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Bangkok Travelbug January 13 Surin Annual Elephant Roundup
January 01, 2013

Surin Annual Elephant Roundup

Happy New Year and welcome back, may you have a very good year in 2013. We kick off this year with a jumbo issue, the Annual Elephant Roundup in Surin in north-eastern Thailand. It’s a spectacular festival I have always wanted to visit for years and one you shouldn’t miss.

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Surin province

Surin is approximately 450 km from Bangkok. With Buriram to the west and Si Saket and Ubon Ratchathani to the east, these four provinces share a common border with Cambodia.

The abundance of wild elephants, its common border with Cambodia and proximity to Laos made the area a natural assembly area for rounding up elephants for wars with Cambodia and Laos more than 200 years ago.

Elephants are generally revered in Thailand. However they have a special place in the hearts of the people of Surin.

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Elephant Conservation in Surin

Surin has a concerted effort in elephant conservation to keep elephants in the countryside.

The Elephant Village in Ban Ta Klang is about 60 km north of Surin city. This is a training centre for elephants; it has shows twice a day together with elephant rides. This provides employment for the mahouts and their elephants.

I didn’t visit the village as I was told all the elephants have come to town for the roundup.

When an elephant gives birth, the owner is given 5,000 baht by the Elephant Foundation and the Surin Provincial Authorities.

Once a year the elephants and their mahouts come to town for the Elephant Roundup. A huge feast of fruits is provided with the excess kept in bins for the next few days. The mahouts make extra income from giving rides and selling fruits to visitors.

The admission fees for the Annual Elephant Roundup go towards the upkeep of the elephants.

Surin is in the process of creating Elephant World. This consists of an Elephant Museum in the city, a baby elephant training centre and an elephant conservation area in a forest drained by two rivers.

Elephant Museum, Surin city

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Surin Annual Elephant Roundup

The Surin Annual Elephant Roundup in 2012 is the 52nd anniversary of an event that started in 1960. The roundup is usually over a long weekend in November. This year it was held from 16 – 18 November 2012 and consists of two parts.

  • the Elephant Buffet on Friday 16 November

  • The Elephant Display at the Surin Provincial Stadium over Saturday and Sunday 17 – 18 November. The show on Saturday is repeated on Sunday

Surin Elephant Buffet

This event is the prelude to the roundup. The elephants assemble in Surin city and make a colourful procession to the Chao Phraya Surin Phakdi Monument to pay their respects to the founder and first Governor of Surin.

The buffet tables loaded with all kinds of fruits stretch for the entire length of the road for more than 600 m! Here’s a sample of the spread.

Jumbo breakfast

Crowds line the road leading to the monument waiting expectantly for the elephant procession to start.

Colourful cultural dances are held around the monument to keep the people entertained.

Here they come, the school bands, school children in traditional dress, beautiful floats adorned with flowers and carved fruits.

That’s a cute little fella. Don’t expect the discipline of a military parade. The elephants break off along the way to feed on fruits offered or have their photos taken.

Now it’s time for the main course, the jumbo breakfast.

Jumbo digging in to the delight of the kid in the bottom left corner of
the photo

Here’s a video of an elephant feasting at the buffet.

If you can’t see the video, please click on this link, Elephant Buffet

Surin Elephant Display

The Elephant Display at the Surin Provincial Stadium is the highlight of the Surin Annual Elephant Roundup. It’s a spectacular show.

It rained on the morning of the Elephant Display, unusual in November. The show was held up for almost an hour to wait for the rain to stop.

Condition of the field

It was worth the wait, what a show!

Opening parade

The show kicked off with an elephant parade of all the elephants including six baby elephants aged between 5 – 8 months accompanying their mothers.

Elephant Parade, note the little fella in the centre of the photo

The mahouts whose elephants had new born babies were presented with cash rewards of 5,000 baht each by the Governor of Surin. Some of the mothers picked up the reward with their trunks and handed it up to the mahouts.

In honour of HM the King

In honour of the 85th birthday of HM The King on 5 December 2013, the elephants formed up the number 85 in Thai numerals to the strains of the Royal Anthem. It looks a little congested down there.

