Saturday, 20 October 2018

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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

You like bawdy storytelling? The mother of all Asia expat books is out now ...

Colonel Ken rides again! The latest Hardship Posting book - Vol 5 (which some are nicknaming Sexpat in the City) is now on the shelves.

Stu Lloyd, the creator of the “Hardship Posting – True Tales of Expat Misadventure in Asia” series has finally delivered on his promise for the next volume in the series, Volume 5.

The Hardship Posting series collects contributed stories from expat readers in all parts of Asia, with each book containing about 400 amusing and amazing stories, covering all topics from airline experiences, to dodgy immigration officials, work stories, to language and miscommunication faux pas, to hotel and holidays gone wrong, maids and drivers, and of course stories about girly bars and ladyboys.

“For years readers have been hounding me for the next volume, and for 10, 11, 12 years I kept saying ‘Next year, next year …’. Suddenly we find ourselves 15 years down the track and here it is,” the author admits. “In the meantime, there’s a whole new generation of expats who’ve never even heard of these books – whereas once it was impossible to miss them at every Asian airport. Now we’re working hard to re-find that audience.”

Hardship Posting kick-started the whole Asia expat books genre in 1999, and even outsold Harry Potter in Thailand. “Briefly!” adds Lloyd.

“I’m pleased that the expert on all such matters, the one and only Colonel Ken was again up for the challenge again, and colourfully links each chapter with his unique perspective as a barstool philosopher,” says Lloyd.

“Volume 5 is the biggest and the best one yet is what you’d expect me to say, but technically it is – 500 stories coming in at a whopping 488 pages, submitted by everyone from the CEO of a global Wall St listed company, to a Bangkok ladyboy bitching and moaning about her foreign customers. This volume really offers the full 360-degree perspective of expat life for the first time.”

There are also a dozen specially commissioned cartoons by Pattaya-based English cartoonist Mike Baird, whose humourous insights grace newspapers in the region. “We adapted a few of the existing thousands he’s done over the years, and the rest I gave him the stories and he fit the cartoon to that.” Previous contributors have included Hong Kong-based cartoonist, Larry Feign.

One of the things that makes this one of the funniest ex-pat books you'll ever read
are the 12 cartoons by "Cartoonman" Mike Baird.

Legendary photographer Patrick ‘Shrimp’ Gauvain was once again the go-to photographer for the captivating front cover image. “People say don’t judge a book by its cover. I say, it’s ALL about the cover,” jokes Lloyd, who’s lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China since 1987.

Reviews have included Liz Davies, from the Alabang Ladies Auxiliary, Manila saying: “There should be a warning on the cover not to read it in airports – I laughed like a drain.” And Nury Vittachi from the HK Standard: “Sleazy, disgusting, politically incorrect and shockingly insensitive – I loved it!” So it’s for those with an open-minded sense of humour.

Stu Lloyd has notched up 30 years as an expat in Asia now since arriving in Hong Kong in 1987, and since having lived in Singapore, Thailand and China. “I was thinking of calling it Crazy Poor White Folks after the great success of Crazy Rich Asians,” he jokes. His other books cover colonial history, the Hash House Harriers, military history and travel, and have sold over 100,000 copies to date.

Hardship Posting Vol 5 is now available from bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, or from the author’s own site at and

For the first time, the entire Asian expat books series is also available in eBook formats.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Bangkok's oldest bar: Check Inn 99's colourful history

It began as a remote bolthole for ex-pats and spies and became a Bangkok institution attracting Hollywood elite.

It was a simple enough invitation. Serial renegade ex-pat, motorcycle riding buddy, best-selling author, would-be pop star and all-around likable rogue, Stu Lloyd, says “Join me for a quiet ale at Check Inn 99. It’s open mic afternoon.”

Of course, I had no idea just what the scheming Rhodesian had in mind, but to say it turned into a rich and rewarding afternoon would be a gross understatement.

As I wandered into the little hole-in-the-wall establishment, the Sunday afternoon crowd was just warming up. A local Thai chap was ripping some serious blues chords on a big semi-acoustic Fender while sax and jazz keyboard players were taking their supporting roles very seriously. Stu wasn't kidding, some substantial talent already in the swing of things.

