I have visited Seam Reap, Cambodia June 6 -12, 2013 for two purposed. One is to visit the fighting fish ring in South East Asia. And second, I want to see wall sculpture in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom the world famous ancient city for find the vital data of ancient layman in SEA in theirs diary life, whether there was anything concerning to the fighting fish community.


Over thousand years ago, Khmer civilization centered in Angkor Wat, was the most influential culture in SEA. A guide told me that there were estimated around three million people living in Angkor Wat. From the wall sculptures we can see many people from the various race such as Western, Chinese and other SEA race were busy in socially activities. But there was no data concern directly to the fighting fish community. No matter a local guide took me around to search that picture, asking his friend who also working around the temple or even he called many archaeologist experts whose can read ancient Khmer language. I was hoping to see a single picture concern on the fish fighting, but none. However, at least I get few sculpture pictures on fighting cock and many pictures show a lot of fish in the lake. At least I can confirm that in SEA we already have fighting cock bet and people dealing with a lot of fish in theirs’ diary live over 1000 years ago. The fighting cock always goes along with the fighting fish as we can see their relationship in the present time. In the dry season farmer play cock fighting and raining season farmer stay mostly in the rice field play fish fighting. However, it is too easy to conclude that the fish fighting emerges the same age of cock fighting as long as we do not have validated data to infer the playing fighting fish happened the same period of cock fighting, it may earlier or later.


Though, this was the first step on study the fighting fish in Cambodia and I did not see much the picture of fighting fish in Seam Reap that may link to the old story of fish fighting in Thailand. But I still hope my further steps on visit to other cities in Cambodia in the near future. It should contributing and connecting to the history of fighting fish in SEA, more or less.


I would like to express my gratitude and thankful to Uncle Bol who was so kind and generous to offered me to stay in his house and show me his fighters, not less to Mr. Jimmy Eng who spare his time to be the translator and show me around while I stay in Seam Reap. Also to Mr. Pouv Visal who took me around inside and outside Seam Reap and I was appreciated his support when I need immediately help. Also not less his wife who cook original delicious Khmer food with a lot of vegetable that I like most. Lastly, thank to Mr. Pisey Hay who did the excellent job on co-operate the entire project of my visit Seam Reap fighting fish ring, its result appears smooth accomplishment, without him I was still in blind.


Cambodia and Thailand concerning to the fighting fish:

Cambodia shares borders with Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north, Thailand to the west, and the ocean coast to the Southwest. In the ancient historic period, Cambodia was one of the most influential country spread all over South East Asia call “Khmer civilization”.


Cambodia situated the same range of latitude and longitude the same climate of the middle part of Thailand, the rain zone climate of the horizontal vast land of rice field in which the story of fighting fish has begun. Cambodia located and get influence from the Mekong basin as Chao playa basin does to Ayutthaya the old capital of Siam. The majority of Cambodia people enjoy the fertilized land by being farmer growing rice as the Thai farmers were. If we look at physical geography we can see the low land of Chao Playa delta and the low land of Mekong delta is the same piece of land. People can easily connected by land walk through and row a boat along the river. Cambodia and Thailand in the past share theirs’ history and can not put aside one history without saying another. If we do not consider the country border boundary, the middle part of Thailand and Cambodia shares the same culture and civilization. They were relative and crossing the border without care much on the central government authority.


Khmer and Siam have had war several times and end when the French rule the Cambodia in the imperialist period or just 100 years ago. There were a lot of Thai people remaining in Battambang (West, connected to the east of Thailand border) and Kampot (south, connected to the south east of Thailand), after the Frances came to rearrange the border lines in the early 20 Century. In that period of the time fighting fish already was the most popular in the SEA region. It was a time of King of Siam, Rama III (1840) presenting the captive fighting fish to western visitor, to be known Dr. Theodor Cantor.


Now, Battambang and Kampot are the main breeding fighting fish in Cambodia.


The story of fighting fish in Cambodia:

Captive Betta Splendens fighting fish in Khmer language call “Bonkat Trei Chol Khmer” or “the captive fighting fish of Khmer”, and call wild fighting fish “Trei Krem Prey Khmer” without mentioning to the term “Siem” in the name of fighting fish like Vietnam (Ca Xiem) and Indonesian (Ikan Siam) did. It may quick interpreting that the playing of fish fighting in Cambodia was the same period in Siam. The fighter was named by the name of its origin as Siamese fighting fish got the origin name from Siamese who bred or play the fighting fish, as Khmer people name theirs fighting fish referring to the breeder or fighting fish bred by Khmer. There is one distinguished color of fighting fish name “Plakat Khmer” or “Cambodia fighting fish”, it has extended yellow color on body and the fin has red color. This color may invented by the Khmer breeder in the few breeding generations. I remember that when I was young (1968) I have seen “Plakat Khmer” color as a good fighting fish. Though, in the present time we may not see this color in the game breed fighting fish anymore. But it still available a lot in fancy Plakat both long fin and short fin, it became the major color in fancy type.


