International Swan Boat Races

Swan Boat Races

Swan Boat Races

Teams compete for prizes in the 21st annual swan boat races at the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Craft Centre, 19 to 20 September.

Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre, Ayutthaya province, is worth visiting any time of the year, but it has a special fascination for visitors in September, when the riverside complex hosts the annual international swan boat races.

Now in its 21st year, the dates were changed this year to 19 to 20 September moving back a week from its usual mid-month slot. But it still promises to be a tough, contested, series of races with nine international teams, mainly from around Asia, vying for the annual trophy.

Teams that have already confirmed their attendance include Penang Municipal Park Club Malaysia, Singapore Barbarian A, Singapore Barbarian B, Philippines National Dragon Boat Team, China Nanhai Zhonalian Dragon Boat Team, Dragon Boat and Boat Racing Federation of India and Thailand A, B, and C squads. Two teams surviving the knock-out races will compete for the Prime Minister’s Cup on the final day.

So what’s the fascination for spectators who turn up in their thousands to enjoy the festive spirit and rivalry
For starters it is photogenic and amateur shutter bugs attend in the droves, determined to “catch the moment” in their fancy digital cameras equipped with enormous zoom lens.

Families dominate the spectator profile. They set out their mats on the banks of the river to enjoy a picnic lunch, or just lean back against the trunk of shady tree to watch the races.

They will witness the incredible enthusiasm and energy of the paddlers, who require considerable skill and teamwork to keep their boats stable enough to slice smoothly through the water at incredible speeds.

Swan boats defy the usual logic required to build race-fit craft. They are heavy and built to last. Their long, narrow, round-bottom hulls have high sweeping bows and sterns carved with the head and tail of a mythical swan.

There are actually two categories that can be seen at the races.

The traditional version’s hull is 29 metres long weighing 2268 kg and is often carved from a single trunk of a thakien tree. Manned by 50 paddlers and two helmsmen they are difficult to manoeuvre requiring exceptional navigational skills and team coordination to keep them on course.

International races use a modified version of the Swan boat, usually 15 metres long and powered by a team of 20 paddlers and a paddling helmsman, who uses a whistle to set the cadence rhythm, which can easily exceed 120 paddles a minute in the heat of a race.

The lighter craft weigh in at slightly over 900 kg. They usually race over a measured 650-metre course on rivers, but village races are often held on canals adjacent to temples.

Adding to the excitement, teams in the international races at Bang Sai face the swift flowing currents of the Chao Phaya River, in full flood.

Swan races are a traditional sport in Thailand and Southeast dating back 700 years. Youngsters race the boats during the rainy season on any available stretch of water in competitions that attract bigger crowds than seen at the country’s football matches.

Linked to the Buddhist lent, the races continue through late September to the full moon celebrations in early October, when the three-month lent comes to a close.

Enthusiasts in Asia would like to see this authentic Asian sport in the Olympic and Asian Games. Until that happy day arrives, visit Bang Sai to experience a traditional sport that requires team spirit, endurance and precision all of which guarantees unrivalled spectator appeal.

And for a bonus, hire a car and take the Michelin Map’s green scenic route that follows the Chao Phaya River, just a couple of kilometres up Highway 347 from the junction with the Rangsit- Pathum Thani highway. You can make a stop at Wat Phai Lom, a refuge for migratory storks and follow the minor road that weaves under Highway 9 and brings you to Bang Sai’s handcraft centre.

At the close of the races journey on for another 20 km to Ayutthaya to admire this World Heritage site in the evening as the temple and palace ruins are illuminated. It is also the classic route for weekend cyclists who turn out in their hundreds to enjoy these quiet lanes. There are three-star hotels and riverside restaurants in Ayutthaya making it an ideal stop on a tour northbound Thailand’s heritage towns.

Race highlights:

  • International Swan Boat Race: nine teams, each craft having 22 paddlers. The winning team will receive the Prime Minister’s Cup.
  • Thai Traditional Swan-boat Race: 12 teams, each with 55 paddlers. Paddlers come from various provinces around Thailand and compete for the Queen’s Cup.
  • Thai Traditional Swan-boat Race: 16 teams, each with 30 paddlers from four regions of Thailand, also competing for the Queen’s Cup.
  • Final rounds for each category will be contested 1600 to 1700, 20 September.

The 21st Thailand International Swan Boat Races will be held from 19 to 20 September at Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre, Ayutthaya province. Free admission. The event takes place from 0930 until 1700. Contact TAT Ayutthaya at 035 246 076 to 7