Thailand is known for many things, from elephants and temples to tattoos and pad thai, though many fans of combat sports know of Thailand for something else. From amongst these beautiful lands came the deadly art of Muay Thai, a martial art that is not only a piece of Thai cultural heritage but also a fighting technique that has become a valuable tool in the evergrowing market of modern Mixed Martial Arts.
Whether you’re hoping to see a fight, to place a bet on one or even step into the ring yourself, there’s no better place to experience the exhilarating art of Muay Thai than from the country in which it came! So in that case, here is everything you need to know about Muay Thai in Thailand, from where to watch a fight to putting on the gloves yourself!
Table of Contents
What Is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai or “Thai Boxing” is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand. Also known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”, the unique form of combat has evolved over centuries to utilise the entire body as a deadly weapon and has become the pinnacle in hand to hand combat.
Each limb is thought to mimic a weapon of war. The hands become the dagger; the shins and forearms become armour, the elbows deliver a blow like a mace or hammer, while the iconic kicks and knees act as an axe.
Though the sport has gained a great amount of attention across the world, no country has purer enthusiasm and unadulterated passion for the art of Muay Thai than the country from which it came. Even the King of Thailand himself is a huge fan!
A Brief History
The exact origins of this centuries-old sport are debated, and might never be truly be figured out. Much of Muay Thai’s history was lost after the ancient capital Ayutthaya was raided during the Burmese–Siamese War of the 14th century.
The few artefacts and volumes of textbooks that remained have since become national treasures that not only share more on Thai culture and heritage but also give a little insight into the genesis of Muay Thai!
A Baptism of Fire
Unlike most other sports, Muay Thai wasn’t just another way to keep fit or a physical pass-time, instead, it was a matter of life or death! In 1238, the Royal Siamese Armed Forces were created to protect the Thai government (known as Siam at that time) and its people. Soldiers were trained in hand-to-hand combat and learned how to utilise their entire body as a weapon. These techniques became the earliest forms of Muay Thai.
The rough-edged martial art continued to evolve in a very Darwinian fashion, where only the greatest warriors were able to pass on their techniques after succeeding in battle, where the less effective techniques were left behind along with the corpse of the loser.
With the constant threat of war, training centres began to appear throughout the kingdom, which became the earliest Muay Thai camps. Young men practised the art not just for self-defence, but also as a form of discipline. Even Buddhist monks began learning and instructing Muay Thai, similar to the Shaolin monks in China! Throughout the centuries knowledge and techniques continued to be passed down from one generation to the next, from master to student.
Becoming Part of Society
Even during times of peace, Muay Thai become an integral part of Siamese and later Thai culture. Though it was once solely practised by the lowest classes of society, it was quickly picked up by the social elite and even royalty! Sons of kings were sent to study the martial art, as they believed that good warriors made brave leaders and would prepare them for life as rulers of the Thai kingdom.
Local champions began representing their city or village, and fighters would often face one another on behalf of wealthy businessmen or royalty as a way to settle disputes. During this time, the act of gambling on Muay Thai matches became incredibly popular, as it is today! It also remains one of the few places in the country where gambling is completely legal!
Introduction to the West
Much like in Thailand, the introduction of Muay Thai to the rest of the world came through the battles of war. During the First World War, commanders stationed in France would regularly arrange Muay Thai bouts to boost the morale of the servicemen. Soon after, French boxers stepped into the ring to test their skills against Thai fighters. I guess you could consider it an early form of MMA!
The tradition of Thai fighters demonstrating their skills continued through many international wars, including WWII and the Vietnam War. It became one of the many reasons why Thai soldiers had an incredible mystique amongst their allies. Adding to their mystery was the extensive Sak Yant tattoos each soldier had printed across their bodies, which they believed would give them magical powers! This along with their incredible level of endurance and ability to withstand pain would lead them to earn the nickname “Ghost soldiers”.
