With its ceremony and rituals, its colour and splendour, a passionate and animated crowd, but most of all its raw brutality, Thai boxing is a magnificent spectacle. However, a major tourist attraction it isn't. Two-tier pricing at Bangkok's now closed Lumpini Stadium put paid to that with many foreigners walking away from the 2,000 baht ticket price. Thais paid just 200. For those who wish to witness the spectacle that is Thai boxing, or Muay Thai as it is also known, there is another option.
Where you find tourists you often find Muay Thai shows. Not fights, but shows. There's a ring in the middle of the grotty beer bar area at the start of Pattaya's Walking Street. In Chiang Mai there's a ring in the middle of the glorious-sounding but underwhelming Loi Kroh Entertainment Complex – the local girly bar area. In Bangkok, Muay Thai fighters replace scantily glad gogo girls in Patpong's Pink Panther bar at 11 PM for half an hour each night. And last time I was in Samui, Muay Thai fights were held in a makeshift ring near Soi Green Mango on Chaweng Beach.
Bar areas are hardly the place to showcase Muay Thai and bouts featuring over the hill fighters with the Singha stomach are a poor advertisement for what is a gladiatorial sport. Opponents are often mismatched and the only prize on offer is whatever tips can be scrounged from the audience afterwards.
Thai boxing in tourist / bar areas is often combined with exotic animals, traditional dancing and other oddities which have nothing to do with the sport. When the fighters look more like Sumo wrestlers, it's not the real deal.
But there is a place where Thai boxing bouts are held for tourists, where the fights are real and where, amazingly, admittance is free.
MBK Fight Night takes place on Wednesdays from 6 PM beside the Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre and is in its 4th season.
A ring is set up outside the Tokyu Department Store, next to the National Stadium skytrain station. There's ringside seating, plenty of space to stand and an elevated view for those watching from the skywalk.
MBK Fight Night is not the most prestigious fight card in the country, but it does feature name fighters. It's put together by a well-known local boxing promoter and is sponsored by big name companies including Bangkok Airways.
When I heard the target audience for MBK Fight Night was tourists, I was immediately cynical. With so many things in Thailand the version presented to tourists is watered down. I was to be pleasantly surprised.
When Thais outnumber foreigners in the crowd at around 2 : 1, the fighting has to be decent.
Before each bout the fighters perform their rituals. They walk around the ring, stopping in each corner and briefly going in to prayer, paying respect to their trainer and the traditions of the sport, all the while eerie music is being played by a small group of instrumentalists.
The rituals and the music are a big part of Muay Thai. What I like so much about Muay Thai is that it's more than just the fighting; it's the exoticness, the raw brutality and the setting with the music along which all combine to make it an experience. The MBK ring mightn't be inside an enclosed stadium but the atmosphere rocks!
The fight card lists several fights and the first starts a little after 6 PM. Things get going with the lightweights, often younger fighters. Don't let their age and size put you off – they're every bit as determined as their more experienced, heavier counterparts.
There are a couple of commentators, a Thai and a Brit, each offering thoughts in their native tongue. They provide enough info for those of us fascinated by the sport but who don't understand the ins and outs of it.
The fighters are merciless as they kick, punch, push, knee, shove, grapple, throw and even use their elbows.
The punches are tough, the kicks are ferocious and it's not for the faint-hearted.
Some bouts feature international fighters. Here the Thai fighter (in the foreground) and the Japanese fighter go through their pre-fight stretches, warm-up and rituals.
I'd always believed that the Thais would kill their international opponents, but that was not to be the case. A Japanese fighter embraces his Thai opponent and consoles him after the Japanese fighter had dominated all 5 rounds and won on points.
The Thai announcer reminds the audience that gambling is illegal and strictly not allowed – but no-one is listening. All around me Thais are betting. They'd bet on one opponent landing a specific flurry of punches or kicks, on whether one fighter would still be standing at the end. The number 100 is heard over and over. Some bets go up to 300 baht.
