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A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Thai Boxing Chiang Mai Thailand.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

May-June 2015.

After so many incredible experiences and so much ground covered across Thailand, it was great to finally be in Chiang Mai. In fact, I’d been looking forward to this from the beginning when I started planning my trip many months before back in China.

Do even a smidge of reading about Chiang Mai online and you’ll soon find people talking about this city (and indeed the province in general) as one of the country’s undoubted highlights. Keen to cross off two more quintessential Thai experiences, I had come with two major goals in mind. 1: To watch some Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing. And 2: To spend some authentic and ethical quality time with Asian elephants.

Aerial view of Chiang Mai Thailand.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Photo courtesy of Supanut Arunoprayote.

The trip got off to a great start thanks to what proved to be a savvy choice of accommodation. Located in a long, leafy alley in the heart of downtown, Jonadda Guesthouse ticked all the boxes.

Jonadda Guest House Chiang Mai Thailand

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Indeed it was as quiet as one could hope for in such a central location. Moreover, the room was comfy and homely, the owners warm and accommodating, the WIFI zippy. The icing on the cake, meanwhile, was the little rooftop courtyard where I usually sat with a coffee and a pastry at the start of each day.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Rooftop terrace Chiang Mai Thailand.

A lovely spot.

Without delay, I set off to achieve one of my Chiang Mai goals. On that first evening I paid a visit to Thaphae Boxing Stadium to take in a night of live Muay Thai. With virtually zero knowledge of the sport and its history, I definitely had to acquaint myself with some basic background bits.

History of Thaphae Boxing Stadium.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Historians reckon Muay Thai dates back to the 16th century during a period of warfare between Siam and Burma. One of Siam’s most fearsome warriors of the time was a dude called Nai Khanomtom. At some point the Burmese captured Nai but eventually (and weirdly) offered him the chance to fight for his freedom. A matter of honour, perhaps.

Nai Khanomtom the creator of Muay Thai boxing

Nai Khanomtom: Don’t mess with da best.

Engaging in a personal and unique style of hand-to-hand combat, Nai defeated no less than 10 Burmese fighters, earning himself an immediate release. Returning to Siam, he enjoyed a rapturous welcome. Everyone wanted to find out how he had won and what techniques he’d used. Soon, thousands of warriors began adopting his style and before long his brand of fighting became Siam’s national sport.

World Thai Boxing Association.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Over the centuries Nai’s special style of combat morphed into today’s Muay Thai, a technique that features clinching and striking combinations of the fist, elbow, knee, leg and shin. As its popularity grew, so did the need for better facilities.

Thaphae Boxing Stadium, opened in 1955, is northern Thailand’s premier venue for Muay Thai. In fact, a string of fights takes place here just about every night, with entry priced from 600 Baht (around $17). As I entered that sticky June evening, I found myself sat among a sellout crowd of around 400 people. 

Thaphae Boxing Stadium.

Ringside at Tha Phae Boxing Stadium

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

From what I could gather I was about to watch two fights from some of the most skilled Thai boxers in the country. According to a local guy I chatted with, the bouts were part of Thailand’s national league, so there were valuable points up for grabs.

The first match was for the men’s league. Interestingly, both fighters entered the arena to little fanfare. There was nothing along the lines of: “In the blue corner… the tiger of Thailand…” They just kind of shuffled on without any introduction. Then the fight started and…. oh lord, they wasted no time in getting aggressively stuck into each other.

Thai Boxing Chiang Mai Thailand.

Ouch. Etc.

In truth, it was an exhausting watch. Legs flew, elbows sprang, saliva and sweat shot out of their bodies. Even as a spectator I felt grateful for the rest periods between rounds. I couldn’t tell you who won that contest. But I do recall how utterly knackered one of the fighters looked as he sat slumped in the corner during a timeout. His concerned coaches gathered around him trying to gee up the poor guy.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Rest period Muay Thai Boxing.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Next, two female boxers entered the arena. It took just a minute or so of their fight for me to realise that these gals were tough as nails too. Much like boxing in the western world, those who make it big often come from poverty and/or troubled backgrounds.

Somehow, I could feel that these women’s lives hadn’t been a bed of roses. And that Muay Thai was clearly a chance to climb the social and economic ladders. I think the girl in red won this one.

Female Thai Boxing fight Chiang Mai Thailand

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

There was an extended break after the second fight. Thus I went to grab a beer and a burger. And found myself browsing through the amusing items for sale at the onsite store. “You wanna Muay Thai shorts?” asked the cashier. “Uh… no thanks” I smiled, trying  to imagine how ****ing ridiculous I would look.

