Asia is the planet's most populous continent, sporting a population of almost 4.6 billion people. It is no surprise then that many of the most unusual and unique sporting contests originate from its wonderfully varied countries and regions.
Those seeking a one-of-a-kind experience on the sporting arena need look no further than Asia, with countless remarkable spectacles on offer for the athletically minded tourist. Some resemble contests seen around the world while some stand alone as unparalleled challenges that dazzle the eye and expand the imagination. Here are 10 of the more unusual games that spectators can cheer wildly at the next time they visit Asia.
Popular in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines, this unusual sport is best described as volleyball using only the feet. The name originates from the Malay language, with ‘Sepak,’ meaning kick or smash; and the Thai tongue, with ‘Takraw’ the word for the small ball used in the action.
The sport is played on a court of similar size to badminton, with a net dividing the surface in two. Combatants need to use their feet or heads to get the ball over the net and into their opponent's territory.
Use of the hands or arms is strictly forbidden, making this ball-game a particularly difficult and tricky one. Watching sepak takraw, viewers are guaranteed some excited and athletic action featuring skills you are unlikely to see anywhere else.
Prevalent in South East Asia and India, Kabaddi is often referred to as an Asian version of tag. It is wildly popular throughout Asia and rapidly gaining popularity across the world. Teamwork is crucial when playing this game. In fact, the word ‘Kabaddi’ derives from a Tamil word meaning ‘holding hands.’
Contests last 40 minutes and pit two teams of seven against each other, trying to outscore their opponents by getting them out through a raid or a tackle. A raid comprises of going into the enemy’s zone of the court and attempting to tag a player before making it back without being tackled or trapped.
The team that accrues the most points in the allotted time is declared the winner. This sport has become so huge that there is now a World Cup featuring 16 countries on the guest list.
This variation of polo is played on horseback, mainly in Central Asia and Afghanistan and contains one significant and alarming difference: Instead of making use of a ball, the sport calls for the utilization of a goat carcass. The object of the sport is to carry the carcass and deposit it within a scoring zone on the other team’s half of the field.
Banned under the Taliban, Buzkashi has experienced a resurgence in recent years and the Afghan Olympic Federation have laid out the official rules to be followed, a huge step in the legitimization of the game. Perhaps not one for the animal lovers, it is a game steeped in tradition and unlikely to be forced underground again anytime soon.
Translating roughly to ‘bring pole down,’ Bo-taoshi is an extremely tough game played by graduates of the National Defense Acadamy of Japan. Teams are made up a staggering 150 combatants divided into two teams of 75, meaning mass confusion reigns in this extremely peculiar sporting contest.
Each game consists of one team defending a tall wooden pole, tasked with keeping it upright while the attacking team tries to lower the pole to a 30-degree angle. Defenders break into groups in their defense of the pole, including supporting the pole and forming a human shield around the base of their totem. Bo-taoshi is an incredible spectacle as viewers see players attempting to leap over defenders or barrel through them to get at their objective.
Celebrating the end of the harvest in Indonesia, Pacu Jawi, or cow racing, takes place once a year and involves a jockey straddling a bamboo plow tied between two charging oxen.
The jockey’s tough task is to stay firmly on the plow as the oxen sprint across the paddy field, resulting in an exciting spectacle reminiscent of an ancient form of jet-skiing. With this event occurring just once a year, the stakes are high for those involved and competition is fierce amongst the jockey’s, delivering a truly unique sporting event unable to be seen anywhere else in the world.
Something that needs to be seen to be believed, Hombo Batu takes place in North Sumatra and in essence, features men leaping over stone walls up to two meters tall. Born out of tribal conflicts that called upon members to prove their athletic prowess and bravery, the sport is still played today and takes on special significance for its participants.
In the past, the pinnacle of the obstacle was even covered in spikes and sharpened bamboo, ensuring failure really stung the competitors. Thankfully, those wishing to partake in this unusual sport today are able to do so without the threat of being impaled.
This ancient form of wrestling hails from Uzbekistan and many historians claim it dates back thousands of years, originally serving as a training method for soldiers of 14th-century warlord Amir Timur.
Similar to the Japanese sport of sumo wrestling, Kurash pays great attention and respect to strength and stamina. Participants use towels to hold onto their adversary and bouts are ended when one combatant is thrown or forced onto their back.
Recorded through carvings on the temple walls of Angkor Wat, Bokator is one of the oldest fighting styles in Cambodia and has recently undergone somewhat of a revival. A form of mixed martial arts, it uses an array of strikes using the arms and legs in addition to wrestling moves.
Fighters still wear the ancient uniforms that draped competitors throughout history, with a scarf named a ‘karma’ worn around the waist with blue and red silk adorning the head and biceps.
The streets of Myanmar are often overrun with young men and women forming a circle and kicking a wicker ball. This is Chinlon and it is widely regarded as the national sport of Myanmar. The ball must be kept aloft without the use of the hands, forcing participants into a variety of athletically impressive displays and gymnastically-inspired movements.
Similar to the sport of sepak takraw, Chinlon does not require the use of a specific field of play, rather calling on competitors to simply form a circle and take the game wherever they wish.
Part of the annual celebration of Indonesian independence, paniat pinang is a pole climbing challenge that asks competitors to reach for the sky and leave their fears at the door.
The incredible spectacle sees tall trees laden with prizes such as bikes and televisions at the top, creating a unique jungle of objects as the playing arena. The trees are then covered with oil and other lubricants that make it impossible for a single player to reach the top, calling on contestants to work together.
Panjat pinang may just be the strangest way to earn the spoils of victory anywhere in Asia.