The Off-Brand Muay Thai Kickboxing Fight in Chiang Mai, Thailand

More photos! http://www.vagrant-tourist.com/home/muay-thai-kickboxing-show-in-chiang-mai-thailand

My travel companion Rob and I stayed at the homely little Dozy House hostel while in Chiang Mai (that is, until a mountain-biking trip beat the shit out of us, and we retreated to the fresh, white linens of a hotel). No matter what changes the Dozy House might undergo in the coming years, one thing’s for sure. There will probably be a flyer sitting at the reception desk, screaming in big bold letters: “THAI KICKBOXING FIGHT! THIS FRIDAY!” promoting the fight-of-the-week. The flyer will advertise a bout between a curious mix of Thai, and strangely, Swedish kickboxers, their Scandinavian locks looking more than a little out of place. Was this the battle of the century between two continental kickboxing heavyweights? Which country will reign superior!?

We’ll never really know. We went somewhere else.

We left the overcrowded Chiang Mai Night Market with a horde of other Americans from Georgia who had a tip on a smaller kickboxing match, a little more casual than that advertised on the flyer. The task of finding it was daunting. Our group was going off a scrawled address on a sheet of paper. Not even Google was helpful in finding the stadium. Tuk-tuks growled by as we passed empty bars and took turns down shot-in-the-dark alleyways. Eventually, the group gave up. We were there during martial law, and a curfew was imposed. The southerners didn’t want to give up their already-truncated night searching for a match that was half over.

Not even my own cocktail bar could distract me from hunting down this ghost kickboxing fight.

That didn’t stop Rob and I. After furiously Googling, I pinpointed an area that seemed to be behind a hotel. We walked through the entrance, which opened up into an outdoor plaza area. Crowd noise petered out just beyond a wall somewhere. I couldn’t believe we’d found it. The doorman said the show was half over. Was it worth it? We told him we’d pay half the ticket price, somewhere around $7, and went in. Persistence pays! Sorry, the South.

Right in the face.

The “stadium” was more like a little ramshackle food court with a ring in the center. A couple bars lined the outside, but Rob and I had smuggled some Chang beers into the place (Chang, by the way, is the way to go. Forget Singha. Just forget it).

The fight was as brutal as it was quick. Rob and I were there for maybe one match (and 10 minutes) before the bell was rung, the winner was declared, and the fighters could cease kicking the shit out of each other’s shins. It was serious. Check out the video above for a taste. What wasn’t as serious was the entertainment leading up to the main event. Muay Thai kickboxers start training as young as seven, and you’ll see some of these child kickboxers go at it during the opening act (documentary about child kickboxers here). We also heard that there was an event where one kickboxer was blindfolded and went up against a group of other fighters. Serious Muay Thai enthusiasts might be amused, but not enthused.

Where’s the sbarro?
Maybe these guys know what’s going on.
A “photographer” tried to take a picture of me with his camera. Well done!
Happy bartenders.
I let him win.

This match was set up for maximum entertainment value. It was down and dirty. It was a bit crazy. And like any good misrepresentation set up for tourists, there were photo ops with the victor. A bunch of us hung around the area, playing pool. I let a guy check out my camera and try to take a photo of me on the manual setting (didn’t turn out well). It’s probably a good place to meet other travelers who are there for a show and not a sport, people who don’t want to pretend to know how kickboxing is scored. Satisfied having seen some licks, we left the stadium and tried to find a bar that would have us past the curfew.

-Ben

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