Location: Sri Narong Stadium, Surin, Thailand
Dates: Third weekend in November
Level of participation: 2 – cheer as an elephant scores a goal
Thousands of Thais and travellers stampede into provincial Surin for the country’s biggest elephant show. The monumental mammals are coaxed to play soccer, sprint at up to 35km/h and pick up tiny objects with their trunks. One takes on 70 beefy soldiers at tug-of-war. There are demonstrations of log-pulling, a job for which Thais commonly use elephants, and re-enactments of old hunting and war scenes featuring vintage pachyderm costumes.
The stars of the show start filling the city and parading the streets during the preceding week. They are treated to an ‘elephant breakfast’, in which the roads are lined with grub for the world’s largest elephant-feeding frenzy. The 50-year-old event has inevitably become commercialised, with stalls piled high with elephant trinkets and toys.
The trunk waving finishes with an eight-act play about the elephantine life, with a grand finale featuring 2000 performers and hundreds of elephants.
Although it may sound like the animals are being exploited and treated unkindly, Thais hold them in great esteem and even believe their country is shaped like an elephant’s head.
Local attractions: Located some 450km northeast of Bangkok, near the Cambodian border, Surin is a good base for visiting temples such as Phanom Rung and, across the border, Angkor Wat and Prasat Preah Vihear.
More info: Tourism Authority of Thailand (+66 2283 1500; www.tourismthailand.org)
See a list of other festivals in November here.