World Travel

Elephant wild in Thailand

Flip Byrnes
Elephant wild in Thailand

Elephant Polo? Yes, that's just one of the many elephant activities you can get up to in Thailand. So saddle up and prepare to meet your pachyderm bestie.

How can you not fall in love with elephants? Thai elephants Pathi Harn and Luk Chai, stars of the elephant crèche at Taronga Zoo in Sydney may have stomped their way into your heart, so take down the bars and go meet the kings of the jungle up close and personal around Chang Mai.

Do a day trip, become a volunteer, learn to drive an elephant and once you're an expert, set your eyes on joining the aristocratic jet-set at the Elephant Polo Cup, held annually in March and heaps of fun.

What the El?

Your first encounter with an elephant may be a day trek — it's long enough to realise there is more to know about these incredibly intelligent animals, who can eat up to 250 kilos a day and live for around 70 years, than that they're nature's most impressive moving mountains.

Whatever company you choose, check it's all above board with the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC), established by the Royal Thai Government, to act as a central body for the conservation of elephants, both domestic and wild.

With distinct personalities and moods, from bashful to playful, retiring to extrovert, bond best with your pachy pal by becoming a volunteer.


The Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Northern Thailand as a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. 60 kilometres from Chang Mai, set in an idyllic valley bordered by forests and a river, it is the perfect place to set down your trunk and settle in for a couple of weeks.

Over 32 distressed elephants live here including Jokia, a blind elephant, Malai Tong, a land mine victim, Mae Bua, a street beggar and Lilly, a logging elephant — each are being cured with care.

Volunteers learn about elephant communication, experience elephant families and how they choose friends, are instructed in how to feed and bathe their charges, as well as help out with general office and enclosure chores.

Get back to nature on all fronts; although you're accommodation will be basic at the conservation centre, those looking for a little bit of luxury after chores are done can head for the Elephant Camp at Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa, two hours north of Chang Mai. This five-star eco resort, perched atop the picturesque Golden Triangle, has all the posh pampering options as well as the pachyderms that you'll require. BYO opium pipe.

Become a mahout

Don't live life in the back seat! Take the 'wheel', as it were, and become a mahout, or an elephant driver, at the Anantara.

A skilled mahout can guide his elephant through a working day with around 70 soft commands and light touches behind her/his ear. In just 30 minutes you can become an elephant whisperer!

By the end of your course, you'll have the bond and skills to guide an elephant through the jungle, solo, and receive your Elephant Driving Licence (which, unfortunately won't help you out if you get pulled over behind the wheels of your Holden back at home). You are now ready to go pro.

Elephant Polo

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Elephant Polo is the country's sixth largest tourism event. And it's not just popular locally; over ten international teams compete, flying flags from Switzerland, Scandinavia, Holland, Canada, the UK, Australia, India and Argentina.

Many are professional polo players who take a week off work and swap two-feet-long sticks for seven footers, and indulge in one of the world's more bizarre sporting events.

The Anantara forms the field, local women become cheer girls, Pimms flows freely and amusement is high as supersized-steeds lumber around the field in this slow motion event.

Famed as much for the parties as the play, this is the ultimate in old world colonial charm, where elegant elephants and posh players come together for Dumbo polo jungle-style.

Related: Thai Elephant Festival 2009

User comments
We witnessed the elephant polo at Anantara Resort this year. Interacting with these huge animals and watching the fun being had was a really remarkable experience and can't wait to go again
Having experienced Elephant Polo at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort for 5 days was an extraordinary yet fantastic event. Had a ball..getting up close and personal with the Elephants was amazing and you also learn so much about these marvellous pachyderms - even rubbing shoulders with some of the worlds millionaires and their families was a buzz. There is so much to say about this event, but to keep it short, if ever you have a chance to go then do it. Amazing, I will be returning not only for the polo but for my love of Elephants.