Linds at Lumphini – a night of Muay Thai action

Entering Lumphini Boxing Stadium was a sort of time warp to how I’ve always imagined 70s football: grubby standing room terraces leading up into the darkness; near compulsory cigarettes and booze; collapsing leaking roof; stands without a trace of advertising – how wonderfully antique. The crowd was exclusively male and all maniacally obsessed with their chosen fighters and following their punts.

Getting to Lumphini was half the fun. The last (only) time I rode a motorbike was on the Humphry family farm in 1992. What better way to reacquaint myself with two wheels than in Bangkok rush hour, in the dark, in a monsoonal downpour, on the back of a motorcycle taxi whose driver weighed 40 kilos less than me?

As soon as I jumped off the bike (happily still in one piece), I was immediately met by a lady who I presume worked for the stadium. We took off so (I think) I could inform myself of the seating options. Explaining that there are three classes, I was told in no uncertain terms that foreigners belonged in first, which was situated ringside (full of flashpackers and Thai property developer types). I suggested that I might like to sit up with the mug punters in third class: “No! Not wanting you! Thai people only!” A little bewildered, I decided to ignore her. Anyway after a bit of back and forth, and much to the chagrin of my new mate, I got my third class ticket and wandered in. As for the Thais not wanting me, as far as I could tell they were so absorbed in following their bets they didn’t even notice the big farang wandering around, looking a little nervous.

After sinking a couple of Changs in the bar under the grandstand, I settled in for the evening. Note that Chang was possibly the weak option; all the locals where smashing Song Sam and soda.

Before the bout there are three minutes of ‘dancing’ by the fighters, honouring their trainers and the spirits. For this part of the bout they wear a headband that sort of looks like a tennis racket without strings. If you’ve seen my attempts at dancing, it’s something similar – little bit of leg raise here, jiggly arm around there, ending with a fall onto the knees. Bouts go to five rounds so they are over relatively quick and are accompanied by music that sounds very much like a combination of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and a Bombay snake charmer.

It took me a while to figure this out but I’m pretty sure that the crowd selects a mode of cheering depending on who they are going for. So supporters of red trunks yell “Hooooooi!” when their man delivers a blow, while blue trunks yell “Wwwhhhaaaa!” when fists and knees are flying. Things dissolve into “Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!” when they are going hammer and tong; it creates the most incredible din.

“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!”

The fights run on from each other really quickly, with the judges giving their decision seconds after the final bell (no KOs on this night). The fighters end by hugging and unquestionably accepting the decision. There is something dignified about two men who’ve just pummelled the buggery out of each other acting with such grace.

In a very Thai move, Lumphini Stadium is owned and operated by the military, so none of this tendering out rubbish – more 70s. Security inside the stadium is provided by the military police and like 70s cops they wear proper uniforms and carry big pistols (ok, so that was based solely on Dirty Harry).

For the fans it’s all about the punt, with this being one of the few legal places to have a bet in Bangkok. There is no TAB equivalent or even recognisable bookies in their ring. Bets are communicated to men who look just like everyone else via a series of hand signals that get more frenetic as the fight goes on – betting is allowed until the judges’ decision. The scene is reminiscent of pre-internet stock trading – so if you want an idea of what the crash of ’87 looked like, get down to Lumphini. The weird thing is that I saw no money change hands and nothing was written down; how the bet takers remember who, how much and what odds is beyond me.

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7 Responses to “Linds at Lumphini – a night of Muay Thai action”

  1. Kiz Says:

    No KOs? If Ong Bak has taught us anything, it’s that at least one person should have died in every fight. Where was the flying double elbow exploding head maneouvre?

    Nevertheless, it’s truly awesome that you saw some muay thai, mate. But what about the wife? How could you let her miss this amazing cultural experience?

  2. beyondbagot Says:

    foolishly the war dept chose to stay at Siam Paragon (largest shopping centre in Bangers…) this caused my mototaxi driver much amusement – I believe she caught a movie, whatever it was I’m sure it was no Ong Bak. I was hoping one of the fighters would have to run out of the stadium Tony Ja stylie avoiding plate glass, noodle vendors, school children, barbed wire, a weapons shop and many many tuk tuk drivers, sadly thought it was not to be.

  3. Marshie Says:

    I too was wondering what activities Catie chose to participate in rather than embark on this cultural experience. I CAN’T BELIVE she didn’t want to go.
    Classic Dodd post though. I was cracking up the whole way through.

  4. bubba Says:

    I loved this one.
    On the other hand, I can see the war dept’s side too.
    She probably would have had a tough time holding back while watching.
    She would most likely have wanted to get in the middle of the fray and correct posture, tell opponents how to go about delivering blows to the head properly, that sort of thing.
    It’s a terrible curse being a perfectionist…

  5. beyondbagot Says:

    I’ve always liked you Bubba.

    By way of warning to you all, I saw a film called “Winged Creatures”. I thought it was a chick flick rom-com. Turns out it’s about a shooting and the effect it has on those who witness it. Woops…

  6. Verte Says:

    hey team!
    Too funny about the muay thai dodd. I cracked up (in a very quiet office, on deadline) when I read the bit about the dancing being similar to your dancing. It brought back happy memories of boozy Dodd nights.
    Lots of love to you and the wife.
    xxx

  7. Sandsy Says:

    Hey guys!

    Sorry about the lack of comments for ages – im just catching up on everything now…This looks wicked – way to go kick it with the great unwashed Linds. Caught up with Kirto and Roachie the other night. Kirto whooped my a ping-pong in north bridge – huh! I love the 70s vibe – its like its stuck in a time warp. Go thailand !

    D.

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