Muay Thai (Thai boxing, or Thai kick boxing) is Thailand’s national sport. It is a self-defence technique that was developed and tested in battle by the ancient warriors of the kingdom of Siam. A combination of kickboxing and stand-up grappling called clinching, it is often referred to as the ‘art of the eight limbs’ (the arms, elbows, legs and knees, all of which are used to strike the opponent).
It is the oldest known style of kickboxing and the most deadly and effective. An adult Thai boxer will usually weigh not more than 55kg, yet again and again when put up against opponents skilled in other martial arts, the Muay Thai fighter has come out on top.
Training is intensive and begins young, at six or seven years old, with a boxer’s first fight taking place at around age eight. Their dream, aside from earning money, is to fight in the legendary Bangkok stadiums, Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen, a glory reserved only for a few and watched on television every week by millions of Thai fans.
Ao Nang Krabi Stadium behind Nopparat Thara Beach is the largest Muay Thai venue in southern Thailand and puts on regular Thai boxing bouts on a smaller scale, every Friday night (+ Monday night during November – April only). If you would like to see this astonishing sport live, this is the place to come in Krabi. Matches are all about spectacle: a complex dance ceremony is performed before each fight to pay respect to the combatants’ teachers and to the guardian spirit of Thai boxing.
However, they are not ‘for show’, as in some tourist areas – they are real fights, regularly attended by local Thai fans, albeit at a lower level than you will find in the Bangkok stadiums. The main concession to tourism is the eye-watering price tag: tickets for foreigners cost 1200 – 1500 baht, but for this you will see up to 9 fights ringside (note that often the first few will be with children cutting their teeth on the big stage).
For better value for money, look out for the “big fight” or “super fight” nights, usually hosted 3 or 4 times a year, with national champions taking part and often televised live. These are the same price but usually packed with locals and have a great atmosphere. There will be special posters around town, as well as the famous “Muay Thai, Muay Thai” loudspeaker van driving around to announce these events – or check with your hotel.
Ao Nang Krabi Stadium also offers training in Thai boxing for foreigners, led by a former professional fighter. You can try just one session, or sign up for a month’s boot camp. There are also a few other training camps in Ao Nang (gyms with teaching facilities) open to foreigners interested in learning the techniques of the sport for fitness or for combat. Children can also train in specially designed classes, though do note it can be a gruelling and often repetitive discipline. There is also a Muay Thai training camp open to foreigners located on Lanta Island, to the south of Krabi Province.