This conclusion I draw from its name linking to the historical event with my imagination. It does not support by the concrete empirical data.


Noun Vi Bol(1961) or uncle Bol the 52 years old an owner of the fighting fish ring in Seam Reap, told me that he has seen people play the fighting fish when he was 9 years old. The oldest man he saw in that time was 80 years old in Phnom Penh. This means that the captive fighting fish already in Cambodia over 100 years. He also confirmed that Khmer people play the fighting fish before the French troop came. However the development of fighting fish in Cambodia was very slow and sometime even completely stops. The only one main reason was the war in the region and in the most trouble period of Khmer people, governed by Khmer Rouge (1975 – 1979). When the political trouble pass away and Khmer people entertain their state of peace again, then the playing of fighting fish has move again.


The captive fighting fish in Seam Reap:

One thousand year ago, the area now call Seam Reap was one of the biggest city in the human civilization called Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the one of the seven wonder of the world and now the world heritage. There are millions of tourist come to pay visit every years. The luxury hotel town, the tourist facilities and crowd of visitors make Seam Reap not look small town as it is. “Tonlé Sap” beside the Seam Reap, the largest fresh water lake in SEA served the Khmer people from ancient time up to now. The Tonle Sap is also the source of wild fighting fish that the first generation player got the fighting fish from the wild around the lake and play in the seasoning period in July – October (and still proceed the game up to nowadays), when the lake filled by the rain and get flood by water flow from Mekong River. 


The story of play wild fighting fish in Seam Reap was the same story of wild fighting fish other places in SEA that I were told. That most of the players were young boys and play in the seasoning period of the time. The year of start to play the wild fighter was also unknown.


Right now the popular fish fighting is a captive fighting fish. The fighting fish club in Seam Reap started about 4 – 5 years ago, after the political conflict of the country was calm down to the ordinary live state. There is one fighting ring in Seam Reap and open 3 days a week. The day I visited was Saturday. There were around 10 – 20 people carry the fighting fish to match and play in that day.


There are around 10 breeders in Seam Reap and each breeder has only 2 – 30 tanks. So at the present, the players breed the fighters for private used, share among the friend and sell some to the children often come to visit in a day. Some good family may sent to match in Phnom Penh the capital city of Cambodia. In Phnom Penh ring, there are many players pay more serious on the game; the top fighters came from various sources, the top of Cambodian breeders, Battambang and Kampot, and many of them were imported from outside the country.


Fighting fish in Seam Reap used very small size, an average size is 1.6 grams They are still young, possibly 4 – 6 month old. The size over 1.8 considered the big size and hard to find the match (where in Thailand the size under 1.8 grams, considered the small size and hard to find the match). One obvious reason I can see on visiting two breeders is, theirs’ the breeding tank is too small, it is just one square meter. This size of tank can keep very small number of fighters and the size of the fighter is limited by its tank. Another reason came from the opinion of the player I met that day, he said that this was to avoid matching with an import fighter that they play mostly on bigger size. A small bet is also can prevent an imported fighter to join the ring.


However, as Seam Reap is also the source of breeding fighting fish, an expectation on fighting in this ring considerable as a testing level game. So they may simply want to see its fighting potential and its talent. Some players may come to find the good fighter in Seam Reap to sell or to match in Phnom Penh ring.


The weighting fighting fish practice:

When Seam Reap players start to play the fish fighting again, it was the time of weighting system accepted in most of the fighting fish club, a new standard on matching the fighter. The weighting system introduced by the Asian players in USA around 2006, is one of the most importance influence contributing to the world of fighting fish today. It became acknowledgeable and widespread to their homeland country, start from Vietnamese player (In 2002 I visited Ho Chi Minh City, the players still using top sight matching method). Vietnamese are the majority of the players in USA. It was derived from the concept of boxing that the fighter has to be weighted in order to find the same match, for the fair match game sake. As the USA players always asking for the champion fighter. It moves the fish fighting from gambling of playing trick to the concept of real game.


To explain the popularity of weighting system spread to many rings in many countries was easy; when the buyers from USA were asking and requesting for the weight of the fighter they want to buy. Then the seller in Vietnam has to follow a demand of the customers. Some other reasons were supported by the fair play game itself, if players want to prolong the club. An annoy voice of the players often arguing and complaining when they saw an obvious difference size of the fighters in the fighting jar, the smaller always lose badly. To remedy an unhappy situation in the fighting fish club, the USA players find a solution of the sizing problem by introduced a digital scale to sizing the fighter. The digital weighting is wide spread accepted as a matching standard in the various fighting fish clubs inside and outside the country in the short period of time. Its origin derived from the influential systematic thinking culture underlay in the USA players. It also meets the demand of the modern society that try to find the standard on any activity. From my direct experiences I accepted that the weighting system is one of the most fair play rule and good to apply to the fighting fish game.

