Organised buffalo racing in Chonburi has been taking place for more than 100 years, but the informal races have a history going back even further than that. The buffalo races are steeped in local tradition and have traditionally taken place at the end of the Rains Retreat also known as the end of Buddhist Lent or Awk Phansa.. In days gone by, farmers from all over Chonburi province would gather at the local temple to offer alms to monks and to sell their produce to villagers and the people from the town. Bringing their farm buffaloes with them, the informal races were thought to have begun simply as a way for the farmers to fill in some time on slow days and enjoy some friendly ‘sanuk’. From those humble beginnings, the races are now incorporated into an annual two-week festival worth millions of Baht for the Chonburi economy.
Whilst the races are a colourful and fun event for spectators, there is prestige as well as prizes at stake for the participants who take matters very seriously. The racing buffalo go through training regimes for the festival and are placed on special diets to ensure they are in prime race condition. Races take place over a course of just over 100 metres long that is set up in front of Chonburi city hall. On the main race day, several races take place in various categories with each event being a test of balance and agility for the riders as well as the speed of the buffalo. The jockeys, who come from the local community, ride the buffalo bareback and guide it down the course using reins and a whip.
As always in Thailand at events like this, being well-fed and having fun are two of the main requirements for a good festival. Food stalls do a roaring trade, rides and amusements are put in place for the children and music concerts take place in the evening. The title ‘Miss Buffalo’ might not sound very flattering, but it is far more glamorous and prestigious than it sounds with local ladies competing to win the annual beauty pageant. There is even a beauty contest for the big farm buffalo which aren’t nimble enough to compete in the races, but they can still win prizes for their owners.
Boom for the local economy
The event attracts thousands of extra Thai visitors to Chonburi and the proximity to Pattaya and Bangkok means that the event is also well attended by expats and overseas residents living in the area. Local officials say that the two-week long buffalo racing festival pumps millions of Baht into the local economy.
Dates for the Chonburi Buffalo Festival
The festival is usually held in October. With the event so closely associated with the end of Buddhist Lent and the lunar calendar, the exact date of the festival varies from year to year. This year, 2012, the Chonburi Buffalo Festival will officially open on October 16 and will run until November 1 with the main race day taking place on October 29.
Getting to Chonburi
Chonburi is the name of a province as well as a city. The buffalo races and festival take place in Chonburi City (close to City Hall). From Bangkok there are regular buses during the day from Mo Chit (Northern Bus Terminal) and Ekamai (Eastern Bus Terminal). Journey time is approximately 2 hours with fares around the 120 Baht mark. Chonburi City is also easy to reach from Pattaya with numerous bus services running to and from Chonburi. Journey time from Pattaya ranges from approximately 1 hour to 2 hours (ordinary buses) with fares starting at around 40 Baht for the ordinary service. Yellow Bus runs services out of Pattaya Nua (Pattaya Northern Bus Station) whilst ordinary services can be flagged down along Sukhumvit Road. If there is a group of you going, you could negotiate a fee with a songthaew driver for private hire for the day. For a bit more comfort and a few more Baht, any tour operator in Pattaya will be able to hook you up with a mini-van and driver for the day.