So besides the day trip out to Ayutthaya, another thing on the itinerary I was quite stoked about on this recent trip to Thailand was the prospect of watching Muay Thai live… like how awesome would that be, being able to catch a real Muay Thai match in person! All I really know about Muay Thai is that it was a really hip fitness option a few years back and that it can be pretty brutal, so I was quite keen to see a real Muay Thai fight.
It turns out I probably should have looked at the itinerary a little closer – “Muay Thai Live” is actually “Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives” a show at The Stage at Asiatique, almost a musical of sorts . It focuses on the history and legends of Muay Thai and its origins, and in true Thai style fashion, even involves a little campy modern day wedding scene, i kid you not. It does show off some very fancy Muay Thai moves and employs now retired Muay Thai fighters as its performers, and these guys are RIPPED.
If you are interested in catching this, the show is 70 mins long and tickets cost 1,200 – 1,500 THB. You can buy tickets at the door 1 hour before the show, or online at Thaiticketmajor.com.
But still, I was kinda hoping to catch a real Muay Thai fight. The show was nice but very much staged, with sound effects and all; some of the stunts and leaping around were pretty impressive, but it was still ultimately, a showcase.
So when two of the other guys on the trip Seth and Justin said they wanted to check out a real fight too, I was all hell yeah I’m coming along! It was just us 3 as everyone else was a little more concerned about shopping time – our lovely tour guide made some calls and arranged our tickets, and off we went!
HOW TO GO CATCH A MUAY THAI FIGHT IN BANGKOK
You can watch Muay Thai fights at two main stadiums in Bangkok:
- Rajadamnern (or Ratchadamnoen) Stadium @ 1 Ratchadamnoen Nok Rd, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok, 10200 (closer to Dusit) – Matches on Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun
- Lumpinee Stadium – @ 6 Ramintra Rd, Anusawaree, Bang Khen, Bangkok 10110 (Closer to Lumphini Park south-eastern corner) – This stadium is pretty new and moved to its new premises on Ram Intra Road in Feb 2014. Matches on Tue, Fri, Sat
It was a Sunday night, so we headed to Rajadamnern Stadium, but for some reason our cab driver ended up bringing us to Lumpinee Stadium instead, so by the time we finally ended up at the right place, we arrived in the middle of match #5.
Each Muay Thai night usually has 9 matches throughout the night, with the first match starting around 630pm. The highlight match is usually match #7, and what time it starts depends on how efficient the previous matches were.
We decided to shell out for the most expensive ringside tickets at 2,000THB, and our tour guide helped ensure that besides getting ringside seats, we got put right up front in the first row, so we were really up close and personal with the action, much to the delight of Justin the photographer. Being right up front means the only guy who might block you is the referee, and that when they start punching on your side of the ring, all that sweat you see flying… flies right on to you!
You mostly see tourists in the 2,000 THB seats, but there are seats for 1,500 THB which puts you slightly further behind, and 1,000THB. You can buy 500THB tickets, but that puts you really high up in the rafters behind a netting, which may not be the best viewing experience.
If you’re on your own, you can buy at the ticket window, and there are lots of sellers in different coloured jackets around the stadium entrance who will accost you once you arrive. It’s pretty competitive all around, so if you have tickets booked beforehand, make it very clear you’re looking for that particular person. Would have liked to have seen the entrance pre-match, I imagine it must have been quite buzzy.
THE DUMMY’S GUIDE TO HOW MUAY THAI FIGHTS WORK
So I went in knowing nothing at all about how Muay Thai matches work – is it a knock down all around brawl? How does one determine the winner?
You basically have two guys, one designated Red and one designated Blue. There are 5 rounds in each fight, each lasting 3 mins, with a 2 min break between bouts where the fighters get wiped down and fixed up, before they go back at it again. There is a referee in the ring who keeps things clean, as well as 3 other judges who sit on each side of the ring and score the match.
After the match, each judge hands their score to the referee, who then announces the winner at the end. If you’re interested in more details, here’s quite a comprehensive list of rules; this is just to give you a rough idea of what’s happening when you watch!
There’s a flyer which lists out all the matches for the night, with details on which school they are from, how heavy they weigh and their names. Based on this and how they looked before the match began, the guys and I had a little fun placing bets on who the winner would be. Me and Seth did pretty well, guessing 3/4 winners correctly. Justin however, only managed 1/4, so if you’re ever in a betting situation with him… well you know what to do 😛
There is actual betting happening though, by the locals in the 2nd tier seats – they can get really into the match with a lot of yelling and gesturing.
Before each match, you’ll see the fighters do a little dance or ritual of sorts called the Wai Kru in which they pay respects to their teachers. It involves some posing and prayers in the middle of the ring, or walking around it and ‘blessing’ each corner.
Even the parts between bouts were interesting – we were close to the red corner, and at every break, a guy would fish out this large round metal tin and a stool for the fighter to sit on while his trainers gave him a pep talk and a muscle rub, also watering and wiping him down. There was a bucket next to the ring where they poured all this waste water, which was kinda icky~
There’s a really great vibe overall as they have a little band playing Thai traditional music in the corner – this repetitive, percussive beat that plays throughout the bout kinda sets the rhythm for the match, and just makes for a really great atmosphere overall.
BEHIND THE SCENES
In between matches, we wandered around the stadium a little. We had access to the back room where the fighters got ready, and lest you think it’s some sort of fancy American-style locker room, this is how it really looks:
The fighters as a whole are generally quite friendly and happy to take pictures with fans, so naturally I took a picture with my pick and winner of the main match, Supper Ball. (seriously, you can’t make stuff like this up. I will admit to picking him purely because his name cracked me up, but he was really quite good – he gave his opponent a bloody nose!)
Overall I really enjoyed the experience and it’s a great way to spend an evening if you want to soak up a little bit of the local culture!
This trip to Thailand was sponsored courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways International. All views are my own.