With grimaces and grunts right out of an '80s Schwarzenegger movie and the steely determination of a young Michael Schumacher, Aussie Simon looked the part. He went through a lengthy pre-fight ritual and made a grand show that he was going to knock his Thai opponent to the ground. Aussie sportsmen have never been known for lacking in confidence, but this guy was over the top.
I mentioned to the Thai guy standing next to me that the Aussie was quite the show pony, would probably get his butt kicked and it'd be all over in the first round. He laughed out loud.
I was right about the round 1 part.
Unusually aggressive from the outset – Muay Thai fighters tend to feel each other out for the first minute or so and hardly throw a kick or a punch – the Aussie wasted no time in tearing in to his Thai opponent. The Aussie was in a hurry.
The fight wouldn't last long. Whether the show pony had psyched his Thai opponent out or he was just a superior fighter I will never know, but he let loose a flurry of punches which ended with a round-house smashing in to the side of the Thai fighter's head – as above – and sending him sprawling to the floor.
The Thai was as still as a corpse.
Suddenly his coach and support team were beside him. There was frantic waving and concern. The crowd went quiet.
"Dai laew", a Thai nearby was heard saying. Literally translated – he's dead – an idiomatic phrase similar in meaning to the English oh my God. The Thai fighter was dead. The Aussie had killed him!
From somewhere a small, plastic, magic menthol nasal inhaler appeared and was rammed up a nostril – and a few seconds later the Thai lad stirred and the audience gave an audible gasp of relief.
The show pony was the real deal.
Another international dual between a French fighter and a local boy was all one-way traffic; the Frenchman was all over the Thai. At one point the Thai starts grinning disarmingly as he is being absolutely pummeled, perhaps a ploy to somehow put the Frenchman off. Frenchie's kicks were lightning fast and he would strike the torso of the Thai time and time again, but the Thai refused to go down.
The kicks were taking a toll so the Thai lad got in tight. He would grapple with the Frenchie, too close for Frenchie to use his lethal kick. Even an amateur Muay Thai fan could see that Frenchie was within a kick of knocking the Thai fighter out…
…and then out of nowhere the Thai fighter delivers a ferocious left-footed roundhouse kick to the side of the Frenchman's head and he goes crashing down like a sack of spuds!
It's lights out for Frenchie and glory for the Thai. The Thai-dominated crowd goes wild!
Where many of the Thais had until that point seemed more concerned about betting than cheering on their man, when a Thai lass stepped in to the ring to take on a Caucasian bird – another Frenchie – their interest in betting subsided. They became more vocal. They were going to cheer the local girl to victory.
In her pre-fight rituals, the French bird was the complete opposite of the Aussie fighter, Simon. She did a quick stretch, shook her arms, quickly loosening up and then just stood there. She was ready for battle. She waited while the Thai girl went through her various pre-fight rituals.
Each of the 2 French fighters employed a tactic that none of the Thais used – when kicked they would not just block the kick but grab hold of their opponent's leg, causing them to bounce around on one foot as they tried to maintain balance. They'd then move in closer while still holding the leg and unleash a flurry of punches to the torso and the head, an effective tactic which often sent the opponent tumbling.
It was obvious even to those like me who don't really know Muay Thai that the French girl was too much for the local fighter. There would be no knockout, but she was all over the Thai bird and not one person was surprised when she won on points.
The Thai audience becomes more animated as the night goes on and they jump around, almost is if it is they who are in the ring. Their enthusiasm is infectious and the crowd really gets in to it.
MBK Fight Night is a brilliant concept, highlighting a local sport and a part of Thai culture that has long fascinated outsiders but which has never really been promoted as perhaps it should be.
MBK Fight Night is so much better than the nonsensical bar area Thai boxing. The atmosphere is lively, the quality of the fighters decent. If you find yourself in the Siam Square area late afternoon on a Wednesday, it's worth hanging around for. Best of all it's free.
