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I’m not really the world’s biggest sports fan. And by that I mean I will generally do anything to avoid viewing, celebrating, or God forbid participating in, sports. There are some exceptions. Handmade coordinating t-shirts have been known to get me excited about a baseball game, and I recently got pretty swept up in watching my niece kicking butt at basketball. And there’s Muay Thai.

I don’t know what it is, but I am totally captivated by Thailand’s national sport. However, aside from one fight so fake I walked out of it in Chiang Mai, up until this trip I’d only ever been to Koh Tao’s small Island Muay Thai stadium. Which I truly do love — especially since the owner Pi Toon always ushers me into front row seats. Years of training at the gym has earned me some perks — and isn’t it a great looking little ring?

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

But high on my Bangkok bucket list has always been seeing a fight at one of the city’s two national stadiums, Ratchadamnoen or Lumpini. However, I’m often in Bangkok solo and going to a Muay Thai match is definitely one of those things that’s more fun with a crew. So when I realized that Heather, myself, and six friends from Koh Tao were all going to be in Bangkok on the same night, I knew it was finally time to go see that fight.

Rather than try to coordinate cabs, tickets, and logistics for eight people, we went the easy route (hey, we were on vacation!) and booked Viator’s package.

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Our guide and driver showed up at around 6pm and seemed officially startled by how rowdy our group of expats was compared to what I assume are her more normally sedate tourist charges. But she recovered quickly and we spent the next hour in the van — Bangkok traffic is killer — alternating between our guide telling us interesting facts about Muay Thai in Thailand and us shocking our guide with increasingly ridiculous antics. Like when Chris decided he needed a cigarette and walked next to the van in five lane bumper to bumper traffic, leaping dramatically back into the car when a light changed, or when we offered her shots of Fireball because we didn’t want to be rude. She was an incredibly good sport, though I’m sure she was pretty pleased to unleash us once we arrived at the stadium.

Technically the event started at 6:30, but considering how long the nine fights dragged on (they wrapped up around 10pm) we were perfectly happy sliding into our seats about an hour late. And what seats they were! While not in the very front row, we certainly were ringside. My favorite detail? A sign not so much warning us, but begging us, not to go up in the ring. It’s like they knew we were coming.

BangkokBoxing_009

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Muay Thai Tour

While flipping through the program for the night’s fights, I was extremely dismayed to realized that I outweighed every single boxer who was going to grace the ring last night. Way to make me feel guilty about the previous night’s McDonald’s run, Ratchadamnoen!

The rules are the same at both national stadiums in Bangkok — boxers must be older than 15, they must weight 100lb, and they must be male. While there are several incredibly popular and successful female Muay Thai boxers in the public eye in Thailand, the wave of gender equality has yet to hit these two locations. And that’s a shame — the promoters at the stadium in Koh Tao have told me that attendance swells whenever there’s a female face on a fight night poster.

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

Beer, hot dogs, and little bags of popcorn in hand (our guide brought us all a free drink, an unexpected perk) we settled in to watch the fights. The beer was 150 baht — about $5 — pretty pricey for Thailand, but everything else on the limited menu, from sodas to the two aforementioned snacks, was the equivalent of $1-1.50. Can you imagine getting such a deal at a major sporting event in the US?

Great as our ringside digs were, I couldn’t help but pop out of my seat for a bit to check out some different views and photography angles. When we first walked into the stadium, I was shocked by how small it felt. A little research revealed Ratchadamnoen has a capacity of about 5,000 people whereas Lumpini has a capacity of 8-9,500 people depending on the source. The main differences between the two are size and age — Ratchadamnoen is the original stadium, having opened in 1945 after the conclusion of World War II (construction was delayed by the war’s material shortages.) Lumpini was constructed more than a decade later, and in 2014 was demolished and completely relocated to a different part of the city.

