Asia 25 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (5)

Surin Elephant Round-Up

Where? Surin, Thailand

When? Mid-November

How long? 3 days

The Surin Elephant Round-Up, held every year in this small town a few hundred kilometres north of Bangkok, is one of Thailand’s best-known annual festivals, but unfortunately this ancient courtesan display is now extremely commercially exploited, complete with wall-to-wall Pepsi posters and miniature plastic elephants to buy – and a lot of tourists. Some of the shows involving over a hundred trained elephants are genuinely compelling, however, particularly the parade of elephants outfitted for medieval warfare and demonstrations of wild elephant hunts, an occupation still undertaken in the receding forests in the north of the country. And there are impressive displays of elephants playing football and engaging in tugs of war. But don’t try and wrestle an elephant yourself, unless you want to be dragged through fresh heaps of elephant shit in front of forty thousand spectators.


Where? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

When? Late January

How long? 1 day

Thaipusam is probably Malaysia’s biggest religious festival, honouring the Hindu gods Lord Subriaman and Ganesh during the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. After sunset, Hindu penitents carry a variety of kavadis, an elaborate steel arch bedecked with flowers and lights, attached to their skin by hooks and skewers, up the 272 steps to the Batu Caves, just north of Kuala Lumpur. Similar events take place in neighbouring Singapore, where local Hindus – mostly Tamils – carry the kavadi in the same, painful fashion, along Serangoon Road to the Chettiar Temple on Tank Road.

Torajan Funerals

Where? Sulawesi, Indonesia

When? Year round

How long? 1 day

Funerals aren’t usually something you’d go out of your way to visit, but the funerals held in the Tana Toraja region, in Sulawesi, are more celebrations of a life than the gloomy affairs you might be used to. The Torajans have two funerals, a private one, after which the body is preserved until the time and money is found for a public one, to which everyone is invited, whether or not they knew the deceased. It’s a party, basically – pigs and water buffalo are slaughtered and then butchered, gifts are brought, and palm wine is consumed with abandon. An extraordinary experience, and not as voyeuristic an affair as you might think.

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