MBK Fight Night takes place every Wednesday from 6:00 PM, until the end of July. Do check it out!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken from an overhead walkway in Siam Square between Siam Paragon and Police National HQ, looking down Henri Dunant Road towards the Silom / Sathorn business district. Bangkok is full of building sites – where is this one?
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Where to get cut.
I recently had a vasectomy. Now that my kids are grown-up and I am in my mid 50s I have absolutely no interest in taking responsibility for more children. I contacted all the major hospitals and was quoted between 12,000 and 30,000 baht for this simple 15-minute procedure. That's more than in Europe, so I wonder about the Thai "World Medical Hub" aspiration. I totally and utterly recommend the Cabbages and Condoms clinic in Bangkok. They do it free. Yep, no charge. The team there is wonderful. I was, as you can imagine, more than nervous about this. Shit-scared would not come close to describing it. All my fears were unfounded. Very smooth, no melon-sized balls, an undetectable scar, and no perceptible operational difference. They do ask for a donation, in my case to a children's home. I willingly gave them 4,000 baht, which was entered into a book and they gave me a certificate. I wish I had given more. It is now SUCH a relief to know that no woman is going to come to me with a large stomach and say, "This one is yours!"
Cash deals in Asia nothing unusual.
That was quite the story about the Bangkok lawyer, but massive cash deals don't surprise me, not in Asia and not in that business. Why do you think US$50s-100s get better rates? US$1m in 100s weighs 20 lbs, 50s naturally double that. It's been suggested in print that the 500-euro note exists for hand-carry purposes. ~US$1m in 500e notes weighs about four pounds.
Match the snatch!
Crazy Jack was a reprobate but a rather good bar owner. True story about Jack: on the left as you walked in to Shadow Bar was a poster with photos of each of the girls' nether regions – just that, no legs, torso, face etc. It was part of a game that you could play to win a small prize – I think a short time with the girl of your choice up in that vinyl, fan-cooled heat trap on the second floor. Anyway, in a stroke of inspiration, Jack named the game "Match the Snatch". I always thought that summed up Jack's attitude perfectly. I never did win.
Lady drinks don't grow on trees.
I was a bit bored so went to the bars to see what was going on. Almost no customers. A young lass from Udon pulled me into an empty bar and I had a beer. After a few minutes she asked for a drink. Feeling unusually generous I said OK, she smiled and ordered. Along came a short in a small glass. She picked it up, grimaced and then drank it in less than 2 seconds. 150 baht gone. We then chatted further and after a couple of minutes she asked for another drink. I was no longer feeling generous. In fact, pretty pissed off. I pointed out that 150 baht would have fed her mum, dad and kid for a day, and that I had to earn it, not pick it off a tree.
Do you need to be Mr. GQ to attract working girls?
I believe that the guy who spoke about the Thermae chicks having interest in Westerners has it all wrong. Japanese folks are well known to avoid problems of any sort like the plague, so I wonder how many Japanese guys are in Bangkok at the moment and were in the Thermae that night? Not many would be my guess. I was in Pattaya for the last 4 weeks and I saw very few Japanese there at all. The same for Chinese and Koreans. But I do appreciate his comments about GQing yourself up for the night. Very funny!
Unpopular with cheap Charlies.
Have your ears been burning? A few of the boys got their panties in a bind on PA, outraged that Stick opined that 5,000 baht was a fair price for a maiden's company for the night. The PA boys are no longer reading you! I replied to one particularly upset writer that I liked your insights and would continue to read your weekly column. Wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued and he replied with this question: When has Stick given any useful information? That was easy to answer and off the top of my head I replied: 1. Don't marry a bargirl; and 2. Don't do anything in Thailand you wouldn't do back home. Oh my, my new pen pal was livid because Thai prostitutes are “different” from their sisters back home and he visits Thailand for the very purpose of engaging in activities he would never do at home. The say never argue with an idiot because he will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience, so I pressed the ignore button and perused other websites. But then I suddenly realised what you already know: these guys are jealous of your following and ability to live in Thailand. Since they can't emulate your success, their only other option is to tear you down to their unhappy level. Not that it's working. Misery truly does love company. Keep on writing, Stick. The more vocal the brain trust boys complain about your column is an indication of a large readership and factual content.