In honour of the King

Dance to Erawan the three-headed elephant

Erawan is the legendary three-headed elephant and steed of the Hindu god Indra. This enormous elephant is reputed to be accompanied by numerous angels and their ladies-in-waiting.

Dance to Erawan

Capturing wild elephants

The people of Surin have a long tradition of capturing, taming and training wild elephants. Before an elephant hunt, prayers are conducted for a safe and successful hunt. Baby elephants are targeted as they are easier to capture and train.

Elephant hunt

Ethnic harmony in Surin

Surin has three main ethnic groups, Khmer, Kui and Lao. This colourful cultural dance symbolizes the ethnic harmony among the people.

Ethnic harmony in Surin

The video of this mass cultural dance really brings out the colour and grace of the event.

If you can’t see the video, please click on this link, Cultural dance

Elephant soccer

Another popular event is the elephant soccer match which had its usual tumbles.

Out!! for bringing down an opponent

The "injured" baby elephant was helped to his feet and gamely "limped" off the field to the applause of the crowd.

The match ended in a goalless draw and had to be decided by penalty kicks. Watch the video of the winning shot carefully, it’s a tricky one.

Please click on this link, Tricky penalty shot

Elephants in war

The last item in the Surin Elephant Show is the climax of the occasion. These are re-enactments of historical battles in the Burmese-Siamese Wars in the late 1500s.

In 1569 the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya and made it a vassal. But it was Prince Naresuan who decided to stand up against the Burmese and shake off their dominance.

War drums, martial songs and dances were used to rally the troops. Watch the lead dancer.

Or click on this link, War dance

From 1585 – 1587, three Burmese expeditions were beaten off by the Siamese led by Prince Naresuan.

Formed up for battle

Prince Naresuan became the king of Ayutthaya in June 1590. Two years later the Burmese sent a huge army led by the Crown Prince through the Three Pagoda Pass into Kanchanburi.

In 1593 the two armies met at Nong Sarai north of Suphanburi where King Naresuan defeated the Burmese who ceased to be a threat for years to come.

Turn up your volume when you watch the video. The noise you hear in the background is from the elephants. Imagine how the soldiers of old felt when faced with an elephant charge!

Or click on this link, Elephants in war

Grand finale - a very good show by all the participants

A tribute to these young ladies who gave a fine performance despite
the wet and soggy conditions

Goodbye to baby jumbo who couldn’t even wait for me to take the
sugar cane sticks out of the bag

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Map of Surin city

View Surin Annual Elephant Roundup in a larger map

Getting to Surin

This trip I decided to take a train to Surin to see the countryside from a different angle. The Express Line cost 389 baht and arrived in Surin about 35 minutes past the scheduled 7 hours.

The return trip was slightly longer. The Fast Line (279 baht) took about 9 hours 30 minutes instead of the scheduled 9 hours.

The train ride was rather long and tedious but worth the effort because of the scenery. The tour buses of course are faster just 6 hours and cost a little more.


Admission to the Elephant Buffet is free.

Admission to the Elephant Display at the stadium is 1,000 baht for the grand stand, 500 and 300 baht for the other parts of the stadium.

Opening times

The Elephant Buffet starts at about 8:30 am

The Elephant Display is from 8:30 – 11:30 am

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Where to stay – hotels in Surin

In Love Resort Kasem Garden Hotel Le Bien Resort

Maneerote Hotel Martina Hotel

Oasis Hotel Surintara Resort

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A big thank you

I am deeply grateful to Asa Voak and his wife Teem for hosting me in their home as all the hotels in Surin city were fully booked. Asa took the time to take me around Surin to show me the places of historical and cultural interest. A big thank you to the both of you.

I am also glad to have met Alan Winquist, a friend and another house guest of Asa’s. We had a great time at the Annual Elephant Roundup and touring the sights of Surin.

We are all travellers in the wilderness of this world,
and the best we can find in our travels is a good friend.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Happy New Year 2013

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Next month

Farm life in Surin

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Till next month then.

Eric Lim

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