Chasing Pink Elephants in Bangkok

The Pink Elephants

The tuk-tuk driver was just showing off. He’d wooed us away from his competitor with promises of a lower fare and faster trip when he picked us up outside the Grand Palace. The instant James’ foot left the pavement to get in the tuk-tuk, the driver shot off like a rocket.

He darted into a riotous roundabout, then kept gesturing toward the center. As I peered under the roof and over the neon-yellow car, I spied the objects of his enthusiasm – elephants. Pink Elephants!

These blushing beauties had been created to celebrate King Bhumibol Adulyadej 84th birthday in 2011.

It seems that the King is quite a fan of White Elephants (also known as Pink Elephants), as were his predecessors. They are sacred and a symbol of royal power. At last count the King owns 10. And although the elephants are referred to as “white” they are generally a soft pink with light-colored eyelashes and toenails.


Historically, White Elephants have been an integral part of Thailand’s history, back to when it was know as Siam. They were featured on the country’s Coat of Arms and many flags.

Outside of Thailand the concept of “Pink Elephants” is a bit different, referring to anything from cartoons and car washes, to Tanzanian currency.


However, the most common reference is to “seeing pink elephants,” meaning that someone is extremely drunk – to the point of hallucinating pink elephants. The phrase is credited to Jack London’s writings in 1913.

Pink Elephant by By Durova via Wikimedia Commons

It’s clear that Pink Elephants have captured people’s imaginations and hearts around the world. When a rare, baby Pink Elephant was caught on camera by a BBC crew filming in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, the global outpouring of concern for its survival was staggering.

If you’re in Bangkok, don’t miss the Pink Elephants near the Grand Palace. And if you need a good “pink elephant” chuckle for the day, see what happens when some police officers stop drivers to check their sobriety.


Pink Elephant Balloon by By Tomascastelazo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credits:
2. By Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons
3. By I, Inisheer via Wikimedia Commons
4. By Durova via Wikimedia Commons
5. By Tomascastelazo via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

22 thoughts

  1. My grandmother kept old issues of National Geographic on her porch. I remember an issue from the 1970s that featured the pink elephant. Your post brought back a picture, a still in time, of sitting on the porch in a lotus position looking at the photographic spreads. Thanks for the memory 🙂

    1. Allyson, what a fascinating memory. I just checked their online archive, but no luck – lots of pink hippos, though! I know a guy who has a wonderful Nat Geo collection and I bet we can find it. Thanks so much for stopping by. All the Best, Terri

      1. Pink elephants are extremely rare. I do remember seeing one in an issue of elephants. When I am at the New York Public Library, I’ll take some time to find it. In those years, I spent time going through those old National Geographics because they gave me a world in pictures I never knew existed outside of my Hawaiian Island upbringing.

    1. Hi Sherry, I must admit I knew very little about Thailand’s famous pink/white elephants until our second visit. Then I got curious and was surprised by what I discovered! ~Terri

  2. I had to look up “tuk-tuk,” but pink elephants I see every time I visit Margaritaville.

    Fun post. Just the kind of insight that adds color and understanding to the travel experience.

    1. Hi Tom, Tuk-tuks are pretty much the way to go in Southeast Asia. At the Angkor Wat complex they were great for getting around the various sites, but it was so dusty we had to wear our bandanas “bandit-style” on every trip. We looked pretty funny, but it worked! Say hi to Louise. ~Terri

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. And you are spot on about this intersection. In fact, I was a bit concerned about surviving in a tuk-tuk. But in true Bangkok style, our driver (a Buddhist in good standing no doubt) got us through.

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