September 28, 2014
Beauty and the Beast
The world famous Chonburi Buffalo Races are a fantastic, colourful celebration of these mighty if some-what stupid beasts of burden. The eagerly awaited festival is closely associated with the end of Buddhist Lent, with the exact date of the festival varying from year to year. As with most festivals in the Kingdom the exact dates are dictated by the Thai Lunar calendar. What you may not know is that Thai’s will refer to stupid people unkindly as a ‘Buffalo’ Khway ควาย
Organised buffalo racing has been an event in Chonburi (the name means ‘City of Water’) for more than 100 years, it is believed that racing of these several ton hurtling mountains of beef has been going on, informally for several hundred years prior to this.
To be fair to the Buffalos they are separated into three different sizes, large, medium and small, all races are run over the same 100 metre track in both rain and shine and the track is perfectly located right in front of the Chonburi city hall. The jockey’s job is to coax the most out of their animals and to try to get their beast to go in a straight line, as fast as possible. To do so they sit almost on the haunches of the buffalo, clinging to the charging animal with only one hand and the strength in their knees while the other hand wealds a stick to encourage the beast to go in the right direction. The speed these ungainly animals reach is quite frightening and it is not unusual for riders to become dislodged in their attempt to be the winning jockey. A rider less stampeding buffalo can be a bit of a problem, as the animal may still want to continue running, can you imagine trying to stop several ton of hurtling beef steak in its tracks when all it wants to do is make a dash for the nearest water hole.
The racing element of the festival is a serious business for both the riders and the beast’s owners, with great ‘Kudos’ given to the winners. To ensure the buffalos are in the best of condition for their races they are fed prior and during the festival on a special diet which includes amongst other things, beer and eggs, the hope is that this unusual menu will improve both the animals running ability and its stamina.
The animals are well cared for and to ensure the wellbeing of the beasts they are kept refreshed by their attendees who through-out the day will cool them down with buckets and buckets of water. I did note some of the jockey’s may well have been on part of the same diet as their rides, or it may be that they were simply soothing their bruised bodies and dented egos with a shot or two of Sangsom. (Thai Rum)
This is not to say the festival is just about speed and the ability of the rider to hang on to what is in essence, several tonnes of lumbering disgruntled mass of muscle, sinew and pointed horns. The festival also includes a buffalo beauty pageant, the winner of which will be crowned “Miss Farmer”, if you want to see Thai’s laugh to the point of almost crying this hilarious buffalo costume contest is a must see. There are also other contests on the main race day, which is normally towards the end of the two week festival, when there are several events which are designed to test the balance, agility, speed and other skills of the buffalo.
HOW TO GET THERE
Chonburi City is the capital of the province with the same name and is located between the cities of Bangkok and Pattaya There are regular buses from Bangkok with the journey time of around 2 hours. The fare is approx. 120 Baht. From Pattaya, the journey is around 1 hour and costs approx. 40 Baht, by bus. Do note that the city becomes swollen with tourists during the festival, with the result that accommodation is not readily available and should be booked in advance.
As with all celebrations in ‘The Land of Smiles’ the emphasis is on fun and the serious business of Eating and this festival is no difference there will always be a vast variety of food and drink on offer, with stands selling a huge range of local produce along with the normal collection of street vendors selling their trinkets and bric-a-brac. There is also a traditional Thai fair with games for all ages and a human female beauty contests.
The day is a mass of bodies, noise, colour, smiles and smells and if you want to get close to the real Thailand you’re going to love it.