I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from the 22-25th of March 2002. The purpose of this trip was to explore my knowledge of Siamese fighting-fish being developed outside Thailand. I have heard many things from my clients and friends about the Vietnamese strain of fighting fish, a renowned fighter that obtained very tough scales and good structural conformity.

My visit to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) would never have been possible had it not been for my very generous Vietnamese friend who monitored my 3 day stay in HCMC. I would like to express my gratitude to him for his kindness, and of course we exchanged some prized stock with each other.

The best and most direct way to learn about fighting fish is to visit the fighting fish in the ring. In the ring you not only see the fish actually fighting but you also get to see the expertise of the breeders and players of the game. You can directly learn, from the way they talk and the way they care for the fighters.  

There are two main topics we can discuss; one is the actual fighting fish ring and the other is the breeding procedure to get the true fighters. I have found that there is not much difference between the practice of these two things in either country.

Since my trip to Vietnam was in such a short period of time, the opinions expressed here are of course only surface level observations. All of the information and attitudes I have presented in this article are my personal views of the material. Any mistakes in information I present here, I alone am responsible for. I would appreciate it if anyone would correct any mistakes I may have made.

Short Review of Siamese Fighting-Fish in Vietnam
  The Vietnamese call Siamese fighting-fish “Ca Siem” which means “Fish from Siam.” A breeder once told me that the Siamese fighting-fish had been introduced and developed in Vietnam, over 100 years ago. His father and his grandfather before him were both breeders of the Siamese fighting-fish; he is now 50 years old. He said that the Chinese were the first group to introduce the fish to Vietnam. I believe that Chinese merchants or sailors were the first group to carry the Siamese fighting-fish from Thailand or Siam to Vietnam. In the year 1840, under the reign of Thai King Rama III this could be considered the golden age of Chinese sea trade in Thailand (this was the year that King Rama III presented Theodor Cantor with the Siamese fighting-fish, who then introduced it to the western world.) The Chinese sailing crews played fish fighting games while they were at sea in order to keep them entertained. When they docked at sea ports the sailors would bring fish with them ashore and share the game with the local people. Only the people of Southeast Asia took this game into their daily lives, as opposed to other countries that chose not to participate. I believe the land traffic in Southeast Asia is responsible for the spread of the Siamese fighting-fish games. Human interaction and relationships along with good understanding of people made the fighting strains spread all over Southeast Asia. Breeding, keeping, and playing fighting fish games became a unique and acceptable practice among the people of these countries.   

When I first saw the Vietnamese fighter it reminded me of the images of fighting fish I had as a child. I remember the short and thick structure of the Plakat Thai. The Vietnamese fighters have the same body pattern as the type that I have named Anabas Testudineus, this type is very short and thick in physical structure. This pattern of body style is very rare and hard to get nowadays in Thailand, most of the Thai breeders prefer to develop the Channa Striata Bloch type, which is very fast and ends the fight quickly. I believe the 30 years that Vietnam spent at war separated the fighting fish strains and cut off the exchange of breeding stock between Vietnam and other countries. The Vietnamese fighter is unique and still preserves the traditional style of Siamese fighting-fish. A Thai artist drew this picture about 60 years ago. And it looks very similar to, a westerners drawing of the same time period. The Thai and Malaysian strains however are difficult to distinguish from each other, because the people of these countries were crossing borders and exchanging stock everyday. However, I am quite sure that in the coming years the Vietnamese fighters will be assimilated just as the Thai and Malaysian strains have been. Some breeders have told me that they have imported Thai and Malaysian strains to crossbreed with their native strains.  

The Vietnamese Fish Fighting Ring
  There are some subtle differences between the fish-fighting ring in Thailand and Vietnam, such as bottle use, the way fish are matched, and some of the rules and regulations enforced by the judges.

There are 5 points I would like to discuss:

  • Fish Fighting Ring Environment
  • People
  • Bottles
  • Matching Methods
  • Transferring the fighter to the fighting bottle
Fish Fighting Ring Environment
  We were able to pay visits to two different rings in Vietnam. The first was located in the Chinese area of town, and the second day we visited a ring in the suburbs of HCMC in a semi-agricultural area. In those two days I saw many of the same people participating at both fish fighting rings.

The first fish-fighting ring we were able to visit was located in the Chinese residential area of town. After making a couple of turns down a small lane we finally reached a small shop in a mini-industrial area. We then walked through the shop to the back and finally reached our first destination, the back of the shop was dimly lit. There were about 30 people in attendance all of them gathered around the ring challenging each other and laughing. The fish fighting bottles are placed on the tables and the players all gather around, discussing, matching, and challenging for more bets. Nobody even notices the hot and humid atmosphere in the room. People are too busy concentrating on their fighter in front of them and they also know that if someone leaves their seat it will be lost at once. The owner of the ring will also sell food and soft drinks to keep the players going strong until the end of the games. The ring closes and all fights stop at 5 pm. Everything above that I have described is exactly the same in Thai fighting rings.

