Sometimes we wind up at the most random places and having the most unplanned experiences. Attending the Asian Beach Polo Championship in Hua Hin Thailand was one of those times. We didn’t know a thing about polo but sometimes random experiences like this are the best.
How We Wound Up At the Asian Beach Polo Championship
After racing through New Zealand and South America for the past several months, we were looking for someplace to unwind a bit and catch up on emails, responsibilities, and just life in general. We searched around for somewhere near Bangkok that had a beach, a city with a good market & some mild nightlife, and had some nice accommodation at good value. Hua Hin, four hours by train from Bangkok, hit all those marks and even has its own brewpub. So we set off to this coastal town we knew little about to simply chill out for a week or so.
Walking around town we couldn’t help notice some signs advertising the Asian Beach Polo Championship. It was the weekend we were there and right up the street from us.
We tried to research the Asian Beach Polo Championship a bit online but couldn’t find much info in English. We did learn that Beach Polo is a relatively new sport in which roughly two-dozen countries play and is similar to regular arena polo, which we also know nothing about. We discovered this competition, also known as Princess Pa’s Cup, is the only beach polo championship in all of Asia! Right here in Hua Hin, was this big championship of a polo match. We simply had to see what the Asian Beach Polo Championship was all about.
To make things more intriguing, this seemingly swanky event was held at the 5-star InterContinental Hotel. It was a charity event put on by the Princess that helps prepare incarcerated women for release back into society upon completion of serving their sentence.
Rediscovering the Good Life
It had been a while since we’ve had a taste of luxury. Over the past several months we’ve been backpacking around South America and New Zealand, often roughing it at campsites, remote cabins, and various hostels. We’ve been looking forward to getting to Thailand where we can again afford to indulge in the fine luxury that’s been very absent from our recent travels. This event seemed like the perfect thing to give that a jumpstart!
The day of the Asian Beach Polo Championship had arrived and it was a cloudy and overcast day, which was a welcome reprieve from the intense Thai summer heat. We walked through the ritzy lobby of the InterContinental and past the posh poolside restaurant to the beach where they were selling tickets for a donation of about $30 USD.
We gave our donation, received a wristband, and were ready for an afternoon of polo. We scoped out the field-side tented area admiring the classy tables of people sipping champagne while intricate hors d’oeuvres were being dolled out by the plateful. We wondered what kind of donation it would take to enjoy such luxe service. This looked like VIP service all the way. How nice!
Leading up to the main event there were occasional dual announcements in English and Thai. The announcer wanted everyone to begin to take seats, as the opening ceremonies were about to begin. He reminded everyone who made their donation and had a wristband to be sure to help themselves to some sparkling wine or beer, have some appetizers, and then make their way to the lovely seating area.
Wait, what? We donated! We had wristbands! Heather and I looked at each other and within seconds had some delicious sparking wine in hand. All of a sudden, we were those people in the cozy seating area!
We had actually just come from lunch, so I wasn’t very hungry. So I just got a few spring rolls, a crab appetizer, vegetable tempura, and some calamari. Then I moseyed over to another booth where I was able to enjoy some curries. Then there was an Indian booth that had a variety of dishes I wasn’t familiar with but looked great. One of each please! After that I hit up the rotee stand to have this traditional Thai sweet snack, which is somewhat like a pancake a smothered with toppings of your choice (Nutella for me!). Ooh look, its popcorn and beer! Why not?
An Interesting Prelude
Switching back over to bubbly, the opening ceremonies were about to begin. A parade of ponies marched through and the governor gave a speech in Thai, presumably welcoming everyone to the event and officially declaring the games on.
Then we witnessed a fashion show on horseback. It was a bit bizarre but also interesting and seemingly appropriate for the event. Fashion!
Then there were some horse races. Alright, time for some action! You could donate/bet 100 baht (~$3) on each horse to win 500.
“And they’re off!” The horses sped through the finish line with more speed than I ever realized horses could go.