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Modern Day Muay Thai
As Muay Thai became more popular internationally, the rules became a little more organised. In the 1920s, rings were introduced as well as the use of proper hand-wraps. Fights were also divided into 5 rounds with a time limit on each, which was timed using a clock rather than using a coconut shell sinking in a barrel of water!
Within Thailand’s major cities, Muay Thai stadiums began popping up regularly. The first of which includes the iconic Lumpini Stadium in Bangkok, which to this day is considered the “holy ground” of Muay Thai.
More recently, Muay Thai has gained international recognition after being accepted as an Olympic sport. Also, with such success of Mixed Martial Art (MMA) on the world stage, Muay Thai has become a crucial part of many fighters’ arsenal, bringing even more popularity to this culturally iconic sport.
What to Expect in a Muay Thai Fight
Whether you’re a casual fight fan, a humble tourist or a diehard lover of Jean Claude Van Damme’s cheesy 80s movies, watching a Muay Thai fight is a MUST for anyone passing through Thailand! It’s part of the country’s cultural heritage, a traditional piece of history that has survived for centuries! So, here’s everything you need to know about watching Muay Thai in Thailand.
The Traditions and Rituals
Despite looking like a lustful bloodsport to the untrained eye, Muay Thai is steeped in tradition, and more importantly, deep respect. Many of the same fundamental traditions have remained in place for hundreds of years. Two of the most iconic are the Mongkong (headband) which is worn when entering the ring and the pa-pra-jiat (armband) which are worn throughout the fight.
Before each fight, each competitor also has to perform their unique Wai Kru, a ritualistic dance that shows honour to the fighter’s teacher, the sport of Muay Thai and Thailand itself. The fighter dances in each direction of the ring before touching each corner post and saying a prayer. Plus if nothing else, the whole process builds up tension for what’s to come!
Each bout is scheduled for 5 rounds lasting for 3-minutes each. That may not sound like a lot compared to say boxing, but it means that the action is much more intense and high-paced, hence the exciting nature of Muay Thai!
The scoring system is a little more complicated compared to pure boxing. The winner of each round gets 10 points while his opponent gets 9 or less, though that might not strictly matter. It’s up to the judge to give the overall final score. Though in simple terms, whoever kicked the most ass end up being the winner, and K.Os are a very clear victory.
Stadium shows usually have 7-9 matchups per event with the highest quality fighters reserved towards the latter end of the evening. You’ll see fighters of all ages and levels, and they might even be kids! Most of these fighters come from surrounding training camps, meaning they’re usually not just fighting for themselves, but also representing their team.
One thing you’re certain of seeing a lot of amongst the locals is heavy gambling! Muay Thai venues are one of the few places where gambling is legal in Thailand, so they take full advantage! Take note of the frantic hand gesturing that would put Wall Street brokers to shame as gamblers and bookmakers establish the odds of each fight.
Where Can You Watch a Muay Thai Fight?
Fights take place on any given night throughout the country. Though they might be a little harder to track down in more rural areas, it’s not hard to stumble across one within the cities! In fact, most hotels and hostels advertise upcoming events and usually have pick up services to take you to and from the stadiums.
For this article, I’ll only be looking at venues in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, which have the highest number of stadiums. That being said there are still hundreds of places across the country where you can catch a fight, you just have to find them! So let’s look at some of the most popular spots in the big cities!
For decades, the Thai capital has been the spiritual home of Muay Thai! Bangkok has several venues which put on fights from complete amateurs to deadly pros, and wooden bench filled shacks to neon-lit stadiums. If you’re a bit of an introvert, then you could still catch plenty of free fights open the TV which are filled within the city.
This has the distinction of being the first-ever Muay Thai stadium built in Thailand! Despite its heritage and importance in the combat sports culture, nothing much has changed over the years. It’s still beautifully stripped down to the bare minimum for maximum authenticity! Several big event promoters at Rajadamnern always put up the best shows often with the best fighters in the country.
