If you read any top 10 list on what to do in Thailand or Bangkok, it’s quite likely that ‘watch a muay thai fight’ is going to pop up on there at some point. Maybe watching a boxing match isn’t everyone’s cup of tea or top priority on a trip, but when in Thailand it really is a must-do.
What is muay thai?
Quite simply, muay thai is Thai boxing, and Thailand’s national sport. Finally, a country whose national sport isn’t something boring like football or cricket! It differs from regular boxing in that fighters are not restricted to using their fists, but can also kick, wrestle and even use knees and elbows. I became interested in muay thai a few years ago when I started doing Les Mills bodycombat in London. For those who don’t know, this is a mixed martial arts based workout class. Of course it’s not really authentic as you don’t actually fight anyone and is only intended as a workout class, but the muay thai-style moves that were included in the workout were the most fun and got me intrigued about this style of boxing. When I booked my trip to Thailand I knew it would be a priority to see this fighting style for real – and I was definitely not disappointed! Even if you’re not an expert on boxing (I’m certainly not!), watching a match comes highly recommended as it’s such an integral part of Thai culture, like samba in Brazil or flamenco in Spain.
Where can I watch muay thai in Bangkok?
There are two main, large stadiums where foreigners can easily watch a match or two while in Bangkok. Lumpinee and Rajadamnern. Lumpinee is downtown, whereas Rajadamnern is closer to the Khao San road area. As I was staying in the latter, I visited Rajadamnern stadium and can therefore not comment on Lumpinee, although I hear it’s also a fantastic venue. There are, of course, also other smaller venues which also host matches – these are just the 2 I know about which show fights almost every night.
Rajadamnern is easy walking distance from the Khao San area (around 25 minute walk depending on your hotel location), or of course you can take a taxi (I recommend Grab, as you’ll see the exact price in advance on the app and won’t have to handle cash).
When do fights take place?
There are fights literally almost every night. At Rajadamnern they take place every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. I went on a Wednesday and only booked a few hours in advance. You can easily check the schedules on the website. Whenever you are in Bangkok it will be super easy to find a fight to attend.
Where and how to get tickets?
Tickets for a regular evening of muay thai fights at Rajadamnern have the following price structure:
Ringside: 2,000 baht – Ringside seats are, as you might imagine, the seats closest to the ring and consist of approximately 4-5 rows of plastic chairs encircling the arena. If you buy tickets via a hotel or agency they are likely to push these tickets as they are the most expensive, and it’s almost exclusively foreigners sitting in this section. I don’t particularly recommend forking out for these seats as the only real advantage is having a proper chair – I don’t think you get a better view merely by virtue of being close to the ring. I think there’s a better view up in the 2nd class seats which are raised around the ring.
Club class: 1,800 baht – This section is raised on one side of the ring, also with built-in plastic seating. It’s probably the most comfortable section combined with the best view, so go for these tickets if you care about being comfortable while you watch several hours of fights. You also have access to a bar. This section was mostly occupied by Chinese tourists for some reason.
2nd class: 1,500 baht – I took these tickets and was happy that I did. The only disadvantage over club class is that you don’t get a real seat. Instead you sit on large concrete steps that encircle the ring on the outside of the ring-side seats. Still mostly foreigners were sitting here, but some locals as well. The stairs are not really uncomfortable and during a mid-week fight there was enough space to sit where we wanted. Sellers come around and offer drinks which they then go and fetch for you for prices that are not really any higher than in bars in the area. The view is more than adequate from here.
3rd class: 1,000 baht – this is where most of the locals go, and if you’re on a budget you might want to go for it. This area is right at the back/edge of the stadium and fenced off by a high mesh fence, which is presumably to stop people moving between sections.
You can buy any of the classes of ticket online at the stadium’s website, or in cash at the venue itself. We bought ours online just because we were running low on cash. In this case, you can show the confirmation email at the box office and pick up your tickets pretty easily. There are separate queues and entrances for club/ring-side and 2nd/3rd class. It was quick and easy to pick up the tickets and there were still tickets remaining, so buying them in cash on the spot is also a good option. Ticket prices are the same whether you buy on the website or at the venue. Ignore any touts outside who are likely to offer rip-off prices. On a normal fight night there are almost certain to be tickets remaining at the venue. Also beware of tuk-tuk drivers or the like who offer to get you tickets. It may or may not be a scam, I don’t know, but in Thailand I’d always prefer to buy tickets directly from the venue itself not from a tout or similar.
What to expect from an evening of muay thai?
A typical evening consists of around 10 matches. There were 9 on the evening I went.
The evening starts at around 18.30 (check the times on the website before you go), and ends between 22-23.00 depending on the length of each fight and number of fights. You might want to have an early dinner as you can’t bring food in and it will be on the late side when you get out.
Each fight has a very specific structure, consisting of up to 5 rounds, each 3 minutes long with 2 minutes break in-between rounds. Sometimes a fighter will get knocked out in the 3-4th round. Otherwise, the majority go to 5 rounds and the result will be judged by the referee at the end.
Locals love to place bets and people crowd around the area near the entrance to bet on the results.
9 fights in an evening may seem like a lot, but it went past really fast. Each fight is pretty short, consisting of 4-5 3 minute rounds.
Before each match, the boxers do a kind of traditional dance which is also quite unique and interesting to watch.
The evening opens with young (really young!) fighters, generally kids who I’d guess to be 12-15 years old. If you want to skip this you could arrive a bit later, although they’re still not bad fighters at all and it’s basically the equivalent of the support band at a gig. They then progress to the older, heavier and more experienced fighters. You can get the gist of who’s who by checking the weights in the little booklet they give you when you enter. Note that the headline fight is generally NOT the last one – for us it was #7 – and takes place around 21.00. After that they’ll have a couple of ‘cool down’ fights, again with younger kids, and a lot of people leave the stadium at this point.
Fights are accompanied by a really strange traditional music which is actually played live by a small group of musicians and gives the fights even more of an intense atmosphere.
Trust me that even if you know zilch about boxing, you will know when the headliners come on as they are absolutely insane and the crowd will go nuts. It’s quite likely that they’ll stop for a few poses at the beginning and end of the fight and even take photos with fans. The 3 or so matches with older and more experienced boxers were incredible and 100% worth the price of entry. This with a couple of beers makes for an awesome night out in Thailand.
I really enjoyed the whole night and totally recommend any visitor to Thailand to go and have this unique experience. It was really worth the money!