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.


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

Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

This is the final article about the Khao Yai area in Nakhon Ratchasima, a province in northeast Thailand. The first post featured Palio Khao Yai, an Italian-themed village, and the second Farm Chokchai, home to Thailand’s largest dairy ranch. This article showcases Khao Yai National Park.

Khao Yai National Park is Thailand’s oldest and second largest national park covering 2,168 square kilometers (1,350 square miles) in the foothills of the Dong Phaya Yen Mountains. It lies two hours by car northeast of Bangkok and is a popular getaway destination.

The Royal Thai government designated Khao Yai a national park in 1962. In 1984, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations named it an ASEAN Heritage Park, and in 2005, UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site under the name Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, noting that it “contains more than 800 fauna species, including 112 species of mammals, 392 species of birds and 200 reptiles and amphibians. It is internationally important for the conservation of globally threatened and endangered mammal, bird and reptile species that are recognised as being of outstanding universal value. This includes 1 critically endangered, 4 endangered and 19 vulnerable species.”

The name “Khao Yai” originated from a small mountain township (in Thai, tambon) incorporated in 1922 and abolished a decade later when the residents were relocated to the nearby plain.

Humans and animals continued to co-exist in the area after the national park was established. In addition to small villages along the park’s feeder roads, large-scale developments, from dairy farms and wineries to hotel resorts and residential communities, have sprung up in and around Khao Yai. This has led to debates over land use, local development, conservation, environmental sustainability, and wildlife protection.

We spent a weekend in February 2012 camping near the park. It was an odd setting for a camping trip as we stayed in tents on the grounds of Cabbages & Condoms Resort (also known as “C&C” for those who avoid mentioning its full name). Camping on manicured lawns on a terraced hillside amid uniform palm trees in the shadow of a Buddhist monastery was a far cry from the wilderness camping that I enjoyed while growing up in the western United States. Nevertheless, it was an excellent introduction to camping and “roughing it” for my young son.

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (1)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (3)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (7)

During our campout, we went hiking in the park and enjoyed its scenic beauty. The trail passed through subtropical forest that reminded me I was in Southeast Asia.

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (10)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (15)

I couldn’t quite forget that we were staying in a resort. Tempting as it was to use the pool, I resisted the urge to soak in the chlorinated water. If I couldn’t have an authentic camping experience, at least I did my best to rough it.

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (16)

Although we didn’t see any of the big game animals — elephants, tigers, or Asiatic black bears — along the way, we encountered some monkeys, lizards, geckos, and other wildlife as well as gorgeous flora.

We also saw some not-so-wild creatures such as an ornery gaggle of geese and the biggest rooster I’ve ever seen. After he crossed the road, I tried to ask him why, but he gave me a “don’t mess with me” look. I left him alone.

Signs of humans were evident throughout Khao Yai. Small farms lined the road all the way to the park’s doorstep. Unlike the large developments built in recent years, those who had lived in the area for decades seemed to have found a way to inhabit it without leaving an intrusive footprint, as evidenced by the “school bus” truck taking students home after school.

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (28)

On the last day of our camping trip, we drove through the rest of the park. Along the way we passed by villages, vineyards, homesteads, and gated communities. One moment we saw villas that reminded me of Tuscany and the next,  a Buddhist temple. It was an odd mix of development that left me amused and bewildered. I wondered whether the park would survive in the long term with this kind of encroaching sprawl.

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (30)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (31)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (32)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai (33)

2012_02_17 Khao Yai

I think the area will ultimately find the right balance. Thailand has found a way to flourish organically, and Khao Yai is a heterogeneous microcosm of all there is to love about this wonderfully diverse place.

If you’re looking for a fun daytrip out of Bangkok that will give you a taste of the eclectic side of Thailand, Khao Yai is a great choice.

More About the Khao Yai Area of Thailand:

Palio Khao Yai, an Italian-themed shopping center near Khao Yai National Park.

Farm Chokchai, Thailand’s largest dairy farm with theme park-style attractions and entertainment reminiscent of the American Frontier.

Map picture


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.