woman showed the audience how to twirl two pistols simultaneously, and a man showed off some fancy rope work by twirling his lasso in the air. For many spectators, this would be the closest they would get to a seeing a rodeo.

The wagon brought us to an area with a stage where animals wowed the crowd with their talents. A macaw rode a miniature bicycle; another solved math problems. A goat rode a barrel. A dog bottle fed a calf while other dogs (literally) jumped through hoops. PETA wouldn’t have approved, but then again, Farm Chokchai is a large-scale commercial enterprise that puts animals to use in many other ways.

We finished our tour at a petting zoo where visitors, children and parents alike, fed the cows, goats, and Eld’s deer fawns. My son enjoyed feeding the fawns. I almost had to rescue him from the herd as they pressed in on him eager for food.

2012_05_26 Chokchai Farm (21)

Like the nearby Italian-themed Palio Khao Yai, Farm Chokchai is a place in Thailand with an atmosphere that can make you forget you’re there. The farm did a good job of presenting the Old West and western-style farming to local audiences in an entertaining package that’s attractive to kids. I don’t recommend the tour as a daytrip for tourists visiting Thailand for the first time, but if you’re planning to stay a while, it might be a good diversion from the hustle and bustle of urban Bangkok.

Even in Farm Chokchai, you won’t be able to get away completely from reminders you’re in Asia. You’ll still see dragon fruit (pitaya) trees and spirit houses that give a distinctly Thai flavor.

Map picture

More About the Khao Yai Area of Thailand:

  • Palio Khao Yai, an Italian-themed shopping center a few kilometers from Farm Chokchai

buythumbM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.