Band gets into the swing
With red wine and tuna sandwiches laid on, Stu introduces me to Chris Catto-Smith, a former RAAF fighter jock who has run Check Inn 99 with his Thai wife, Jiraporn, known to her many friends as "Mook". Mook is the orphan of a slain senior Thai police officer and holds a high position within the force herself.

She’s not to be trifled with either. The Bangkok underworld plays a complicated game with a convoluted hierarchy that would take hours to explain. Suffice to say that when a posse of goons tried to shake down her newly reopened establishment, they left down-in-the-mouth, empty-handed and thoroughly chastened. Never to return.

I say ‘newly reopened’ because for nearly 60 years, Check Inn 99 occupied the same location on the now famous Sukhumvit strip between Sois 5 and 7, originally under the name ‘Copacabana’. Chris and Mook tidied up the place in 2011, turning the former go-go bar for US servicemen on R&R from Vietnam into a serious nightclub with good food, a well-stocked bar and quality live (musical) entertainment.

Sunday revellers settle in for 'just the one' L-R Stu Lloyd, guest, Chris Cato-Smith, Rod Eime. Stu is holding the Kevin Cummings book, Bangkok Beat, while I'm flashing Stu's soon-to-be-released 5th edition of Hardship Posting

“The Copa was something of an institution back in the day,” Chris tells me over another red wine, “celebrities would hang out here and relax away from prying eyes. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Rachel Welch and David Bowie to name just a few. Not bad considering it started out with what were basically farm girls in ball gowns.”

20-something Noi with Bob Hope in 1968

When a long-running struggle to save the original premises was lost, Chris and Mook took the name and the ghosts with them to a new spot in Soi 33 and did their best to revive the spirit. And the effort seems to have been largely successful.

A fresh-faced Noi in the 1960s

One ghost that will never leave the Check Inn 99 is that of celebrity ‘mamasan’, known simply as Noi, or later Mama Noi. Noi passed away suddenly in 2016 after a career in the Bangkok nightlife scene that began as a feisty 17-year-old in 1960 at the ‘Copa’. Noi hailed from Ubon Ratchathani in the rural province of Isan to the northeast of Bangkok, a region that supplies much of the varied workforce in Bangkok.

Imbued with a classic Thai/Khmer beauty and oodles of spunk, the young Noi made rapid strides in the business and was largely responsible for the success of first The Copacabana and then Check Inn 99. The glitterati came to see her as much as hang out with their Hollywood cliques. She was frequently seen in close quarters with Bob Hope and his entourage and even ‘vacationed’ with them in the USA. She even briefly became something of a muse for the pop legend, David Bowie.

During the intermission, keyboard player, Keith, rocks up to our table and embraces Stu - as one does - like a long-lost pal. The three of us trade yarns from our time in the Australian music scene and discover much-overlapped history. It’s a small word.

Keith and William, the sax player, are whisked away for another jam session, joined by a mysterious and glamorous woman of colour. She belts out R&B, blues and gospel that fairly makes my spine tingle. The room is transfixed as her voice dominates. We’re in awe for a full 30 minutes.

As she leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, she wanders nonchalantly to our table and chats effortlessly with the drinkers. I compliment her on a stellar performance and she smiles appreciatively before resuming the small talk. Stu elbows me in the ribs and whispers, “you know that’s Deni Hines!”

Miss Deni Hines with admirers

Deni tells us she’s been in Bangkok for almost a year (who knew?) while still pursuing an active career in music as well as charity work.

Boy, she still has the goods and Check Inn 99’s reputation for impromptu A-Listers remains.

By now I should know what to expect when Stu asks me out for “just the one”.

- Roderick Eime

Check Inn 99 website:

Sources and further reading:
Bangkok Beat by Kevin Cummings ISBN: 0692396454

Monday, 22 May 2017

Times are a Changin’ on ol’ Koh Samui


We gathered some of our old and new Thailand salts together for a chat about Koh Samui and how they remember it. Roderick Eime spoke to John Borthwick, Rob Woodburn, Deb Dickson-Smith and his own daughter Shalia.

Modern luxury resort complex: Anantara Koh Samui (supplied)

Like so many places in Southeast Asia, the old timers roll their eyes mystically and relive the times before the great tourism revolution at the end of the 20th century.

Their grey-flecked beards and sun-parched skin speak of a life spent under the tropical sun when life was simple and the beer was cheap.

