Unable to wait for tourists, 5 elephants walk back home from Pattaya to Isan

The hungry elephants stop to graze in an empty lot on their long walk home.

Unable to wait any longer for foreign tourists to return to Pattaya, five elephants and their owners began a 500-kilometer walk back to Surin.

With pickup trucks in front and behind for protection, the pachyderms, their mahouts and extended family members departed from their Mabprachan Lake-area camp April 6 for the long journey home.

Napalai Mai-ngam, 26, said she and her family had come from Isan to Pattaya five years ago to work in a Huay Yai elephant camp. It was a good living, with a monthly salary of 15,000 baht a month plus tips from tourists who came from around the world to ride the jumbos through the wooded trails around the reservoir.

But the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to foreign tourism more than a year ago. The camp stopped paying salaries and they hunkered down, doing their best to survive and keep the animals fed.

People and journalists stop to talk to the mahouts and admire the magnificent animals on their long hard journey home.

However, with Thailand not expecting to fully reopen until at least October, Napalai said her family decided to take their elephants back to the Northeast.

“We can no longer live in Pattaya because we have no money. So, we decided to go back to our hometown in Surin to do farming. We don’t know what our future will be,” she said.

They set off early Tuesday, walking because she could not afford the heavy trucks needed to carry the massive bulls and cows. She hopes they can feed themselves by grazing along roadsides.

She reckoned it would take two weeks to walk the entire route home before arriving in Tha Tum District in Surin.

She thanked villagers who donated fruit, food and drinking water along the way, adding that some generous people even asked for their bank account numbers to donate money. However, she refused, saying that the mahouts might be criticized as beggars.

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The sign on the elephant’s back reads, “Unemployed Elephants – Please give us passage from Pattaya to our home in Surin”.

This elephant seems to be shedding a tear as he embarks on the long trek from Pattaya to Surin.


Other than donated food and drinks given to the elephants by kind-hearted villagers, they also feed on grass and natural fruits along the way.