Muay Thai night
First published 22nd September, 2009
Somehow I found myself on a street corner, eating some sort of ground-meat pseudo-sushi on-a-stick. At well past midnight, with the neon glow of 7-Eleven glaring over me, another glorious Thai day was coming to a close. But before all that can be explained, perhaps the day should be put in proper perspective.
I awoke first, a man on a Muay Thai mission. It was almost time for a Friday night of fights at Kawila Boxing Stadium, and we wanted to get tickets before returning our motorbikes. I hoped mine would start, as it had absorbed a lot of water the day before cruising through the rainy hills outside Doi Suthep.
A few extra hand cranks and I was on my way, awkwardly cutting through the Chiang Mai streets as only a foreigner can: sluggish yet unrestrained. The frustrating grid of one-way streets, combined with thick traffic, makes any journey longer than intended. Amazingly enough, only one wrong turn and a stop for directions lay between me and my destination.
Ten hours before the fights, the arena was almost empty. Soon enough I'd found the ticket seller, and he'd found the stack of tickets. The price, at 400 baht each for the cheap seats, hopefully meant a decent prize purse for each of tonight's fighters. However, given that the tickets didn't even have the correct stadium name printed on them, my main concern was just not getting ripped off.
I'm not really a fight fan, but I do enjoy satisfying my traveller's curiosity. Muay Thai seemed a bit of a toss up -- while I enjoy watching live sporting events, I'm generally not so interested in people kicking and hitting each other for fun. But since it is the Thai national pastime, and I'm a firm believer of "when in Chiang Mai," it seemed pretty foolish not to go investigate.
Zipping back to the hotel, sweat started dripping, something it wouldn't stop doing until I went to bed sometime near dawn. The next motorbike I rent needs to have an air-conditioner installed on the handlebars.
Due to an epic Thursday, involving us riding down steep hills in torrential rain -- and that after temple-ing ourselves right out -- the plan was to do nothing on Friday besides Muay Thai. That involved time-passing: the usual slothful amble through parts of the tourist ghetto, the devouring of some pad thai and khao soi, and of course a few big bottles of Beer Chang.
So perhaps it was some sort of irony that our songthaew driver had apparently also drank a few; he seemed unable to even focus well enough to count all six of us, but his excitement at driving us to the boxing match was irresistible. Our tip on arrival was mostly a thank you for sparing our lives.
Our transition from sparing to sparring was delayed, the fights being on 8:30 Thai time while clocks were reading 8:30 real time. So we grabbed a copy of the card, and headed to yet another 7-Eleven for beverages. There's something oddly comforting about the familiar sign, though it's the equally familiar low prices that are the real draw. Thailand embraces Asia's public drinking policy, so we were effectively able to have a muay Thai tailgating party in the stadium parking lot. Then a most unexpected thing occurred: music blasted through the antiquated loudspeaker system and everyone froze. Suddenly we were the only people moving, nevermind talking: the Thai national anthem is taken a touch more seriously than my own. Good to know.
The music stopped and the energy instantly returned. It was clearly time for the festivities to begin so we headed inside and took our seats high atop the large wooden bleachers that comprised the cheap seats. The crowd was predominately foreign, roped in like us by the English-language handbills plastered to poles all over town. Thankfully, while lacking in numbers, the Thai fans were certainly enthusiastic, cheering and betting with glee from the first fight on.
Muay Thai seems to be a brutal sport, but other than knockouts (there were none) and bleeding (only twice, and rather minor), it is often just the trading of jabs while the competitors dance about awaiting opportunity. The hypnotic music, performed by drum and oud, helps the combatants hone in on a rhythm, while also drawing the audience into the tempo of the match. Music and men pulsate, feet and fists fly, and in a moment a conqueror can find glory. The sport is one of toughness and preparation; endurance is as important as power; passion and technique are both needed to succeed. Clearly training is the most important factor with a fighter expected to absorb an immense amount of bodily damage without sacrificing form or tenacity.
Fights last three to five rounds each, depending on weight class. This was certainly not high-level competition: the first match was between boys weighing 30kg. Despite their diminutive size, they pulled no punches (as it were), and their ability to assault each other relentlessly was evidently an advantage of age. The first four matches were billed as 'Red Vs. Blue,' though it might as well have been 'And White' for all the cans of Singha that everyone was drinking, myself included. The colours split, 2-2, making way for the main event, 'Heavyweight Fight II' between two 90kg warriors.
Relocating to ringside gave us a perfect view of the Blue corner, from which Kongthup Por Fah Uthai -- or Kongtap, depending on which flier was more reliable -- would be fighting from. Earlier we'd received a tip from the stadium's boxing-shorts salesman that his Red opponent, Yordkeng Sor Viengjedi -- or Yodkang -- was the favourite, but something about the gleaming, muscular, tattooed body closer to us won my support. They both came out swinging, though knees from close range seemed to be the mutual weapon of choice. Blood was eventually drawn, from our chosen warrior's stomach, but it didn't seem to slow him up. A full five rounds ended -- Red triumphed over Blue, so apparently the judges viewed the match through more knowledgeable eyes than my own. The fight was good, yet long, and it also marked the pinnacle of the evening as fans started departing almost immediately.
I was approached, I'm pretty sure, by the ticket seller I'd seen that morning and solicited for a bet on the next match, though the initial offer of 100 baht was a bit out of my price range. Somehow, 50 baht seemed much more reasonable. Tragically my initial enthusiasm was quickly dampened as "my guy" was literally pounded into the ground over the next few minutes. The money was quickly collected, another foreigner taken advantage of by a savvy local. And just like that the muay Thai was over, the arena completely cleared out, and we were on the street, following Tha Phae Road back to our hotel.
As badly as my guy had been pummelled, it was nowhere near as shocking as what we witnessed next. We were walking briskly, traffic whizzing by, when suddenly a tuk-tuk pulled over in front of us. Ah, an offer of a ride -- tempting.
The noise was loud and sudden, the awful metal-on-metal crunch of automotive carnage filling the street. A woman on a motorbike literally plowed into the tuk-tuk from behind; the devastating direct hit left her and her scooter silent on the road. Thankfully instinct took over, the bleeding woman was extracted from beneath her mangled moto, and besides her bleeding leg and glazed-over eyes, she seemed in remarkably good shape -- for someone who just drove right into a stationary object at around 40km/hr, with no helmet or braking involved. Knowing our role as outsiders, we quickly cleared out once our assistance was no longer acquired.
Hard to say what else could have so suddenly dampened our spirits, given that we'd spent several hours watching grown (and not-so-grown) men pounding each other for fun, but something about nearly witnessing death is remarkably sobering. Aside from a brief chat with a Burmese t-shirt salesman on a street corner, we avoided the initial plan of wandering down to the main strip of tourist-fantasy-land --where the prostitutes hang out -- but at least 7-Eleven reliably came through, albeit with some strange fusion food that shouldn't have been allowed to exist. But at least I wasn't injured, arrested, or dead, plus we'd all enjoyed some authentic Thai culture -- what more can a brave adventurer ask for?
We'll be running a new entry from Anderson and the team every Wednesday for the duration of their trip across Asia. We hope you find it an interesting view into what another's journey through Asia can be like. There's a delay of a few weeks between where they are and the story appearing on Travelfish, so if you want to know where they are right now, be sure to check out their blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Story by Anderson Muth
Related readingAn introduction
24 hours in Bangkok
Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
Chiang Dao getaway
2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (8)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (17)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (76)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.