Muay Thai at Bangkok’s Lumpinee Stadium

One can’t visit Bangkok and not spend an evening marveling at their national sport – Muay Thai. I’m not even a fan of boxing, wresting, or mixed martial arts combat but I still highly recommend it. While western boxing uses only two fists and kick boxing uses two hands and two feet, Muay Thai uses elbows and knees as well and is referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs”. As the heavier fighters come out the action gets very brutal very fast with elbows and knees flying everywhere.

My evening started as I excitedly told the first tuk-tuk drivers who stopped for me: “Lumpinee, please!”. As I hopped in he excitedly turned around and said “Lumpinee. Muay Thai? Muay Thai!!!!”, cut into to traffic, and dangerously weaved through traffic as I watched the Bangkok sun set through the quickly passing buildings and trees. I soon arrived at a very busy and surprisingly small stadium with an imposing “LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM” sign on the front and countless vendors selling boxing shorts and other paraphernalia to locals and farang alike were haphazardly spread everywhere. I must be at the right place!

Since I was carrying some fairly serious camera gear (large DSLR + 3 lenses) I didn’t take any pictures of the exterior as I thought they’d see my camera gear and send me packing. A very pushy woman trying to sell me (presumably marked up or illegal) tickets was very insistent on selling tickets to me before I got to the official ticket counter. I was having a lot of trouble getting her to leave me alone and then she asked if I wanted to see the seats before I bought them. Seeing this as an opportunity to get my camera gear in, I agreed. I was able to get past the military police and their metal detector by saying “looking, looking!” and the lady trying to sell me tickets escorted me in without being searched. Yes, Thai MPs guard the stadium for some reason. I picked out some great seats a few rows behind the ring and paid the girl cash. Success! I waited a few fights to pull out my camera… and noticed that the military police everywhere didn’t seem to care. The lady came back again and said “oh, better pictures over there!” and pointed to the other side of the ring. After all of that trouble they were fine with photography after all! Lesson learned. I then tried my luck and headed back into the locker room area and to my surprise and delight they were totally OK with me taking photos of the fighters preparing!

Fight preparation takes a surprisingly long time. The boxers are stripped down to their dirty white briefs (not photographed out of my western sense of courtesy) and weighed, are oiled up on a table (not photographed for the same reason… this IS a locker room environment after all), and then get their trunks and shoes on. After that a fight official tapes up their hands:

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After the tape goes on the boxers put on their gloves and another fight official wraps the gloves on with even more tape then gives it an ink stamp – presumably to prove that the gloves are regulation and no funny business (additional weights?) is going on.

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The gloves of opponents hang together before the fight like old friends.

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An oiled up young fighter shadow boxes before a fight.

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A little while later, I find him again backed into a dark corner – still shadow boxing.

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A trainer applies a thick coat of nam man muay (thai boxing liniment) to each fighter’s face before a match. This reduces the odds that blood is drawn and reduces serious injuries. Muay Thai is not about brutalizing and knocking around your opponent, it is about scoring strategic and correctly applied fists, feet, knees, and elbows.

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After the nam man muay the fighter gets another oil application and vigorous leg massage.

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A boxer leans back on his gloves next to his liniment while he gets massaged.

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Then the nervous waiting begins. This fighter checks the standings next to him and looks worried.

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As the time to fight approaches, a small group starts to play tribal sounding music on traditional instruments. Tension builds.

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As I come back to the boxing ring I notice this sign on the ground. I find it a bit strange since there was a large photo on the wall showing four traditionally dressed women in that very same boxing ring.

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Note: I am not traveling with a sports lens or a fast zoom lens but I did what I could. Enjoy!

The fight begins… and ow, that’s gotta hurt.

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Things quickly heat up as the boxer from the blur corner lands a strong kick.

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A fast twist and solid knee to the gut sends sweat flying in all directions.

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A sweaty young fighter is thrown into the ropes.

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The crowd goes wild… except for that interestingly dressed gentleman on the right who was rooting for the other boxer. As each match got closer to ending the gambling sped up and the crowd started to get more rowdy. The crowd would loudly and excitedly call out each successful hit in unison if their fighter scored a point.

From the program I received at Lumpinee Stadium (grammar mistakes copied exactly from the program):

The fighter who uses Muay Thai’s weapons (punches, elbows, knees and feet) correctly according to the rules and can weaken or damage his opponent more will be the winner.
The fighter who uses Muay Thai’s techniques correctly according to the rules and can clearly hurt his opponent more will be the winner.
The fighter who uses Muay Thai’s weapons to cause more cuts or bruises will be the winner.
The fighter who makes more moves will be the winner.
The fighter who can protect himself, can hit back when get hit, and can avoid from being hit according to Muay Thai’s techniques will be the winner.
The fighter who makes no foul or fewer fouls will be the winner.

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I spent nearly half of the fight watching the delicate fast footwork.

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A ref pulls two young fighters apart at the end of a round.

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The blue fighter’s ring assistant gives him some water before spraying him and rubbing him down with the rest.

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Getting some feedback and instruction from his coach.

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Another fighter gets knocked backwards as the result of a fast kick. The foot had already retreated by the time I took this photo but he was still quite airborne.

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The red boxer in pink shorts skillfully throws his opponent to the mat.

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There were many camera phones being used. As two boys pummel each other and nearly throw each other out of the ring, one man records a video on his.

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The next fighter (Rachanon, member of Muay Thai camp F-16) waits for his turn in the headline fight starting in only a few minutes.

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Rachanon lands his first fist to the face while his opponent CH.N.Patthaloung attempts to clinch (hug) close to avoid such a beating and to score some close in knee kicks.

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After the fight, winners of the earlier fights get their official photos taken before hitting the showers.

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Another winner celebrates his victory.

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… while his losing opponent reflects on the fight.

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Looks like fighter 5 is still in the running.

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Before the night ended, more traditionally dressed Muay Thai fighters came out and performed some spectacular moves for everyone.

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Not everyone was excited though, many girlfriends could be seen sleeping or playing on their cell phones.

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And many other girls were staring into space and seemingly watching the exciting ropes while the oh-so-boring Muay Thai fighting was going on somewhere in the distance.

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Muay Thai fighters are younger than western fighters and start training before they hit puberty. I’m told they often come from extremely poor rural villages and train diligently for a decade for the slim chance at glory and prize money. There are so many, however, that Muay Thai boxing camps quickly drop all but the top fighters to take on newer, younger, more promising fresh meat. Perhaps one day this boy will be a champion.

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If you want to visit a popular Muay Thai stadium, definitely check out Lumpinee.

Cost
Tickets range from 500 Thai Baht to 2,000 Baht. The expensive seats let you get right up to the ring to see the action and the cheaper seats put you right in the middle of the rowdy and loud gambling locals. I opted for the former but I assume any seats would be fun!

Address
Lumpinee Stadium
Rama IV Road, Bangkok

Fight Schedule
Tuesday 6:30 PM – 11:00 PM
Friday 6:30 PM – 11 PM
Saturday: 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM and 8:30 PM – Midnight

Contact
(02) 252-8765, 251-4303, 253-7702, 253-7940