Possibly the most unique sporting event in Thailand, if not in the world, is the The
King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament held annually in the scenic coastal town of Hua
Hin, about two and a half hours drive outside Bangkok. I have been coming to
Thailand for a number of years and have always just missed making it to the event
but this time was fortunate enough to be invited by the hosting Anantara Hotels.
The event kicked off on August 28th in Hua Hin with great fanfare having an opening
procession including beautiful traditional Thai dancers, beauty queens and a parade
of the competing elephants.
After the teakwood industry in the north modernized, elephants were no longer
needed to haul the giant trees to the mills. So their owners called "mahouts",
brought them to Bangkok to beg for food. It was very stressful in such a bustling
city for these gentle creatures to be walking in the noise and traffic.
IN 2001 The Anantara Hotels launched the very first Elephant Polo Cup and today
the Anantara Resort is still the main sponsor and organizer. All of the proceeds
go to the care of elephants throughout Thailand and keep them off the streets
of Bangkok and in their natural surroundings.
In 2006 the tournament moved to the Golden Triangle in the north near the city of
Chiang Mai still hosted by the same company. After a few years the event returned
Hua Hin. This unique event is one of the biggest, in many ways, and the most
popular tourist attraction in Hua Hin.
Elephant polo is similar to horse polo. An elephant team is compromised of
three players. The game takes place on a pitch of 100 metres by 60 metres. The
players use a standard size polo ball, but the mallets are extra long. The game is
divided into 7 “chukkas” same as the horse polo. The elephants are not allowed to
touch the ball with their trunks, but often it looks like they do. It seems like they
want to help the players.
Only female elephants are used on the pitch, as a mixture of males and females can
cause big problems.
Each elephant two riders, a driver and the player who concentrates on hitting the
ball. After the match, the elephants are fed with all kind of fruits, vegetables,
sugarcanes and vitamins. The drivers are often offered a cold beer and the players
mostly enjoy chilled champagne.
This year, as many as 16 teams were competing. 40 different nationalities were
represented. Among the guests you could hear many languages such as German,
Swedish, Swiss and French.
Feature and Photography - Daniel Herron Copyright 2013
Anantara Resort, Hau Hin photography - Courtesy of Anantara Hotels
For further information on elephant polo visit Anantaraelephantpolo