80 Elephants

Elephants No. 35 & 36 – Bangkok, Thailand 

Two elephants from our stay in Bangkok – one old, one new.

Elephant No. 35 – Jim Thompson House 

This beautiful old wooden elephant comes from the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, the lovingly preserved abode of an American silk trader who made Bangkok his home in the middle of the 20th century. I was interested to see the house having already encountered the myth of Jim Thompson when we stayed in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia way back in September. This was the last place he was seen alive in 1967 before he vanished off the face of the planet after going for a walk here and was never seen again. Nobody knows what happened to him – no body has ever been found – but some suspect CIA involvement as he was becoming vocally anti-American. In any case it’s probably a clue as to how little there is to do in the Cameron Highlands that major attractions included “the last house Jim Thompson stayed in”, “the last bar Jim Thompson went to” and so forth. But it made me extra keen to visit his house in Bangkok and find out a little more about him. (more…)

Elephants No. 33 and 34 – Mawlamyine, Burma

These elephants I am about to show you, my dear reader, are in fact not single elephants but two groups of elephants found in temples to the south of Mawlamyine that we visited on a day trip. We enjoyed our stay in Mawlamyine, not just because of its slow pace, glittering golden stupas, and stunning sunsets over the river, but because it made a great base for such day trips. Burma is full of weird and wonderful things – another sight visited on such a day trip was a temple based around a series of rocks balanced precariously on top of each, painted gold.  But onto the elephants… (more…)

Elephant No. 32 – Hpa An, Burma

The main attraction of Hpa An is the collection of stunning caves in the surrounding area. We went in an EXTREMELY bumpy tuc-tuc to visit them (seriously – no metalled roads so way more bumpy than your average bumpy tuc-tuc ride). As they were religious sites they often had ornate entrances like this one, guarded by two white elephant statues. Them being religious sites also means you have to remove your shoes each time you go in – I stupidly wore lace-up walking boots thinking that as they were caves it would be uneven ground – and as a result probably spent more time putting on and taking off shoes than visiting caves. Nevertheless, it was an interesting day-trip, both because of the standard-very-surreal-bizarre Burmese statues in many of the caves, and a delightful boat trip out of one of them. I would thoroughly recommend a stop in Hpa An for anyone in the south of Burma.  (more…)

Elephant No. 31: Yangon, Burma


White elephants in Yangon

I found some more live elephants! These are in fact extra special elephants because they are “white” elephants – though if you look closely you will see that they are a pale grey colour with a faint pinkish tinge. The descriptor “white” actually refers to their supposed spiritual purity rather than the colour of their skin. They are not a different species of elephant but are albinos, and relatively rare – I have never seen one before.  (more…)

Elephants No. 28, 29 & 30 – Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia 

We spent four days in Siem Reap last week to explore the vast number of temples around the ancient city of Angkor, capital of the former Khmer Empire. The archeological site of Angkor is quite remarkable, possibly – no, certainly – the greatest human-made monument I’ve ever seen. We had a really great if exhausting time exploring the jungle-scattered sites by bicycle, electric bike and tuc-tuc. In addition to the live elephant featured in the previous post, Angkor turned out to be a real treasure-trove for elephant imagery and statues, pushing me ever closer to that much-desired target of 80 elephants around the world. It took clambering over rocks in high humidity, peeping through jungle creepers and crumbled doorways, and many shatteringly early morning starts to find them, but here are three of my favourites… (more…)