Towards the end of the Rainy Season, people from all around Thailand come together to race boats on their local canals and rivers. At Bang Phli, where we went this morning, this happens a few days before the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. At this time, the rivers are at their highest level. The event this morning was opened by the new Governor of Samut Prakan. The abbot from Wat Bang Phli Yai then blessed all of the rowers. Once these formalities were out of the way, each boat had to be checked that it was the regulation width of no more than 1.2 meters. Then a draw was done to decide which boats were racing in which round.
I think there were at least thirty boats taking part in these races. The majority of the rowers were male and in their late teens or twenties. However, there were also some female teams as well as young boys. I have watched boat racing a number of times in different locations. Today we were in front of Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai. The boats here are not as long as the ones in other races. However, I prefer watching the races here as Samrong Canal is not very wide and that means you can get really close to the action. Next week I will be going to watch the boat races at Phra Pradaeng which takes place on the Chao Phraya River. It is a different kind of atmosphere there.
Each team wear the same colour shirts. There are eight oarsmen in these boat with one guy standing precariously at the back doing the steering. As you can see from some of these photographs, the boats are low in the water and by the time they reach the finishing line they are half submerged and need to be bailed out. The bigger boats at other races can apparently hold as many as 60 which must make them extremely long. Too long for canals like these. However, one thing that all these racing boats have in common is the small shrine at the front of the boat that has garlands and joss sticks. Before they start each race, everyone will bow forward across their oars out of respect and also to wish for good luck.
Boating racing in Thailand has been going on for more than 600 years. When it first started, it was a way to keep the local people fit and strong in case they were needed for wars. These days everyone does it just for fun. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously and they will spend many hours each day in training. A lot of strength and stamina is needed in these races. Though I would think it is harder work on the Chao Phraya River as it is tidal. I had a lot of fun watching the races. I stayed there for a couple of hours. The winning teams were awarded trophies which were donated by a member of the royal family. We have posted more pictures over at the Samut Prakan Forums. I have also posted a video at the Paknam Video Blogs.