On top of it’s wildlife, Thailand is also popular for their native martial art: muay thai. Muay thai is similar to kickboxing with the boxer able to use their fists, elbows, knees, and shins to attack their opponent. It consists of 5, 3 minute rounds. In Chiang Mai, I saw flyers for a local match and decided to go Christmas Eve night. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was going to see.
I took a tuk-tuk to the ‘stadium’ on the opposite end of town for about $3. The $20 entrance fee was paid directly to my hotel so I was able to walk right in. I ended up arriving at 8:30 pm, with the first match beginning at 9:00 pm. Turns out I was about 30 minutes early.
The stadium was a boxing ring in the middle of a large room with fold-up chairs 15 rows deep surrounding it. It could hold maybe 150 spectators. On the perimeter of the room were about 10 different bars – literally bars – that were manned by women constantly asking you to buy drinks.
I sat in the first row of chairs – the VIP section. What this really meant is I paid $5 too much for my ticket and got a free watered down rum and coke.
As the place started filling up, I noticed that it was 100% tourists. At this point I lowered my expectations – hoping only to be entertained and not actually see a real bout.
There were six fights the night I went. Surprisingly, it started with kids about the age of 13.
The boxers started by going to each corner of the ring and praying.
Once it started I sat there stunned, watching these two kids go at it for 20 minutes. If they weren’t smiling and seeming to have a good time I probably would have left.
After each round, they would return to their corner and get water poured over their heads and have their legs and arms massaged.
The first match ended with the boy in the blue shorts (clearly the underdog) winning.
The next two match were girls. They took the pre-match ritual seriously, but seemed to have a good time once it started.
Unfortunately, this match ended in a knock-out. Watching a young girl get knocked out – even with gloves on – was hard to take. She came to fairly quickly, but had to carried out of the ring.
The next round (boys) also ended in a knockout; this time in the first round. He was caught with an unsuspecting light punch to the jaw and went down quickly. This pair was older though at about 17 years.
There was two more matches, followed by a ‘special event’. I quickly found out that the special event was taking five guys in the ring at once and having them fight each other. Blindfolded.
For about five minutes these guys swing and the air, hoping to make contact with something. I could tell they weren’t throwing heavy punches and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could see through the blindfold. One guy resorted to a helicopter technique and spun around with his arms stretched out – hoping to hit anything. The referee inside took a couple hits himself. I took a video of it that I’ll have to upload once I get a decent wi-fi connection.
It was at this point that I suspected the whole thing was rigged – the high prices, zero locals in the crowd, and the underdog always winning definitely pointed to it being set up.
The final match was an international match. These guys were large, with the guy from Denmark having at least 20 pounds over his opponent.
Against all odds, the local somehow won the fight – even though the foreign fighter seemed to have the upper hand.
I’ve always wanted to sit ring-side at a boxing match, but this wasn’t what I was expecting. It seemed inauthentic and staged as the crowd was filled with foreigners and most of the underdogs won – likely because gambling was very prominent.
I can’t really recommend this particular arena. It’s expensive, and while the kids seemed to be having fun, I was hoping for more competitive and older fighters. If you’re looking for a night of entertainment it’d be fine, but don’t go expecting a real muay thai experience.