Phitsanulok Traditional Boat Races
The Phitsanulok Traditional Boat Races are held in September every year. This is because September falls in the midst of Thailand’s rainy season, which is when the rivers are at their highest.
They are usually held across a weekend towards the middle of the month, although dates for 2017’s races are yet to be confirmed. Keep checking online throughout the summer for updates.
The main event of the Phitsanulok Traditional Boat Races is – as you might have guessed – the boat races themselves.
A number of teams take part each year (usually over 100), cheered on by large crowds of locals and foreigners alike as they race along the river. They race in 9 different kinds of boats, including mini boats and long boats of various sizes; some are as much as 30m long. There are always two boats in each race, and the length of the race is usually 500-600m. Despite this relatively long distance, races often come down to exciting, split-second finishes.
Religious events also take place across the weekend, including a robe-offering ceremony, and the monarchy are represented by a version of the Royal Barge Procession (which features the Royal Trophy; the event’s highest prize).
Boat racing is a historic tradition which stretches back hundreds of years in Thailand, to at least the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767). This was a lucrative time for Thailand, but also a time of frequent war, and boat racing was one way to keep the Thai men fit, healthy, and physically prepared for battle.
Although it doesn’t have such a violent reason for its existence now, the Phitsanulok Traditional Boat Races have remained popular because of their historic nature, and the prestige that victory brings to the winning teams.
The Phitsanulok Traditional Boat Races take place on the Nan River, specifically on the stretch in front of the Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat Maha Worawihan Temple (try saying that three times quickly). Phitsanulok is the capital of Phitsanulok province, which is located in the lower north of Thailand, next to historic Sukhothai.
Phitsanulok is accessible by plane, train and automobile. There are regular flights there from Bangkok, and it’s connected by rail to both Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Located right in the heart of the country, Phitsanulok isn’t too far from either Bangkok or Chiang Mai. There are many bus journeys each day from both cities, with each journey taking around 6 hours.