A Cambodian villager rides a buffalo during the Pchum Ben festival or Ancestors' Day
VIHEAR SOUR, Cambodia — Thousands of Cambodians descended on a small village northeast of the capital Friday to cheer on the annual water buffalo race that marks the end of the 15-day festival for the ancestors.
"We hold the race to ask the Neakta Preah Srok (pagoda spirit) to protect us and to keep the people and animals in the village from illnesses," said farmer Sam Sen, who was also a judge in the race.
Around 20 villagers rode their buffaloes up and down a short stretch of road leading to the pagoda, to huge cheers from the crowd.
The buffaloes were adorned with colourful masks, their horns carefully bandaged to keep them from injuring anyone.
"I am happy, it was fun," said 23-year-old contestant Chan Ny after the race, still sitting on his buffalo. "I will be back next year."
The number of buffaloes taking part in the race has steadily declined over the last few years.
Sam Sen said this was because "many big buffaloes have been sold off" by families struggling to make ends meet.
Some of the village's buffaloes had also been struck by disease, organisers said.
Cambodians believe their dead ancestors emerge to walk the earth during the Pchum Ben festival, and they honour and remember them with prayers and food offerings at Buddhist pagodas.
Vihear Sour village, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Phnom Penh, began holding the race more than 70 years ago. It is followed by a traditional wrestling match.