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Experiencing Thai Boxing in Bangkok

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My pulse is hammering in my ears. I’m breathing hard, soaked in sweat, pushing myself to my very limit. But it never ends, and eventually, I simply can’t lift my body off the ground one more time. I’m just gonna lie here and catch my breath for a minute.

Whack! Suddenly a leather pad hits me in the stomach. The instructor is standing over me, shouting at me. Whack! Here comes that pad again full force. It stings like hell. I can’t understand a word he is shouting at me. But I get his meaning, and it works, somehow I find the strength to push out a few more reps.

I’m in a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. This morning this seemed like a really good idea. Now I am wondering if I will get out of here alive. For more than two hours, in blistering heat, the instructors have pushed us relentlessly through the hardest workout I have ever done. An old-school workout, consisting of jumping rope, pushups, sit-ups, kicks, punches, and combos. Then into the ring for boxing and grappling. Only occasionally interrupted by short water breaks, where we drink while ice water is poured over us from gigantic barrels.

Looking around, I know I don’t belong here. I am out of my element. There are other foreigners here, but they are experienced fighters, and they are all really fit. I am not. My friend is a kickboxer, and even he is having a hard time. This is the world of tough men and a few even tougher women.

_DSC4537-2PinHere you can drop in for a single workout, or you can stay for a week, month or more. There are no fancy workout machines in this gym, only puddles of sweat, and the grunts and smells of bodies being worked hard.

Finally, the lesson is over, and somehow I made it through. The instructor smiles at me. Good job, he says. The same guy that hit me in the stomach an hour ago is now my best friend. He used to be a champion Thai boxer. He is a little older now, but he still looks formidable. Not an inch of fat on him, muscular, and tall for a Thai. He is missing a couple of teeth, and it gives him a slightly menacing look.

We all line up for a photo that will go on the wall alongside hundreds of other photos. Right there and then I feel a kinship with my fellow fighters and all the faces that stare back at me from that wall. We all went through the same grueling workout, and I’m a little proud of myself for not giving up.

Today I wish I had a copy of that photo. I like to think that perhaps it is still hanging on that wall staring back at someone else.

See you tomorrow!“, he says as we leave. “Yes, see you tomorrow!“, my friend and I both say, and we mean it. The next day, I’m so sore I can’t even get out of bed. Maybe I’ll be back someday. Maybe…

What Is Muay Thai

Thai Boxing or Muay Thai, also know as the art of eight limbs, is the national sport of Thailand, and the Thais themselves are immensely proud of it. Unlike boxing with its two points of contact, the fists, the fighters use their elbows, legs, shins and feet just as much as their fists.

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A Thai Boxer

It has a long history, dating back hundreds of years. While its origin is much debated, there are many legends and stories that depict it. In the early kingdom of Sukhothai, 1238-1583, Muay Thai is said to have been one of eight disciplines that the men of the country needed to master. It was used in the Army, as well as for the entertainment of the King. Exceptionally skilled Muay Thai fighters would often be invited into the King’s bodyguard.

There are at least eight different forms of Muay Thai in Thailand. Each coming from different areas, and have developed different techniques and fighting styles.
As modern western weapons appeared and made hand-to-hand fighting skills less necessary, Muay Thai became more of a spectator sport for entertainment. Fights were often held at festivities, and especially at temple gatherings.

Muay Thai became internationally know when Thai soldiers served abroad during the second world war. They used to practice among themselves, and the western soldiers that saw this was fascinated and wanted to learn. As the sport’s popularity grew in the west, it gradually changed into its modern form. Rules were established and boxing gloves replaced the twined ropes the fighters used to wear on their fists.

Today, Muay Thai may be on its way to becoming an Olympic sport.

Where To See Thai Boxing In Bangkok

While there are Thai Boxing events held in many places in Thailand, including exhibition matches put on for tourists in bars, the best place to see real Thai Boxing is in Bangkok. Bangkok has two major Thai Boxing stadiums, Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium and Lumpinee Stadium.

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The grand New Lumpinee Boxing Stadium

Of the two, Lumpinee is considered the sacred heart of Muay Thai, and the place all professional fighters aspire to one day fight. For decades, Lumpinee Stadium was located right next to Lumphini Park in the center of Bangkok.

Then in 2014, they built a brand new and much larger stadium, next to Ram Intra Road on the outskirts of town, but they kept the same name and it is often referred to as New Lumpini Boxing Stadium.
The two stadiums operate on alternating days. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday there are contests at Rajademnern Stadium while Tuesday and Thursday fights are held at Lumpinee Stadium. Both stadiums have fights on Saturday.

