A Travel Adventure With Elephants

Jan 10, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Maria Ruiz, Travel

by Maria Ruiz

Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.

During our travels we got to ride, bath, feed and photograph lots of elephants. The one place where we saw hundred’s of elephants all at one time, all in a showground built for them was in Thailand. elephants

We were living in Bangkok when we first moved from Europe to Asia. We saw an advertisement for the Elephant Round-up to be held in November in a small town two hundred thirteen miles from the capital, in Surin. We found that the train runs directly there and booked our tickets.

The little town of Surin sits almost on the Cambodian border but it is not recommended that anyone travel in that direction as there are still many landmines from the Pol Pot’s time. The Round-up has been going on for 54 years and from the beginning it was a tourist attraction. So much so, a very large fairground was created with room for all the elephants and thousands of tourists. elephants

We bought our tickets and eagerly found seats for a once-in-a-lifetime sight. We saw many Chinese and Japanese tourists and did find another American family and several western European visitors.

We watched as elephants played basketball, did some elephant acrobatics like sitting and allowing one of the mahouts to climb on his head. They had some play basketball while others walked in line. Others painted pictures for sale while a very large group re-enacted a classical fight between an ancient Thai king and a Burmese king. Elephants had been used and were covered in armor. They must have been fearsome fighters in their days. The reenactment was spectacular as two armies met in the field and hundreds of sword swinging men moved across the fairgrounds showing the audience how the elephants would have behaved. At the end of the show, all the elephants are given large amounts of corn and other gifts to help support them during the year, by the king of Thailand.


Elephants had been such a huge part of life in Thailand from logging to the army. A rare white one was owned by the kings and is treated almost like a God. Now logging is illegal and the army no longer uses them so the only thing they can do to support themselves and their mahouts, is in the tourist industry. They give tourist rides and in another place, we paid and were allowed to take one into the river and scrub its head.

There are several other places in Thailand like Lampang where there are a number of elephants kept for show. In one, for the small amount of about forty U.S., a tourist can be a mahout for a week and learn how to take care of them. The elephants put on a show and then take paintbrush and paint a picture. The mahout changes the paintbrush for a each color but the animal dips the brush in the colors without help. Each elephant paints the same painting each time and the painting is unique to that animal. We couldn’t resist and now have one hanging in our living room.

In India, for about two thousand dollars, you can purchase your own. All you have to do is feed it for the year which might be a problem if you live in an apartment. While visiting there, we had a ride on one of their painted elephants to visit a palace. elephant

After the show in Surin, we got to walk among the elephants and we purchased some corn to feed it to a few adult animals. Everyone loves the babies and the mothers seem tolerant. The small town is crowded with the animals later in the day and there is a place where rides are offered. With a mahout sitting in back of me, I straddled the large neck and rode around the town. Everywhere we looked, there were milling elephants and begging mahouts.

In Thailand, elephants are revered at the same time their plights are ignored. For years, mahouts would walk their elephants through the streets of Bangkok with the temperatures about 100 degrees and the hot asphalt would blister their feet. Finally, a brave and determined woman got the government to enforce the laws and elephants no longer walk and beg in Thailand’s largest city of over thirteen million people. She went on to open the only hospital in Southeast Asia for elephants. We, along with most of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos followed a story on TV about an elephant that had stepped on a landmine in Cambodia and needed help. All over the country children dropped coins in collection cups to help him make the long trip. She was able to heal him and was instrumental in getting a prosthesis for his foot.


Everywhere in Asia are pictures, buttons, posters, etc. of elephants. The elephants in Asia are certainly an integral part of their lives and we were fortunate to be able to see and appreciate them.

When we moved to Africa we saw a number of African elephants. They are much larger than their Asian cousins and so far, have not been tamed or trained to carry tourists. Unlike Asia, in Africa we kept a distance from them. All in all, we feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to see lots of elephants.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. She just recently relocated to California. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Her blog can be found at mariaruizauthor.com.


  1. Interesting article and an amazing author!

  2. Another interesting story. I know some elephants kill, but mostly because they were mistreated. Happy to hear those elephants are well kept.

  3. Interesting. Thank you for continuing to share your travel adventures.

  4. Fascinating, Maria. I truly appreciate you sharing your adventures.


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