Elephant polo, the popular Thai sport whose international rules were established in the early Eighties, offers a unique experience for spectators from around the world. This year is a particularly good opportunity to join in the fun as the royal seaside town of Hua Hin is holding the tenth King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament from 5th-11th September, and they're pulling out all the stops to make it a jumbo event.
Guided by their Thai mahouts, the huge, two-ton beasts lumber down the field, the earth shuddering under their weight. Behind the mahout, the pith-helmeted player wields a long cane with a polo mallet head at the end and shouts his instructions. Suddenly there is confusion in the middle of the field. The massive bulks collide and the ball – a standard polo ball – disappears amid a cloud of dust and a tangle of tree-trunk legs.
Neither fast nor violent, the game is played in Thailand under the strict rules of the World Elephant Polo Association and at the end of the match sugar cane or rice balls packed with vitamins are given to the elephants while their 'drivers' enjoy a cold drink.
This year, the event promises to be one of the highlights of the Thai social calendar and many international celebs are expected to attend to raise funds for the National Elephant Foundation, an organisation that provides medical care, food, training and work for the animals' caretakers and trainers. It's also hoped to give a boost to the funds and public profile of the Thai Elephant Therapy Project, a project that uses elephants in therapy treatments for autistic children.
The week-long event will kick off with a blessing ceremony and an opening parade with brass bands, and will offer a range of other attractions besides the competition: there will be an Asian spice market, music and folk dancing as well as plenty of food stands offering tempting local dishes.
In addition, the Anantara hotel chain, organiser of the championship, is offering an extra special VIP experience, where the temptations include accommodation at the Anantara Hua Hin, VIP access to the polo matches, meals, transfers, photos with players and elephants on the field, and a spa treatment.