Nowadays, the idyllic islands that dot the coast around the Gulf of Thailand are laden with modern ‘charms’ like multi-star resorts, paved roads, retail havens and bars and clubs aplenty.

Koh Samui is the poster child for resort island development in the region. These days the postcard primed, white sand beaches are lined with some of the best resorts in all of Southeast Asia. With more than 18,000 rooms and occupancy rates close to 70 per cent being quoted, direct international flights have added tens of thousands of new visitors to the island annually.

Koh Samui village c.1980 (

Shopping malls and retail plazas, like the massive complex on 48,000 square metres of land in the tourism area of Chaweng are transforming Koh Samui from the semi-secret haven to a sprawling tourist metropolis.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, a marked shift in demand is bringing more Asian visitors and families. The top three source markets are, according to the report, Germany, the UK and Thailand which contribute more than a quarter of total arrivals. But here come the Russians, with 15 per cent of total visitor arrivals now from the Russian Federation.

Deb Dickson Smith
is a specialist family travel writer from Australia. She travels with as many as five kids in tow.

“It’s an obvious choice for families really with a great choice of family-friendly resorts, friendly locals who welcome children and plenty of safe swimming beaches. In addition to obvious activities like swimming and snorkeling, kids can take part in anything from football golf to elephant rides.

“If your kids are like mine and are budding junior zookeepers, it’s worth checking out some of the animal attractions. There are in fact plenty of animal attractions in Koh Samui, as diverse as the animals they exhibit and include a butterfly garden, a crocodile farm, snake farm and monkey shows.”

Shalia, 21, from Sydney came with uni friends for a bit of beach R-n-R and some partying. She had a mixed experience.

Ark Bar Beach Resort (supplied)

“We stayed at the Ark Bar Beach Resort and it was fine. Clean, comfortable, affordable and close to the action

“The locals are great, so patient, but some of our fellow travellers from around the world must have left their manners at home. They left a lot of trash on the beach. Bottles mainly and it really bothered me, almost as much as the captive animals.

“I loved the walks up to the waterfalls and swimming in the pools, but I can’t recommend the water slides. I think they’re dangerous, but the boys loved them and we all ended up bruised after a few slides.”

John Borthwick is another with a long memory and experience on Koh Samui going back decades. He has some advice for new visitors too.

“Arrange a hotel airport pick-up, and use the shuttle wherever possible because Samui’s taxis (“my-meter-not-work-today” … and every day) are pure banditry. Don’t start a taxi journey without agreeing on the price.

“Samui has one of the worst accident records in Thailand, in a country with accident stats ten times that of Australia or New Zealand. If you rent a motorbike, jot your will, wear that helmet and have an Australian motorbike — not just car — licence (or else your insurance won’t cover you).

“Rent a car then head off on the good around-island road. Look for (slightly) off-the-beaten track, west coast beaches like Lipa No, Laem Nan or Natien. On in the north, try Bang Bor and Mae Nam.

“The Secret Garden, tucked away high in a mountain gorge, is a tranquil grove of Ramayana characters, dancers and concrete angels that was sculpted by a Samui native, Nim Tongsung who began his task at age 77 and worked until his death at 91. A labour of love in a place of peace.

“Skip the so-called “mummified monk” and “Buddha footprint”.

“Wander the gauntlet of Chaweng’s cheapo clothing stalls and boutiques, plus its beer bars, restaurants and cocktail lounges. Or head to Soi Green Mango, a full-tilt bar zone that specialises in loud music, cold beer, dancing and occasional mayhem. Bophut is the quiet alternative, with small, more stylish bars.

John, Deb and Shalia span the commonest demographics for Aussies and Kiwis heading to Koh Samui and Thailand. While each are deeply fond of The Land of Smiles, sensible precautions should be taken – just like a trip anywhere in our rapidly evolving world.

"Our first tourists on Koh Samui had free accommodation," the president of the island’s tourism association told me some years ago, adding that, "Visitors had to sleep at the temple because we had no hotel." Those first visitors arrived 45 years ago. This formerly hotel-free zone now draws several million visitors a year.” – John Borthwick, Australia

Thirty years ago, Koh Samui was a semi-mythical island known only to a few intrepid adventurers prepared to make the big effort to get there. Seasoned traveller, Rob Woodburn, was one.

