Be a Spectator
Seeing a Muay Thai fight is usually on the to-do list of everyone who visits Thailand, and Chiang Mai has three very distinct venues on offer. Most tourists will encounter touts and posters pointing them towards the two most convenient locales, where the fights may arguably be less authentic. The third place is an old stadium where local Thais go to see the fights, and it might take a little more work to get there.
First off, the cheapest fights in town can be had at the Loi Kroh Entertainment Complex with its assortment of lady and ladyboy bars surrounding the arena. It’s possible to sit at any of the bars and enjoy the fights, being solicited to tip out some of the fighters occasionally after their matches. Tipping around 20 baht is appropriate, and considerably cheaper than what it costs to see a match at the other two popular venues. Keep in mind that the fights are generally not much more than training sessions between rival schools, and the bouts are not so serious, though some nights you might catch some good action. The Loi Kroh Boxing Arena is the cheapest, most relaxed route to go, but you also get what you pay for.
Another venue that is quite convenient for visitors, but which hosts arguably more ‘real’ fights, is at the Thapae Boxing Stadium right behind Thapae Gate on Moonmuang Road. Because of its central location, fights are often fought before a well-packed crowd of mostly foreign tourists. Look for a tout on the sidewalk to point you in, or let the noise coming from the back guide you as you take the stroll down the narrow alley entrance. Admission is about 500 baht, with a higher price for VIP seats closest to the ring. This is a place where visitors who feel uneasy about the sport, or who don’t wish to go out of their way can sit in relatively familiar comfort surrounded by a good number of fellow tourists. The fights may be Thai on Thai or Thai on Westerner bout, and can be quite exciting. There is plenty of alcohol available as well, as the boxing area also contains a small grouping of bars. The celebratory atmosphere of so many young holidaymakers enjoying the fights over drinks makes this a fun venue and a good night out.
For those that are inclined to find the most ‘realistic’ fighting venue, it’s necessary to hop in a tuk-tuk and go across the river to the old Kawila Boxing Stadium. This place gets less press, is less convenient, and the fighting events are longer. The price is about 500 baht per person, with a chance to pay more for ringside seats, just as at the Thapae arena. Fights in the older and well-worn Kawila Boxing Stadium feel much more authentic than at the two tourist-drag locations. General admission bleacher seats give plenty of visibility, but the people at Kawila are also generally ok with people coming down from the stands to crowd closer to the ring. One small word of advice: As this place is the real thing, in case you do witness any gambling over the fights, it’s advisable to simply look on and not participate. Have fun, enjoy the show, and take a tuk-tuk back to your hotel or guesthouse – the Kawila Stadium is further than you think, and there’s a good chance you’ll get lost otherwise.
Be a Participant
There is also another segment of people who come to Chiang Mai for a chance at a few introductory Muay Thai lessons or to embark on serious training. The deadly art of Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport and has a history going back hundreds of years. It is alternatively known as ‘the science of eight limbs’ for its use of elbows and knees to strike an opponent. The art is known for its lethal potential and for its toughness, and offers participants a chance for an incredible workout while learning self defense at the same time. The top gyms in Chiang Mai’s have kept things simple and traditional, even as interest in training for the sport has grown in the last 20 years. There are several camps around town, each with their own vibe and reputation.
By far, the camp which has had the most press in the last few years is Lanna Muay Thai, as it produced a champion fighter who went on to fight even while transitioning from being a man to a woman. The Beautiful Boxer story of Nong Toom, as she is affectionately called, brought many more new fans to the sport and loads of publicity about the gym. Despite the glitz of movies though, the camp remains dedicated and simple, continuing to turn out more champions, and is still a family-run business. These days, they have also expanded and run another intensive mountain-top camp closer to Chiang Rai for those who wish to really focus.
The Chai Yai Gym in Nong Hoy is a nearby favorite that has been around for years, and takes its name in from their most famous fighter, Chai Yai Sittehpitak, who has held several national titles from Lumpinee in Bangkok. They are located fairly close to the city and are open to all levels of students. For those travelers or locals to pick up a few quick drop-in lessons, this is a great gym to do it at.
With a similar story to the others, the newer Santai Muay Thai Gym has been open about ten years, and is run by two famous former champions. They are located a bit outside of the city in Sankamphaeng, but can easily accommodate students who wish to stay near the camp full-time. It’s possible to arrange a room and even motorcycle rental through them, or they even offer basic room and board at the campsite free!
Chiang Mai has a few camps catering to Thais and westerners alike to choose from, all of them sincere, and each offering lessons for modest prices. It’s no wonder people from all over the world come here to train Muay Thai.
Muay Thai Boxing Arenas
Loi Kroh Entertainment Complex
Address: 28 Loi Kroh Road (about 200 m before the Night Bazaar intersection)
Thapae Boxing Stadium
Address: Moonmuang Road (behind Thapae Gate)
Chiang Mai Kawila Provincial Boxing Stadium
Address: Kong Sai Road (close to the San Pa Koy Market)
Tel: 053-296-048, 089-852-6947
Muay Thai Boxing Camps
Chay Yai Gym
Address: 30/17 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road (Nong Hoy)
Muay Thai – Santai Muay Thai Gym
Address: 79 Moo 9, Sankamphaeng