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tourspying on my peeps

While the ringside seats were a mix of foreigners and wealthy Thais, the sparsely populated middle section was mostly Thai and the upper level area behind “the cage” — literally, it’s a cage — was exclusively so. I’ve actually heard that the ticket booths will refuse to sell tickets in area to farangs. Anywhere above ringside, betting is legal and done via hand signals. Just like in the US the lottery goes to support public schools, in Thailand the proceeds from the national stadiums goes to support the army. During really high energy moments, you could hear the chain link rattling as the betters on the upper level roared. I have mixed feelings about caging humans (please note my sarcasm) but was utterly fascinated by the enthusiasm contained in this one.

Muay Thai Tour

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Muay Thai Thailand

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

For me, the best part of the evening was getting swept up in the enthusiasm of the other spectators, placing cutthroat bets with my friends, and observing the more ritualistic and cultural aspects of the fights. But based on the cheers from the crowds, for many the highlight was when one fighter drew blood.

That’s when I got a little squeamish.

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Muay Thai Thailand

Luckily for my more nauseous side, the night was winding down. And soon, we’d discover my favorite perk of our ringside seating arrangement — getting to go behind the scenes with the evening’s champion! As soon as the last fight was called we were ushered into a staging area where we saw the very young victor (note to fight coordinators: we’d love to see the fighter’s ages and hometowns in the program!) doing interviews with local news outlets. And then we were able to jump in for a shot.

Muay Thai Thailand

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

For those trying to decide which stadium to attend, your schedule may make the decision for you. The stadiums alternate fight nights — Lumpini does fights on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays while Ratchadamnoen Stadium hosts Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. I absolutely loved Ratchadamnoen and am now eager to check out Lumpini on a future trip to Bangkok so I can compare and contrast.

While it is perfectly feasible to attend a fight on your own, I give two thumbs way up to for large groups who want to travel together, for those new to the city, for those looking for a lux night out, and for those who would like a bit of background on the sport. Our time in transit wouldn’t have been nearly as fun had we not all been bunched into a big van, and I appreciated the tidbits our guide gave us en route — not to mention the free drink and the seamless ticketing, the victor photo op and the fact that they happily dropped us at our bar of choice afterwards rather than returning us to our hotel. The only issue we had was when the company first showed up at our hotel for pick up, there were actually two vans and two guides, and we had to somewhat firmly and uncomfortably insist we wanted to ride together (they were twelve person vans, after all!) So if you go with a large group be sure to specify you want to travel together.

I can’t more highly recommend this experience — to sports fans, to those looking for a high energy evening outing in Bangkok, and to those looking for an alternative peek into Thai culture.

Do you try to attend local sporting events when you travel?

. . . . . . . . .

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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43 Comments...
  • Frances
    January 27 2015

    What an interesting read! I really enjoyed your photography-the atmosphere your photographs capture is really interesting. This is something I never would have thought of doing if I went to Bangkok, but now if I ever find myself there I will definitely be making a venture to a Muay Thai match. It looks so colorful!

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Glad to hear this gave you a new idea for your travels, Frances! And thank you for the photography kudos — taking this pictures was probably my favorite part of the day.

  • Justine
    January 27 2015

    I for one am a huge fan of sports! I did got to a Muay Thai fight when I was in Bangkok and I had so much fun. The atmosphere was great, but I did start to feel really weird when one really young kid got completely knocked out. That was a bit much for me. On a side note, I was going to mention this to you earlier, but I’d recommend going to a local baseball game while you’re in Nicaragua – they’re cheap, they’re fun and they get wild. I had a great experience. I know it’s probably not something a non-sports fan like yourself would be interested in but, i’m just saying, it might be fun 🙂
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      That’s one thing I like about going to these official national stadiums as opposed to the more tourist-geared ones — no young kids! But hey, we let kids beat the shit out of each other in American football so no judgement. And yes! I actually do want to go to a baseball game here. Need to see if I can find a partner in crime, not sure if I’d be up for it solo 🙂

  • becky hutner
    January 27 2015

    like you, i try to avoid sports at all costs. but i got weirdly into the last world cup & now i am totally up for a “footie” game anywhere it’s popular. the raucous fans would be worth it alone.

    how are these buff athletes 100lb!! you’re bringing back memories of feeling fat in asia x
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      I know, right?! I was kind of suspicious. I mean I know they are small but they are dense! Muscle is heavy!

