On the Western outskirts of Bangkok is the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo. They label it themselves as the “greatest elephant show in Thailand” and I think they are probably right. I went there yesterday with Nong Grace and she thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. In addition to the elephant show, they also have a crocodile show. Surprisingly I had never been before. In Samut Prakan, we have the “largest crocodile farm in the world”, which in addition to crocodile wrestling, it also has an elephant show. So, I couldn’t really see the point to travel out to Samphran as well. It is also a lot more expensive. But, I am now glad that I did make this effort.
The highlight is undoubtedly the Elephant Theme Show. I have seen quite a few elephant shows now and many of them have a similar theme. This usually invovles elephants doing unnatural acts such as walking a tightrope (Safari World) and disco dancing (Crocodile Farm). Some of the best shows I have seen so far were on the outskirts of Chiang Mai where they did demonstrations of how elephants were used for logging. But, the show at Samphran was all encompassing and gave better value for money. What I particularly liked from the start was the use of English narration and dramatic sound effects. One of my pet peeves are the tourist attractions that charge foreigners 400% more than Thai people and then don’t make an effort to give the foreigners value for money. Take Safari World as an example. Despite having to pay a lot more than Thai people, all of the shows were in Thai language. Samphran is a rarity in that they catered for the foreign tourists.
During the show, we saw how the elephants are not only revered by the Thai people, but how useful the elephants have been throughout their history. We were given demonstrations of how they caught elephants in the wild. Then how they were used for logging by picking up tree trunks with the help of their tusks and then pulling them along the ground. Next came some light humour with the Elephant World Cup. A herd of elephants came on wearing team colours for various countries. They did some various party tricks like picking up objects on the ground while racing down a course and dancing to disco music. They also tried some head stands. But the highlight was a penalty shootout using giant balls. Some of the elephants were pretty good at scoring while others were hopeless and knew it. The elephant with Ronaldo’s name on it was pretty funny. After scoring a goal, it got down on its knees and did a good impression of a footballer doing a victory dance.
The climax of the show was the big battle between the Siamese and Burmese armies. In the olden days, the kings fought on elephant back. Everything was recreated for the show in fine detail from the battle gear of the elephants to the uniforms of the soldiers. The show was certainly dramatic with not only the sword fighting but also the loud explosions. If you are going to the show with young children, you should get them to cover their ears for this part. At the conclusion of the show, there is an opportunity for you to go closer and take a picture with the giant elephants. Apparently, the elephant with the tusks in the picture at the top is father to twenty other elephants at this zoo. If you like, you can also buy sugar cane or a bunch of bananas to feed the elephants for only 10 baht. Compare this to the rip-off price of 40 baht over at Safari World for a small bucket of leaves for the giraffes. There is also an opportunity here to ride around the arena on the back of the elephant for only 70 baht.
Around the back of the park is a new area where you can have a longer elephant ride which lasts about 20 minutes. They take you around the garden and then passing through a dramatic waterfall and along an artificial river. This has been beautifully created and together with the colour flowers gives a colourful backdrop for any photo. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a friend who can take pictures for you. Just give your camera to one of the trainers and he will follow you around taking some beautiful shots. I think the price is a bit expensive at 400 baht per person. If you are planning on going to Chiang Mai or Kanchanaburi and want to do the tours that include elephant riding and bamboo rafting, then I would give this a miss if I was you. Better to do it in the real jungle. However, if you have limited time on your holiday, or you want some better controlled opportunities to have pictures of yourself on elephant back, then you might like to do it here.
We arrived at the park at about 11.45 a.m. During weekdays, the first scheduled show is the Crocodile Wrestling Show at 12.45 p.m. So we had timed this right. On Sunday and public holidays you will find that there is an extra round of shows in the morning starting at 10.30 a.m. While we waited, we wandered around to see what else was on offer. Near the entrance, there is an opportunity to have your picture taken with two tigers that were born at the park. This costs 100 baht for up to four people in one photo. They give you one print for this though you can use your own camera to take as many pictures as you like. Nearby were about half a dozen young elephants that were chained to the ground. Each elephant had a keeper to look after its needs. However, I did notice that one elephant was thirsty and without waiting for its trainer, it used its trunk to turn on a tap to get a drink of water. It even turned off the tap afterwards. Nong Grace was a bit nervous to go near them at first, but the trainer encouraged her by saying that they wouldn’t hurt. Surprisingly, she even went on an elephant ride around the park which she never wanted to do before.
The crocodile show lasted about 20 minutes. It was very similar to the one I had seen many times in Samut Prakan. The audience certainly loved it as there were gasps of horror and nervous laughter at all the right times. However, it wasn’t as good as our local one. Plus, there was no seating so you had to stand around for half an hour. But, if you haven’t seen anything like this before then it is worth watching. The ending was a bit disappointing. It kind of fizzled out and some people started to wander away without realizing they hadn’t actually finished. Maybe they should send some of their people over to Samut Prakan to get some tips on making a better show. As soon as the show finished, we then made our way over to the elephant ground for the show that I already talked about. Before this, they put on a magic show which was entertaining for the kids. This started at 1.15 p.m. and then the elephant show at 1.45 p.m. So, you basically go from one show to the next without a break.
After the last show, we wandered around some more, looking at the crocodiles in the pens and also the beautiful orchids. Nong Grace also had a great time playing on the swings in the playground. We were about to go home when she heard the dramatic music starting again for the second round for the elephant show. As she enjoyed it so much, she insisted on dragging us to go and watch again. However, I didn’t really mind as it was a good performance. Both the elephants and the humans were very enthusiastic and didn’t look a bit tired. Everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves.
The entrance fee for the park is quite high at 500 baht for adults and 300 baht for children. The Thai price is 80 baht for adults and 40 baht for children. It is a little sneakily that they don’t show the Thai price at the ticket office. I did actually stop here last month on the way back from Nakhon Pathom. But, I didn’t go in as I was a bit shocked about the high price. I did ask for local price like I normally do, but they would only offer the discounted price of 300 baht if I could show a work permit. I declined as I didn’t think at the time it was worth my trouble. But, I am glad I went back as it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. In the end we spent over five hours there! Take a look at my pictures and then make your own decision whether you want to pay as much as 500 baht admission fee. In their defense, the elephant show would have cost them a lot to put on. Also, I liked it that their prices for drinks and snacks were very reasonable. A small bottle of water was 10 baht compared to 20 baht at Safari World.
Samphran is on the main highway out of Bangkok on the way to Nakhon Pathom. It is very near the Rose Garden and Don Wai Floating Market. You could visit here after going to Damnoen Saduak in the morning. Or go to Nakhon Pathom in the morning and then stop here on the way back. You can either go here by yourself by bus or join tours from Bangkok.