Rob Woodburn in rudimentary accommodation "back in the day" (Rob Woodburn)

Back in those days before everything became Instawhat and Snapthat it took some time to make your way from Bangkok to the island of Koh Samui.

By 1983 this island already had the reputation of a quasi-mythical destination. But like the protagonists in Alex Garland’s The Beach - published 13 years later - it took a certain type of traveller to summon the effort to reach Koh Samui.

It took a long and stifling bus or train ride from the capital south to Surat Thani where we then made our way to the waterfront to lobby for a place on the overnight ferry. Places were limited and the ferry didn’t always run, so it was usually full. Piracy was a real threat but we lived in the optimistic hope that backpackers being such a scurvy lot, no decent brigands worth their salt would waste time on us.

The ferry was a creaky wooden vessel that sat low in the water and powered by a noisy, oily engine that thudded away all night and belched noxious black smoke. It had an enclosed upper deck transformed into one gigantic futon on which all foreign passengers sprawled for the night. Getting to know you was easy.

In the early morning we arrived at Na Thon on the island’s west coast where small trucks painted in gaudy colours were parked nose to tail along the quay awaiting new arrivals. As soon as we set foot on dry land the touts’ chants erupted.

“Anyone Big Buddha? “

“Come Chaweng, very good!

“Lamai, Lamai, you love it sure!”

Few of us knew any real detail about these respective destinations. Amid the ruckus, we found ourselves piled into the back of the trucks which then sped in convoy along the rough coastal road.

Fortune saw me dropped off at Chaweng, a glorious stretch of beach with scant guest accommodation. Best Beach Resort had 10 huts facing each other, five-a-side, over a path leading down to the sand. Everyone shared the one toilet and shower. Crude it was, but clean and comfortable - provided you’d thought to bring your own mosquito repellent, toilet paper and torch batteries. There was very little available to buy on the island and power only for a few hours a day.

Meals were cooked in a rudimentary kitchen set up in the nearby jungle, basically a hot wok and some seats. Stir-fry was the order of the day, sometimes with noodles, occasionally with fresh fish but mostly fried rice.

But who cared? We had Chaweng Beach practically to ourselves. The only travellers I saw were those staying at the same place. Later I moved south a bit and scored a hut right on the point between Chaweng and Lamai with uninterrupted sea views. This was my private paradise for a while. I made one trip to Big Buddha but it seemed far too popular in comparison.

Koh Samui, for me, will always be that solitary hut beside the black rocks on the Point. I haven’t been back, so have no idea what’s happened since they built an airport almost slap bang on top of Chaweng and resorts began sprouting like sweet peas on steroids. And I have no desire whatsoever to know.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Songkran celebrations kick off in Bangkok

Bangkok – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) kicked off this year’s Songkran celebrations with an Amazing Songkran Joyful Procession on 8 April in central Bangkok. The event, presided over by H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, marked the opening of the Amazing Songkran Experience Festival 2017, which is taking place in Bangkok’s Benjasiri Park from 8-13 April, and will give everyone a taste of the Thai New Year in the different regions of Thailand.
Nationwide Songkran celebrations kick off with colourful Bangkok extravaganza
H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragorn (centre) is joined by Miss Pranee Sattayaprakob, Deputy Permanent Secretary of BMA (left), H.E. Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul Minister of Tourism and Sports (2nd left), Mr. Kalin Sarasin, Chairman of TAT Board of Directors (right) and TAT Governor Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn (2nd right), at the opening of the Amazing Songkran Joyful Procession

