The 5th of October on our calendar this year, lined up with the last day of the Khmer calendar, which of course called for a celebration. Near the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, this celebration takes the form of a cow racing festival, held on the grounds of a pagoda in a rural village called Tri Ton. A muddier, more chaotic or energetic scene would be hard to imagine. The day unfolds with two pairs of horned cattle, each with a rider in tow, racing around a circular track. The first lap they must keep the bovines somewhat under control, but in the second, no holds are barred, and each racer unleases his animals’ power. Here are a few of the scenes I was able to capture admist all the action and flying mud.
Riders were perched precariously on a makeshift sled as the animals pulled them around the track.
A somewhat slower first round
gave way to the final full steam ahead lap in which anything or anyone too near the track would be quickly covered in brown muck.
The viewing area for spectators went right up to the trackside around the entire course.
Vendors of all kinds seemed to be as plentiful as those who came to see the races.
A team prepares their bovines for the next race.
Seemingly more often that not, the animals would find the track too constricting and feel the need to stray from it into the crowd.
This man, derailed from his sled, quickly picks his face out of the mud to watch his cows veer out of control.
With several dozen photographers on hand, this scene repeated itself for each lap around the course. In search of a shot, we would venture out on the track, until the last possible moment with the bulls approaching, and then run like hell to get out of the way.
A few look on as a correspondent for a Vietnamese TV station files a report on the day’s events.
With the crowd pushing right up to the side of the course, prior to each lap the police would have to force everyone back the few forward steps they had claimed in excitment.
Vietnamese police are infamous for the fondness of their batons, and general coarseness. Here, a young man attempts to fight their authority. He stormed away in anger several seconds later.
And finally, for those who couldn’t find a good place to view the events around the course, they were broadcast on TVs behind the judges panel.