See the latest prices, and buy tickets to Thai Boxing at Rajademnern Stadium here

Buy tickets to Thai Boxing at Lumphini Stadium here


Lumpinee Thai Boxing Stadium

Having been to the old Lumpinee Stadium a few years ago, we wanted to check out the brand new stadium. The New Lumpini Boxing Stadium is located a 30 min drive from downtown Bangkok in the direction of the Don Muang Airport.

There are currently no Skytrain or MRT stations in this area. The closest MRT station is Pahonypthin MRT about 9km away. So your best bet is to either take a taxi or Grab Car directly from the city center or save some money by taking the MRT to Pahonypthin and a taxi from there. Or you can opt for a local bus.

On arriving you will be met by eager ticket scouts that will try very, very hard to sell you the best and most comfortable VIP tickets. There are three ticket classes – VIP, second and third class. The VIP ticket will get you a ringside seat. The second and third class tickets are a little further away from the ring. I recommend that you buy tickets to New Lumphini Stadium here in advance.

Do not be fooled by claims that only the VIP section is air-conditioned. The entire arena is air-conditioned to the point of being almost too cool. It’s actually a good idea to bring a sweater or jacket.

VIP seats next to the ring at Lumpinee StadiumPin
VIP seats next to the ring at Lumpinee Stadium

The Fights

The first fights usually start at about 6:00 p.m, with the main fights later in the evening. Before each fight, the fighters make their way to the ring wearing the traditional Mongkon headband. The Monkton is a sacred headband given to the fighter by their trainer once he feels they have distinguished themselves. They are usually made of rope, thread, and silk material that are woven together, and it is common practice to have them blessed by monks.

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The traditional headband Monkton is sacred

Some fighters also wear armbands, known as Prajioud. Traditionally made from a mother’s dress, and given to a son when off to war. The armbands are worn for good luck and protection. Sometimes they contain little fragments of bone from the fighters respected elders.

A Muay Thai fighter wearing armbands, known as PrajioudPin
A Muay Thai fighter wearing armbands, known as Prajioud

Once in the ring, the fighters go through their pre-fight ritual called the Wai Kru Ram Muay. This is done to show respect to Muay Thai, their school, and teachers. It also clears the ring of any bad spirits and shows off the fighters skill.

The Wai Kru Ram Muay will vary for each fighter. Some will make very elaborate showings while others will be short.

Thai boxers doing their pre-fight ritual called the Wai Kru Ram MuayPin
Thai boxers doing their pre-fight ritual called the Wai Kru Ram Muay

Once the Wai Kru Ram Muay is over the fight begins. A fighter can win either by points that are scored by the judges, or by knock-out. The fights can sometimes be pretty brutal, but serious injuries are rare.

This is also one of the few places where gambling is allowed. The betting takes place in the stands and is done by elaborate hand signals. I personally wouldn’t try it unless you are in the company of someone who is familiar with the system.

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Eager spectator cheering on his favorite fighter. He has probably put some money on him.

Other Places To See Thai Boxing In Bangkok

MBK Fight Night
In downtown Bangkok, there are Thai Boxing fights monthly at the MBK shopping center. It is actually free to watch and usually draws quite a sizable crowd. Great fun!

You can read more about MBK Fight Night and when the next show is at their Facebook-page, and reviews of MBK Fight Nights at TripAdvisor. The fights usually start at 18:00.

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Free fight night outside MBK shopping mall every Wednesday. Here also women fight.

Women have no place in traditional Muay Thai and are not allowed to fight in the big stadiums like the Lumpinee Stadium. MBK, however, allows women to fight at their stage.

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Women are not allowed to Thai box at the big stadiums

Channel 7 Stadium
You can also see Muay Thai fights at Channel 7 stadium, located right next to Chatuchak Park. Fights start at about half past noon every weekend and standing entry is free. If you want a seat it is 300 THB.

The atmosphere is amazing and since this stadium is often overlooked in the guide books there is less risk of running into touts and others trying to overcharge you. (Thanks to Karsten Aichholz for providing this tip in the comments below!)

Muay Thai Boxing Show at Asiatique
If you’re interested in learning more about Muay Thai culture then Asiatique has a spectacular Muay Thai performance show every evening highlighting the history of Thai boxing. The show is a mix of acrobatics, martial arts, and sword fights, and is awesome!

The high energy show lasts for 90 minutes and the entrance to the arena opens at 19:30. The show is great to combine with some shopping and eating at Asiatique Market.

