In Bangkok, city roads melt down to a near standstill during rush-hour. Hailing a taxi during this time requires patience, it was only on my fifth try that I was able to hail down a cab willing to take me to Ram Intra Road.
The New Lumpinee Stadium, opened its doors in February 2014 after almost 60 years at its former location on Rama 4 Road in central Bangkok. Many Muay Thai aficionados lament the new facility’s lack of old-world charm.
By old-world charm, they mean excessive heat, leaking roofs, and pervasive dirt and grime. The new location has also been lambasted for its inaccessibility but stadium regulars welcome the much-needed air-conditioning and ample parking.
“So who’s fighting tonight?”, the driver asked. I mentioned the two main event fights since they were the only fighters on the card that I knew. He perked up instantly. Not sure what it is, but I’ve never met a taxi cab driver in Bangkok who didn’t like Muay Thai.
More than an hour later, we arrived at the renowned Lumpinee Stadium in the north of the city. That’s after travelling via BTS to Mo Chit Station where I boarded the taxi. While the train ride in itself was fast and efficient, the rush-hour crush isn’t the most comfortable experience.
The taxi ride costs 250 Thai Baht to get to the stadium including a couple of toll charges, and another 60 Baht for the BTS. It makes you wonder if it is worth all the fuss just to watch a few Muay Thai fights.
Back in the days, the old Lumpinee was the venue to catch the world’s top Muay Thai exponents in action. It was located right in the heart of the city with easy access via the subway that took visitors right to the doorstep. Foreign spectators have visibly dwindled since the move. Casual fans of the sport and tourists are contented with the sheer convenience offered by a number of other options.
There’s the equally-famous Rajadamnern stadium, the weekly Sunday matinees at Channel 7 and random shows put on around the city all located within a reasonable distance from public transit. But now, the new Lumpinee is located at least an hour from city centre, without traffic. In rush hour, it can easily take up to two hours.
Lumpinee fights typically take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with the best matchups tending to take place during weekdays but it’s always worth checking the schedule first.
Some days will host dual promotions, so if you are up for sitting through hours of Muay Thai, you can watch two shows for the price of one. In all honesty, I would only subject myself to sit through the horrendous traffic for nothing less than the top-tier fighters in the league. This was one of those nights.
The architects of the New Lumpinee Stadium have ditched the former facility’s dated appearance and given it a complete facelift. Garbed in a rounded metallic shell, the exterior structure lends a modern, even futuristic feel to the prestigious arena. It’s a brave attempt in shedding the sport’s unfashionable past and a giant leap towards its modernization.
I bought myself a ringside ticket and trotted my way to the arena gates. For more than half the price of ringside seats, Thais can forgo the comfort of cushioned chairs for hard concrete benches. Ironically, the lower price tiered seats on the upper levels offer unrestricted views of the ring action.
They are also populated by the fervent gamblers whose betting creates an unceasing shouting contest that may warrant bringing ear plugs. It’s at least, a distinctive aspect of the game that has been brought over from the old stadium.
The stadium is massive, with a capacity of 9,500— nearly double the size of the old Lumpinee. Inside, huge LED screens are mounted high up replaying the action during the breaks between rounds.
I was ushered to my seat and soon made eye contact with a waiting staff walking around the floor to solicit orders for drinks and snacks. The security at the doors go through your bags not so much as to check for dangerous items but more likely to prevent food purchased outside of the arena from being brought in. Market economics at work.
There were two championship titles on the line this night. Littewada Sitthikul delivered a devastating third round KO victory over Nonthakit Tor. Morsi for the Lumpinee title. This was the only knockout of the night and by all accounts, it was a spectacular one. The gamblers went wild over it.
Up next was the fight that everyone had been waiting for. Rising star, Kulabdam Sor Jor Piek-Uthai was coming up against the phenom, Muangthai PK Saenchai Gym. Supporters of Kulabdam were decked out in black t-shirts with the fighter’s image printed on the back. Muangthai had his own share of fans in his corner and on the spectator stands.
This was an absolute thriller. Despite Kulabdam throwing punch after punch, his opponent was resolved to not hit the canvas that night. Muangthai retaliated with his notorious elbows, it looked as if someone was going to get knocked out. Muangthai edged out to win the fight on points. This was easily my pick for the fight of the year and I was fortunate to have caught it live at the stadium.
The crowds started to disperse right after Muangthai’s hand was raised. There were two more bouts left for the night. A section of hardcore gamblers stayed on along with a handful of foreigners seated at ringside, wanting to get their money’s worth. I too stayed on a little longer to avoid joining the mob.
The spirited soul of the old Lumpinee stadium continues to live on in the new with an electrifying atmosphere. Still reeling with excitement from the night’s event, I made my way and quickly found a taxi to take me back to the hotel. The ride back took only half an hour and was 30 baht cheaper than coming here. It is an expensive excursion by Thai standards but when the stadium stages a good card, nothing still quite compares to a night out at Lumpinee.
Rob Cox has been an indelible part of Muay Thai for the last two decades. His ringside photos tell the story of some of the greatest stadium bouts in the sport’s history. And now the Kiatphontip gym owner lends his vast expertise to Max Muay Thai as lead commentator.