H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragorn said, “The Amazing Songkran Festival Experience 2017 allows both Thais and international visitors to enjoy a deep appreciation of Songkran in Thailand and understand how it differs from region to region while uniting Thais in a spirit of respect and fun.”
After an opening ceremony which evoked Songkran traditions, the Amazing Songkran Joyful Procession took place on 8 April from 17.30 to 20.30 Hrs. and took a route down Sukhumvit Road, from the Phrom Phong Junction to Pathum Wan Intersection. The colourful procession, which opened the national Songkran celebrations was made up of six parts: 1) Amazing Blossom of Siam; 2) Songkran Goddess, Krini Devi who represented Songkran 2017; 3) Myths and traditions of Songkran told via floats, flowers and dances from the five regions of Thailand; 4) Green Songkran, represented by eco-friendly cars and the Earth of Green Songkran Show; 5) Songkran traditions of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar; 6) The final parade will showcase classic and distinctive vehicles including rickshaws and tuk-tuks from many parts of Thailand.
Nationwide Songkran celebrations kick off with colourful Bangkok extravaganza
The Amazing Songkran Joyful Procession showcased tradition, dances and colour from all the main regions of Thailand
The grand processions kicked off the five-day Amazing Songkran Festival Experience 2017 which will see the Sukhumvit side of Benjasiri Park divided into Four Zones until 13 April.
Zone 1 is where visitors can pay respect to the Buddha image, experience the ancient traditions of Songkran and learn how to make scented water and flowers displays in fun workshops.
Zone 2 showcases Songkran traditions in five regions, including Pee Mai Muang in the North; Boon Duen Ha in the Northeast, the ethnic Mon-style Songkran in the Central Region, and the Sri Maharaja Songkran from the East, as well as local costumes and the fishing culture from the South.
Zone 3 is where Songkran related snacks and desserts from all regions of Thailand can be sampled, including Khao Chae – a dish of steamed rice in jasmine-scented iced water served with savoury accompaniments.
Zone 4 is the event’s main stage which features shows and entertainment, including Thai Blind Boxing and a Miss Amazing Songkran International Beauty Contest.
Nationwide Songkran celebrations kick off with colourful Bangkok extravaganza
In the Amazing Songkran Festival Experience 2017, visitors can learn about the traditions of Songkran and understand how they differ across Thailand.
Mr. Patimapragorn concluded, “We hope that after having enjoyed a glimpse of how Songkran is celebrated distinctively in different parts of Thailand, Thais and international visitors will be inspired to head upcountry to enjoy Songkran in a traditional setting.”
During the 2017 Songkran Festival, it is estimated that the number of international tourists traveling to Thailand to join the fun will rise 10 per cent to over 470,000. This will generate revenue of 8.05 million Baht, an increase of 17 per cent over the same New Year period last year.
The Amazing Songkran Festival Experience 2017 takes place until 13 April from 16.00 to 20.00 hrs. and from noon onwards on 13 April 2017.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Vietjet Thailand - Possibly the Worst Airline Service in Thailand?

Vietjet scores just 4/10 on Skytrax and 5/10 on
Dear Readers

As you know my name is Stu Lloyd.

Only my mother calls me Stuart.

When she's angry.

But today is my turn to be angry.

You see, i've just been rejected by Vietjet Thailand to board my domestic flight because my assistant had inadvertently booked me as 'Stu' ... three whole letters short of 'Stuart'.

I've already explained that if another person by the name of Stuart Lloyd turns up, I am prepared to give up my seat for him.

Otherwise, in all probability that's me, not some cheap imposter.

Especially as I have a confirmation email, a passport, and a phone number which all tally with the information supplied.

"Even one letter wrong we don't board people," said the smug manager -- who'd I'd summoned in the vain hope of getting some sense out of -- with a sense of petty power and pedantic pride.

Understand, this is a new airline presumably looking to establish market share in the super-competitive Thailand market.

What I got was policy, policy, policy.

With so much seeming pride in her own disempowerment by process.

I asked her for other alternative solutions, but was stonewalled.

"So there's no other solution, possibility or alternative way to sort out this situation?"

"No, we are a low cost airline."

And that makes what difference to the need to delight customers???

When pressed on what other alternatives, options and solutions there were? Blank.

I asked her to call the most senior Vietjet person in the airport.

Then it escalated. Suddenly she's threatening to call airport police and they are here ... all -- count them -- six of them. Because I was "so impolite".

As I might well be, knowing I've been dumped from my flight, will lose my return tickets with zero refund, and will miss my specialist dental appointment that evening.

An interesting customer service strategy.

The officers are bemused when they see me: so THIS is your trouble maker??? The guy standing at the counter tapping out this blog on his laptop.

It seems she's most aggrieved by the fact that I took her photo which might identify her by her ID badge. (Which it didn't.)

The police ask me to delete it from my phone. Which I do right in front of their eyes.

She then, in Thai, accuses me of lying.

I surprise her by responding to her accusation in Thai, which rather shocks her.

"So now you're call me a liar. Fantastic! This just keeps getting better."

No wonder Vietjet scores just 4/10 on Skytrax and 5/10 on

The standoff just kind off fizzles out, I glower at her, and return to writing this. The police shuffle off.