When: Shows every Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 6 – 10 pm.
Entry: 2000 baht for ringside seats, 1500 baht for second class seats and 1000 baht for third class. There are also club class tickets available for 1800 baht that have some privileges such as access to the VIP lounge and a photo op with the fighters.
Oh, and if you’ve ever fought here before, you can get a free 2-year pass to the stadium! Pretty good deal for a quick ass-whoopin!
Considered by many to be the Mecca of Muay Thai, the stadium is still seen as the holy grail for many fighters, Thailand’s answer to Madison Square Garden! It’s also thought to be the home of the best fights in the country, and its ring is regularly graced by the sport’s elite!
When: Shows every Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Entry: 2000 baht for ringside seats, 1500 baht for second class and 1000 baht for third class. Discounts are available to people training in affiliated gyms in Bangkok.
Channel 7 Stadium
Once only known amongst locals, the secret of Channel 7 Stadium has finally been discovered by the blood-hungry foreigners! This is as close to an authentic Muay Thai event as you’re likely to find in Bangkok! Screaming locals, cash frantically changing hands, and observers uncomfortably packed together on unforgivingly hard benches, it’s as traditional as can be! So if you just want a casual look, there are way more comfortable options out there.
The fights in the stadium are actually broadcasted on national TV, and as such, the studio is adamant that you should wear proper attire. Men should wear a collared shirt with covered-toe shoes, while ladies should wear a long dress with covered shoulders and covered-toe shoes. If not, then you could be turned away or forced to buy clothes outside the stadium.
When: Shows every Sunday and start around 2:15 pm.
Now we move onto Muay Thai in the 21st century! Rangsit Stadium has become a popular spot among locals and gamblers for years with its combination of high-quality fights and its unique showmanship! Equipped with a resident DJ spinning tracks live from the stands, flashing LCD screens and ring adorned like that of a Las Vegas prizefight, it really adds an added level of excitement! A great alternative for anyone who wants a bit more creature comforts and doesn’t want such a traditional experience.
When: Shows on Fridays from 6 – 10 pm.
Entry: 1500 baht for foreigners and 1000 baht for local Thai, both of which include two free drinks.
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MX Muay Xtreme
Similar to the last place, the production value of the MX Muay Xtreme shows are through the roof! The thundering EDM music, over-the-top entrances and clear quality of the stadium has brought the sport into a new age and accessibility to commoners. This show is much more popular amongst the casual fans of Muay Thai as it usually has a higher percentage of spectacular knockouts, due to the fact fighters use lighter gloves! These events also tend to have “Thai vs Foreigners” bouts which in itself brings plenty of interest.
When: Shows every Sunday afternoon at 1:15 pm.
Muay Thai Super Champ/Muay Hardcore
Muay Thai Super Champ and Muay Hardcore are both sister promotions that only started in 2019! These events are both managed by Channel 8 which broadcasts each event on national TV! The only significant difference between the two is that Muay Hardcore uses lighter MMA gloves and skips the Wai Kru at the beginning of the bout. Shows also adopt a 3-round format in favour of 5 rounds and tend to focus on “Thai vs Foreigner” showdowns.
When: Muay Hardcore takes place on Saturday while Muay Thai Super Champ on Sunday. Both shows start at 7 pm.
World Siam Stadium
The newly opened World Siam Stadium was built in partnership between Thai and foreign veterans of the fight game. The collaboration brings with it a fresh new outlook at the world of Muay Thai with just a dash of Western influence. Definitely a top pick for casual fans!
When: Changes with each event.
Entry: 300-500 Baht
If Bangkok is the spiritual home of Muay Thai, then Chiang Mai is an equal second! When it comes to the combat sport, the city is just as historically important to its origins. To this day there are plenty of world-class fighters and daily bouts to quench your desires.
Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium
Though it may be one of the newest venues, Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium is by far the most professional set-up in the city. Opened in 2016, the purpose-built stadium has some of the highest quality fights in Northern Thailand! Each event has roughly 6 bouts that range from amateur children to professional assassins. It’s also the city’s only indoor stadium, if you were hoping to escape the elements for a while!
When: There are fights every day apart from Sunday, 9 pm – 12 am.
Price: 600 Baht for standard seats, 1000 Baht for ringside seats which comes with a free drink, and 1500 Baht for VIP seats which also come with unlimited drinks, free snacks, and a chance to take photos with the boxers inside the ring.
Thapae Boxing Stadium
Standing directly next to Thapae Gate, one of Chiang Mai’s most iconic landmarks, Thapae Boxing Stadium is easily the most popular in the city due to its location. For that reason, it’s also one of the most popular choices for tourists! And as groups of foreigners tend to do, the stadium ends up having much more of a raucous atmosphere!
When: Every day apart from Sunday, 9 pm – 12 am.
Price: 500 Baht for standard seats, 800 Baht for ringside seats, and 1500 Baht for VIP seats which are inside a private room with AC and unlimited drinks. You can also get a discount if you book online.
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Anusarn Boxing Stadium
What goes hand-in-hand with a traditional night market filled with awesome bars and delicious food? Well, a pair of guys battering the shit out of each other of course! Anusarn Boxing Stadium, as the name might suggest, is placed right in the heart of Anusarn Night Market. And as might be pretty obvious by its placement, this isn’t exactly a world-class set-up, yet what more do you need to enjoy some fights than a few plastic chairs?
When: There are fights every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 9 pm – 12 am, and Friday from 8 pm – 12 am.
Price: 500 Baht.
Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium
Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium may be one of the most thrown together yet most iconic stadiums in the city! It’s a venue you’re likely to pass by as it’s in the heart of Loi Kroh Road, also known as Chiang Mai’s red-light district. Amongst the notorious street are bars filled with pay-to-play ladies, who encourage you to buy drinks for them in return for conversation and maybe even more…
Anyway…the stadium itself is tucked at the end of dozens of these bustling bars and thus has a different atmosphere from the rest. It’s not that seedy, and is still a great place to watch some fights and have plenty of drinks! The events also tend to lean more towards entertainment. Between the hard-fought battles, the promotors will also put on some comical time-fillers such as blindfolded fights. Though it’s definitely a more touristy option, it’s still worth a look!
When: A little less reliable, but fights tend to take place between Tuesday to Saturday, from 8.45 pm – 12 am.
Price: 400 Baht for standard seats, 600 Baht for VIP seats.
Though the pedigree of Muay Thai may slightly diminish the further south you go, there are still plenty of amazing Muay Thai camps and equally impressive stadiums for you to watch some fights! And of all spots in the south, Phuket is the place to be!
Patong Boxing Stadium
This is definitely one of the best set-up stadiums in Phuket! Always full to the brim, Patong Boxing Stadium is also the favourite pick amongst locals. You’re also less likely to see any foreign fighters stepping into the ring here. For casual viewers, this one is probably your best bet!
When: Fights every Monday, Thursday and Saturday night.
Price: 1300 Baht for standard seats, 1500 Baht for ringside seats and 1800 baht for VIP seats which come with a free t-shirt!
Bangla Boxing Stadium
If you’re looking for a bit more of a traditional experience then Bangla Boxing Stadium is the place for you! With rafters stacked up high and overlooking the ring from above, it looks like something out of a cheesy 80s movie where you’d expect the spectators to be screaming for blood! The stadium also has a greater number of foreigners facing off against locals for a bit of international warfare.
When: Fights every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 9 pm to 1 am.
Prices: 1,700 Baht for standard seats, 2,000 Baht for ringside seats and 2,500 Baht for VIP seats.
This much smaller and definitely more local venue still packs a big punch! Nearby are some of the regions’ biggest Muay Thai camps, thus the stadium isn’t short of hungry competitors looking to make a name for themselves! As such, they’re mostly local Thai fighters but might have a few foreigners now and again!
