This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 10, 2010

May the Best Bull Win - Thai Bullfighting

I want to see a Thai bullfight. I am not quite sure why, but I do. I read in a tourist brochure that bullfights are on the first Saturday of every month in Hat Yai. so we specifically return there Friday, September 4 on our way back south to Malaysia which will be our gateway to Indonesia.

Being led to the ring for his bout
Once in Hat Yai I need to get the exact information about the event - time and location. Pinning down correct information in Thailand can be difficult. People seem to tell you things even if they are not sure about its validity. The first person I ask tells me the schedules are erratic and that I already missed the bullfight for September. The guy at our hotel tells me for whatever reason to ask any tuk-tuk driver. We see people in a beauty salon actually watching a bullfight on DVD. They tell me it is on Sunday or Monday. I go to the Novotel because international  hotels will usually have someone who can speak English well.** The concierge checks online, and I finally get the info that I want to hear. The bullfight is tomorrow. Plus the front desk writes down for me on paper in Thai where I am going to show the driver.
Thai bullfighting lasts all day from morning until evening. The stadium are two sets of shaded, standing room only bleachers on opposite sides of each other. The ring is a wooden fence with a dirt and mud floor. I arrive just at the start of a match. I am the only noticeable foreigner. People are friendly and slightly amused to see a farang at the bullfight, but no one speaks English well enough for me to learn exactly what is happening.
The handlers lead their bulls to the ring take off the horn cozies and rub the beasts faces with bananas. The bulls are carefully led to the center of the ring where they then do what bulls do...lock horns. The bulls fight for position and push. There will be some quick action, then they will lock horns again in a standstill with chests heaving and the handlers trying to encourage them by throwing ropes from a relatively safe distance. The contest lasts for around 20 minutes and ends when one bull decides he has had enough and walks away.

It is like in nature. Two male buffaloes, wildebeests or mountain goats butting heads to prove its dominance over the other. It is just this is forced and performed in front of hundreds of screaming Thai people. And to my untrained eye there seems to be one reason why hundreds of Thai people want to see this -- betting. Bookies stand all through the stands taking wagers. People in the crowd are flashing signs and yelling in their bets. It is like the New York Stock Exchange. Throughout the fight when the bulls have locked horns again after a flurry of action the betting starts again. The roar of the crowd raises to very high levels with bookies selling the odds and people trying to their bets in.  

Capping horns
People are betting big money too. Men are flashing wads of cash. I see many 1000 Bhat (US $33.33) notes changing hands, a huge sum for Thailand. Very interestingly there is a very honorable system here. People verbally place their bets and sometimes seal the deal with a slap of the palm. Money is only collected when the match ends. People pass money back and forth through the crowds.  

In the most exciting match of the day one bull wins after the usual round of shoving and snorting. His handlers are jumping excitedly. This bull decides he wants more, so he attacks the loser again. This means the fight is not over and the bets still stand. The same bull wins again and is running around the ring very agitated. Men use bamboo poles to keep him from attacking again though the betting losers hope the fight will continue. Suddenly this bull hurdles himself over the gate on the otherside from where I am standing. This wild bull, I think, is declared winner, but some losers are irate absolutely screaming at some officials. The crowd is in a frenzy of clattering Thai. I do not understand anything.

So the big question is: Is this humane? No, of course not. I equate it to something like American rodeo. Probably not great for the animals, but they are not hurt too badly. Regardless it is still much better than Spanish-style bullfighting where the poor bull is stabbed by banderilleros, speared by a picador and then finished off by the matador.
The Hamburger on the left cost me 100 Bhat (US $3.33)
The other big actiity planned for Hat Yai is to eat Bird's Nest Soup. We saw the caves where they harvest the nests made from the saliva of swifts so I figure that we might as well try the delicacy. Bird's Nest Soup is not used in Thai food, but Hat Yai has several tourist Chinese restaurants selling it. Thailand is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy the soup. It comes in varying qualities. Our restaurant has 100 - 500 Thai Bhat portions. We order the smallest and lowest quality. It tastes like a sweet gelatin.

Not too bad for bird spit

**The International Rambler Travel Tip: Even if you cannot afford to stay at fancy hotels, they are still a great resource at your disposal. The staff are always helpful and usually speak good English, and the concierge is great for informaionMika also got band-aids from the front desk while I got a free copy of The Wall Street Journal - Asia Edition from the cafe.

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