Surin Elephant Round up
The Surin Elephant Round up usually takes place on the third weekend of November in Surin province, Isan, Thailand. It is of recent origin, first held in 1960. The people of Surin
were traditionally excellent at capturing elephants in Cambodia, then training them as working animals. Civil war in Cambodia and the elephant’s decreasing economic importance has forced the elephant handlers (mahouts) to turn to entertainment to make a living.
The event consists of a series of shows displaying the strength and skill of the animals, such as football games and tugs of war. Elephant Round Up and Elephant breakfast
The Elephant Breakfast is a small part of the festival and is held on the Friday morning. A procession of up to over 280 elephants (2012) start marching through Surin city from the railway station area toward the Elephant roundabout at the south end of the city on the Prasat road.
The elephants carry dignitaries and also some tourists who dismount their steeds on arrival. Some elephants carry mahouts in authentic battle outfits from the Thai – Khmer – Laos battles. Intermingled with the elephant procession are local school children and teachers in traditional dress, dancing and playing music.
Once all the elephants have arrived then the banquet can begin, the tables of fruits are quickly cleared by the large team of elephants. Whatever leftovers there may be is not lost, as the local people take the leftovers to their own homes.
On the following morning (Saturday) the elephants and mahouts congregate at the Elephant Stadium to the south east of the city centre. Here the main show is performed culminating in a re-enactment of the battles of a past century. The show is repeated on Sunday morning.
No matter whether you are ‘elephant daft’ or just looking for some authentic Thailand, the Surin Elephant Round up festival is truly not be missed if you happen to be in the area in November.
I’ve been there twice and can guarantee that the Surin festival is as good as the guidebooks tell you it is.
Now this is Thailand so when you go to an out door show you need to take every thing you need it rains. The 2012 festival is the first time in twenty years and only the second time in the history of the Round up that it has rained, it did however stop during the show.
Yes, the Surin Elephant festival is a bit touristy, a bit commercial, and yes, you are encouraged to buy fruit for the elephants at extortionate prices, but it is also a place where you can marvel at the unique bond between mahout and elephant and what they can achieve together. What made it all the more exciting for me was that you could see immediately that it was first and foremost a festival for the Thai people by the Thai people.
Over 280 elephants: the sight of so many in one stadium makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The pomp and ceremony, music and staging create a package that sends tingles down your spine.
The festival is a congregating place for many of the mahouts in Thailand and some travel great distances with their elephants to take part of this two-week celebration of their culture and heritage. Many are direct descendants of the Kui tribe and are renowned for their skill in working with and training their elephants.
We had been told that there would be a lot of elephants and mahouts, but nothing could have prepared me for seeing all those wonderful animals all in one place at one time. “Wow!” is the only word to describe the feeling at the first sight of them all.
The culmination of the elephant show is a re-enactment of ancient battle scenes with the majestic elephants taking pride of place, complete with smoke and fireworks.
The 53rd Elephant Round up will be held at the Surin Elephant Show Stadium on the 16-17 November 2013. Events such as the Elephant breakfast will be held in the week leading up to the show. Reserved seat tickets cost bht500 or bht1000 each and are available through the local TAT office or you can join a tour group out of Bangkok.
That’s all for now, until next time,
Choak Dee Krab
Laew Phop Kan Mai Na Krab