And they’re off! Jockeys compete in the 139th running of the Chonburi Water Buffalo Races. The event, which started as an end of Buddhist Lent respite from hard work in the fields, has grown to become internationally famous.
More than 1,000 buffalos preened for the camera and raced for glory as Chonburi again marked the end of rainy season with a week of fun, food and racing.
The 139th races drew larger crowds of locals and tourists this year to fields in front of Chonburi District Office and city hall Oct. 16-22 as new Gov. Wichit Chatpaisit rang the gong opening the ever-popular event. He and Chonburi Mayor Sumana Muthakij led a parade through the Chonburi Market area, a tradition for much of the past century.
The week featured more than cattle with slingshot shooting, kite competitions, post-climbing, cock fighting and Muay Thai boxing filling the playbill. But the highlight was the buffalo racing, which featured beasts competing in large, medium and small sizes. There were also beauty pageants, both for intricately dressed-up women and buffalos.
Pole boxing is always a popular event.
The Chonburi races aren’t the only ones in the area. This year, Chonburi city and Ban Bung hold theirs on separate dates in November corresponding to the 14th and 15th waxing moons of the Chinese calendar. Chonburi Province’s festival, however, is the most popular.
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.
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.
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.
Using teamwork to climb the greased pole and retrieve the 100 baht note at the top.
You looking at me?
Governor Wichit Chatpaisit arrives on a farmer’s cart drawn by water buffalo during the opening day parade.
And they’re off!
It’s number 13 by a head.