The first of the two races was marred by a false start but everything was clean for the second bout.
The Main Event: Asian Beach Polo Championship
Finally, it was time for the main event. There would be two matches in total. First, India would be battling it out against the home team & defending champion: Thailand. Then a runner-up match was to be played pitting Hong Kong against Macau.
With the first match about to get underway, the Thai players lined up against the India players. The ref threw the ball in and the match was on!
It was really fun to watch! The players whacked the ball with the mallets then raced towards the goals, galloping away on their stallions.
We knew absolutely nothing about regular polo, let alone beach polo. So the sport was completely new to us. But it was easy to pick up and the English announcer provided some occasional commentary to help out those who were unfamiliar with how the game is played. We learned some of the lingo, such that the periods were referred to as “chukkers.”
For seemingly such a big event, it actually seemed somewhat sparsely attended. Perhaps the looming grey clouds had scared some folks away. Whatever the reason, this allowed us to get right up close to all the intense action of the game. At times we could have reached out and pet a horse if we wanted to. (Note: do NOT pet the horses during play.)
Being so close to the action meant you also had to be very careful. At one point, we watched the ball fly up and hit someone right in the face, and perhaps even worse, knock their beer out of their hand! The ball was thrown back into play and while the other team members raced after it to score the next goal, the player who had hit the ball out of the court, stopped in the middle of the game to apologize and to ensure that the person he had hit was okay. What a polite gesture!
It was this ability to be so close to the game itself that really made it so much fun. Most other sporting events I attend, I’m 40 rows up in the bleachers. But here, I almost felt as if I was part of the game. In fact, there was only one referee officiated at the Asian Beach Polo Championship, and I was able to walk right up to the ref to annoy him with questions about the game, in between his whistle blows.
Eventually I left the ref alone and we took back to our cozy sideline, midcourt seats to watch the match unfold.
There were four chukkers total that each lasted 7 minutes that were back-to-back, making for a game that lasted about 30 minutes. It was really fun to watch and seemed to go by too quickly.
To the delight of the cheering crowd, the home team heroes – Thailand – took the championship match 7-0 against India. It was a blow out!
Although Thailand had now already won the championship, we were still treated to a second face-off, which was a runner-up match determining 3rd place of the Asian Beach Polo Championship.
This Hong Kong vs. Macau bout was even more exciting with lots of scoring on both sides of the court. We watched from the sidelines with the victorious Thai team who was nice enough to take a few pics with us as the runner-up match unfolded.
Hong Kong turned out victorious against Macau in the final exciting seconds of the game.
Thailand Wins and So Does Camaraderie
The Thai team was presented Princess Pa’s Cup and celebrations ensued. It was really cool to see the camaraderie among the players of opposing teams up on the podiums.
Smiles and playful banter went back and forth, as Hong Kong shared some of their chocolates with Thailand who had just defeated them. Eventually the opposing teams grabbed the Thai players and threw them into the ocean.
Then they all laughed and celebrated in the water together. This splendid show of camaraderie amongst opposing teams was as refreshing to watch as I assume it was for them to jump into the sea water on this warm day.
The End Was Really Just the Beginning
This fun soirée had come to an end and we went to leave with smiles on our faces. Watching the game itself was perhaps the best $30 we’ve spent in a while, not to mention the generously free-flowing booze and snacks.
Then upon exiting, the announcer came on to remind everyone that they were invited to the complimentary celebration dinner, which was beginning in an hour. Really?
We wandered over the beautiful courtyard area in which a WV bus that was converted to a bar was serving expertly crafted cocktails.
With a flash of our wristbands, we were cooling off with some delightful Mojito-like drinks appropriately called a “Summer Wind.”
A Decadent Dinner
As the sun began to set, dinner preparations ensued while a string quartet took the stage to further set the tone of this classy evening.
