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
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
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.
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
- Matching Methods
- Transferring the fighter to
the fighting bottle
Fighting Ring Environment
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.
The fish fighting ring in the
city. I am in the orange T-shirt.
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.
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.
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
method is different from the way Thais match
The Thais use a
bottle to match in, this way they can
see the side of the fighter and estimate the overall body structure of the
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
should be large and balanced with a good overall body
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
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
Some types of
glass will make the fish look smaller than its
A player carefully matches the
fighters by looking from above.
the Fighters to the Fighting Bottle
players use a small scoop which holds a little bit of water to shift
the fighter from his container to the fighting bottle.
the fight begins
and the players start to bet.
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.
would be in the second hour of the
average, each fight lasts about 3
there are some matches
that will last throughout the day and until the ring closes at 5
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
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.
The breeder shifts the fry
from the bucket to the earthenware jar.
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.
have advantages and disadvantages.
One of the advantages of the
cement tank is that the breeder can control the tank environment, and
Also in a cement
tank diseases and fish size are also easily
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.
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.
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.
The fighters in these tanks are
ready to sell or train to fight.
This is the breeder who raises the
fighters in the dig pool; he is netting the fighters and selecting the best ones for
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.
method is much different
from the Thai training methods.
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.
An array of fighters prepared to fight.
Structurally there is not much
difference between the fighting fish practices in Vietnam and Thailand.
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.
advantages and disadvantages on their own part.
fighters are small in physical size but fast and full of tricks.
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
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.
I am on the left, and the
Vietnamese breeder is on the right.