I was returning to Thailand again. This time I would not miss Thai kickboxing. I had tried to see that at other times in Thailand, but the traffic and the collaboration needed to get there with a ticket had proved daunting. Recalling that, I had reserved my ticket and transportation by computer while still in the USA as a package deal for $100. USD.
After traveling for three weeks, I arrived in Bangkok. It was during the Red protest in March 2010. The Reds represented lots of poor communities outside of Bangkok who wanted some economic policies to share the wealth. (It was said the King favored the Yellows but officially took no side.) Tension ran high and tourists like me were warned to avoid the protest area which translated to taking the long way around.
The evening of Thai boxing finally arrived. I was met by a female driver named Niki. She wore a denim mini skirt and drove a sedan on the inner city streets, clearly I was in the hands of someone accustomed to dealing with well heeled tourists. I was impressed; and I had not even seen many sedans since leaving home, let alone ridden in one. We parked in an underground car garage. And then Niki escorted me to the boxing match.
We walked right through the Red protests I had been so assiduously avoiding for days. It seemed like a carnival atmosphere with food stalls and banners hung overhead, speakers standing under canopies and people sitting on blankets with picnic lunches. All seemed peaceful. Most did wear red shirts. If they even noticed me, they nodded or smiled. So much for the newspapers’ scary Reds. Some of the soldiers were in Star Wars like riot gear with high boots and big shields; others were dressed in jungle guerrilla garb. They seemed bored.
Upon entering the boxing arena, I was given a sticker to wear and given the choice of where to sit in the reserved seating section. There were a handful of men in the reserved seating area on one side of the ring. I sat on the other side of the ring with one other man; we had about 30 empty seats between us. The bleacher section was packed with people. After I got settled, a man came along to offer complimentary bottled drinks.
I watched boxing matches constantly from 6:30 to 10pm. It was intense. There were five rounds of three minutes each to a match. I had a ring side seat, next to a boxer’s corner where the coach and crew stood nearby to cheer them on. The crew was usually a half dozen or more young boys, very excited and pulling for their boxer. That made the whole evening much more engaging than I think it would have otherwise been.
The boxers came out in a cape and a headband that had a braid dangling in the back. They knelt and kissed their gloves outside the ring. Then they did some stretches and walked around marking the four corners of the ring. Then the boxer bowed to his coach who seemed to pray over him. The coach doused the boxer with water and removed the headband with its attached braid. The boxer would remove the cape and enter the ring wearing bright shorts with a wide elastic waist band.
The boxing was a combination of punches and kicks. When locked in a grip, each would still try to kick the other. Some kicks landed so that you knew they hurt. After each bout, the boxer would return to his corner where two workers would sprinkle water on him and rub his torso and limbs. There would be big red spots where the boxer was kicked. After the match, each boxer would greet the other boxer’s coach and then greet their own coach.
For my $100 USD ticket, I even had a professional photographer take my photo with one of the boxers in front of a huge banner. The boxer didn’t seem at all phased by having been knocked around earlier in the ring. That made me feel better. There is something to be said for splurging. My advice: Say yes to the courtesy photo opportunity.