v4.jpg (55198 bytes) The fish fighting ring in the city. I am in the orange T-shirt.
v6.jpg (83126 bytes) The outside of the fish fighting ring in the outskirts of town.
  Most of the people in attendance at the fish fighting rings were men. They ranged in age anywhere from 25-60 years old. Although there is a big gap in age difference between the players, I could not see any gaps in their relationships. Everybody in the game was talking; the fighting ring becomes a center of unification between many different types of people participating in the same interest. I didn’t have a chance to ask anyone their profession but I believe that many of them have jobs similar to the Thai players. The Thai players are generally fighting-fish breeders, professional gamblers, small business owners, retired people and part time employees.
  The Vietnamese use a much smaller bottle, only about a half liter of water in a round shaped glass. In Thai fighting rings we use a tall square glass that contains 2 liters of water. I think that the size and shape of the fighting bottle can very much affect different fighting styles.
Matching Methods
  They match the fighters by looking into the bottle from above in order to estimate the size of the fighters. There is no standardized bottle for matching the fighters. However, what I have seen being used mainly, is the round small size Nescafe bottles for matching the fighters. Some players use a small capsule with paper wrapped all the way around it. The purpose of having the bottle wrapped with paper is so that you cannot see their fighter from the side; you can only view the top of the fighter. This matching method is different from the way Thais match their fighters. The Thais use a square whiskey bottle to match in, this way they can see the side of the fighter and estimate the overall body structure of the fighter. With this method the players can consider two crucial points about the size of the fighter. The head and the rear of the fighter or the Caudal Peduncle area, these two parts are considered very important in matching the fighters by size. Of course the bigger fighter has a very high potential of winning. The fighter should be large and balanced with a good overall body structure. On the other hand if we match the fish by only looking from above, only the neck and length of the fighter can be observed, the side of the fish is dismissed all together. From what I have observed, many of the matches where smaller fighters were matched with larger ones, the smaller fighter was easily beaten. However, I have found one good point from the above matching method. Since the player does not watch the fish through the glass, he can easily make out the size of the fish clearly. Whereas with a square whiskey bottle or other glass, some players will use one that changes the size of the fish and deceives the player. Some types of glass will make the fish look smaller than its actual size.
vietmatch.jpg (46952 bytes) A player carefully matches the fighters by looking from above.
Introducing the Fighters to the Fighting Bottle
  The players use a small scoop which holds a little bit of water to shift the fighter from his container to the fighting bottle. Then the fight begins and the players start to bet. The challenges for extra bets usually take place in the first half an hour and at the times when a player thinks his fish is gaining an advantage over his opponent. This would be in the second hour of the fight. On average, each fight lasts about 3 hours. However there are some matches that will last throughout the day and until the ring closes at 5 pm, any matches that are still going at this point are called a draw.
  There is no difference between the breeding procedures the Thais use and the way the Vietnamese do it. The breeder uses a bucket to breed the pair and then moves the fry to a bigger earthenware jar. The fry will live in the jar about 2-3 months and then the breeder will separate the females and send the males to the big tanks.
vietshift.jpg (67041 bytes) The breeder shifts the fry from the bucket to the earthenware jar.
Fighter Pool
  There are two kinds of tanks for raising the fighters. One type is dug deep into the earth and made of cement, the other type is a dig pool with natural plants and earth banks. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages of the cement tank is that the breeder can control the tank environment, and water condition. Also in a cement tank diseases and fish size are also easily controlled. Whereas the disadvantage to the cement tank is that the breeder will spend more money on food because there is no natural food source, and the fighters will be easily stressed by immediate environment changes because there is no underground water sources to refresh the fish. One of the advantages of raising fighters in the dig pool is that the pool is surrounded by natural plants, the leaves of the plants fall into the dig pool which creates an environment that is the most similar to their natural habitat. Most of the dig pool fighters will be very healthy and grow very fast. However, keeping fighters in the dig pool creates a risk from flooding.
vietpoll.jpg (91256 bytes) Raising fighters in the dig pool. This is the traditional fighter pool; the net covering the pool is to protect the fighters from birds and other natural enemies.
vietyoung.jpg (65929 bytes) From the earthenware jar the breeder has shifted the fighter to the bigger cement tank. The young fighters will live here about 2-4 months.
  The breeder may transfer the fighter to the bigger tank one more time. This is the last place the fighter will be raised before being taken to the fighting ring. The tank is about 1 square meter in width and 1 meter deep, it is also filled with a lot of floating plants and vegetation. However in the case of the dig pool, the fry shall stay in the natural pool until they are adult fighters.
viettank.jpg (71094 bytes) The fighters in these tanks are ready to sell or train to fight.
vietnet.jpg (87170 bytes) This is the breeder who raises the fighters in the dig pool; he is netting the fighters and selecting the best ones for isolation.
vietarray.jpg (83642 bytes)
An array of plastic containers with fighters inside, they are isolated for 7-10 days in preparation for them to be sold, or trained for fighting.
  After each fighter is isolated for about 7 days the breeder will shift the fighter to a round glass bottle, the same one that is used for the fighting ring, now the fighter is ready to be trained. For 15 days the fighter is trained by swirling water in a big jar and then followed by 3 days rest. This training method is much different from the Thai training methods. The Thai breeders use one big female in a tank and let the fighter chase the female for 6 days. The fighter then gradually develops muscle and aggressive hormones by provoking natural sexual instincts and natural offensive and defensive instincts of the species. Some Thai breeders however do use the water swirling method along with chasing females.
vietcare.jpg (61839 bytes) An array of fighters prepared to fight.
Last Comment
  Structurally there is not much difference between the fighting fish practices in Vietnam and Thailand. The keeping, training, and equipment may vary slightly. Fish body structure is also different but I do not see any significant differences in the spirit of the game. Both have advantages and disadvantages on their own part. The Thai fighters are small in physical size but fast and full of tricks. Whereas the Vietnamese fighters are bigger in physical structure with hard punches, but they perform rather slowly. Surely, nothing in this world is perfect. What I am more interested in is the similarities between the two different countries, breeders. The breeders are so kind and humble; they live a very simple life. No matter the differences in our backgrounds, we all talk about the same things and learn from each other.
vietbreeder.jpg (65610 bytes) I am on the left, and the Vietnamese breeder is on the right.

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

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