Around the third week of November they hold the event. It’s much like a county fair back home with food and rides and music and such. Instead of sheep and cattle, there are elephants. Only elephants. The event culminates though on the final weekend, with an elephant parade and then a pretty over the top display of elephantry.
We flew up Thursday night to spare ourselves the 6 hour drive from Bangkok. The closest airport is Buriram some 80 kms away. We rented a car, but there are plenty of car services that will get you to Surin.
Bright and early on Friday, the town and the area elephants gather near the train station. Floats fashioned out of all the things elephants like to eat are interspersed. There are a couple of marching bands. And of course 200 elephants festooned with paint and crowns and moomoos. The area dignitaries ride on some. This, to me, would be a horrible honor, if anything for the heat. It’s become quite out of fashion to ride an elephant on a chair, but these folks still do it.
And then the pooper scoopers follow along.
At the other end of town, the dignitaries are let off and then the elephants are let loose on a 500+meter long buffet table of elephant food. Spectators gather on one side and hand the elephants food. But the elephants can help themselves to whatever they want. It is a food orgy of gigantic proportions.
The main elephant show takes place on Saturday morning at the National Elephant Stadium. 15 dollars for shaded seats. 10 dollars for unshaded. You want the shaded seats. Here the same elephants march, dance, and stand on their heads. They play soccer, throw darts and paint some pretty amazing pictures. They recreate ancient battles. Thailand always wins against the Burmese. It is everything you’d expect an elephant not to do.
And though the feats are amazing the spectacle is a bit ethically wounding. We wrestled with our feelings all weekend. It feels uncomfortable watching them do a pretty darn good “Funky Chicken” dance. Or score a goal with a soccer ball with their hind legs. It does not feel right for sure.
But, then one realizes that these elephants will live the lifespan of a man and this is the only way thes symbiotic parties can continue. This has been going on for centuries. Neither man nor beast knows any other way. And an elephant eats a lot of food.
Turning them loose in a diminishing land source seems like a certain death and a threat to a species who is certain to encounter conflict and humans with less understanding than their mahouts.
If you go, at least go for the parade. It is an amazing event and allows you to see eye to eye with these magnificent creatures. We stayed at the Slive Hotel which is new and closest to the elephant festival and grounds. It is still a tuk tuk ride to the stadium. Around 40 bucks gets you a room, breakfast and sub-par wifi. Nice rooftop bar area and a cheap mini bar. Two doors down, two old ladies run an open air Sri Chareon eatery They are slow, but tasty. We ate there twice.
Do go to the festival at least one night. There is a lot going on there. Admission is 75 cents for foreigners.
Decide for yourselves on the elephant shows. We got duped into the light and sound show. This is much the same show as the daytime show except darker and louder and generally not enjoyable.
I’m sure some of you, dear readers, may disapprove of the whole idea. Happy to discuss if you can be civil.