  • Ashley
    January 27 2015

    I’m also not a sports fan, but I do love the energy and excitement of live sporting events. I watched a Muay Thai fight at a small bar in Railay, so I can imagine how much better it would be to watch ringside in a stadium!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Ah, I think I remember seeing that little bar during the day in Railay. Funny!

  • Whitney
    January 27 2015

    I wish I attended more sporting events when I travel because they are a unique window into a culture… and fun!! I haven’t done it often but I did splurge on tickets to the US Open (tennis) in New York City once. High on my bucket list is attending a soccer match in Europe or South America. From what I hear… the energy is insane!
    Whitney recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      That sounds like fun Whitney! I’m going to try to catch a baseball game while I’m here in Nicaragua.

  • Bryan
    January 27 2015

    When we were in Thailand I passed up many opportunities to see a fight. It just didn’t appeal to me at the time. Now that my wife and I are training in boxing (not against each other…), I wish I went! Lesson learned, don’t pass up opportunities if you think you might not like the event. It could be fun!
    Bryan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      I do think part of the reason I enjoy the Muay Thai fights so much is because I’ve practiced it myself as part of my fitness routine. Makes it much more interesting!

  • Polly
    January 27 2015

    Boxing/kickboxing is probably my least favorite sport – like you, blood gets drawn and I’m out – but this was an interesting read. Love the pictures, especially the fact that the champion still has on his fighter face in the shot with you and the guys and then is all smiles in the second pic! LOL
    Polly recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Ha, he was quite the character! I was dying to know his age — over 15 at least, I guess 🙂

  • Leah
    January 27 2015

    I just found out that there’s a bullfighting stadium here in Medellin!! I’m definitely never going because I think it’s cruel and don’t support the sport at all, but I was kind of blown away. They were colonized by the Spanish after all but I never really realized they adopted the sport as well as the language. I only went to a handful of Muay Thai fights in Chiang Mai but they were always pretty entertaining. Though they definitely didn’t have the “no fighters under 15” rule…
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Yeah, I’m with you on that — I feel like it’s not really fair as the bulls can’t really consent. (Muay Thai fighters can!) And yeah, in Koh Tao they don’t follow the over 15 rule either!

  • I’m not a sports fan either but I did enjoy going to a baseball game in San Diego and I have been known to watch rugby on occasion. This does look like a fun night out – will put it on my list for Thailand 🙂
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..

  • Dad
    January 27 2015

    Okay, this is a really interesting post. First, your pictures and write up are excellent. It really gives the reader a good idea of what really happens. Second, as your Dad I still don’t understand what attracts you to this ‘sport’ when I know you go to football, baseball and basketball games in the USA and when you leave you don’t know who won because you were socializing during the game. Anyway, it makes you an interesting person. Love Dad

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Well, I did my fair amount of socializing on this evening as well 🙂 But hey, it’s a sport — no quotation marks necessary!

  • Nicole
    January 27 2015

    We were going to go see the Muay Thai Fight Night at Koh Tao when we were there. We did the big mistake of going out for a few beers and to watch a dive video from that days certified open water divers before it, and BAM it was forgotten. We got up the next morning and were like: “Ehm… Weren’t we supposed to go see Muay Thai last night?” Haha 😀

    Definetly going to go check out the Muay Thai when we go back to Koh Tao for 3 months in August though! 😀
    Nicole recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Aw, shame 🙂 The stadium in Koh Tao is amazing. Much more intimate experience than this… love them both!

