Thai Buffalo Race Marks Start of Rice Growing during Monsoon Season

Jockeys compete in Chonburi’s annual buffalo race festival in Chonburi Province, Thailand, on Aug. 6.

CHONBURI, Thailand (Reuters) — Thai farmers marked the beginning of rice cultivation during the monsoon season in early August with their annual water buffaloes race which dates back to the 1800s.

More than 60 buffaloes took part in the race along a 200-meter dirt track in the Napa sub-district of Chonburi Province, some 80 kilometers southeast of the capital Bangkok.

Samart Suksawang, mayor of Napa, said the event honors the buffalo’s traditional role as beast of burden in rice farming.

“The purpose is to conserve cultural traditions, allowing the younger generation to understand that we’ve been practicing rice cultivation with the help of buffaloes for a long time within our local communities,” he said.

Though many farmers now use tractors for rice plowing, water buffaloes are still kept for other duties like carrying.

At the race, young men ran behind pairs of buffaloes, yoked at the neck, using whips to drive them through a waterlogged track. Between races, they splashed water on the animals.

“When it’s hot, we have to pour the water to make the fatigue go away,” said racer Noppadorn Ponpaiparn, 26.

“Just like boxers, during breaks, we have to wipe them.”

The race took place in hot dry weather, with a 5% drop in rainfall forecast for the July-October monsoon, according to the country’s Meteorological Department.

“It’s so much fun and exhilarating,” said spectator Ratsamee Chomkhun, 48. “But it’s also surprising. We’re afraid the buffaloes might jump towards us, but the staff are keeping them under control.”