When: Fights on Fridays, 9:30 pm – 12 am.
Price: 1500 Baht for VIP seats with leather sofas on the front row or 800 Baht for standard tickets.
Rawai Boxing Stadium
Now we get even smaller and even more local! Rawai Boxing Stadium is also much more rural as it’s right next to a small fishing village, so as traditional as you can get! Don’t expect any high-production value or even any real comfort, here it’s all about the fight. This one is definitely for the true Muay Thai connoisseurs!
When: Fights every Tuesday from 9 – 11:30 pm.
Training Muay Thai
Not only are so many people fascinated by the art of Muay Thai, but many come to Thailand just to try some authentic training at the hands of world-class professionals whilst living at traditional fight camps.
Don’t panic! It’s not as if you need to be a professional ass-kicker to train, camps are also open to absolute beginners! Regardless of your abilities, you can also be put through the same gruelling training regime that creates Muay Thai champions.
Training Muay Thai in Thailand can be a life-changing experience. In fact, many Muay Thai students consider it a rite of passage to train in the land of its origins.
However, before you get all swept up in the excitement, bear in mind that is nothing like training back home. The regime is different, the weather is different, the food is different, and even the culture of training itself is very different. You have to be ready to step into a whole new world of excruciating pain and be able to push your mind and body to the absolute limit.
Won’t There Be a Language Barrier?
No, not really. You don’t have to speak Thai to train Muay Thai, though learning a bit is highly encouraged. Training is made up of watching techniques and trying to copy them, or as you’re likely to be told, “watch and do!” Trainers will often position your body rather than explaining the exact technique. After all, it’s not exactly rocket science, just kick and punch until you can’t no more! Language barriers shouldn’t deter you!
What Kind of Camp Should You Pick?
While picking the kind of camp you want to train at, there are many things to consider. To start with, think about what kind of experience you want to have and the level you’re currently at. After that, you then need to consider the price and the amount of attention you will receive at each camp. For example, if you’re paying more than 1,000 baht a day then you’re wasting money, and you should also guarantee some one-on-one time with a trainer each day.
After thinking about all these factors, your last (and most important) decision is what kind of camp you want to train at; those with more focus on foreigners (or farang), or authentic Thai camps which rarely see outsiders.
Obviously, the most accessible camp for foreigners are the ones that are geared towards them! These places tend to be better equipped with multiple rings and state of the art facilities. Most of these venues even have local fighters who permanently live at the camp, which follows Thai tradition.
These camps are by far the best for absolute beginners as trainers usually have a greater level of English and are more adapted to dealing with rookies. Though that being said, their training regimes are still high-level enough to be used by world-class fighters to prepare for their upcoming fights!
These camps are also in very desirable locations, mostly sticking close to the bigger cities and hotspots around the country e.g. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phangan. So if you wanted to mix some training amongst your adventures then this is also a great choice.
Traditional Thai camps are commonly found in rural locations, though they can still be found in the heart of cities. Foreigns can join these gyms, however, it’s much more of a selective process. If foreigners want to join the camp, they’ll need to be introduced to the camp manager by a Thai local or a fellow fighter. Even then, you must show a great amount of endurance and commitment to the traditional life of a Thai fighter to get accepted.
Once you’re in the camp, your English will become completely useless as you delve into the traditional Thai experience. You’ll be forced to develop your language skills and attempt to close the cultural gap between you and your fellow teammates. Though if you’re looking for a true authentic hardcore experience, then this is the choice for you!
Some gyms float in-between! The foreign-focused Muay Thai camps might not have as much of a personal feel compared to the authentic Thai camps. Though on the flip-side, Thai camps might be a bit too of a culture shock for absolute beginners.
Luckily there are some smaller camps out there that have found a happy medium between the two and are more than welcoming to foreign visitors! It really depends on what kind of experience you want!