Bars allowing smoking and a correlation with respiratory infections.
I usually escape Thailand at Songkran and spend a month in the Philippines. I tend to go out more, like a vacation from vacation, so yeah, I hit the gogos often. Ten years in Thailand and I've only had one upper respiratory infection (URI). On each of my last 3 trips to Angeles I've come down with an URI about mid way through my trip. At first I thought, ah, it's probably air pollution. But then I got to thinking, Thailand is just as polluted, especially during the burning season up north, so it's probably not air pollution. Then it dawned on me: I don't hit the bars that much in Thailand and when I do they are open air beer bars. When I go to Angeles City I regularly hit the gogos and they are pretty much smoke-filled. When I was a kid, I often had URIs, and I made another connection – my parents were heavy smokers and in the winter time, the house and cars were a haze with second-hand cigarette smoke. As I grew older and spent less time with the folks I sort of grew out of my tendency to suffer URIs. I smoked from age 19 to about 28, sometimes heavy, sometimes just 3 or 4 a day. I never thought much about second-hand smoke but my personal experience is that, yeah, it's probably dangerous to one's health. OK, this is not to vilify smokers -I used to smoke my self- but I may have made a connection.
You don't need to go to Thailand any more!
I have long been a big fan of Thailand novels and expat fiction. They have helped me fill the void between trips, especially novels by Christopher G. Moore who could really capture the Thai atmosphere. I eagerly await the first Calvino motion picture but it might never happen. I have just recently purchased my first iPad, and bought the mini version. I downloaded the Kindle reader and have been amazed at all the Thailand e-novels I can purchase and read without having to travel to Thailand, and all at a very reasonable cost. The other beauty is at age 54 and never worn correctional glasses (yet!), I can now make the font bigger as the day gets darker.
Girl of the week
Boo, gogo dancer, The Strip, Patpong soi 2.
21 years old, Bangkok-born Boo has been at The Strip for a year.
She comes and goes, so the best night to catch her is Friday.
The curfew is over. Its enforcement was hardly heavy-handed and those who found themselves outside after the witching hour were asking what curfew with many people still out and about. But the curfew was taken seriously in the 3 major bar areas with lights turned off at midnight sharp. It was panic stations at Patpong as bar staff scurried to get customers to drink up, pay up, get everyone out and the lights off by midnight. The concern was not about getting home before the curfew started, but making sure the bar was closed on time. The men in brown were awfully concerned about the men in green and the hard word was put on bar owners to make sure that come midnight bars were in darkness. The curfew was lifted on Friday night and bars are back to their regular hours.
Wild Thing and Angelwitch 2 in Nana Plaza reopened at the start of the week after they were temporarily closed in a move to save the nightly expense of coyote dancers, a cost-cutting measure due to business being so bad.
It's not much different in Pattaya where some agency girls have gone from finding themselves in demand with various bars keen to retain their services, to now looking for a place to dance. Business in Pattaya isn't as bad as it is in Bangkok, but it's still down on what you'd expect. In Bangkok, coyote dancers / agency girls are on a day rate where as in Pattaya they tend to operate on 10-day contracts. With business down markedly, there just isn't the demand for agency girls so when the 10 days comes up, some are finding they have some quiet time.
Yeah, business is bad with numbers mentioned that astound me. When major intersections in downtown Bangkok were occupied, some bar and restaurant owners revealed business was down 40% – 50%. Within days of the coup being announced business fell even more and things worsened with the announcement of the curfew. One hospitality industry business owner had his worst day ever this past week with daily turnover down 80% on last year's daily average. These numbers are hardly unique, and are representative of how bad things are in the hospitality and entertainment industry, at least in downtown Bangkok and areas popular with tourists.