Muay Thai Boxing shorts.

Oh go on then, I’ll take the blue pair.

At the beginning of the third fight I immediately felt as if something was amiss. The competitors were kneeling down in front of each other exchanging honourable bows. This hadn’t happened in either of the previous fights.

Watching Muay Thai Boxing in Thailand.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Right enough, this wasn’t a regular Muay Thai fight. Rather, these two had arrived to perform an exhibition of an ancient skill called Daab. Basically, competitors battle it out with arm-length swords. 4000 years ago farmers used truncheons and scythes to fend off Chinese invaders. Over time, these weapons of convenience were replaced by swords.

An Evening at Thaphae Stadium.

Daab traditional sword fighting in Thailand

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

The swords looked pretty authentic to me. Although hey, what do I know, they could’ve been fake. Or blunted in some way? In any case the performers made it all look realistic, slicing away at each other with measured moves. “Ooooooh” went the crowd when, at the end, one of the two crashed to the floor with a grimace, having received a fatal blow.

Exhibition sword fight Chiang Mai Thailand

Over and out.

Finally, it was time for the evening’s curtain closer. I don’t think I could have predicted what was coming, not if you’d given me a hundred guesses. Four fighters of all shapes and sizes (one was pretty fat) trooped into the ring to fight each other.

Eyebrows furrowed, I was wondering what the hell was about to transpire when I realised they were all blindfolded! What followed was five minutes of pure comedy as they all flailed around punching air, the ropes and sometimes even themselves. Nobody won, particularly when it came to their dignity. Bizarre, and fun.

Blindfolded Muay Thai Boxing Chiang Mai Thailand

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

The next day I awoke ready to book up an elephant experience. I’d found a sanctuary that offered a day’s trekking through the Chiang Mai jungle with a group of Asian elephants. However, as I walked to a nearby cafe for breakfast, disaster struck.

I had fished my camera out of my bag in order to shoot a roundabout monument when my trusty Sony Cybershot slipped out of my hand and fell, lens-first, onto the pavement. Crack. It took me the rest of the day to find a place that could fix it. When I did, they told me they could have it repaired and returned in 2-3 working days. Ah, nuts.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Denchai Trading Co Ltd camera repair shop in Chiang Mai

Handing my camera over at Denchai Trading Co Ltd.

Not wanting to do the elephant trek without my Sony, I put my plans on hold and spent a couple of days wandering around the city. With just my shitty phone for a camera, I kept photographs to a minimum. Still, I did grab a shot of Wat Phan On Temple.

Located in the old walled city, the temple dates back to 1501. Dripping with bling, it features dozens of pillars and sculpted naga serpents in addition to a massive gold Buddha facing the main entrance.

Wat Phan On Temple Chiang Mai Thailand.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

One afternoon, I stopped by this curious massage parlour for a 90 minute treatment. Full body, traditional Thai style of course. I say curious because the centre’s therapists are all women and former convicted criminals!

The lady who treated me was incredibly kind, with a quietness about her that truly had me wondering what she’d been sent to prison for. Furthermore, the massage was great, I’m delighted to see they survived the pandemic.

Women's Massage Center by ex prisoners Chiang Mai

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

I love Japanese food and I’m a devout disciple of The Beatles. Hence I had no option but to cancel my dinner plans one evening (another Pad Thai) for a delightful feast at Sushi in the Sky with Diamonds. They had an all-you-can-eat buffet and, happily, none of their pieces came with “kaleidoscope eyes“.

A Very Chiang Mai Adventure.

Sushi in the Sky with Diamonds.

Damn good. 

The phone rang early, jolting me out of blissful slumber. “Mr. Lay-town?” “Uh… yeah…. this is he”. “Your camera ready, you come pick up?” “Certainly!”

I was back in business.

So I jumped out of bed, grabbed a coffee and made my way to the repair centre. Paid my dues, picked up the camera, got back to the guesthouse and called the good folk at Elephant Nature Park. As it turned out, there was one spot left for the following day’s Sunshine for Elephants tour. But that, dear readers, as the old saying goes, is another story.

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  • Stan

    yes, i am the first to comment! it almost never happens. have heard much about chiang mai over the years so its been interesting to hear your account leighton. the boxing (well the first first two bouts at least) look and sound brutal. as for the final show, how strange. was it meant to be comedic or were they presenting it straightfaced?

