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Muay Thai or Thai kickboxing is Thailand’s national sport and passionately supported by locals, who gather around TVs to cheer their favourites on. The stadiums are also well supported, and Ko Samui is no different; tourists are welcomed to watch fights at the commercial stadiums in Chaweng and Lamai.
The Rocky theme tune is one of those tracks that is impossible to get out of your head; and it’s hard to miss the muay Thai marketing pickups driving around the island blasting this tune from oversized speakers and announcing who will be challenging whom at the stadium. Posters pasted on every available space also let spectators know when and where the next fights will be held. Chaweng has two stadiums: Petch Buncha Stadium near Laem Din market, and the new Chaweng Stadium, which relocated from next to Chaweng Lake to behind Solo Bar in the busy Soi Green Mango area.
Muay Thai is known as one of the most vicious martial arts, yet it is beautiful and elegant to watch. Before each fight, contestants perform a wai kru, a graceful dance-type routine to honour their trainers. This can be as intricate as the fighter wants it to be and is performed to traditional Thai music played by a live band. The music continues through the fight, with the tempo changing according to the intensity of the fight in much the same way that music intensifies during a horror movie. During the wai kru, contestants wear a headband known as a mongkhol. It is usually blessed by a monk and its purpose is to bring the fighter good luck. It is removed before the fight. Colourful armbands similar to those put around spirit trees are worn on the arm, and these stay on during the fight in order to protect the wearer.
I recently went to the new Chaweng Stadium to support a friend, Christine Perry, who was fighting. The venue itself appears to be more of a nightclub than a boxing stadium, and to be honest, has lost the traditional element of Thai boxing. That aside, it still makes for a good night of entertainment.
Christine’s fight was scheduled as the sixth of seven fights for the night. Arriving at 21:30, we first watched a couple of teenagers battling it out, then a pair of locals in their early 20s who were pretty energetic, followed by a couple of has-beens who looked pretty bored up there. Generally the atmosphere in the stadiums is intense, with supporters screaming encouragement, adrenaline levels high and the smell of Tiger Balm heavy in the air. A fight consists of five three-minute rounds with a two-minute rest between rounds. Competitors fight with kicks and punches and well as knees and elbows.
Christine’s wai kru was truly beautiful, an obvious testament to the high respect she has for trainers Leslie and Nuch from Jungle Gym Samui. It’s just as well her wai kru lasted so long and offered supporters something to see, as the fight itself lasted all of 30 seconds. Christine’s local opponent was no match and a few swift punches and kicks later, a technical knockout was declared as the crowd went wild. Watch a clip of the fight here.
Other than the two main stadiums in Chaweng, smaller stadiums can be found in Lamai. Ticket prices in the main stadiums vary from 800 baht to about 1,500 baht depending on who is competing. Fights commence around 21:30, starting with the younger fighters and building up to the main event.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 9th March, 2015.