Every night is a party at Club Electric Blue but next Saturday the bar will host a special Curfew Is Over Party. Over 40 of the hottest gogo dancers in Bangkok will be at CEB, and there will be 69 baht Tequila shots all night long.
Have many Bangkok gogo bars try too hard and overcomplicate what should be a simple formula? Have they introduced concepts and ideas which aren't needed? Without wanting to restart the debate, how many customers genuinely want to see coyote dancers in gogo bars? When that concept was first introduced, the coyote dancers were professional dancers who (supposedly) could not be barfined so the only overlap with gogo dancers was that they danced. The coyote dancers were supplementary entertainment and there was an argument that they had their place. But that has all changed and coyote dancers have morphed in to quasi-sex workers who offer little different from regular gogo dancers offer – but come with a premium price tag. What about shows in bars? Do customers really want to see shows in place of regular dancing? The Long Gun shows set the standard, slightly more interesting dance routines than your average gogo bar, and then Angelwitch came along with shows, some of which are more like amateur acting. If you want to see lousy acting, just turn on your hotel room TV. I guess the Angelwitch shows are ok once, when you fancy a change. But really, how many times do you want to see the same old shows over and over and over again? The long-established formula in the gogo bar business is simple: hot girls + cold drinks + decent music = happy customers (and a profitable business and a happy boss). The current formula has strayed too far from the original concept and become overcomplicated. But there is one Bangkok gogo bar which stands out because it does not try to be anything more than a standard gogo bar. It sticks with the original formula and that, it could be argued, makes it one of the best bars of the genre in Bangkok, if not the best. Shark Bar in Soi Cowboy keeps things simple and management has not messed with the formula. There are no shows, and no coyote dancers. The drinks are cold and reasonably priced – and there is a happy hour early evening with all customer drinks just 80 baht. Many of the dancers are hot – as evidenced by the bar having a following amongst Japanese (who are much more discerning than your average Caucasian). There are no fatties on stage. The layout of the bar is simple with a dance floor in the middle and seating either side. The sound system is good and the music playlist appeals to the girls. Shark has not tried to be something it is not, all of which makes a decent argument for Shark being one of the best gogo bars in Bangkok.
It's been a while since I've seen any homeless or begging Caucasians in Bangkok but this week I saw two and a friend saw another. The fellow pictured above was seen near the Asoke intersection. He had a bandage on one hand and a passport with a red cover in his shirt pocket. It was red and white and I am pretty sure I saw a white cross. Swiss perhaps? That's about the last nationality you expect to see penniless and homeless. On the walkway above the Asoke intersection, BTS security were trying to get rid of a late 30s / early 40s scruffy, mouthy Brit with a distinct northern UK accent. He had been holding up a hand-written note saying he had no money. He was in quite a state, mouthing off about a woman who he claims had taken all of his money. The very same day a friend photographed another foreigner begging on Ploenchit Road. Caucasians begging in Bangkok so often come from the same mould: mid 30s – late 40 males, invariably slim and the one thing I don't get – they always seem to come from Europe. They're never American, Canadian, Aussie or Kiwi, but European. Why is that?
It's not clear what's happening with the new Ship Inn on soi 23, directly opposite Bradman's Bistro. They've put up some of the old ship pictures from the Ship Inn but the sign says Fish And Chip Shop. It's like the new venue is a cross between the old Fish and Ship Shop and the Ship Inn. There is a small outdoor seating area and inside it's plain but pleasant – which is more than can be said for the old Fish And Chip Shop which had been grubby for years.
Food for thought for those who feel the cost of a naughty in Thailand has got out of control. I note that in Brazil some girls are offering a promotion specifically for English guys which works out at 16 pounds (or about 850 baht) for half an hour's fun. Apparently it is England where they most want to go and so it is an exclusive special for Englishmen in the hope they get to know a British guy well enough that he is willing to take her home!
Good news came earlier this week with the announcement that all of the World Cup matches would be shown live on free TV so those who don't wish to venture out late can watch matches in the comfort of their home / condo / hotel.