    March 8, 2023 - 12:17 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Stan, that’s a good question. If it was supposed to be comedy, nobody was suggesting that with regards to body language and facial expressions. The reaction from the audience was initially one of bemusement, followed by sniggers and chuckles. Then full-on laugher when somebody fell over. Very strange but an interesting change of tone to the previous fights.

      March 8, 2023 - 12:29 pm Reply

    Sushi In The Sky With Diamonds….that is one FANTASTIC name for a sushi bar! Love it! We didn’t see Thai boxing in Chiang Mai (or anywhere else for that matter) but it sounds like it was a fun experience. We did see some “sepak takraw” though, what an incredible spectator sport that is – well, for 20 minutes or so. It was from Chiang Mai that we travelled up into the mountains to stay in a Karen tribe village, great experience. Kind of wish we’d done the Thai boxing now though too…

    March 8, 2023 - 12:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Well, I would’ve loved to have seen the Karen Tribal Village. I guess we both have a reason to go back. Sepak Takraw sounds familiar, is it the crazy kicking volleyball thing? I saw a public square performance but didn’t get photos as it was after the camera debacle.

      March 8, 2023 - 2:35 pm Reply

        Yes, that’s it – same, there was a game in a public square, but I also saw some schoolboys playing it in the schoolyard. It’s a spectacle, for sure. And yes there’s definitely reasons to return to Thailand – beautiful country, beautiful people.

        March 8, 2023 - 3:16 pm
  • anoush

    That’s a perfect name for a sushi bar. Makes me wonder why there aren’t more establishments worldwide with that name. I’m delighted too that the massage centre has survived the pandemic. These kinds of social enterprises are incredibly important. Thank you for sharing your experience with them.

    March 8, 2023 - 2:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anoush, I’ve been to countless massage places across Asia but never had I seen a centre where the therapists were former convicted criminals. You’re right, such enterprises are important and should be supported.

      March 8, 2023 - 3:34 pm Reply
  • Memo

    What a horrible time to be without a camera. Would have liked to see some shots of the sushi bar especially with that magical name. An ex-prisoner masseuse will test your courage. It would be nice to know if she was a serial killer or just a shop-lifter. You’ve really got me anxious to see the next entry. Guess I’ll just have to wait.

    March 8, 2023 - 2:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, I’m glad I never stopped to consider just how bad my therapist’s crime might have been. Think I may have been unable to zone out. I should’ve taken some photos of the sushi, crappy or not, as it was all delicious. Cheers, Memo!

      March 8, 2023 - 3:38 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    The accommodation looks great, I love all the plants! I don’t think I would’ve made it though much of the boxing. It is a little brutal for me and any sight of blood and I’m on the floor. One of those 90 minute massages sounds great though!

    March 8, 2023 - 3:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’d say the boxing was brutal in terms of the aggression and energy, but don’t think I saw so much as a drop of blood. In fact, there might be more blood at the massage centre depending on who your masseuse is. Ha ha, just kidding. Thanks for stopping by, Lyssy.

      March 8, 2023 - 3:41 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Interesting place to visit. Your hotel looks perfect. Not sure I could watch Muay Thai. Our neighbour’s daughter was into Muay Thai here and travelled to Chiang Mai to try out her luck. I think she fared reasonably well, but concussion was a real possibility before she gave it up. Too bad about the camera. I have had similar catastrophes on the early part of trips. Not cool. Love the name Sushi in the Sky with Diamonds. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan

    March 8, 2023 - 3:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Going to Thailand to compete in Muay Thai?! That is impressive, I have to say. I was going to say “that takes some balls” but obviously it’s a poor choice of expression. All the competitors I saw were wearing helmets, not sure if she ever had to fight without them? Or if there is still an issue with concussion even if one wears helmets? The camera mess was a real drag, but I guess once in twenty years isn’t too bad. Thanks for reading, Allan.

      March 8, 2023 - 4:02 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    I am glad to learn about Muay Thai. I don’t think I could’ve endured watching it, though the closing act sounds funny. On the other hand, any place that has burgers and beers can’t be all bad! It looks like you had great accommodations at Jonadda Guesthouse. I’m sorry you broke your camera, but I’m happy they were able to fix it so quickly. I think you got lucky on that, my friend.

    March 8, 2023 - 4:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right, the camera crack could have been a bigger problem, a fiasco even. As it turned out, they fixed it pretty quickly and I was off to visit the incredible Elephant Nature Park. I can’t wait to put that one out on Sunday. Thanks for stopping by, Kellye! Happy Women’s Day!

