Tui Jongjeng is from a village in eastern Thailand where raising elephants is a trade and a tradition. Yet this historically useful mammal has become, to many of its keepers, a burden, which is why elephant polo has been a blessing for tourists and for the elephants. The elephant's customary work--logging Thailand's teak forests--has been curtailed, but working or not, an elephant eats 350 pounds of grass a day. "We like polo so much because our elephants get lots to eat," says Tui.
After the polo, the elephants are walked over to the Anantara resort, where they mingle with guests. A visitor to Thailand's beaches once had to choose between overdeveloped resorts or mosquito-infested bungalows. The Anantara is small enough to feel intimate while still providing first-class amenities; it's designed to be reminiscent of a traditional Thai village, complete with steep-roofed bungalows and worn hardwood daybeds beneath fragrant frangipani trees.
Before polo became popular, Tui would trek to Bangkok because some Buddhists believe that passing under an elephant's stomach brings good luck. "They pay a few baht for that," Tui says, "but that doesn't buy much food for an elephant. It's much better for us to come to this beautiful place." --Karl Taro Greenfeld