Buffaloes dress up, race hard at Chonburi festival


Farmers swapped paddy fields for a dusty race course as they sprinted for glory on the backs of prized water buffaloes at the Chonburi buffalo races.

Bareback riders competed for the top prize of 10,000 baht in several categories in the highlight of the Oct. 4-10 festival outside Chonburi City Hall. Former Culture Minister Sonthaya Kunplome kicked off the races Oct. 7.

Held for the 143rd time, the races are a signature tradition of Chonburi, Sonthaya said. Historically, buffaloes were raced after their work in the fields was done. The festival was a place for farmers to meet neighbors, shop and conduct business.

The 143rd running of the Chonburi Buffalo races was held last week.The 143rd running of the Chonburi Buffalo races was held last week.

This year’s festival featured three different categories of racing for small, medium, and large buffaloes. Jockeys as young as nine years old were cheered on by two packed seating areas filled with residents and tourists.

Chonburi Mayor Decho Khongchayasukhwat said the races helped to preserve water buffaloes, an iconic part of Thailand’s rural landscape.

“If there is no racing, Thai buffaloes would no longer exist because they wouldn’t be used by their owners,” he told the media. “But if we preserve them, we can use them for plowing, trading and for racing.”

Nearly 800 buffalos participated in not only races, but a parade through the city and a “beauty contest” in which the animals are decked out in patterned fabrics and plastic flowers.

Other activities in the festival included a good-health competition for the buffaloes, the Bana pageants for girls and older women, quizzes, oily post climbing, cutting kite strings coated with glass dust, hoops takraw, Muay Thai boxing and sales of locally made products.