I have always loved martial arts movies. I remember many late nights growing up watching Kung fu legends like Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Stephen Chow, Biao Yuen and heart throb Bruce Lee with my grandparents in Penang. The love affair continued in New Zealand with Mortal Combat and Street Fighter. So as soon as I arrived in Bangkok, I wasted no time in getting to a Muay Thai tournament.
Being a newbie meant I made a few mistakes.. Ok a lot of mistakes! But I highly recommend you go as it was an unforgettable experience. Even if you're not into martial arts or sports at all, I promise you will enjoy yourself. There is something so electric in the atmosphere. Here are five things I wished I'd known before I'd gone...
1) Regardless of what they're saying online or even what the locals are telling you, do not watch Muay Thai at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. Yes, it's Bangkok's largest and most popular stadium but a lot of the fights are 'staged' and can be a real downer to watch.
For the real deal, go to Rajadamnern Stadium. Here, gambling is allowed so the the crowd is super-hyped! This is where the locals go to throw down some baht and watch some serious ass-kicking. You cannot beat the atmosphere here. I loved the banter amongst locals, the yelling, chanting, arms flying and all-round erratic behaviour. The crowd was as much a spectacle as the fighting in the ring.
2) DO NOT get sucked in to buying first class tickets. You will get hounded by sweet, innocent looking girls when you pull up to the stadium. They'll tell you all sorts of things, like there are no seats in the other classes so you will have to stand the entire time; or there are bad bad Thai men gambling in other classes (they didn't realise this was an attraction ha!); or you can only take photos with the fighters in first class; or tickets are running out quickly!! Etc. etc. All of this is bull. You may even be pulled aside and offered a 200 baht discount on first class. Let me assure you that second or third class has just as good a view and is a much more fun option. Don't make this rookie mistake.
Only tourists sit in first class, eating hot dogs and popcorn. In second and third class up in the grandstands you're right in the heat of the action. Wheeling and dealing, gold chains and tatts left right and centre - this is what Muay Thai is all about.
FYI standard pricing:
- First Class: 2000 baht
- Second Class: 1500 baht
- Third Class: 1000 baht
3) Don't buy your tickets ahead of time and don't even worry about getting there on time. Even during peak season, there are always still spare seats in first class as well as second and third class. Plus if you pre-book online you miss out on the chance to bargain down the ticket sellers outside (very easy to do). Also the best fights occur during the middle of the tournament so there are tonnes of empty seats at the beginning of the tournament (6.30pm). Local punters show up around 7 - 8pm. You'll get a better deal on tickets showing up after the first fight has started than before-hand so don't rush to get there on time for the first fight.
4) Do not come hungry. Although there are food stalls outside the stadium, they are limited. It's mostly peanuts, fruit and sausages. Inside the stadium you've got the choice of hot dogs (60THB), popcorn (50THB) beer (150THB) or soft drinks (20THB) and the tournament goes for about four hours.
Also don't go buying snacks from the vendors outside thinking you'll save a few hundred baht for snacking on inside - these will get taken right off you by security as you walk in. You could get away with hiding them in your clothing but all bags get checked.
5) Do not go during Songkran. You'll probably be able to get a taxi to the stadium no problem but getting a taxi back home is near impossible unless you're willing to pay the "Songkran tax" of about three to four times the normal rate. During Songkran it would be a miracle to find any taxi driver willing to put their metre on, so if you are taking a taxi (anywhere) during Songkran, make sure to bargain and set the price BEFORE getting into the taxi.
If you've never been before, I hope you've found some useful tips. For those of you who've been, how was your experience?