Forget Chiang Mai’s temples, says Sonia Reimannova. For a real insight into Thai culture, head to the local boxing ring.

Muay Thai Boxing is a martial art and combat sport known as the ‘art of eight limbs.’

In traditional boxing fighters are restricted to using their fists. In Muay Thai, boxers can use fists, elbows, knees and shins. 

Chiang Mai is considered one the sport’s heartlands. And with bouts scheduled for most nights of the week, the Thaphae Boxing stadium is the easiest and most accessible place to witness the sport in the city.. 

The stadium is set in an unassuming building at the end of a tiny lane, not far from Tha Pae Gate, part of the crumbling ancient walls that once protected the city.

It’s not a proper stadium as such. It’s more like an oversized gym.

(© Sonia Reimannnova)
(© Sonia Reimannnova)

The sign marking the entrance to the stadium is obscured by a tangle of electricity lines. 

The ‘box office’ jostles for space with a barbershop offering buzzcuts and undercuts to the boxers between bouts. 

Inside, a square ring sits under a gloomy corrugated roof, surrounded by benches and illuminated by neon lights.

The atmosphere, at first, is languid.

Boxers rub a spicy Thai liniment oil on each other and limber up. Farangs (foreigners) claim their complimentary drinks and grab a bench for the show. 

Then, sometime after 9pm, lights flash, music swells and the bouts begin.

‘I had a ringside ticket,’ explains Sonia. ‘There weren’t too many people so I was able to roam around the ring and take photos.’

(© Sonia Reimannnova)
(© Sonia Reimannnova)

The card features both male and female bouts. 

And while the fights are largely exhibition ones, the sweat and blood is real. So too is the pain of losing.

In many ways, Thapae Stadium is a modern version of the city’s famous temples.

Rituals are observed. Traditions are respected. Blessings are bestowed.

The only difference is that the ‘monks’ at Thaphae Stadium wear baggy shorts and mongkon (headbands) instead of saffron-coloured robes.

How to watch Thai boxing at Thaphae Stadium

Where: 1 Mun Mueang Rd, Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50100

When: Mon- Sat. 9.15pm-11.30pm.

Buy tickets:

Main image: A Thai boxer in the ring at Thapae Stadium in Chiang Mai (© Sonia Reimannnova)