Net result: I missed my flight. That ticket and the return a few days later were deemed "invalid". (As worthless as the 500 Rupee notes I was issued in India a few days earlier.)

My assistant later spoke to the reservations department in Vietjet, who were a little surprised by that decision and action by their front liners.

And an airline veteran friend I spoke with laughed at the treatment meted out to me, incredulous that I should not be boarded, especially on a domestic flight, for that reason.

Anyway, I enjoyed a fantastic flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on Thai Airways, and returned with the super perky smiles and energy of Thai Smile.

I can also fly between Chiang Mai and Bangkok with Thai Air Asia, Thai Lion Air, Nok Air, and possibly others too.

So, Boo to you, ThaiVietJet. You clearly stated you did NOT want any of my future regular business, and you sure as hell will NOT get it.

And hopefully you, dear readers, won't support such behaviour either.

I may have been three letters short in my name. But I suggest VietJet is three letters short too ... in the A.R.T. of customer service.

#vietjet #thaivietjet #worstairlineservice #shitservice #vietjetthailand #boo

Monday, 1 August 2016

Elephant Polo: Is this the biggest thing in Thailand?

Editor notes: The sport of elephant polo attracted a lot of negative attention after inhumane practices were observed at the 2018 event. As such this article is provided for historical reference only and makes no endorsement or otherwise of the event.

A sport of massive proportions, this rampaging ball game is not to be taken lightly. Roderick Eime takes a wild swing at elephant polo.

Hanging on for dear life as my mount sprints down the field at full gallop, I prepare to swing my long lance-like weapon at the tiny object on the ground. I raise the shaft and with all my strength, unleash a mighty blow on the little rolling target. The heavy mallet head strikes the turf and messy tufts of grass go flying as if propelled by an exploding hand grenade. The ball, however, rolls pathetically toward its objective with barely a fraction more speed than before.

The royal and lavish sport of polo is, by reputation, reserved for kings and the wealthy elite, not some clumsy suburban ring-in. But I have an excuse. Sure, this is the first time I have ever played polo and the level of difficulty (or should I say ungainliness) is elevated somewhat from atop an elephant.

True, here in Thailand the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is now a permanent fixture on the social calendar, attracting the well-heeled and the well-coiffed from the world of business, finance, leisure and luxury consumer brands. Instead of the rapid patter of frantic hooves and the panting of thoroughbred steeds, it’s the thud of massive pachyderms trampling their way up and down the pitch, occasionally trumpeting their enthusiasm or challenging an umpire’s decision via trunk call.

The commentator calls the event with all the enthusiasm and dry wit as if it’s a country cricket match, but despite the obvious comic element, the royal sport of elephant polo is a serious affair. The field is festooned with salubrious brands like Anantara Resorts, Audemars Piguet, Mercedes Benz, IBM, British Airways and American Express. Big money is at stake and the cast of celebrities can (and has) include New Zealand All Blacks, Miss Tiffany Thailand, Isabelle Fuhrman, former Thai PM Aphisit Vejjajiva, supermodels Cindy Bishop and Lukkade Methinee plus proper royalty like Prince Carl-Eugen Oettingen-Wallerstein and his wife Princess Anna and daughter Princess Joanna.

The money raised, however, does not line the pocket of some rich sheik, instead it goes to charity projects that help the elephants themselves including an elephant ambulance, the rescue of mistreated or neglected street elephants and even an elephant hospital in Krabi. Since the tournament was introduced to Thailand in 2001 by Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, it has grown to become one of the biggest charitable events in Thailand that has raised almost US$500,000.

“We strive to make each new tournament bigger and better in terms of teams, fun and activities,” said Mr. Bill Heinecke, CEO Minor International and owner of Anantara. “But we must never forget the true meaning of holding the event and that is to make a considerable donation to the conservation and welfare of the Thailand elephant population.”

The event has gone from a small two-day event in 2001 to one of Thailand’s major and internationally best loved events. The 2012 tournament featured 12 teams encompassing over 40 players. A celebrity auction has also been held with international celebrities including Olympic 100 metre Gold Medalist Linford Christie, Grammy Award winners Lady Antebellum, UK fashion designer Anya Hindmarsh and Korean Pop Star Park Jung Min.

