Thailand's annual buffalo festival races on despite travel ban

Chon Buri (Thailand) (AFP) –


Thailand's annual water buffalo racing festival ploughed ahead on Thursday despite coronavirus travel restrictions leaving the event with a fraction of its usual tourist crowds.

The sturdy bovines were used as draught animals in farms across the kingdom until they were largely replaced by tractors and modern machinery just a few decades ago.

But farmers in Chonburi province near Bangkok have kept up traditional buffalo racing as a way to mark the start of the annual rice planting season and the end of Buddhist Lent.

Prized buffaloes pulling carts joined festive floats decorated with mythical naga serpents, while dancers in traditional golden costumes marched in a parade before the competition began.

The beasts thundered down the 100-metre track with jockeys balanced precariously on their rumps before leaping off at the finish line.

The course is typically caked in shin-deep mud but was bone dry for this year's event after a stretch of sweltering heat, and fire trucks were on hand to cool off the four-legged competitors.

This year's festival was capped off with a "beauty pageant" to judge the most attractive buffalo.

"They were so well-decorated in (costumes) and flowers it took me a while to realise there were buffaloes underneath," British expatriate Robert Owen told AFP.