It was an international theme representing countries from all around the world spead across numerous buffett stations throughout the property’s immaculate gardens. I wasn’t particularly hungry since I’d stuffed myself during the polo event game, so I just settled with some caprese salad, greek salad, chicken satay, shrimp cocktail, and a bowl of chilled gazpacho. That was a fantastic appetizer start to the meal.
Moving on, I indulged in some kebabs that took me back to Turkey, pizza & pasta from Italy, quesadillas from Mexico, and some steak from Steaklandia. For dessert, we bypassed the gorgeous sweets tower and instead dove right into a rich assortment of Belgian chocolates.
Backpacking with High Society
Meanwhile introductions to our tablemates began. We were now schmoozing with Thai high society. We were introduced to an investment banker who funds most of the major earthquake prevention construction around the world. To our right was one of the leading engineers of solar panels in the world, who had just returned from a whirlwind tour around the world giving lectures at leading corporations and prestigious American universities.
It has a bit of a humorous exchange when they asked about what we do and we explained how we were backpacking around the world. It was almost embarrassing to divulge that to them but they were extremely accepting of it, embraced us, and continued to include us in pleasant dinner conversation. In fact, one of the wives did her own backpacking trip when she was younger, so that gave us some common ground to talk about.
An art auction began and at the next table over from us was Suwat Liptapanlop, who bid several thousand dollars on a number of gorgeous paintings. Apparently this former deputy prime minister is the owner of the InterContinental Hua Hin Resort and other major buildings around the city, such as the mall.
Servers danced around the tables keeping our wine glasses full, as yet another fashion show commenced.
Soon after, a Frank Sinatra impersonator came out to entertain the crowd. Yet after a few Sinatra classics, he changed the tone into a party atmosphere as he transformed into a spot-on Justin Timberlake impersonator. He really got the now half-drunk crowd dancing as he belted out hit after hit. It felt like JT was right here in Thailand with us.
A DJ later came on to kick things up even further as people danced into the wee hours.
Upon finally leaving late into the night, we had almost felt guilty for everything that was consumed for our $30 donation. Dinner at the Intercontinental alone starts at about $50 without drinks. I couldn’t help but slip a few more baht into the donation box upon leaving. Thank you Princess Pa for a most excellent event!
It was all one of the most unexpectedly fun and stylish things we’ve done in a while. We came to Hua Hin looking to unwind a bit and this awesome event certainly helped get us into the swing of things. As we rode back to our hotel, thoughts swirled through our heads like “Can we come back to this net year?” So, will we see ya at the Asian Beach Polo Championship 2016? We’ll see. But that was a telltale sign of a good time.
If You Go to the Asian Beach Polo Championship:
The Asian Beach Polo Championship (Princess Pa’s Cup) is held annually on the beaches of Hua Hin, Thailand during late April.
The event is held on a public beach in front of the Hua Hin InterContinental Resort, so there are a number of people who just strolled up on the ocean side and took in the main event for free.
But for everything that you get with the 1,000 baht ($30) ticket price (which is a donation to charity) you’d really be missing out not to partake in the official event. Bring some extra cash if you want to buy any souvenirs, partake in the raffle, bet on the horse races, or make any extra donations.
We found that it helped to have some very basic knowledge of the game so you can enjoy it so try to figure it out early on (it really not difficult).
The was no dress code at the Asian Beach Polo Championship was enforced and outfits varied from extremely elegant to ultra-casual, with smart-casual seeming to be most common. Some attendees only stayed during the polo match itself and were more casual, while the dinner and show portion of the event leaned more chic, with some people changing outfits in between the two. If you are planning to attend the dinner, we would suggest pants and shoes for gentlemen and perhaps a dress for women.
But its still Thailand in the summer, so whatever you wear be sure it is comfortable in the heat and keep hydrated.
That’s awesome how you stumbled upon an Asian Beach Polo Championship. I can’t think of a sport I’d like to experience more than that! Sounds like an interesting event I’d love to see sometime.