To the casual observer, there appear to be no rules. But there is even a World Elephant Polo Association, formed in 1982 and based in the Royal Chitwan Park in Nepal. From this lofty pillar, the august body oversees the sport which is played also played in Sri Lanka.

To throw some light on the method behind the monstrous mayhem of an elephant polo match, each team comprises just three animals played on a 100m pitch using a standard polo ball. The player sits on a saddle behind the mahout (elephant handler) who controls the animal according to player’s instruction. Each match is divided into two 7-minute “chukkas”, or halves, with an interval of 15 minutes. A goal is scored, clearly enough, when one team hits it between the goal posts.

Early games were attempted with a soccer ball, but the naughty elephants would get great fun from popping the leather ball, so that idea was changed. Foul play includes having your beast sit down in front of the goal mouth or pick up the ball with its trunk. You could even try bellowing your own commands at your mount, but unless you are fluent in elephant Thai, your most ardent instructions will go ignored.

Every tournament is attended by either a vet, an elephant behaviour specialist or both. Any animal that stops enjoying the game is allowed to go goof off and just muck about in the big enclosure out the back. Naturally, with any activity that involves the training of animals there are those who decry the sport as cruel and unnatural. Without seeing the training, I can attest that the animals do actually seem to enjoy the boisterous game. I visited a few of the resting elephants in their “green room” between matches and each seemed quite relaxed, standing quietly and gently enquiring of me if I had a banana or apple on my person with a quick examination of my pockets. A far cry from the pathetic animals I recall from my childhood, chained up behind the circus tent.

Tourism dollars flow into the host locations which have included resort cities like Chang Rai and Hua Hin. The 2013 event returns to Hua Hin from August 28 -September 1 and promises to be every bit the spectacle of previous years. Put on your best shirt, wear your fanciest watch, sip Blue Label and hobnob with the glitterati. Just mind out where you step!

Getting There: THAI flies 42 times a week from Australia to Bangkok.

For the latest special fares and promotions, contact travel agents or visit

Hua Hin is currently not served by scheduled airlines and can be best accessed by private road transfers or coach.

Staying There:

Anantara Hua Hin Or InterContinental Hua Hin Resort

Playing There:

More on Thailand:

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Tuk Tuk Tales in Trang

Immaculately restored tuk-tuk  (R Eime)
The ubiquitous auto-rickshaw, known lovingly throughout Thailand as the tuk-tuk, is a cheap form of personal transport and taxi-cab. Its name is derived from the sound made by the little two-stroke motor, which in English would be more familiar as ‘putt-putt’.

Here in Trang, the vast majority of tuk-tuks are owned by their drivers as opposed to Bangkok, where the uniform colour indicate they are company owned. Many have been in the same hands for decades.

To demonstrate their much-loved place in Thai urban folklore,
bridal couples in the Trang 20th Anniversary Underwater Wedding Ceremony
were photographed with immaculate collector examples in prominent city locations.  (R Eime)
For the ‘spotters’ among us, the design of the DKA Midget began in 1957 in the Daihatsu factory in Japan. The idea was for a compact, economical vehicle for light duties in the many narrow streets of Japanese cities. After an appearance on a TV show, the idea took off and soon the tiny taxis were finding their way onto streets, alleys and workplaces all around the world.

They even enjoyed some limited success in the USA as a light freight and delivery vehicle. They were even used around large factory sites like Boeing for transport. The tuk-tuk taxi was marketed in the USA as the Daihatsu Trimobile AP (all purpose) ‘Safari Wagon’

1959 US sales brochure for the 'Trimobile'
Trang is one of the few places left in the world where you will easily see the early MP5-derived 'frog head' models that trace their history and design back to the originals from the late 1950s.

The tuk-tuk is powered by an air-cooled 305cc 2-stroke, single cylinder engine with a power output of around 9kW. In many places of the world, upgrades to LPG are available. This was in response to some congested regions where the little 2-strokes can get a bit smoky, especially if not properly maintained.

Kuhn San has owned his frog-head tuk-tuk for more than 30 years, diligently
painting and repainting it in the original factory colour. Kuhn San
 is not so meticulous about the trimmings, with a Mazda
steering wheel, Honda stickers and a Toyota bonnet badge. (R Eime)
While cheap and effective forms of urban transport remain in demand, you can expect to see tuk-tuks on the streets of Thai cities for some time to come.