Getting KO’d in Chiang Mai

Getting KO’d in Chiang Mai

I was surprised that LOCAVORista was interested in going to a Muay Thai fight.  Whenever we see boxing clips on SportsCenter, she never hesitates to say, “I don’t understand why people want to watch this.”  Muay Thai is essentially boxing that allows kicking and kneeing during the fight.  Somehow the idea of paying to see people punch people is bad, but add kicking to the mix and LOCAVORista is a paying customer.

This would be the first fight I’d ever gone to.  LOCAVORista, the one against violence in sports, has attended a WWF event (you will have to ask her about that) and Sumo Wrestling World Championships in Japan.  We both expected Muay Thai to be violent, I mean, how do you make a kick to the head non-violent?  After missing the fight night in Bangkok, we were happy to find a much lower priced venue in Chiang Mai.

Expecting intense fighting and blood splattering, we bought ringside seats.  If anyone was getting splattered with blood, it was gonna be us.  Being Saturday night, these were not “exhibition” fights; rather they were fighting for purses up to $1,000 USD.  The fight list contained some surprises: a lady fight, weight classes that I couldn’t fit into since middle school (100lb, 112lb, 120lb and 140lb), and “Blind Eyes Boxers”.  We were excited when the boxing started at 10:15PM, 45 minutes late.

The first fight we should refer to as our “Barely Legal” fight of the night.  Even after adjusting for the “Asians are smaller” rumor, there are few grown men that could squeeze into the 100lb weight class.  Therefore, the fighters were kids, probably 11-14 years old.  They were fairly restrained, but as with many schoolyard fights, the taller boy with reach won.  By the time the shorter fighter got close enough to lay a hand on the taller one, quite expectedly, the taller one had laid down a couple of his own.

The second fight was a quick one, two teenagers in the 118lb weight class were deep in the second round when a fighter went down.  The men in the audience were hushed as we knew exactly what happened: knee+family jewels=pain.  While we assume that the fighters wear protection, a good hit brings down even trained fighters such as these.  His trainers tried to get him back to fighting by pouring ice down his pants, but the look on his face said it all.  The fight was done.

True to form in many developing nations, we didn’t follow the schedule of fights.  The lady fight came next.  Looking like any woman you may meet in Thailand at a guesthouse, on the subway, or selling you noodles, it took but a minute fighting to realize that you might want to avoid upsetting these women.  They were aggressively exchanging kicks, strikes and knees from each other until one got space and laid a kick to the jaw of the other.  Wincing in pain, the fallen fighter probably didn’t hear the count.  She was down, her opponent trotting around the ring as the victor.

Speeding through the fights we didn’t know what to expect next when four people entered the ring.  Three were dressed as fighters and one in a pink collared shirt.  Quickly, the man in the pink shirt put blindfolds on the three fighters and we realized what “Blind Eyes Boxers” meant.  The three were going to duke it out blindfolded.  There was no way that three people, fighting blindfolded, couldn’t result in some funny situations.

We didn’t wait long for the hilarity to reveal itself.  The ringleader, the man in the pink shirt, was going to stay in the ring to help fighters find their way.  Now I may not be smarter than the average bear, but I do realize that standing in a ring with blindfolded boxers is a bad idea.  Within a minute of the bell, the man in the pink shirt took a strike to the face that left him reeling.  During the fight he was hit, hard, several more times.

The blindfolded fighters were tough, strong, and seemed to understand the entertainment value.  Instead of hiding on one side of the ring, they kept following the man in pink’s pull towards the fight where they would receive and deliver blind blows.  This fight didn’t last long, but got the crowd cheering, laughing and gasping at the spectacle.

As a final intermission show, one of the bars that surrounded the ring treated us to a ladyboy dance.  Each ladyboy (transvestite) was dressed as they were in the Ms. Universe pageant.  I imagine that this was similar to the Ms. Universe competition…you know, with some rule changes.

Finally we were onto the 140lb “heavyweight” fight-of-the-night.  This was the fight I expected most of as it pitted an Australian versus a local fighter.  Even though these fighters were in the same weight class it was clear the Australian had a size advantage.  It took three rounds of the strongest hits of the nights, but the clearly larger Australian took home the prize by KO.

Overall the experience was fun, but not as brutal as we expected.  It was almost uneventful as we came home without fighter’s blood on our shirts or didn’t lose our first-born in a bet.  Maybe this was because we were in Chiang Mai where the crowd was predominantly tourists without allegiance to any fighter.  The arena itself is small and surrounded by bars, which put you in their section and have go-go girls serve overpriced alcohol.  I am sure that the fights in Bangkok have a very different tone, but for half the price, Chiang Mai’s Muay Thai fights are worth a visit.


  1. It’s convenient. The Chiang Mai Muay Thai arena is centrally located near the night bazaar, about a block from Le Meridian towards the old town City Wall.  It goes by several names, but you can easily walk to it from the main tourist areas of Chiang Mai.
  2. You can buy discounted tickets from tour agencies. Go into any tour agency, especially if you want to book other tours and negotiate.  List price is 600 baht, but tickets from agencies can be had for 500 baht.
  3. Arrive early. Early birds get the front row.  When a hostess is bringing you to your seats, if you ask to sit in the front they will let you, only if seats are still available.  Arrive roughly 30 minutes early for the true ringside, front-row experience.
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» bka :
Mar 8, 2011

oh boy………a couple of thoughts,,,,,,first great stuff as always, but you are writing this as if it was your every day Saturday night at the fights, but with ladyboys…… are certainly grasping the “when in Rome…….”…… always pleased to see your photos and see hair on your heads, had some concerns that you might succomb to the “Buddhist monk powers” and join a Monestery……..lastly, incredible photo postings!!!!!……we were there and saw what you saw, but one would never know, by comparing our “snapshots” to your photos…be safe……love bka

» Shan :
Mar 8, 2011

HA! this is amazing! but i’m with locavorista – i’ve never understood boxing. wwf on the other hand makes for a great 20th birthday! ;)

» Mom A :
Mar 8, 2011

Glad you didn’t jump into the ring since they don’t allow tennis rackets! Also glad you didn’t get splattered with blood these days! Got a few lessons on being respectful to all, no matter their size or gender/s, eh? Another lesson, always stay on your toes, remain alert and ready to duck – in or out of the ring.

Great action photography!

» Katie Imholte :
Mar 8, 2011

You are hilarious. Loved…”even after adjusting for the “Asians are smaller” rumor…

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{ Apr 5, 2011 - 11:04:28 } Living If | 36 hours in Chiang Mai

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thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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