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Guide to Thailand's Annual Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival

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As an engineer, Mazlan had the opportunity to travel and work abroad. He has traveled to over 30 countries.

Here is a guide to Thailand's annual Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival.

Here is a guide to Thailand's annual Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival.

Thailand's Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival

If you want to see the elephants at their most appealing, then you should visit Thailand's annual Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival. It is held every year in November at Srinarong open-air stadium in Surin. Please check Thailand Tourism Authority website for the actual date, as the date varies every year. It is usually held in the third week of November.

Most of us will remember the great wrinkly beasts standing on their heads at circuses and in zoos doing their trained antics to attract the crowds. Some elephants are just born to be performers, and we just can't resist these lovable animals.

More than 300 elephants take part in the festival each year.

More than 300 elephants take part in the festival each year.

Significance of the Elephant to Thai People

The elephant has played a significant role in Thailand's history and culture. The animal has been revered for centuries—now standing as a living symbol of Thailand. It was used in battles as well as a beast of burden for the logging industries. It also has a special religious significance to the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

To celebrate the importance and significance of Thai elephants to its citizens, the government has organized the Surin Elephant Round-Up festival on an annual basis since 1960.

Elephants as Entertainment

Held for the first time in 1960, this annual festival has attracted visitors not just from the local district but also from the rest of Thailand and from overseas.

The people of Surin are known to excel in capturing and training elephants in Cambodia. However, when civil war broke out in Cambodia, and with a preference for heavy machinery over the use of elephants, these mahouts (elephant handlers) had to turn to other activities such as entertainment in order to earn a living.

Leading the procession during Surin Elephant Round-Up.

Leading the procession during Surin Elephant Round-Up.

What to See at the Festival

Here is a bit about the festival that you'll surely enjoy if you have the opportunity attend.

Elephant Show and Soccer Game

During this four-hour spectacle, you will see demonstrations of how elephants from the wild are captured and trained for work. There are amazing displays of strength and skill, as well as humorous highlights. There is an elephant soccer game, an elephant tug of war match and even an elephant talent show. In the gripping climax, the whole troop—gloriously decked out in full war regalia—will re-enact a mass medieval battle.

More than 300 elephants will take part in this 12-day event.

Elephant Breakfast Show

The festival will start on Friday morning with an Elephant Breakfast where the more than 300 elephants will march from the railway station area and move through Surin city towards the elephant roundabout at Prasat road.

These elephants will be carrying dignitaries, mahouts and tourists who will then dismount upon arrival. These mahouts will be dressed in authentic battle outfits from the Thai, Laos and Khmer battles.

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The Elephant Breakfast will start as soon as all the elephants arrive. The banquet consisted of many varieties of fruits and other favorite elephant foods, which will quickly be devoured by these large numbers of elephants.

War re-enactment is part of the festival activities during Surin Elephant Round-Up.

War re-enactment is part of the festival activities during Surin Elephant Round-Up.

Re-Enactments of Past Century Battles

The next morning, these elephants and their mahouts will assemble at Srinarong's open-air stadium, where they will perform the main show. The highlight of this show is the re-enactment of the past century's battles of Thailand-Laos-Kymer. If you missed this show, do not worry as it will be repeated the next day (Sunday morning).

The best way to see the festival is on the Thailand Tourism Authority package tour. Check the website for more details.

Battle re-enactments happen each year.

Battle re-enactments happen each year.

Elephant Soccer at the annual round-up.

Elephant Soccer at the annual round-up.

Surin and Elephants

Surin is a quiet province and does not receive that many tourists compared to other parts of Thailand. However, in November, it is the busiest time. Surin has long been associated with elephants and is often called the 'Province of Elephants.'

This event has helped promote the province's tourism sector and boost its economy.

Many of Surin's folks are known for their ability to capture and round up wild elephants. They are also well known for their skills in training and taming these wild elephants.

More on Elephants in Thailand

Based on records kept by the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, there were 100,000 domesticated elephants in 1850. This number has now dropped drastically to just 2,700. Approximately 95% are privately owned.

Unlike elephants in Africa, Thai elephants are easily tamed and can be domesticated within weeks.

As such, you will see many of Surin's elephants and their mahouts in Bangkok and other major tourist towns in Thailand to earn a living for the most part of the year. But come November, they will all go back to their native Surin for the festival.

The mahouts, caring for their elephants.

The mahouts, caring for their elephants.

Where is Surin in Thailand?

The Surin Province is in the Mun River Basin, in the lower northeast part of Thailand. Coming from Bangkok, Thailand's capital city, it's about 284 miles (457 km) by car and 260 miles (420 km) by train.

Surin is now known both locally and internationally for this annual event. If visiting, you will also find in Surin the Khmer Ruins, famous jasmine rice, and, of course, Thai silk. These all make Surin an interesting place to visit.

Getting to Surin from Bangkok

By Bus: The daily buses from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal will take about six hours to arrive in Surin.

By Train: Take the train from Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lam Phong) which departs daily. This is a 260 mile (420 km) journey.

By Car: If you intend to drive, it is best to have a GPS navigation system with you like a Garmin. It will be easier to navigate through the intense traffic that is famous in Bangkok.

If you don't have one, then follow these directions: Take Highway 1 (Phahonyothin Road) and at Saraburi, turn right to Highway 2 (Mitraphap Road). Then go in the direction of Highway 24 (Chok Chai-Det Udom route) via the Amphoe Nang Rong and Amphoe Prasa. Then turn left to highway 214, which will lead you to Surin Province. The total distance is about 284 miles (457 km).

Getting to Bangkok, Thailand's Capital

Most prominent airlines will fly from major cities in the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia and most parts of the world to Bangkok. You can find a variety of direct flights or ones with a stop partway through. Shop around on travel websites such as Hotwire for the best travel deals.

More Festivals

Another of my other articles on festivals that may interest you is the Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia, a Hindu religious festival that can be considered the most spectacular of all the Hindu festivals.

© 2012 Mazlan A

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