Monday, 15 October 2012

Chonburi Buffalo Festival

Guest blogger John Borthwick visits one of Thailand's craziest and most colourful festivals, the Chonburi Buffalo Festival.

They’re getting set to race again at the Chonburi Buffalo Festival. That humble farm beast of burden, the water buffalo, or kwai, is about to have its brief, annual day in the Thai spotlight. The buffalo is the star of a unique event that’s held in mid-late October each year. Here you’ll see buffalo being preened and polished, watered, fed, decorated and admired like at no other time or place. That done, the buffaloes are then raced furiously against each other, being ridden like the bejeezus by skinny jockeys who somehow manages to stay perched on the thundering beasts as they tear down a 150-metre course. 

Just getting the four beasts competing in a race to point in the right direction at the starting line is a wrangling event, if not slapstick comedy, in itself. Then they’re off! Clouds of dust rise as the buffaloes stampede down the course at breakneck speed. The jockeys, riding bareback, are bounced mercilessly during the sprint, and sometimes bounced right off. The crowd goes crazy. The winning buff gets a bucket of water, but so do the losers. 

This year will be the Chonburi festival’s 141st year. It is a quintessentially Thai celebration rather than an event that’s tailored to the international tourist market. Foreigners of course are warmly welcome at this fair that also features Thai music, food stalls, handicrafts and other, non-bovine contests like hoop takraw, greased pole climbing and kite-making.

This being Thailand, naturally there are beauty contests — for both buffalo and farm girls — not to mention lots of betting. Prizes are awarded for the healthiest buffalo, the most splendidly decorated buffalo and also the most humorously decorated one. 

As well as racing, there is a parade of 13 carts that portrays the Vessantara Jataka, the story of one of Buddha's past lives. According to Buddhist tradition, the celebration is held at the time of the full moon in the 11th lunar month. This year it runs from October 16 to November 1, with the highlight being October 29 — the day when more than 140 buffalo will race madly down that track, jockeys bouncing, dust churning and thousands of Thais cheering them on. 

1 comment:

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