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.
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.
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