When you think of east-asian martial arts, typically your mind conjures up images of elegant men and women dressed simply in white or black robes, fending off one another's advances with grace. However, Muay Thai is not like that. Not at all. It is an intense form of martial arts where both opponents attack each other violently with fists and legs. Often grappling with each other and kneeing each other in the belly at point blank range. It is like American style boxing, but with more legal limbs. Though lacking some grace, watching it is quite a spectacle.
Tickets, Getting There and Back
Tuk Tuk to the Muay Thai Boxing Stadium
Being in Thailand, my interested in the sport had piqued, particularly due to how often you saw flyers and other banners being shown around the city. I asked my Thai Uber driver to recommend a stadium to me, after briefly calling his friend he suggested Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium on account of it being the largest, so I organised tickets with a local vendor for 1,000 bhat for that evening, a Saturday evening. Admittedly you can get cheaper tickers at smaller stadiums, but I wanted ring-side seats, so I bought this particular package. Being Saturday I expected the stadium to be buzzing, however I think it was less than half capacity. This was a bit of a shame to me, as being part of a captivated and lively crowd is definitely an important part of seeing a sporting event. However, the good part was I got a great seat - right on the ring side. In fact, I don't believe it was really possible to have a bad seat. Even if you bought the cheapest grade of ticket I think you could easily move up to the front rows. I was confused for a professional photographer 😎, and was accordingly given seats within the boundary, right at the edge of the ring. Half the time I was leaning on the edge of the ring right next to the ropes, which was awesome.
For transport the tickets came with hotel pick up and drop off, so I gave them my AirBnb address and they picked me up about 30 minutes before the event started, at around 8:30pm. The shuttle was a tuk tuk, which as touristy as it is, is fun to experience; cruising past the old town moat of Chiang Mai with 80's danish pop music blaring, and the whir of scooters passing by. On the return trip I was crammed in to the tuk tuk with three grown adult men, so it was a bit of a squeeze. I was put in the front on a tiny seat overhanging the road. With all that weight, the tuk tuk groaned and ground its gears each time we went up even the slightest incline. The driver ensured me that the tuk tuk could take up to 7 people; two people on the wing seats, four in the back, plus the driver. Perhaps all of them were petite french ladies?
Male Muay Thai Fight
The fighting, as I said, was quite intense. Basically it seemed to be a more intense version of regular boxing, as you can use not only your fists, but also your knees, elbows, feet, and your shins. In addition, the fighters grappled and kneed each other for what seemed like minutes at a time, before the ref eventually broke them up. There is also a technique called the "Foot Thrust", where you kick someone in their chest with the sole of your foot. Mostly I read that this is used as a defensive technique, but I saw one case where a fighter kicked his opponent with enormous strength half way across the ring and in to the ropes, before launching an assault of punches on him.
Female Muay Thai Ritual
All of the fights started with a dancing ritual. I have read online that the dance is for the fighters to greet one another and to pay respect to their teachers, parents, and their ancestors. The dance is taught by the fighter's teachers, and so provides clues about the fighters history. Sometimes the dances went for quite some time, and in fact on one occasion, the dance lasted longer than the fight itself. Normally the fight goes for 3-5 rounds, however this particular fight was over in less than a minute. A huge American fighter (he must have been 6' 3") completely overpowered a smaller, somewhat overweight Thai fighter (perhaps 5'6") with a series of roundhouse kicks almost at the height of the Thai fighter's head. Within the first minute the Thai fighter was ko'd, and the American promptly departed from the ring.
Fighter dodging a kick from his opponent
Over the course of the evening there were 6 fights in total; 3 male fights, and 2 female fights. At the end of the night there was a fight between two boys who must have been only around 5 or 6 years old. When they were getting ready to fight, it seemed like half of the western people in the room left the stadium. It was a sad sight to see the boys fight. If I had known that that was going to happen, I probably wouldn't have attended. One of the boys looked quite scared, and was rapidly beaten by the more aggressive boy. The losing boy seemed like he was on the edge of crying after the ordeal.
Thanks for reading. It was interesting to watch the adult fights. However, I probably wouldn't recommend attending as I don't agree with children at that young age partaking in what is quite an aggressive sport.