One warm Friday evening I took my visiting friend and his son to Ao Nang Boxing Stadium, where each Tuesday and Friday night Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, takes place.
My friends knew very little about Thai Boxing. We agreed that fighting sports are not our preferred choice of entertainment, but I was confident that my friends would enjoy Muay Thai, as it is not a conventional fight but a way of life and a traditional symbol of Thailand. Would Spain be the same without corridas? How about England or Italy without football? Could the world or Thai people imagine Thailand without Thai boxing? My friends were about to discover this.
We arrived at the stadium, conveniently located near the beach at Noppharat Thara, at about 8pm and after a drink in the outside stall and a visit to the nearby shop that sells Muay Thai shirts, shorts, gloves and trophies, we made our way inside. There is an area high above the arena and the ring, where standard seats are located, and a lower area near the ringside with lines of comfy black leather sofas.
As we were special guests, we were allowed by the event’s promoter to visit the offstage where the Muay Thai fighters were being prepared for the fighting matches by their respective teams. A few young Thai boxing athletes were lying on berths, wearing nothing more than their underwear, while their managers applied tiger balm to their muscular and athletic bodies, and bandaged wrists and fists. The spacious room was overwhelmed by the smell of the menthol and eucalyptus gel, and by the noise of vibrant hands massaging and rubbing. More athletes of even younger ages were slowly arriving. The atmosphere was getting thicker and thicker with powerful vibrations.
Back to the arena, the seats were quickly being filled with a mix of Thais and foreign tourists. Foreigners were drinking canned beers while most of the locals drank Krating Deng, the original Thai version of the world famous drink Red Bull. It was around 8:45pm when the English-speaking commentator gave a brief introduction to the evening matches, which were 9 that evening. There were 4 judges, one per side of the ring, and one referee awaiting the first fight.
At 9pm, the official starting time, the first two kids made their entrance with the Thai national anthem playing and all audience standing, after which the official ceremony started. The fighters wore a traditional Mong Kon headband, considered to be magic, and an armband of colored material; they performed an enchanting ritual charged with a captivating spirit. They started by walking slowly around the ring in an anti-clockwise direction, paying respect to each of the four corners. Their hands joined together and assumed the classic wai position; with their eyes closed and their heads slightly lowered, they seemed completely absorbed in deep meditation. These pre-match rituals are called Ram Muay and have a spiritual meaning: it is how the boxers pay respect to their trainers. All programmed matches for the evening started in the same style, though each of the pre-match rituals slightly differed from one another.
As in boxing fashion, the two assisting teams occupied the outside diagonal corners of the ring, and at the end of the pre-match rituals, the fighting started. During the 5 rounds every fight lasts, the fighters displayed sophisticated fighting techniques making use of different parts of their bodies. While most foreigners watched the matches in silence and awe, on the right of the ring an excited group of Thai supporters cheered up fighters, shouting and inciting their favourite fighter in the peak moments of the combats. Fights ranged from young boys of 30 to 40kg, to older and expert fighters of up to 66 kg. As the weight of the fighters increased, so did the technique of the fight and the quantity and quality of the fight.
Many Thais say that if foreigners want to experience the real pulse of Thailand, they have to attend a Muay Thai fight. My friend and I may disagree with this statement, yet if you have never attended a Muay Thai event I assure you a Thai Boxing evening will entertain you and add up to your book of memories from the Land of Smiles.
Muay Thai is a sophisticated fighting art and part of Thailand national heritage, a tradition enriched with ceremony, meanings and history. A Thai boxer’s first fight takes place at around age eight, though the actual intensive training begins at age six or seven. I have learned that the main glory for a Muay Thai fighter is to fight in the legendary Bangkok stadiums, Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen, glory obtained only by few fighters. Millions of Thai fans watch these thrilling fights on television every week.
AO NANG KRABI BOXING STADIUM
Muay Thai events are on every Tuesday and Friday night at Ao Nang Krabi Stadium in Noppharat Thara and regularly at the Koh Lanta Stadium. Both Ao Nang and Koh Lanta have a training camps open to foreigners. If you would like to see this astonishing sport live, these are the places to go to in the Krabi Province. Note that, however spectacular these matches are, they are not staged. They are real fights, regularly attended by local Thai fans, and the same is true of the complex dance ceremony performed before each fight. The only concession to tourism is the price tag: tickets for foreigners are 800 for a standard arena seat, and 1,200thb for sofas positioned on the lower area near the ringside. For this you will see up to 10 fights. Tickets to be purchased at box office near the stadium. Free pick up from Ao Nang areas. Phone 075 621042, 081 6062888, 083 2802968
Learn more by browsing www.aonang-thaiboxing.com
Watch a fight on Youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBGvUTelw5o