There are free shuttle boats from Central Pier (next to Saphan Taksin Skytrain BTS Station) to Asiatique. The boat ride is only 10 minutes, and the boats run from 16:00 to 23:30 every day. Or you can buy tickets to the Muay Thai Boxing Show at Asiatique where the transport is included (they will pick you up at your hotel).

Read more about Thai Boxing at Asiatique, find the latest prices, and buy tickets here

Learn Thai Boxing In Bangkok – Join A Thai Boxing Class

If you want to try out Thai Boxing, like I did, and get a fantastic workout, you can join a Muay Thai Boxing Class.

This class lasts for 60-90 minutes (depending on what you want) and is for beginners so you don´t have to be in a good shape or know any fighting. You get a professional Thai Boxer as an instructor. It is great fun and good exercise!

Get more information, see the latest prices, and buy tickets for Muay Thai Boxing Class here

Thai Boxing In Popular Culture

We wouldn’t be the Nerd Nomads if we didn’t look a little at how Thai boxing has been portrayed in popular culture. While there have been some movies featuring Muay Thai, it has never become a huge movie martial art, such as for instance Kung Fu is.

Personally, I think I first became aware of it watching Jean Claude Van Dames film “Kickboxer”. In the movie, Jean Claude Van Dames character and his brother, a kickboxing champion, travels to Bangkok to challenge the reigning national Muay Thai champion. Needless to say, it does not go well. At least not until Van Dame finds an old master to teach him the art of Muay Thai.

More recently the rather excellent Ong Bak movie series has really shown that Muay Thai can hold its own as a cinematic fighting style.


_DSC4343PinWhether you decide to go watch a fight or even sign up for a Muay Thai class or not, Muay Thai is an important part of Thai culture. Knowing a little bit about its history gives you an insight into the Thai culture and their way of life.

By the way, if you do sign up for a class and happen to see the old photo of me in my Muay Thai shorts hanging on the wall, let me know, will you? 🙂

 


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Have you ever seen Thai boxing, where? Have you tried it yourself? Did you enjoy it? Please leave a comment in the comment area below. Thank you! 🙂

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Written by Espen Egeland

Espen, a Norwegian born travel nerd, got his start as an independent traveler at age 19, when he packed his backpack and bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia in search of adventure. Since then he has explored more than thirty countries across six continents. He holds a master's degree in computer science, but his true passion is photography, filmmaking and sharing his love of travel. In 2014, while on a year-long trip across South - East Asia, he co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads and since then he's been a full-time traveler. See our about page for more about Espen.

25 Comments

  1. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen on Muay Thai. I will be going to Bangkok in August going to watch a fight is definitely on the list.

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      So happy to hear that you liked the post! I honestly wasn’t sure anybody would read this one, so it was really nice to read your comment 🙂

      Have a great trip to Bangkok, and I hope you enjoy the Muay Thai!

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the blog Espen we are off to Bangkok next week and want to catch some Muay Thai while there and you have made the process so much easier looking forward to it.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for writing this! Very informative.

    Where did you take your Muay Thai class? Are there any one-time classes you could recommend?

    Reply
    • Hi Wendy,

      I took my class at Sor Vorapins gym close to the Khao San area. They have a couple of locations around Bangkok, both for one-time classes as well as live in long-term training. You can read more about them at http://thaiboxings.com. There are several gyms that accept foreign students and I plan on updating this article soon with some more options.

      Best of luck with your lesson! 🙂

      -Espen

      Reply
  4. Awsome post on Muy Thai! Way to go to actually experience the hard traing. I’ve never been to a match myself. Seems like it’s time to finally go and see a match

    Reply
    • Hi Simen!

      Thanks the comment! You should definitively go and see a match next time you’re in Thailand 🙂

      Kos dere i Vietnam. Gleder meg til å høre om turen når dere kommer hjem!

      Reply
  5. Hi Espen.
    I have learn Muay Thai about 2 months for losing my weight. Hahaha.
    and it works, i took a class in Sabai Muay Thai, Tebet Jakarta.
    I also ever go to Bangkok and want to watch Muay Thai fights, but the schedule didn’t match with mine. So sad 🙁

    Reply
    • Hi Lidew,

      Hehe, I have actua†lly been thinking that Muay Thai should make an excellent weight loss program 🙂 Congratulations on sticking with it for two months and losing some weight!