Except Thais players are still conservative on the sight side match and play a lot of tricks in a game.


They said it is a charm of the fighting fish game.


The first player comes to fighting ring around 8 AM, by motorcycle with some fighters in his bag. The fighters were keeping in the small plastic glass the same size the player in Malaysia use. This type of container is good for carry and save a lot of space. The player can stack them after weight, and he can let them display to each other for soft warm exercise on the waiting time. It also easy does if an opponent wants to recheck by sight match either from top or by side.


Each fighter has to weight its size before enter to the matching area. The weight set box comprised the digital scale, soft cloth layer on the flat basket for drain the fighter and another piece of soft cloth to drain another side of the fighter. The digital scale placed in the box avoids the wind blow that may disturb a cup by the weight of the fighter can change a digit of weight either higher or lower.  Since a weight of the fighter is the most importance to gain advantage over an opponent. So the strategic concept to entertain this advantage is, the owner try to make his fighter light weight as much as possible. The only way he can do is to drain the water on the fighter as dry as possible. So the water may not accompanied with a fish and share its weight with the fighter.


There are only two persons involved in weighting the fighter, one is a judge who controls the digital weight and writes down a weight on its container and his book. Another person is the owner of the fighter that draining his fighter before putting it in the weighting cup. To assign an owner to rub his fighter with soft cloth by his finger is to cut off all problems that may happen during the weighting process.


However, I can see a lot of dust stick on the fighter body when returns to its container. This dust may harm to the fighter skin or in the other hand may hurt to an opponent fighter when bite to it.  But if everyone agreed doing the same procedure the game should be fair and satisfied to all.


When the owners agree to fight on the basic bet, each fighter was net by the dry scoop into the fighting jar. A fighting jar is an oval plastic or glass contains around 4 liters of water. It was same as the fighting jar I saw in Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang and Medan.  


The challenge for higher bet was started when fighting a few minutes. The total amount of bet was not much or a few US Dollar. This is normal in the breeder ring that the breeder wants to see his fighter’s performance. The winner’s money is just a bonus.


The rule of winning the game:

Most of the fighters using in Seam Reap ring are young fighters. So they fight very fast and fighting result bear itself very fast also. Many of them were targeting much on tail. This fighting style is very common in the young fighter. It will changed its fighting style when it going older. The period of fighting just takes 2 hours by average. The fighting time would start around 9 o’clock and be end around 11.00 O’clock. The fighting rule also supports the game to end fast. If two fighters stop to fight, one player may call the judge to set up the clock for five minutes, to see whether both fighters willing to fight or not. A judge will watch the reaction of the fighters. If both completely stop to fight after 5 minutes passed. A judge will net one fighter to the police fish jar and see whether a fighter open a gill approaching to the police fish or not. A police fish hit three times, if a fighter do not open its gills approaching to the police fish, this fighter considered to be the loser fighter. But if it does opens the gills approaching to the police fish. Then a judge will move it to another jar waiting to fight again, if another fighter does opens the gills same. It will put to fight again in the same jar. But if not, then it would consider being the loser. This testing may claimed only 3 times if both fighters still open the gills approaching to a police fish. Then the game over and consider them in draw fight.


The loser shall pay for the fighting fish fee 10 percent of the total bet to the ring owner.



From my visited many historic places both in Thailand and Cambodia and also searching an old documents, what I want to see is just only one simple picture, a picture showing people playing Siamese fighting fish. The oldest picture I saw was pencil drawing picture by western drawer which we assumed that it was the Siamese fighting fish. But we can see that there was a man hold a half of coconut shell, this coconut shell in fact used to put wrestling halfbeak fighter. (Uncle Peng told me on his half coconut shell used to put wrestling halfbeak fighter to the ring. He used his father’s half coconut shell an age of it should be around 150 years. Since he follow his father to the ring when he was 9 years old). This picture should be around 1910 or just 100 years ago. It shows a few half naked men gathering around the big pot with challenging for bet. In fact it did not show what type of fighting fish fight in the pot. We simply pre-assuming that it should be the Siamese fighting fish. But it also can be fighting the needle fighting fish or Wrestling Halfbeak (Dermogenys pusilla) fish and White spot panchax fighter (Aplocheilus panchax), both were also popular fighting fish in that period of time. But let believed that it was a picture showing on the playing captive Betta splendens fighting fish, to make our story easy.


Actually what I am trying to say so far, I cannot find any document showing the fighting fish beyond 100 years ago. By many interviews I can lead back around 200 years and also by investigating the fighting fish staff such as glass, jar and other equipments from the very old player told me. For visited the Ancient temple like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom lead back to the thousand years ago of SEA people I did not see any picture show fighting fish. But it does not means that the beginning of fish fighting is around that years. It existence may beyond that but we lack the evident data to inferring its existence beyond 200 years.


July 10, 2013


To be continued

You come I'm so please, I'm regret when you leave.

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