Elephant Race Festival in Central Highland Vietnam


In many western countries, the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear the word ‘Vietnam’ is the infamous war, something that happened more than 30 years ago. It’s a shame, because despite the horrors of that conflict – or perhaps because of them – Vietnam has surged forward in the last decade to become one of the fastest growing economies and one of the most distinctive cultures in Southeast Asia, shaped by its past but uniquely, well, unique. With a huge variety of landscapes from freezing mountains to lush beaches, a coastline of over 3,200 km, and a fierce, proud people who love to celebrate, there’s always a bit of merry-making around the corner.

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Elephant Race Festival

Elephant Race Festival via Youtube 

The Elephant Race Festival takes place in springtime, normally in the third lunar month. 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. People from near and far in their best and colorful costumes flock to the festival. The racing ground is 500m long and wide enough for ten elephants to stand simultaneously.

After a salvo of tu va (horns made into musical instruments), the elephant handlers called nai take their elephants to the ground, 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 forwards amidst the resounding cry of the spectators.

The first handler uses an iron stick called kreo in M’Nong language to speed the elephant. The second handler beats the elephant with a wooden hammer called koc to ensure its speed and to keep it in the right line. Upon seeing the first elephant dashing to the destination the spectators shout boisterously amidst the echoing sound of drums and gongs.

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-goer. 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.

Elephant Race Festival via SVietnam Tourism

Coming to this Elephant Race Festival, tourists have a chance to indulge in the boisterous atmosphere of the festival, of the echo of gongs and the spectacular performances of the elephants from the Central Highlands forest.

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 constitutes a big festival in the Central Highlands. It reflects the martial spirit of the M’Nong people, an ethnic group famous for their bravery in wild elephant hunting. The magnificent landscape of the Central Highlands further stresses the grandiose characters of this traditional festival.

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