Speed, humor amaze crowds at 142nd Chonburi Buffalo Races

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Buffaloes of all shapes and colors thundered over a 100-meter track in Chonburi, astounding crowds with their terrific speed – and poor sense of direction – as the province hosted its 142nd annual buffalo races.

Jockeys rode more than 100 of the beasts from across the kingdom down the dirt track in races offering both serious cash prizes and laughs.

The Oct. 14-20 festival outside Chonburi City Hall also highlighted traditional heritage, including the annual “Kwienkan” parade and the sale of locally produced products. Young women competed in the annual beauty pageant. The buffalos got their turn with a costume contest.

The annual festivities also include a buffalo costume contest.The annual festivities also include a buffalo costume contest.

More than 300 Chonburi businesses offered their wares and food while other booths featured games including puzzle-guessing, oily post-climbing, cutting kite strings with glass dust, takraw, and Muay Thai boxing.

The competitions began with a tug-of-war between a buffalo and national weightlifters. As for the races themselves, competitions were divided into categories for super junior, junior, middle, senior and super champ buffaloes. There were also contests for the best decorated, beautiful and comedic buffaloes, and a breeding contest.

There is also a contest for best breeding.There is also a contest for best breeding.

Provincial historians believe the races and festival were first held when Chonburi was the center of trade for the eastern part of Thailand. Farmers and merchants from the region would descend on Chonburi’s Ban Beung District to trade their goods, bringing their produce and wares by way of buffalo drawn carts. What exactly transpired prompting the first race is uncertain, but provincial historians suggest that it probably started at Wat Luang, now called Wat Yai Intharam.

The starting gun sounds, and off they go!The starting gun sounds, and off they go!

Merchants would park their carts near the market and the water buffalo were tethered off to the side to rest, or taken to bathe following the trip into town where lotus flowers were collected for offerings at the temple. Presumably, there were some fun-seeking individuals at the annual gathering who, at the end of Buddhist Lent and before leaving Chonburi, would gather and race their buffalo for a bit of fun and camaraderie. Water buffalo races eventually became a common reoccurrence each year.

Elaborately ordained carts are eye-catchers in the opening festivities parade.Elaborately ordained carts are eye-catchers in the opening festivities parade.

During the reign of King Rama VI, His Majesty King Mongkut visited Chonburi and proudly witnessed the event on December 7, 1912, which helped commemorate the event to this day. Other records indicate that Rama V also witnessed the buffalo races in Chonburi, remarking that the enjoyable event should be preserved as a national tradition.

Buffalo riders compete during an annual buffalo race in Chonburi, Friday, Oct. 18. The annual race is a celebration among rice farmers before harvesting rice. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)Buffalo riders compete during an annual buffalo race in Chonburi, Friday, Oct. 18. The annual race is a celebration among rice farmers before harvesting rice. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Some of the buffalo jockeys fell off their animals during the race. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)Some of the buffalo jockeys fell off their animals during the race. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A young Thai buffalo rider, center, raises his arm after winning a preliminary round race during. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)A young Thai buffalo rider, center, raises his arm after winning a preliminary round race during. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Riders sprint their buffaloes at the start of a 120-meter-long track. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)Riders sprint their buffaloes at the start of a 120-meter-long track. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A young Thai rider jumps off the back of his buffalo during the annual buffalo races in Chonburi. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)A young Thai rider jumps off the back of his buffalo during the annual buffalo races in Chonburi. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Buffalo riders cross the finish line during. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)Buffalo riders cross the finish line during. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A young Thai buffalo rider sprints past the spectator’s stand. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)A young Thai buffalo rider sprints past the spectator’s stand. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

The Oct. 14-20 festival outside Chonburi City Hall also highlighted traditional heritage, including the annual “Kwienkan” parade.The Oct. 14-20 festival outside Chonburi City Hall also highlighted traditional heritage, including the annual “Kwienkan” parade.