Thursday, November 28, 2013

When elephants take over

Every year during the third weekend of November the city of Surin hosts very special guests. Around 300 elephants from all over the country gather here for a weekend full of attractions and fun. I would never imagine I’d see something like that in my life and I can bet that Surin is the only place in the world where I can experience that.
The people of Surin were traditionally excellent at capturing elephants in Cambodia and then training them as working animals. Civil work in Cambodia and the elephant’s decreasing economic importance has forced the elephant handlers (mahouts) to turn to entertainment to make a living. The Surin Elephant Festival was first held in 1960. It consists of three important events during three days:
Thursday - Pre-opening evening ceremony where visitors can see trucks wonderfully decorated by students from Surin. 
A few days before the festival opening each school prepares a project and decorates a truck with figures of elephants, traditional Thai symbols as well as ASEAN community symbols. Materials mostly used are fruits and vegetables handcrafted by students and school employees, which makes the statues really unique and the compositions really amazing. Next to the trucks during the evening visitors can also enjoy Thai fashion shows, dance performances and Thai music.
I went to the event together with my host family from Surin. You can see some of the pictures I took below:
The construction by Pim's school was the most beautiful one.
Work of primary school of Pan. The picture in the background is her drawing - together with the whole family we were very proud of her :) 
 Pim & Pan :)
 Amazing decorations mado of fruits and vegetables.
 Elephant built from green beans.
   Main ingredients: peas, corn, green beans. 
Angel dance performers in beautiful clothing  
Friday - The Elephant Buffet
A procession of 269 elephants starts marching through Surin city from the railway station area toward the Elephant roundabout. The elephants carry dignitaries and also some tourists. Some elephants carry mahouts in authentic battle outfits from the Thai - Khmer - Laos battles. Together with the elephant procession you see 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. What you see around you look like scenes from a movie – wherever you look you see dozens of elephants. It’s so surreal, but fantastic! Each of the visitors can feed elephants with food prepared by the organizers and the animals cue like hungry kids waiting for their portion at school canteen. Some of them choose to leave the best snacks for the end and pass the watermelon and pineapple to their guardians. After feeding the animals we took an elephant ride in the streets nearby and got stuck in elephant traffic for a while!!! I swear that this didn’t seem real J
With 269 elephants eating over 50 tons of food the Surin buffet was registered in the Guinness World Records  as the biggestelephant buffet in the world (largest-elephant-buffet).
Some pictures from this day are below:
 White elephant belonging to the king. Beautiful creature!
 Baby elephants :)
I'm getting ready to feed the animals.
 Elephant buffet - only in Thailand!!!
 The only elephant twins in the world!
Traffic :) The elephants took over the city!
Saturday - Elephant Round-Up – a series of shows displaying the strength and skills of the animals.
The elephants and mahoots gather at the Elephant Stadium in the south part of the city centre for a three hours show, during which the visitors can see them performing battles from the past centuries, elephant hunting, as well as elephants drawing, playing hola-hop, football, basketball etc. It was an incredible performance showing how smart and playful the animals are. The round-up finished with traditional Thai dances and presentation of 10 flags of countries which will be part of ASEAN community in 2015.
 Welcome to Surin Round-Up
Bowing down
 Holding tales
 Time to play!
Animals walking over volunteers. Some jokers elephants were touching people on the ground to see if they weren't asleep :)
No matter how many people were on the other side - the elephant always won.
 In clothing used in the past during war time.

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