Wherever you go in the Land of Smiles, from Chiang Mai in the north to Phuket down south, you will see the influence of worldwide sport.
Thailand is a sports-mad country and it’s especially interesting as a place for experiencing traditional sports such as Muay Thai (Thai boxing). It’s also a country though where sports such as football are extremely popular, with bars often packing out for matches whenever there’s a live football game on the TV.
So what sports can you watch or try in Thailand? Let’s take a look below!
1. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
When it comes to sport, Thailand is synonymous with Muay Thai (Thai Boxing).
So much so that traveling to Thailand to train and/or compete has become a pilgrimage of sorts for many.
First developed as a sport in Medieval times, when boxing was included in military training, Muay Thai has since grown into an art form handed down through the ages.
The sport is unique because it allows the use of elbows, knees, and bare feet.
Learning how to compete in Muay Thai takes practice and patience as it is as much about technique as it is about brute force.
It’s also a great way to improve fitness and learn a new skill. It remains a popular spectator sport all throughout Thailand.
Where to Watch or Try Muay Thai Boxing
For watching a live Muay Thai fight, events take place right throughout Thailand, from local bars to larger stadiums. Some options include:
- New Lumpinee Stadium (Bangkok) – For elite Muay Thai this is the place to go. 2000 baht for ringside seats.
- Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium (Bangkok) – The nation’s oldest and most prestigious stadium. Also has female Muay Thai events. 2000 baht for ringside, 1500 for ‘second class seats’.
- Channel 7 Boxing Stadium (Bangkok) – Once a local secret, now popular with travelers. Events are only on Sunday but come with free admission.
Learning Muay Thai Training
There are also lots of opportunities to get involved and to try Muay Thai training and to get coaching in the art.
Many foreigners come and give it a go and it’s something I highly recommend as it’s really quite a cultural experience like no other!
- Punch It Muay Thai Gym, Koh Samui. Includes twice-daily sessions, accommodation, and gear.
- Attachai Muay Thai Gym, Bangkok. Includes twice-daily sessions, meals, and accommodation.
- Por Silaphai Gym, Chiang Mai. Includes twice-daily sessions, gear, and accommodation.
When to Go to Thailand to See Muay Thai?
You can watch the local stars strut their stuff any time of the year. However, for training, picking the right season is more important.
The cold season has cooler weather yet higher crowds. While the hot and monsoon season presents its own set of obstacles but is rewarding if you persevere.
2. Professional Kite Flying
For lovers of obscure sports entwined in deep traditions, it is hard to go past the professional kite flying in Thailand.
Kite flying dates back over 700 years and it is clear through the chula (male) and pakpao (female) that it has always been a battle of the sexes.
The event is based on two different kites trying to capture or allude the other.
The chula kite is much larger and requires a team of twenty to operate properly. Thanks to bamboo barbs it has the ability to grasp onto the pakpao and drag it back to its own territory.
The pakpao is smaller, more nimble and very evasive. Requiring only a team of five it has the speed to elude the chula but also has a diamond tail that can be used to latch onto the enemy.
At any one time, there can be 2 pakpao kites for every chula kite on the field.
Overall, the teams with the most success advance to the next round. In the end, one chula and pakpao team remains as they battle for the King’s Cup on national television.
When To Go?
To see the best of the best, you will need to make your way to Bangkok during the tournament that is held in April each year.
Where to Watch Kite Flying?
As per tradition, the tournament is held at Sanam Luang, next to the King’s Palace.
3. Kaeng Ruer (Boat Racing)
Kaeng Ruer is a sport steeped in Thai tradition and one that maintains immense popularity 400 years after it began its journey into Thai folklore.
Each boat is meticulously crafted using hardwood such as takhian and led down the river by a team of 8 to 10 oarsmen and a helmsman that guides its direction.
The beautiful boats are also decorated with colored cloth, which honors the spirit of the guardians.
Where to Watch Kaeng Ruer
Bangkok holds many Kaeng Ruer and Longboat races. Surat Thani Chak Phra Festival and Boat Races (October) is also a major event.
When to Go?
- September to October and it celebrates the end of the rainy season.
4. Krabi Brabong (Sword and Pole Fighting)
With influences from India and China, Krabi Krabong is a unique combat sport rarely witnessed outside of Thailand.
Techniques have been passed down through the spoken word across generations, in the same way that Muay Thai grew from military origins, and yet only received its official name in 1936.
Krabi Krabong takes place inside a circle accompanied by local Thai music. There are multiple weapons to choose from including, thin swords, wooden staffs, crossbows, and shields.
The most common weapon of choice is two Daab Swords, made of wood or bone. The aim is to disarm your opponent with both speed and power. The winner is based on the skill of the participants.
Where to Watch Krabi Brabong
- Head to the National Stadium in Bangkok for the International Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival. Here you will find traditional martial arts like Krabi Krabong on display.
When to Go to Thailand for Krabi Brabong
- The event is normally held in March every year.
5. Thai League 1 – Professional Football (Soccer)
The TL1 is the top flight of professional football in Thailand and has been running for over 25 years.
There are 16 teams in the competition placed in most regions of the country, with 6 being within Bangkok.
While some stadiums can hold over 20,000 local fans, the league’s average attendance hovers around 3,000 people.
Where to See a Thai League 1 Game
Depending on where you are traveling to in Thailand, you can choose from any of the 16 teams and you can find a list of the clubs on the official Thai League website here.
Some of the best options though include:
- Chiang Mai United
- True Bangkok United
- Buriram United who plays at the Chang Arena, Buriram, and who are the most successful team in the league. Buriram consistently sees a crowd of over 15,000 people and they are a good team to see to experience the Thai football league.
When to Go?
- The Thai League runs from February to October. Take note, tickets have to be purchased at each stadium.
Golf continues to grow in popularity both among the Thai population and with international visitors. The expanding access to courses that are developing around the country is making it an enticing destination for golf lovers.
Where to Play Golf in Thailand
Chiang Mai is a top destination for golfing enthusiasts in Thailand, owing to its pristine mountain weather and quality courses. These include the:
Phuket is another region worth adventuring to as a golf enthusiast.
Phuket has numerous courses including new courses and classics like the Blue Canyon GC, known for a famous Tiger Woods victory back in 1998.
When to Go?
Year-round, although expect to play early and later in the day during the hot season.
7. Best Sports Bars for Watching Live Sport
When you aren’t smacking the golf balls around or trying Muay Thai, stay up to date with your favourite sports at these bars:
The Sportsman Sportsbar in Sukhumvit is a true sports bar. Showing sports from around the world over two floors, the Sportsman has a great atmosphere whenever the big game is on. Enjoy 10 projector screens and 22 HDTVs.
Honourable Mention: The Kiwi Sports Pub & Grill.
b) Chiang Mai
Renegade Sports Bar doesn’t only show the best sports each day and night but comes with the widest selection of beers in Chiang Mai. Renegade has over 300 craft beers neatly stacked behind the bar that you can choose from, whilst you watch sports.
Honorable Mention: Sheryle’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.
The Aussie Bar Phuket comes with a capacity of 250 guests, which makes it the perfect place to watch a major sporting event whenever you are in Phuket.
Get off the notorious Bangla Road and choose between 4 bars, 3 pool tables, and dozens of huge TVs.
Honorable Mention: Walkabout Sports Bar.