When the other half asked me this week what I thought the major problem Westerners living in Thailand face, I replied money. Or to be more precise, not enough money. If you have enough money in Thailand, you can have a very pleasant life. Even if you don't have a lot of money, so long as you are prepared to do some things the Thai way (live in a Thai-style apartment building, eat in modest eateries) you can have a pleasant life for much less than it costs to live in the West. But so many people living here – particularly retirees – don't have enough money, or at least they do not have enough money to live the sort of life they had hoped to. Many seem to want the best of the West and the best of the East and while that is quite doable, it isn't cheap. You can have American steaks and high-class call girls, but you're going to pay for it – and if you don't have the money then you might get frustrated.
If you find yourself in a difficult or dangerous situation in Thailand, it can help to smile. Maintaining your cool is always a good thing, but incessant smiling confuses the hell out of locals and may help to diffuse a situation.
You do not hear the polite particles ka and krap used so much when Thais speak these days. OK, so you do with the oldies, say the over-50s, but what about amongst younger folks? Hardly! Thai society used to pride itself on politeness, at least of the spoken word, but things are rather more casual these days and there is a lot more use of foul language, especially the use of coarse pronouns. There's much more slang used these days and spoken Thai is noticeably less polite than it used to be, at least in Bangkok. Maybe outside of Bangkok it's different.
Quote of the week comes from JustJames, "Many of the people who advised me against becoming an expat were secretly jealous because they were tied down with a fat wife, dead-end job, screaming brats and / or a soul-crushing mortgage."
A Dane who was the target of 2 Aussie gunmen in Phuket is charged with murder
back in his native Denmark.
Another foreign resident in Pattaya is charged with the heinous crime of kiddy fiddling.
Miss Universe Thailand renounces her title after revelations about political comments she made come to light.
Thai prawns might be banned in the United Kingdom, due to claims of slave labour.
Once a bogan, always a bogan, an Aussie out on bail facing drug charges is caught…with drugs and a gun!
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: Say I have 700,000 in the bank before marriage:
Question A: Is this subject to being split 50/50?
After marriage I buy a pick up with this cash.
Question B: Is this subject to being split 50/50?
Before divorce I sell the vehicle and put the proceeds back into the same bank account.
Question C: Is this subject to being split 50/50?
I guess the answers will be illogically no, yes, maybe.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Any money acquired before marriage is classified as a personal asset and is not included in the marital assets. If you are not married yet then it would be best to deposit this money in a separate account in your name only and enter into a pre-nuptial agreement with your fiancé detailing the amount specifically and listing it as a personal pre-marital asset.
If you use the money from the separate account to purchase a vehicle and show the bank records proving that the amount used to buy the vehicle was deposited into the account before marriage then the car would also not be considered a marital asset.
Finally, if you sell the car you would have to show the same paper trail showing that the money came from the account that was yours alone and covered in the prenuptial agreement. This would ensure that the money / car remained yours.
Please note that if you are already married then investigation of the paper trail would be required to prove that this money were yours. This could be very time-consuming which is why Sunbelt Asia recommends a pre-nuptial agreement for those who wish to clarify what are their personal assets before marriage.
Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience drafting prenuptial agreements and can help you create one that protects your assets.
If you haven't been following the news in Thailand, the military-controlled government is making short shrift of many blights on the country's landscape, stamping out corruption all over the show in a strong show of authority that it is hoped will make Thailand a better place. They've targeted long-running scams like dodgy public transport operators (motorbike taxis overcharging, Phuket taxi Mafia etc) and have also been pushing hard for laws which have been lax to be enforced as per the letter of the law. There is a growing realisation amongst fans of and those with a financial interest in the naughty nightlife industry that, sooner or later, it will come in to focus – and when that happens there could be carnage. So many shortcuts are taken in the industry and so many rules are broken that if an outsider should look closely it will smell like a freshly dumped dog turd. The military has already shown that they are prepared to do whatever is required to ensure the letter of the law is followed. Interesting times…
Your Bangkok commentator,