There can’t be any cooler national sport than Muay Thai. Graceful and artistic, yet also savagely brutal, it encapsulates the proud, tough people whom it represents. As somebody who likes combat sports in general, Muay Thai has long held an interest for me. However, in my two previous visits to Thailand I hadn’t managed to see a serious fight. Unless you count watching pissed up backpackers at a “reggae bar” on Ko Phi Phi. Which I most certainly don’t. Therefore, in December, on my third visit to Thailand I resolved that I had to go to a proper Muay Thai fight night.
Unsurprisingly, the best places to see top notch competitive bouts are Bangkok and Chiang Mai. As Janey, my travelling partner and better half, is definitely not a fan of the noble arts, this posed a problem. When I watch pugilism I like someone to discuss the impact of the blow with. Fortunately, we were due to spend time in the south of Thailand with two friends who were actually on their honeymoon. And what honeymoon is complete without spending time in a sweaty Thai boxing stadium?! I found a venue in Krabi and then contacted Tom who swiftly and enthusiastically agreed. Janey and Tom’s new wife Flis could go and drink cocktails together whilst we could watch fists, knees and elbows being thrown. Perfect planning.
Ao Nang stadium is located a couple of kilometres outside Ao Nang beach, a popular tourist destination in Krabi state. Fights are held every Monday and Friday and entrance costs 800 Baht for an arena seat or 1200 Baht for a “comfortable ringside sofa seat.” Each fight night consists of nine fights, each comprising five three minute rounds. On the night of our visit we arrived slightly late for the first bout and were pretty shocked by what we saw. There were two young kids in the ring! I’ve sat ringside at a boxing world title fight and witnessed some pretty sickening knockouts so I’m hardly sensitive, but I certainly didn’t want to watch violence involving children. Had all this been a very expensive mistake? Thankfully not, as the kids bout concluded fairly quickly and the proceeding bouts moved swiftly up in age group categories. This enabled us to relax and take in our surroundings. The arena was ramshackle and grimy and reeked of sweat. It was everything I wanted it to be. No less enthralling was the pure theatricality of the pugilists’ pre fight routines. Each fighter made an elaborate show of bowing to every corner of the ring before paying the appropriate tribute to Buddha. It’s one of the glorious paradoxes of Thailand that Buddhism and Muay Thai are so pivotal to the national identity.
As the contests progressed and the Singhas continued to flow, Tom and I wagered 50 Baht on each fight. I was 3-0 up and 150 Baht to the good before making a shockingly bad call. The red corner fighter’s routine was so flamboyantly choreographed that I figured he must be all braggadocio. Not in the slightest. He was like a teenage Thai Tyson and brutally demolished his opponent within a round. The end came as he rained down six unanswered roundhouse kicks to the same spot on his opponent’s leg. The rest of the flights blended into one alcohol fuelled haze. The only one that sticks in the mind was due to an appalling refereeing decision. As one fighter was picking himself up from the deck the referee called fight on meaning that the poor, valiant contestant made a very quick return to where he had came from. Tom and I agreed that we didn’t rate the ref’s chances of advancing up the ladder to officiate big money fights in Bangkok. The vociferous local crowd certainly weren’t shy about voicing their disapproval either. Bizarrely, after the seventh fight, two young boys appeared in the ring again. We, along with many others took this as our cue to depart. At 800 Baht it may have been pricey, and it certainly wasn’t a very high standard, but it was enough to satisfy me. If I ever go back to Thailand, I’m going to go to big stadium fight. Now that would be amazing.
Songthaews drive up and down the main strip in Ao Nang picking up tourists to take to the stadium. Alternatively, take a tuk-tuk. It shouldn’t be more than about 80 Baht.