Polo in Thailand is bigger and better than any match you’ve seen before — players ride elephants instead of horses — and the best place to witness the sport is Anantara’s King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. The 13th annual King’s Cup, which takes place August 27 to 31, is one of the largest events in the country, according to organizers. And because of its popularity, it is being moved to Bangkok’s VR Sports Club, the first time that the tournament will be held in the capital city (previous venues were in Hua Hin and Chiang Rai). Here’s what you need to know about the free event:
What To Know
Rules of the game are the same as horse polo. Of course, there are some differences: To guarantee the animals plenty of room on the playing field, each team is composed of three elephant-mahout (elephant trainer) pairs; the elephant polo mallet is longer, measuring almost seven feet long; and while players can only put one hand on the mallet, ladies are permitted to use two. Anyone can play in the King’s Cup; the 16 competing teams are made up of staff members at a local luxury hotel (more on that later), professional rugby veterans, performers from Thailand’s famous Miss Tiffany’s transgender cabaret and more.
The tournament (and Thai culture overall) treats elephants with the utmost respect. The 50 participating pachyderms are chosen carefully: They are young (under 20) but large enough to carry a rider. Each elephant can only play a half hour total each day, all of them receive veterinary checks throughout the five-day event, and they rest and eat for 90 minutes in the river or forest in between the 14-minute games. Thailand also uses microchipping, which helps ensure that all polo-playing elephants are domestically bred and not poached from the wild.
Proceeds from the event go to various elephant charities, and more than $750,000 has been raised since the tournament’s inception in 2001. The dollars aid real-life mahouts and their families with housing, the government-run Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), and the Thai Elephant-Assisted Therapy Project, a joint venture between Chiang Mai University and TECC that rescues elephants to have them assist in rehabilitation efforts with autistic children.
What To Do
While you’ll see athleticism, the King’s Cup is also very much a social event. This year, you’ll spy a number of celebrities, including Thai supermodels Lookade Kingpayome, Sonia Couling and Cindy Bishop; former New Zealand All Blacks rugby players Olo Brown, Charles Riechelmann and Mark Shaw; and a slew of professional (horse) polo players, such as Uday and Angad Kalaan.
To blend in, men should wear dress pants and a polo shirt and women sundresses — keep to light fabrics, since it will be hot — but reserve slightly more formal attire for evening activities. Women will want to get especially glammed up on August 30 for Ladies Day. Fashion police will patrol the polo grounds and give out tickets to those in sharp attire. The best-dressed woman wins a trip to the Maldives. When you aren’t trying to impress the closet cops, duck into the tournament’s Elemis Spa for skin mapping and analysis as well as mini-massages.
Ladies aren’t the only ones who can join in the off-field festivities. There will be a grand-opening parade (9 a.m. August 28), elephant-related projects for kids (9 a.m. August 29) and live bands, DJs and other entertainment (starting at 3 p.m. August 30). Be sure to check out the herd of almost five-foot-tall elephant statues that were painted and decorated by noted artists and celebrities. (The exhibit is a teaser to public art spectacle “Elephant Parade,” which will hit Bangkok’s streets in 2015 — it’s similar to “CowParade” that traveled through the U.S. and abroad.)
Where To Stay
Not only is The Peninsula Bangkok sponsoring a team for the first time this year (the group has been practicing for three months), the luxury hotel offers a special deal for the King’s Cup. The two-night Jumbo Polo package gives you VIP entrance to the tournament (including perks such as a chocolate elephant welcome amenity), a King’s Cup Elephant Polo Survival Kit (which includes The Peninsula Bangkok’s elephant polo T-shirt, sunscreen, an umbrella and refreshments) and round-trip transportation to the games. You’ll also get a Grand Deluxe room facing the Chao Phraya River and a daily breakfast buffet at the River Cafe & Terrace.
The Peninsula Bangkok will show off its elephant-sized team spirit throughout the hotel as well. You’ll find towels folded into elephants in your room and throughout the pool area. The alfresco River Bar will transform into The Elephant Polo Lounge, where you can see ice carved in the shape of the tusked mammal at the bar, nosh on King’s Cup-themed tapas (chilled tiger prawns, rice paper rolls with sweet chili sauce). For something indulgent, try The Peninsula Spa Bangkok’s new detoxifying and cellulite-blasting Black Ivory Coffee Body Scrub, which also has an elephant tie-in. Black Ivory Coffee is rare because it’s naturally refined by elephants at Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Chiang Rai. (Not to mention that eight percent of the coffee sale proceeds goes toward providing the animals with free veterinary care at the foundation.) And if you want just the right souvenir, head to The Peninsula Boutique to pick up elephant-shaped cookies, marshmallows and chocolates.