      March 8, 2023 - 4:25 pm Reply
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        Thank you, Leighton. I’m looking forward to the elephants!

        March 8, 2023 - 4:46 pm
  • bronlima

    The great thing about reading your articles on places I have already been to is that I always find out about the things I totally missed. I guess I spent most of the time with the hill tribes and saw little of the actual town. A pity! I guess it is a case of “Sigh Boxing”! Next time!

    March 8, 2023 - 5:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Well, I think we all have our different angles when we travel. If I’d had longer I would have surely loved to meet some of the tribes. But I was edging into the final leg of my trip and it felt like there was so much to do. Thanks for your ongoing support of LT Geoff, “Muay Thai” invite you to read Sunday’s elephant post? Oh man, that was weak.

      March 8, 2023 - 5:45 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    It must have been very interesting to watch the Thai boxing, quite a spectacle I would imagine. The massage sounded heavenly. Although we were only in Bangkok three nights we both had a massage in the hotel as they had an offer on.

    March 8, 2023 - 6:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Marion! Watching Muay Thai was definitely a curious experience, well worth doing once I’d say, assuming one can stomach it. Massage is a similarly unmissable experience when in Thailand, reckon I had at least one (if not more) in every location I visited. I would do it more often here in Europe if it weren’t so horribly expensive.

      March 8, 2023 - 7:00 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    I knew nothing about Muay Thai – thanks for the lesson (luckily not a physical one)! A massage by an ex-convict … I suppose they weren’t serious offenders, you know, like murderers. Clever you … we are waiting (not so patiently) for the elephant story!

    March 8, 2023 - 7:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      To be honest, there was no disclaimer about the nature of the masseuse’s former crimes ha ha. So who knows. Thanks for catching up Corna, I had so much fun this week putting my elephant article together. It means I will have all three of my elephant sanctuary encounters up on the blog. Feels good.

      March 8, 2023 - 7:08 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    We didn’t go to Thai Boxing or the convicts massage. I wish we did the massage but based on your description I’ll still hold off on the boxing.Good you got the camera fixed. I bet it was cheaper and better work than you’d get at home. We didn’t have an accident but did have to get a few repairs in Cochi, India. They did an excellent job for a very small fee. Maggie

    March 8, 2023 - 10:17 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yes, the repair centre did a fantastic job at a more than reasonable price. There’s something about Asia where sometimes the process seems a bit unconvincing but at in the end the job is done well and economically. It seems very few readers have an appetite for Thai Boxing, which I kind of suspected before posting. I am hardly a fan of such sports but felt it was very much a ‘when in Rome’ kinda thing. Thanks for visiting Maggie!

      March 9, 2023 - 9:40 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Sounds like you had a great time in Chiang Mai. I love the courtyard photo and am looking forward to reading about your experience with the elephants. What a bummer about your camera; but luckily you were able to get it repaired. Sushi in the Sky With Diamonds – love the creativity!

    March 9, 2023 - 11:24 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Tricia, thanks for checking in. I was so upset about the camera at the time, ha. I feel like the Sushi place should’ve seen the theme through. Perhaps there could be a kind of sushi topped with “Sgt. Pepper” or an “Octopus’s Garden” platter. The elephant experience was just wonderful…. that piece will be out on Sunday.

      March 9, 2023 - 1:56 pm Reply
      • Travels Through My Lens

        Strawberry Floats Forever; Help, this food is awful; Oh! Dumpling; okay, I’ll stop now. 😊

        March 9, 2023 - 2:27 pm
      • Leighton

        Ha ha, they are all winners!

        March 9, 2023 - 4:40 pm
  • WanderingCanadians

    Muay Thai sounds pretty intense. How fun to watch a live match with some of the most skilled Thai boxers. I couldn’t help but laugh at your uncertainty about who actually won some of the matches. You totally should have bought some of those Muay Thai shorts! Haha. What a bummer about dropping your camera and busting the lens. Glad to hear that you were able to get it fixed though.

    March 9, 2023 - 1:52 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Those shorts were just plain silly. Apart from being the height of kitsch they seemed ridiculously oversized for just about anyone who didn’t have an unreasonably wide waist. Thanks for reading!