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This is not the typical Zumba class down in your local sports centre, Muay Thai training in Thailand is one of the most exhausting and agonising experiences you will ever have the pleasure of undertaking. However it is still one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences you can have, so it’s not all doom and gloom!
Training is typically split into 2 or 3 sessions spread across the day for 2-3 hours at a time. Fighters will also typically train for 5-6 days a week, and you better believe you’ll appreciate those days off!
The training programs for each camp will vary slightly but usually follow the same basic structure.
- Group run – 2-5 miles
- Callisthenics e.g., jump rope, sprints – 15-30 mins
- Shadowboxing – 2-5 rounds
- One-on-one pad work with a trainer – 3-5 rounds
- Heavy bag work – 3-5 rounds
- Sparring and clinching – 3-10 rounds
Don’t make the mistake of thinking a cooldown will be a welcome relief, in fact, it might be the hardest part! There will be hundreds of knees, kicks and elbows, hundreds of sit-ups and hundreds of push-ups, or until you simply can’t do anymore!
Last but not least, your session ends with an important amount of stretching to limit soreness. Only then you can breathe a sigh of relief…for a few hours at least. Eat, relax and maybe even go for a nap, because you’ll need it! Soon enough you’ll have another session, which might be even harder than the last!
The name of the game is to walk before you can crawl. Nobody expects a rookie to train at the same pace and intensity as local fighters! Go slow and build your stamina.
Thai tradition dictates that fighters should live at the camp for as long as they train. Of course, this is not a requirement, yet it allows you to get the absolute most out of your experience. When in Rome, right?
If that’s not enough of a reason, then think of it as motivation! By staying at the camp, you’ll have no excuses, no opportunity to chicken out because you’re “just not feeling it today.” The first thing you’ll hear in the morning is the ringing of traditional music and the unmistakable sound of pads being smacked under a chorus of aggressive grunts! You’ll step out of your dorm straight onto the training floor, ready for a new day!
Of course, this life isn’t for everyone. Somehow living in a tiny dorm with no A/C and a bunch of testosterone-pumped young men who regularly frequent the red-light districts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You could just as easily have daily training while staying at a nearby 5-star hotel if you wanted to.
Getting a Fight
So now you’ve spent a few weeks training hard and sharpening your skills, you want to challenge yourself by seeing what you can do in a real fight. No problem, your camp will be happy to arrange one for you, only if you are ready! Don’t feel as if you are forced or even encouraged to do so.
It’s worth knowing that the legitimacy of the fight game here is questionable at best. There are plenty of stories of locals throwing fights against foreigners, or that farang are fed absolute beginners with as much malice as a box full of kittens. Bear in mind there is money on the line, and foreigners are able to bring in more cash. That may be true, but if you step in that ring and feel a right hook that Tyson himself would have been proud of, then these stories won’t mean shit.
Whether the fight is legitimate or not, certain traditions must be kept by each fighter, local or foreign. Before the fight, you’ll have to perform the trainer’s unique Wai Kru and Ram Muay as a mark of respect.
Muay Thai Career
So, you wanna be a fighter? You had a couple of victories and fancy yourself as a prizefighter that can go far in the world of Muay Thai. Well, don’t expect to become a millionaire anytime soon.
Even in the West, lower-ranked boxers and MMA fighters make dreadful pay considering their career choices, and Muay Thai fighters make even less. Most competitors take a fight every 3-4 weeks because they simply need the money! Typical fighters make around 10,000-15,000 baht (£220-330) a fight, though most tend to only make 4000-6000 baht (£85-130).
Even more depressingly, the best Muay Thai fighters in the world make 250,000 baht (£5,500) at the most, a far cry away from the likes of Mayweather or McGregor!
That’s barely enough money for local Thais to support themselves! That’s why most fighters accumulate as much as 300 or more fights before they reach their 30s! The career of most fighters burn fast and die out quickly, as not only is the training physically demanding but so too is getting absolutely battered in the ring each month. This life really is not for everyone.
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