The Buffalo Racing Festival or Wing Kwai is one of the most exciting events of the calendar in Chonburi province. The annual race is held in celebration of the water buffalo as an icon of Thailand’s agrarian way of life, giving locals a chance to get together, compete in thrilling competitions, and enjoy delicious, local cuisine.
Dating back to 150 years ago, the event is perfect for anyone looking for a unique Thai experience that cannot be found elsewhere.
Since the festival is very closely associated with the end of Buddhist Lent and scheduled on the lunar calendar (at the end of the rainy season), the exact date of the festival varies from year to year. This year, the 152nd Buffalo Racing Festival will be held from October 20th to 28th, 2023 with the main race taking place on the last day.
An icon of Thai agriculture
Historically, the water buffalo was one of the most important animals to Thai agriculture. The all-purpose beast of burden was capable of plowing, sowing, and mowing the rice fields, as well as threshing the rice and transporting the sheaves during harvest season, so it’s not a stretch to say that they kept Thailand’s rice bowl overflowing.
Nowadays, the buffalo have mostly been replaced with modern machinery that offer superior speed and efficiency. Nonetheless, they are considered a cultural icon often associated with Thai farmers, and this tradition ensures that the animals are given the appropriate exercise in lieu of their traditional workload.
The buffalo race
Weighing around 400 to 900 kilograms, the water buffalo have been stereotyped as slow, lumbering beasts, and first-time festival-goers are often surprised at their speed. These normally passive creatures are capable of sprinting down the track at more than 48 kmph (30 mph).
The competition is divided into five classes based on size, from “super junior” to “jumbo,” with some of the beasts weighing in at over a ton. Trainers spend the majority of their time preparing strict exercise and diet plans months prior to the competition.
The race itself is not only a test of the buffalo’s speed, but also of the riders’ balance and agility, and it’s important to take into account the jockeys’ ability to guide their beloved beasts through the muddy 100-metre track. The traditional rule of the race is that the jockeys must finish the race on the back of the buffalo. If the jockey falls off, they’re disqualified from the competition. After the competition is complete, the winner will be announced and paraded around town.
The race is being organized in front of the Chonburi City Municipality Office.
No Thai festival is complete without food and a cavalcade of entertainment. The Buffalo Racing Festival offers a multitude of food stalls, concerts, other traditional sporting events, as well as rides and activities for children. There is even a beauty pageant that crowns that year’s Nong Nang Ban Na, which translates loosely to “Miss Homestead.”
However, there are other contests for buffalo that are not agile enough to compete in the races, including buffalo costume contests, buffalo beauty contests (not to be confused with the beauty pageant), and healthy buffalo contests.