      March 9, 2023 - 1:58 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I know reading about people fighting shouldn’t bring a little warmth to my heart, but my brother did a watered down version of Muay Thai for years and we use to look up fights of the real deal variety on the computer. What an experience to be there in person and see such a feat of athletic strength. Also the massage parlor and its gift of a new life to former convicts is really great. All around great post- looking forward to the elephants! 🙂

    March 9, 2023 - 6:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, I think we were writing comments on each other’s articles at the same time. Well, Meg… I am a bit bowled over that your brother was into this style of fighting. How far did he progress with it all? It was a cool experience to see Muay Thai at such a historic stadium, I really enjoyed it. Though in the same breath I’m not sure if it’s something I would need to see again. Thanks for reading about my time in Chiang Mai!

      March 9, 2023 - 6:34 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        Talk about great timing! Like a cyber wave hello across the miles 🙂 I’m not really sure on what level he reached in Muay Thai, far enough to own a pair of those spectacular shorts they wear but not far enough to really be part of a competition. I think there was limited opportunity in Utah to progress too far.

        March 9, 2023 - 6:50 pm
  • NortheastAllie

    These boxers are incredible, and that must have been really neat to see them in the ring in person!

    March 9, 2023 - 8:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a unique experience, especially as someone who had never seen a live fight before. Thanks for dropping in Allie!

      March 9, 2023 - 9:15 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Wowsers that Muay Thai series of fights sounds insane. I hate boxing so doubt I could watch the first couple of bouts, seeing people hit each other like that I always worry about brain injuries! The blindfold one though sounds very unique and funny!

    March 10, 2023 - 10:49 am Reply
    • Leighton

      It is an intense sport for sure. A few weeks later I met some American guys who were on their way to a camp in Chiang Mai for a monthlong Muay Thai training program. I wouldn’t last five minutes in such a camp I’d wager. Thanks for reading!

      March 12, 2023 - 10:52 am Reply
  • Juliette

    Wow, those fights sound both intense and very entertaining – especially the one with swords! I didn’t know anything about Muay Thai, and I’m glad I know a bit more now, as it seems like a very interesting sport! The name of the Japanese restaurant is brilliant too! Can’t wait to read about the elephant sanctuary!

    March 12, 2023 - 10:43 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad this article gave you a rough overview. Not everyone’s cup of tea clearly but a big part of Thai culture and a quintessential Chiang Mai experience. Thanks for reading and commenting Juliette!

      March 12, 2023 - 10:53 am Reply
  • qprgary

    Thai boxing is a must and I must admit anything is better when you have no idea of what’s going on and you don’t actually give a shit about the outcome, a great experience

    March 13, 2023 - 3:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, finally someone who has truly embraced the idea of live Muay Thai. I had a feeling this would be up your street Gary, thanks for reading.

      March 13, 2023 - 4:07 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    What an eventful time in Chiang Mai, Leighton. From Muy Thai boxing to camera repairs to a Thai massage (by ex-convicts!), you certainly had quite the journey! I presume you consumed plenty of good Thai food in the process? Never been to Thailand, but your posts inspire me to check it out some day!

    March 14, 2023 - 5:36 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Oops, missed your message on this one Rebecca. Yes, I had loads of great food in Chiang Mai. But quite spectacularly failed to photograph any of it after the lens break ha ha. It was a bit criminal that I didn’t at least grab a few shots of that sublime sushi.

      March 19, 2023 - 10:07 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    I could skip the boxing (not my thing!), but I did take a cooking class in Chiang Mai. Yummm!

    March 15, 2023 - 6:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Do you remember what you cooked?

      March 15, 2023 - 6:32 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        I had to look that up in my journals from about 12 years ago! We went to a market first to buy the ingredients. Minced pork and cabbage soup, spring rolls, a fabulous roast duck red curry, and chicken in ginger sauce

        March 15, 2023 - 7:09 pm
      • Leighton

        Oh that sounds fantastic, especially the duck curry. I had a similar market-to-kitchen cooking experience in Guilin, China, back in 2009.

        March 15, 2023 - 7:16 pm
      • rkrontheroad

        Oh, that would be great too!

        March 15, 2023 - 7:26 pm
  • abbasmehar

    Thank you so much for sharing unique information in your blog post I really like it.

    March 15, 2023 - 7:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment!

      March 15, 2023 - 10:49 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    I was wondering if Thailand is not one of the best countries to buy a camera, rather than repair it.

    March 19, 2023 - 2:27 am Reply
    • Leighton

      You make a good point, though in the end the repair job was economical. And I would have been devastated at having to lose my Sony Cybershot, a camera readily unavailable throughout Asia. In fact, I still mourn it a bit now.

      March 19, 2023 - 9:28 am Reply

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