Our childhood idea of a hero is often a storybook image: a good-looking protagonist with magical superpowers and, more often than not, a head-turning outfit. But later on we come to realise that true heroism often has nothing to do with stunts or brave acts of derring-do. We learn that a hero is someone who is dedicated to making a positive difference—someone who is simply an inspiration to others.
As a part of Thailand Tatler’s 25th Silver Jubilee celebrations, we’ve decided to embark on a philanthropic journey centred on that very theme. Titled Thailand Tatler Heroes, our very first four-part TV series follows some of our favourite personalities as they embark on designated charity missions. We go behind the scenes as our celebrities take a big step outside their comfort zones, engage in new adventures and learn how they, too, can become heroes.
Mission 1: Meeting Gentle Giants
Our first destination, Elephants World or Baan Chor Chang Charaa, is nestled amidst the lush, tropical forests of Kanchanaburi province. Founded by veterinarian Dr Samart Prasitthiphon in 2008, this 130-rai, non-profit sanctuary serves as a retirement home for ill and elderly pachyderms.
It’s a popular tourist stop, one that doesn’t include flashy or exploitative shows but instead offers an elephant-friendly experience that one rarely finds elsewhere, be it watching them at close proximity in their natural habitat, preparing their meals or bathing them. The mission for this episode is for our heroes to spend an entire day getting to know more about these gentle creatures and to capture their charm and beauty through the camera lens. A photography exhibition and charity auction will then be held at The EmQuartier, with all proceeds going straight into the coffers of the foundation.
Leading the team is professional fashion photographer Kanachai Bencharongkul, who eagerly took on the special task and got in touch with three other celebrities, superstars Khemupsorn Sirisukha and sub-lieutenant Pimdao Panichsamai as well as wildlife veterinarian Dr Patarapol Maneeorn. It’s a rather cloudy and gloomy day in Kanchanaburi, and our heroes’ biggest worry is that there will be a downpour.
“We checked the weather forecast and it’s supposed to rain the whole day. So we’re quite prepared to take pictures in the rain,” Kanachai tells us. Luckily it only started drizzling for a short while. Dr Patarapol looks completely calm around the elephants, as if this is just merely another working day at his place of work with the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
The others, on the other hand, cannot contain their excitement as they spend the first half of the day warming up with their new friends by preparing their meals and then feeding them by hand. “Although I had a short stop here back when I was doing my military training at Khao Chon Gai, this is the very first time that I’ve had the chance to spend time with them so intimately,” smiles Pimdao. “It’s not very often that you get to be so close to an elephant. Here you can touch them and really see their emotions through their eyes,” adds Kanachai.
The biggest challenge for our celebrity photographers is capturing images. “I normally take pictures of people, and you can easily direct them according to how you want the images to come out,” shares Kanachai, who switched between his digital and film cameras throughout the day. “But with animals, you really have to become a part of their moments. They take the lead, while you sort of follow them.”
For the most part, Khemupsorn focuses on one elephant that she instantly fell in love with. “Beau is a 76-year-old blind elephant that is fighting so many illnesses. She radiates so much warmth. Her mahout Tory, a Canadian volunteer, is so gentle with Beau. She assists her throughout her daily activities and even leads her when she walks—and this has been going on for two years. To me, Tory is a perfect example of a hero,” she tells us. (Sadly, a week after the shoot, we are told that Beau has passed away peacefully.)
They all agree that organising an exhibition and charity auction will not only raise vital funds for the foundation, but will play an important role in promoting awareness about a very important issue. Most of us tend to see elephants when they’re younger and healthier, doing tricks or labour work. But many people don’t know what it’s like when they’re old and sick, or how much happier they are when they’re back in their natural environment. “It really strikes me how dedicated the mahouts here are,” says Pimdao. “There are so many foreigners volunteering as well, which makes me question what we, as Thais, are doing.” Their experience as Thailand Tatler Heroes has moved the celebrities in many ways. “As we know, elephants have been an important part of Thai history,” Dr Patarapol tells us. “It is certainly a great opportunity for all of us to give back to these gentle giants and to see how happy they are in their safe place.”
Tune into Thailand Tatler Heroes and follow our celebrities as they embark on charity missions. The show is scheduled to air on Channel 9 MCOT HD and Modernine TV between 10:40-11:30 pm every Saturday starting December 3.
Next mission (Part Two): Music Academy with Da Endorphine