Muay Thai in Bangkok

grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

 

I am standing next to my pack watching a luxury sedan melt into the chaotic flow as a short, suited man takes my bag. Inside, as if sharing a secret he covertly offers to arrange a massage for me saying with a sly wink that he knows all the best places in town. In a tired voice I decline the offer and busy myself by filling in the hotel form. Being a lone male in Thailand lends itself to receiving offers from the most unlikely people for all kinds of extra services. Before I am allowed to go to my room I have a prearranged meeting with a ‘Tour Asia’ representative… I wanna see some Muay Thai in Bangkok

Mr Douna is an elderly chap with a very husky voice who is flipping through the pages of a home made folder full of brochures for tours and sights in and around Bangkok. I decide to have one day simply wandering followed by a night at a kickboxing match then a day visiting the River Kwai and a Buddhist temple. I spend what is left of the afternoon luxuriating in the pool on the twenty-fifth floor before retiring to the rooftop bar to diarise and drink a coffee. My hotel sits right in the centre of town but is nearly abandoned as vicious riots last week scared away most tourists. These riots have resulted in many operators significantly dropping prices in the short term to encourage people to return. I intend to cash in on this small boon.

The morning sees me eating a greasy local dish from a street side vendor and bracing myself to face the city alone. This is the first time in almost two months I have been unscheduled, apart from my uneasy few lazy days when first arriving in Patong. I wander along a pavement parallel to a train line which leads to the tourist hub. Even at this early hour women of all ages are offering me massages in their drawling, high pitched English. Three raggedly dressed men loiter under a concrete pylon and watch me menacingly while passing a brown paper covered bottle. I spot a young girl with no legs and old eyes, she sells her pink handmade crafts from a bench attached to her wheelchair. So far I have been fervently avoiding vendors but something about this girl’s gentleness makes me stop. I ask her how much they cost and she tells me 100 baht. I hand over 1,000 baht, choose a Little Kitty doily for my niece, smile and leave before she can produce change. The gleeful look that she flashed at me was well worth the small expense.

I never feel at ease around crowds of people, live music concerts make me decidedly fidgety so I decide to make my way back to the hotel after a few hours of dodging drug addicts and working girls. The front door of my hotel is opened by the ever hopeful concierge who this time offers a special body massage experience with a wink. I decline, unsure if he is offering to perform the massage himself or if he knows someone.

Jumping into the abandoned pool with my camera I spend a solitary afternoon photographing the expansive views over the city while hoping that no parents will enter to find this hairy man loitering with his waterproof camera.grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

My taxi man manages to inflate my bill by taking me to two wrong stadiums and pretending he is genuinely lost, however he finds his bearings very quickly when I open the door in frustration and make to leave. Inside, the Kickboxing Stadium smells of fear and spilt lager. The local crowd behind the tourist section is one heaving mass of excited gamblers penned behind high fences. This scene certainly feels much more gritty than anything I have seen.

My pulse lifts in the electric atmosphere. Over the raucous of gambling, drums start banging a frantic rhythm when the first two contestants run into the ring. They look like plucked chickens, all sinew and stringy muscle. As they face off inside the ring the drums reach a crescendo, then suddenly stop silencing the crowd. At this signal the crowd erupts as the pair rush each other in a frenzy of knees, fists and bright oversized shorts. The bouts are short but brutal. From my viewpoint near the stage I can see blood and sweat covering their chiseled bodies. The first match ends abruptly when the fighter in blue somehow lands a spinning kick to Red Short’s head. Just as the cracking sound reaches me red shorts melts to the floor like a dropped beanbag and is promptly carried off on a gurney.

 

grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

The second and third match follow the same course, frantic drumming pronounces frenzied kicking and punching. I revel in the energy both inside the ring and behind in the gambling section. I have attended kickboxing classes in the past but never have I witnessed such energy and brutality. I have my camera clicking away on sports mode but most of my photos came out as a smear of legs and arms.

The final match of the night electrifies the crowd. The noise from the gambling section raises an octave as desperate punters trip over drinkers and families. With every match the fighters are increasingly experienced and brutal. In the third round of the final match a shorter man is looking to lose when the bigger man runs toward his tired stance. Seeing what is to come the short fighter steels himself and launches a desperate spinning knee to the chest which he lands with a crunch. I briefly glimpse knee pushing into broken rib cage before both men crumble to the ground. The shorter man stands up and is given a trophy, his opponent is quickly spirited away horizontally through a back door.

Despite my grazed cheek still throbbing from my last effort on a bike I am bold and catch a scooter taxi. The driver dons a helmet but does not produce one for me. We take off into the chaos as I try to remember if my travel insurance covers helmet-less motorbike travel. Soon my attention is drawn to the fact that my driver is clearly insane. He is weaving through unpredictable traffic like a tuna avoiding a shark, I can see him grinning in his rear vision mirror like a maniac. At one point we cut across four lanes of traffic to pull into four lanes of oncoming traffic, we travel half a block the wrong way before rejoining our original lane, one car in front of where we left it.

Trusting that my driver wants to live a much as I do these antics do not really bother me. I pull out my camera and strap it securely to my wrist to try to catch some of the action. I attempt a voiceover as the video records but a combination of adrenaline and fear sends me into fits of laughter. When we arrive at my hotel I tip the still grinning man for this fun incident free ride, tell the door man to stop offering me bloody massages and crawl into bed.

 

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