Friday, 30 April 2010

The Muay Thai experience

It seems to be almost a rite of passage for the backpacker to take in a Muay Thai fight. However, I never quite fitted into that backpacker category (having first lived/worked in Bangkok and then making many repeat visits). And in all my many visits to the country, one of the “must-dos” that I had never done was to go to a Muay Thai fight.

So on our family’s most recent visit my father-in-law agreed to take me, which saved a whole lot of hassle and money. We went to Lumpini stadium, just down the road from the main entrance to Lumpini Park. Its incredibly chaotic outside on fight night, with foreigners, Thais and touts mingling. Usually the “farangs” are told they can only buy ringside seats and pay a hugely inflated price for these. Many people don’t mind as these seats get you closer to the action. The F-i-L got us the ringside seats for the Thai price, bonus.

So in we went, about 10-15 minutes before the action started so I took a few cheeky photos, including the obligatory one of me sitting on the mat. A couple of French girls saw me and asked me to take a photo of them sitting on the mat. Faster than a speeding bullet, the security guard appeared and said “Lady no sit”! Essentially ladies aren’t allowed in the ring or to sit on the mat. They looked somewhat unimpressed!

The usual card at these events starts off with a couple of Western boxing matches, now I don’t like this form of boxing at the best of times, and watching two nobodies slug it out didn’t appeal to me at all. So while this was going on I went for a lager.

At the end of these fights, suddenly the hardcore support came flooding into the stadium and that’s when the night really starts. The music blares, the illicit gambling gets going, shifty looking men on their mobiles are milling about, the press line up around the ring. Then the first pair of contenders entered the arena and began their intriguing pre-fight routine. They perform a kind of dance around the ring to some music, which is a way of paying respect to their family and trainer. Each fight consists of rounds like Western boxing and usually the first few are fairly low-key with the contenders sparring. Not until the final two rounds does it start to heat up, and boy does it get vicious! Here’s where the crowd really gets involved, every kick, every punch greeted with a roar…each louder than the last. The family of each fighter is in a small pen close to the ring, they feel every blow too.

In the final round of the first fight I actually spent more time looking round at the people in the standing area!

As you’d expect, the further you get into the card, the better the fighters are and the more lively the crowd gets. Even though we were in the supposedly more upscale ringside seats, we found ourselves leaping up and shouting with the crowd, such is the atmosphere in this place.

One downside is that it’s really difficult to get clear photos of the action. One obvious problem is that your subjects are constantly on the move, but most modern cameras can get around that. The other problem is the poor quality lighting in the arena, which is essentially a few fluorescent strip lights dangling precariously very low down over the ring.

I’d thoroughly recommend a visit here, if you’re not too squeamish, the fighters can come out with some nasty bruising and cuts. If you know a Thai person, see if they’ll take you as it may work out cheaper.

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk


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1 comment:

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