The Hanoitimes - Besides traditional competitions for animals like cock fighting and buffalo fighting, dog racing, pig racing, cow racing and elephant racing have become new tourism products of some provinces in Vietnam.
The coastal city of Vung Tau is a well-known tourist site in Vietnam. At weekends, besides swimming in the sea, enjoying entertainment and amusement activities and visiting beautiful areas, visitors can watch dog racing, a fun and unique sport.
Dog racing was introduced to Vietnam by Sport and Entertainment Service Company (SES-VN) and was licensed in 2001 in Vung Tau city.
Vung Tau is the only place in Vietnam and Southeast Asia that has this sport. The dogs are Greyhounds, a hunting dog breed from Ireland which were imported to Vietnam by Nguyen Ngoc My, a Vietnamese Australian man.
SES-VN breeds this species of dog in a farm in Ba Ria Town. Now Lam Son Stadium which serves as a dog racecourse and dog training center has about 800 Greyhounds.
Dog racing is usually held on Saturdays so it is convenient for tourists to watch during their visit to Vung Tau.
The races last three hours, from 19h30 to 22h30, with 10 laps. Each circuit is 450m long and involves eight dogs that run at a speed of nearly 60km/hour or about 30 seconds per lap on average which is faster than the speed of a track-and-field athlete. The dog reaching the finish line first is the winner.
The racecourse is not too large, so viewers in the stands can watch the running of the “dog athlete.” After the starting gun has started the race, a fake rabbit which is stuck on a slide around the track, will move ahead and faster than the dogs, but the distance between the bait and the dogs is kept within reach.
Besides watching the dog race, the viewers also participate in the prize program to make the race more exciting.
Before choosing a dog to focus on, fans are provided with a brochure with instructions on how to choose a potential winner. There are detailed introductions on each dog, from its good or bad past performances to its health and the last race it participated in. This information helps the fans calculate and consider before making a selection.
However, this is just a little “spice” to make the race more interesting for the viewers’ relaxation and entertainment, not for betting or competition. Therefore, the slogan that the organizers of this sport set out is: “Enjoy each race to ignore the stress in work.”
This is a popular “sports” in tourist sites in southern Vietnam. In HCM City, visitors can go to the Ethnic Minority Culture Ecological Tourist Center in Nhuan Duc commune, Cu Chi district, to watch pig racing.
The racecourse for pigs includes six tracks of 15 meters. After the start-off sound from a gong, six pigs gallop forward in the shout of audience.
Pig athletes can race when they are hungry. Bonus for them is food. A pig cannot run for over ten rounds and their career is from 4-6 months.
The most famous cow race is held annually in Bay Nui of the southern province of An Giang.
Sene Dolta is celebrated in all villages of the Khmer people, but the cow racing festival, part of the Sene Dolta, is the most striking event which takes place only in the Bay Nui (Seven Mountain) region.
The cow racing was previously held in a large rice-field at a Khmer pagoda by a senior monk for the cows of this village and those of other villages to compete with each other, so as to find some pairs of cows which ran fast and were strong enough for plowing in the next crops. Through time, the cow racing becomes a traditional sport of the Khmer people in An Giang Province.
Tourists will feel so surprised to witness such a strange competition because competitors have to go hand-in-hand and are tethered by a long bamboo stick. They have to drag the harrow and be driven by a man, who holds a rod to spur the pair of cows to run as fast as they can.
The rule of the game is simple. The racetrack, set in a muddy and slippery field, is some 120 meters long with both the start and finish lines marked with red and green flag poles; each pole stands five meters apart.
Each race involves two pairs of cows and they will stand next to their pole. When the start command is raised, a pair will run first and the other will follow. If the latter treads on the harrow of the former, they will win immediately. Or, if they touch the finish line first, they will also win, and of course, the finish line of the former is farther than that of the latter.
Each pair of cows are tethered the harrow and managed by a man. Each competition includes 2 pairs, following direct elimination rule. They will race 3 rounds attractively and then try their best to reach the target. After two rounds of rodeo to warm up the competition, the 120-meter-long sprint will decide the winners and the losers.
The audience shouts for joy, while the sprint resembles a horse competition in a film of the Roman Empire period. The driver’s skill plays an important role for the tournament. The winning drivers are considered the bravest men of the region.
The prices of the cows winning the first, second and third prizes will be increased up to two or three taels of gold.
According to the Khmer people, the winning pair of cows will bring good luck to villagers, so local residents will not sell but keep them as a precious property for the owners’ families as well as the villages.
If you have a chance to go to Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands in springtime, you should not miss the Elephant Race Festival, normally celebrated in the third lunar month. Attending the festival, you will be lived in the boisterous atmosphere of the echo of gongs and the spectacular performances of the elephants from the Central Highlands forest.
The Elephant Race Festival is usually held in Don Village or in forests near the Sevepoi River. In preparation for the festive day, people take their elephants to places where they can eat their fill. Apart from grass their food also includes bananas, papayas, sugar canes, corns, sweet potatoes. The elephants are free from hard work to preserve their strength.
On the big day, elephants from different villages gather at Don Village. The race track is on even ground, preferably wide enough for ten elephants to stand simultaneously in a line with a length of one to two kilometres. People from near and far in their best and colourful costumes flock to the festival.
With the signal of tu va (horns made into musical instruments), the mahouts command their elephants to go to the race track, standing in a row at the starting point.
The leading elephant stands in front, whirling his trunk and nodding his head in greeting the spectators. Atop each elephant there are two handlers in traditional costumes for generals. The tu va signals the start of the race and the elephants rush ahead, excited by the sound of the drums, gongs, and cheering from the spectators.
Upon seeing the first elephant dashing to the destination, the spectators shout boisterously amidst the echoing sound of drums and gongs. At the end of the race, the winning elephants lift their trunks above their heads to wave to the viewers, walk deliberately flapping their ears gently, gazing through half-closed eyes to receive sugarcane from their viewers.
The winning elephant is given a laurel wreath. Like its owner, the elephant expresses its happiness and enjoy the sugar canes and bananas from the festival-goers.
After this race, the elephants participate in the competition of swimming across the Serepok River, of tug-of-wars, or throwing balls and playing football. When the race comes to an end, the competing elephants bring back the atmosphere of the festival to their villages.
Upon returning to their village, they receive warm welcome from the villagers. Very often, the elephants from Don Village win the prizes as the village has a tradition of training and tending elephants.
The elephant race is the biggest festival in the Central Highlands. Coming here, you will not only feel the martial spirit of the M'nong ethnic people, who are very famous for their bravery and skill in hunting and taming wild elephants, but also the magnificent landscape of the Central Highlands which further stresses the grandiose characters of this traditional festival.
Meo Vac district in the northern mountain province of Ha Giang is famous for folklore festivals and competitions, including Khau Vai love market, rain worshipping, and bull and goat fighting.
Goat fighting is part of the Khau Vai Love Market Cultural and Tourism Festival which takes place in the third lunar month.
Untamed goats, which are raised in the highlands for wool, meat and milk by Mong, Dao and Tay ethnic people, are brought to the competition field, acting as contestants.
When the festival is in full swing, local people select the strongest bucks (male goats) in the herd to take part in competitions.
The competition field is a round, flat piece of land at the foot of the mountain fenced with bamboo poles tied together with ropes.
Spectators stand outside the fence and excitedly watch intense competitions until the winner is named.
The owner of the winning goat is believed to have good luck all year round.