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A Day at the Chonburi Buffalo Races – a Very Thai Sporting Occasion

Posted by Vadmin on October 31, 2011
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In the increasingly globalised world where striving for international standards can lead to blandness it is often an unusual cultural event that catches our eye and sets the pulse racing. The Chonburi Buffalo Racing Festival is one of these occasions. A cross between Wild West style rodeo and horse racing, this year the annual event celebrated its 140th anniversary. It was a heady mix of culture, music, feasting and the absolute madness of men racing astride enormous, and shockingly fast, bovine giants.

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The Buffalo Racing Festival takes place every October in the city of Chonburi on Thailand’s eastern seaboard, which is located 70 miles along the coast from the city of Pattaya. The festival’s roots stretch back to the 19th century, when farmers came together after the harvest to trade, socialise and compare the strength of their livestock. Historically the water buffalo was the heavy workhorse of Thai agriculture; ploughing the rice fields and pulling the harvests from the muddy, waterlogged fields. Water buffalo are still commonly used today and are a familiar sight in the Thai countryside.

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The races themselves are absolutely astonishing to the visitor viewing them for the first time. They take part on a mud track which very quickly gets churned by the pounding hoofs. This year 128 buffaloes competed. The competition splits the animals into four weight categories which are raced over a series of qualifying rounds with the fastest animals making it into the finals.

 

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At the start of the race, the buffaloes are corralled in individual traps with the jockeys perched in what seems to be a dangerously precarious manner on the top of the animal’s rump. There are no reins or saddle just a thin single strand of rope to hold which is threaded around the buffalo’s neck. The traps spring releasing the buffaloes who charge out and race down the track at a speed which surprises the uninitiated viewer. The buffalo jockeys are incredibly brave and show tremendous enthusiasm urging their mounts on. The buffalos have an unusual gait when moving at top speed which is reminiscent more of a greyhound than a horse; only much bigger and more powerful. The races are incredibly exciting and lustily cheered by the crowd. The races are hotly competitive; the winners can receive prizes in excess of US$15,000, more than a year’s income to some of the farmers and a great incentive to win.

There are also other sporting contests for the revellers to enjoy. The Muay Thai boxing bouts are hotly contested and draw large cheering crowds. Another featured local sport is the acrobatic game of takraw, a kind of foot volleyball played with a hard rattan ball. The skills of the competitors are breath taking.

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While the buffalo races form the central attraction at the festival, as always in Thailand, there is much more to experience and enjoy. There are colourful parades of brightly decorated floats set out atop buffalo drawn carts, music and marching all of which add to the amazing carnival atmosphere of the Chonburi Buffalo Racing Festival.

 

 

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