Buffalo Racing in Chonburi
Not exactly built like a lean mean
racing machine, the water buffalo is more at behind a plough than on
the racetrack. But for the last 100 years or so they have been given
the chance to show what speeds they can achieve at the annual Chonburi
Chonburi was always the trading
capital of the eastern seaboard. At the end of Buddhist lent local farmers
would head by buffalo cart for the market in Ban Beung district to trade
their goods. There was always strong competition between the farmers,
each thinking that their buffalo was better than the others. One day
before heading back home farmer Chai challenged farmer Kittipong to
a race around the square in front of the city hall. Chai was sure that
his buffalo was fasters than Kittipong's. Soon other farmers decided
to join in the race. The beasts were un-tethered from their carts and
prepared for the event.
The farmer's sons were used
to riding their buffalo back from the field after a days work. They
had a great affinity with their animals, knew their temperament and
personality have worked with them every day harvesting rice. Although
they had never raced before were excited at the idea of not only racing
but winning for the honour of their farm and village. And so the sport
of buffalo racing was born though the winner of the first race was never
The sport gained royal interest
when on 7th December 1912 King Mongkut (Rama VI) was visiting Chonburi.
He had heard of the unusual sport and that raced buffalo in the town.
The King was keen to see how it compared with the horse racing that
he was more familiar with at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. While His
Majesty enjoyed the day's sport, he decided against the idea of
establishing a stable of racing water buffalo.
By tradition the races are held
on 14th full moon night of the 11th lunar month. The calculations sound
very complicated but what it means for this year is 9th October. The
event will take place in the courtyard in front of Chonburi City Hall.
Similar races will also in Ban Beung and Nong Yai districts in the province.
As dawn breaks on the morning of
the big race farmers walk their buffalo through the surrounding rice
fields, splashing them with water to keep the beast cool, as they make
their way to the racetrack.
The event is part of the celebration
of the rice harvest. Before the start of the races a scared ceremony
is held to express thanks for the rains and to ask for healthy and prosperous
The festival is not only meant
to be fun but also to help preserve the traditional Thai way of buffalo
racing as well as the number of the animals involved in Thai agriculture.
It is a sad sign of the times that some farmers are replacing buffalo
with modern machinery. I no longer use buffalo to cultivate the
rice field, said Koh Surisan, a 47 year old farmer who has worked
in the fields since he was a boy, It's much easier and convenient
to use a mechanical tractor for plowing and cultivation.
Throughout the day upwards of 300
buffalo will be divided into groups of five or six according the weight
(smallest, small, medium and heavy). They will race down the 110-meter
tack. Their jockeys who are wielding wooden sticks spur the animals
on. No cute leather saddles to keep them in place, just perched on the
animals back kept in place purely their innate sense of balance.
These animals are more accustomed
to sedately pulling a plough than racing. The start of each race can
take some time get underway. First getting the jockeys mounted and then
to get the buffalo to run. Some times a slow start but when they are
off the thunderous beat off hooves on the hard sand track can be heard
around the town. It is not uncommon for some of the jockeys to fall
off and for his buffalo to run amok scattering the crowds in all directions.
No Jockey Club etiquette just good fun and a few laughs.
It is rumoured that there is heavy
unofficial betting among the spectators such is the local enthusiasm
for the sport. As gambling is illegal, hypothetically would should we
be looking for when picking a winning racing buffalo. A keen eye, a
noble head or deep stride. In an exclusive interview , Khun Somsak,
a former jockey and now a trainer, told us "You need a buffalo
that likes to run." Obvious isn't but let's hope the
one we've picked agrees to run in the right direction.
Other activities throughout the
day include comical clowns, a review of decorated water buffalo, contestants
climbing an oily pole, a slingshot-shooting contest and the inevitable
beauty contests for Miss Buffalo (a girl not a beast) and a Most
Healthy Buffalo contest.
The prize for the best decorated
buffalo is almost as coveted as the prize for the fastest animal - $475
and an irrigation water pump. Not exactly the US$ 6 million up for grabs
in the Dubai World Cup, but then this is buffalo and not thoroughbred
At the end of the day a champion
is crowned and man and beast wend their way home for another year, everyone
hopefully having a good day at the races.
Chonburi Buffalo Racing, City Hall,
Chonburi. For details contact TAT Central Office - Region 3 e-mail
Getting to Chonburi
- Bus Departures every
half hour from Ekamai Bus Station.
- Train Early morning departures
from Hualamphong but a slow way to travel
- Drive With the new elevated
Expressway the drive from Bangkok to Chonburi is just 40 mins