Thousands of Cambodians have flocked to Vihear Sour village to watch water buffalo race along muddy roads as part of a ceremony marking the end of the Pchum Ben festival.
For generations, the village, in Kandal province’s Ksach Kandal district, has closed Pchum Ben – a Buddhist festival to honour deceased relatives – with water buffalo races.
As has been the case for the past several years, however, horses were needed to make up the numbers.
The race’s head organiser, Chhay Sophea, said some water buffalo had come down with an infection that made them physically unable to race.
The owners of other water buffalo had sold them.
The Thang, a member of the ceremony’s organising committee, said the number of water buffalo had fallen by about 50 percent compared with last year because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
“We cannot take the villagers’ buffalo in the competition because they cannot walk,” he said.
He said that while last year there were roughly 30 buffalo that participated, this year there were only 14.
The 12 horses that participated this year matched the number from last year.
Both horses and buffalo were adorned with brightly coloured headgear before the festivities kicked off.
The participants raced back and forth between Vihear Sour pagoda, where the most spectators watched, and a spirit house a few hundred metres away.
Before the race, organisers said, the buffalo had been brought to the spirit house by villagers, who prayed for their health and well-being.
The race lasted about 45 minutes and featured a range of speeds, from horses that tore through the course with power and grace to water buffalo that never broke into a full sprint.
One rider barrelled through the course without placing his hands on the reins.
The wild-eyed daredevil extended his limbs outward as his horse surged towards the Vihear Sour pagoda finish line, as families cheered him on just a few metres away on either side.
Chan Ny, one of the villagers who rode a buffalo, said he never felt he was in danger because “I know my buffalo very well”.
Less fortunate riders, however, were bucked off their buffalo and made to chase them, much to the delight of the spectators.
All owners of participating buffalo and horses were given 10,000 riels (US$2.38), said Chhet Chhean, the chief of Vihear Sour commune.
No overall winner was announced....read the full story in tomorrow’s Phnom Penh Post or see the updated story online from 3PM UTC/GMT +7 hours.