      I’m sure a few weeks in one of those live-in training camps could get me into shape. If I survived the training 🙂

      Reply
  6. It was a very good post. Who has not seen the movie Kickboxer and I’ve also seen the first Ong Bak. There is also a film about a Japanese samurai who ends up in Thailand and learn Muay Thai. I don’t remember it’s name. A brutal and bloody movie, not for everyone. But very good.

    Just read the article from 2014 on Elegant Themes site about Divi themes. Very interesting to read all the comments.

    Greetings from Oslo.

    Reply
    • Hi Paul!

      Thanks for commenting!

      It sounds like we had a similar Kickboxer watching childhood 🙂 I really want to hunt down that Samurai movie. It sounds like just my kind of film!

      The Elegant Themes article gave us our initial push of traffic. We had just started the blog a couple of weeks before, and absolutely nobody was reading it. So when the article hit their site we got a lot of traffic and we stayed up a whole weekend just answering questions and emails. Fun times! 🙂

      -Espen

      Reply
  7. Hi Espen,

    I just booked our flight to Bangkok for November and definitely plan on visiting the new Lumpinee stadium for Muay Thai fights. I am however finding their train system, at least what is mapped on Google Maps and on other sights conflicting and confusing. Do you recommend traveling up via train to Lak Si Railway Station (or Wonguian Lak Si?) to save money or is it affordable to take a taxi all the way (say15 – 20 miles)?
    Also… how much are tickets?

    Thank you for all the great info! I still have more poking around to do on your site to prepare me for this trip 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Patty!

      Like I said in the post; the easiest is just to take a taxi, but if you want to save some money then the closest MRT (subway) station is Pahonypthin about 9km away. From there, you are just a short taxi ride away. You can also take the Skytrain to Mo Chit and then a taxi.

      I haven’t really looked into the train stations in the area. But most people either use a taxi or the MRT + taxi.

      As for ticket prices, they start at about 200THB and go all the way to 2000THB for VIP ringside seats. Honestly, I’d get the cheaper tickets since it is more fun watching with the enthusiastic Thais on the upper levels of the stadium than with the tourists ringside.

      Have a great fight night!

      -Espen

      Reply
  8. One stadium to add is the Channel 7 stadium, which is located right next to the Chatuchak park. Entry is free (it’s THB 300 if you want a seat), the vibe is amazing and fights are on every weekend from about half past noon. Plus, it’ usually omitted from a lot of travel guides, meaning the likelihood of running into touts and overpriced offerings is a lot lower.

    Reply
  9. im in bangkok now and went to 3 diffetent tourist information center to book a ticket. they’re all saying “tourists can only buy the ringside seat 2000THB. the other seats are only for Thai people”. is this true? or are they trying to exploit by only selling the most expensive seats to tourist?

    Reply
    • Hi,

      They are extremely pushy on tourists to buy the ringside VIP tickets but last time I was there, tickets to the 2nd and 3rd isle could still be bought, although they cost more for foreigners than for locals.

      The best place to buy tickets is at the stadium itself but be prepared for them to push the VIP tickets on you there as well, sometimes using stupid and false arguments such as only the VIP seats have air con. It is always possible they may have created such a rule since I was last there, but I think it’s more likely that they were just trying to push the most expensive VIP tickets on you.

      -Espen

      Reply
  10. Hi Espen,

    Just now reading this article. It sounds like you had an incredible experience learning Muay Thai. You should see what’s going on in 2017 regarding having a “total Muay Thai experience.”

    Khongsittha Muay Thai is combining everything from Wai Kru training, visits to Lumpinee and Rajadamnern, training twice a day, and resort accommodation to rest your bones at in the evening. Check them out!

    Reply
  11. Great article and great blog! I’ll be in Bangkok in November and will be searching for a Muay Thai gym–thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  12. I saw some fights ringside in phuket. I made the mistake of wearing white jeans and had blood spatters on them by the end of the flights. It was an amazing experience. I am heading to bkk in october and would love to catch a fight. My wife is not so exited about it. Hahahhaha but she will go .

    Reply
    • Hi Brian,

      Wow, cool! Blood spatters on your white jeans?! OMG!!! ? We did not experience any blood spatters. I was a bit skeptic too about this whole Thai Boxing thing, but I really enjoyed it, it was great fun.

      The big Lumphini Stadium in Bangkok is a great place to see Thai Boxing, so you should definitely head there. It is a bit out of the city, but no problem taking a taxi there.

      Have a great trip to Bangkok in October, and enjoy the Thai Boxing at Lumphini Stadium!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  13. Great Post! A very informative article. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for enlightening us about what is Muay Thai.

    Reply

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