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
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
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.
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
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
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
shares the same culture and civilization. They were relative and crossing
the border without care much on the central government authority.
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
The story of fighting fish in Cambodia:
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
conclusion I draw from its name linking to the historical event with my
imagination. It does not support by the concrete empirical data.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Thais players are still conservative on the sight side match and play a lot
of tricks in a game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
shall pay for the fighting fish fee 10 percent of the total bet to the ring
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.
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