  • Haha I couldn’t have written the intro better myself! I too, am not the world’s biggest sports fan… and by that I mean I will generally go to great lengths to avoid watching/participating in any type of “sport.” I am yet to go to a Muay Thai night in Thailand though, and this is the one sport thing I would love to see!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Add it to the list! It’s a great exception to the rule 🙂

  • Pavan
    January 28 2015

    Meihoukai, those pictures look intense. Especially the one where the boxer is bleeding is a hard one! Reading through the post, I felt like reliving the WWE experience;-) Except the fact that your post didn’t have a warning, ‘Please Don’t Try This At Home’.
    I will be travelling across SEA sometime soon and I’ll make sure I don’t miss being on the ringside to witness that boxing madness!
    Pavan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Ha, in my mind this has NOTHING in common with WWE, which I would never ever subject myself to. I can’t even stand being in the room whens someone has that on TV in the background! You’ll see when you’re there for yourself 🙂

  • Marni
    January 28 2015

    The atmosphere in a sporting event can be almost addictive – it’s always more fun to watch something live. That package sounds like a great deal, and I think it is particularly cool that you got to have a photo op afterwards.

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2015

      Oh my gosh, yes, live only! I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a sporting event on TV — unless Friday Night Lights counts.

  • Desirre
    January 28 2015

    This is amazing! We are planning a trip to Thailand and would love to watch a fight. Thanks for the tips!

    PS when would you say is the best time to go to Thailand? TIA

    • Meihoukai
      January 29 2015

      Hey Desirre! Honestly I have been in Thailand every single month of the year and I don’t think there is a bad time. I guess if there is a specific place you want to go you should look into the weather for that place (for example, November isn’t the best month for Koh Tao.) The weather maps at travelfish.org are a good place to start. Enjoy!

  • Chris
    January 28 2015

    I think I could see you having a blast at Mexico’s Lucha Libre.

    Pantomime wrestling at its finest 😉

    Some stunning pics yet again!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 29 2015

      Thanks Chris! I was pretty proud of this set.

  • Rashaad
    January 29 2015

    Although I’ve been to Thailand (officially) four times, I’ve never attended a Muay Thai match – probably because I’m not super into combat sports (which the exception of a good boxing match). That said, I’m sure if I attended a Muay Thai match, I would enjoy it.

    As for attending local sporting events, despite the fact I was in the U.K. for roughly 16 months, I unfortunately didn’t make it out to a Premier League match – or for that matter, a match in any other flight of English football. I did attend a Rubgy League match in Leeds once and that was fun.
    Rashaad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 29 2015

      I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a rugby match — not in person, not on TV. I don’t know if I’d know what I was watching!

  • Rahman @ Iran Travel Blog
    January 30 2015

    Wow! This must have been such a great experience for you. Do you think you would like to see it again and again or it’s something you like to see once in your lifetime?
    Rahman @ Iran Travel Blog recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 2 2015

      I’ve done it several times and like I said in the post, very much look forward to seeing a fight at Lumpini to compare someday 🙂

  • Joe Louis
    February 6 2015

    Great pictures! I saw a match in Chiang Mai but I don’t think it was as “official” as the one you watched.

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2015

      The one I went to in Chiang Mai sucked. Bangkok all the way 🙂

  • Cristina
    April 20 2016

    Hi!

    How much did your package cost? Do you know how much it would be to buy it from the stadium?

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      Hey Cristina! Check out the link to the tour to see current pricing. I’m honestly not sure what the stadium price is, though I think guidebooks would probably have a range at least!

  • Gale
    June 20 2016

    Awesome post Meihoukai, I couldn’t agree more – it’s such a fun experience and watching the crowd is just as fun as the fighters, such an exciting atmosphere! I watched my first muay thai fight at the other stadium in Bangkok, Rajadamnern

    • Meihoukai
      June 23 2016

      I’m hoping to check out that stadium someday too! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lilly pearl
    February 16 2017

    Planning to visit thailand soon will definitely want to watch one live muaythai match!

    • Meihoukai
      February 26 2017

      It’s a must do in my mind! I love going to the little fights on Koh Tao but this was an amazing and altogether different experience as well. The only one I didn’t love was a pretty touristy one in Chiang Mai.