muay thai fighting. obviously a thai phenomenon, they are held every night here in chiang mai and all over the country. last night’s fight was slated as the greatest fight of the summer, featuring seven fights, one of which included an international fighter and another was a blind fight (what does that mean? our best guess was pirates with eyepatches. first one to poke their opponents remaining wins the prize). we get there around nine, beers in hand and it turns out to be this little enclave of tightly packed bars. bars with a very similar feel as the ones from pattaya. sure enough tight-dressed lady(boys) in were parked around pool tables and entryways in hordes. eyeing every male walking by.

we get escorted to this vast opening that is walled off by a huge tarp that read, ‘BIG FIGHT TO NIGHT (sic)’ we hand over our VIP tickets and the tarp is parted and we slide past. we are walked by our host to a three-seater bench with royally decorated pillows and a coffee table. she seats us and two gracious beer girls greet us immediately. jenn spots a hookah and since aria has been nothing shy of jonsin’ for some hookah action he jumps up and gets to ordering. we were told we wouldn’t find it in chaing mai but find it we did. another round of beers, ringside seats and now hookah. we were ready. then another waitress comes by and says we can’t have the hookah front row because it’ll irritate the people around us and the fighters. we tried finangling because we we wanted to be where we were but we wanted that hookah. aria did his absolute best and it got the waitress relatively heated. this, i think, is the moment she fell in love with him. we struck an arrangement where we wouldn’t lose our seats so we could hop back up there whenever we felt like and had the hookah set up not too much further back next to a big leather couch.

this place is gaudily lit. there is some sort of screeching, traditional music blaring that can best be described by a quote from it’s always sunny on vietnamese music, “it sounds like whales raping each other.” there is hardly anything that conjures the words ‘official’, ‘clean’ or even ‘legal’. we are having a great time settling in. the waitress that aria bartered with was fully enamored at this point and was constantly checking up on us and, more importantly, on him. she had a terrible snaggletooth so from now on she shall be referred to as ‘snags’. she was loud and welcoming and made herself very comfortable with everyone. she got us to buy her a drink and ran around with a penis-shaped whistle that she’d take turns blowing then thrusting with it toward her patrons.

not surprisingly, the fights didn’t start on time. when the first two fighters came out, our three jaws dropped. they were ten years old. ten. i guessed twelve but snags set the record straight. we were expecting grown men to be doing the fighting but here these kids are, that don’t have an ounce of fat on them and look like four foot tall babies. we were nervous and immediately enthralled. should we be scared? disgusted? ecstatic? the correct answer is all of the above. the fights were very ceremonial. the whale music started to make sense when the fights commenced. they bobbed to it, prayed to it, stretched to it. before and after the fights the warriors were very respectful of each other, the crowd and their sport. after each fight the victor would go across the ring about bow to each member of the other fighter’s party and often embrace their opponent. 

as i type this, i still cannot believe we watched pre-teens beat the living hell out of each other. if you don’t know muay thai is a fighting style that incorporates knees, feet and elbows. it can be vicious. so bell rings the drums and whales get louder and the kids go at it. most of the people i know, from big to small, scrappy or otherwise could have been dropped by these kids in seconds. it didn’t matter that they had no muscle mass and were not even 100 pounds. they were quick and when the fight was on they became monsters. taunting and going for killshots. aiming for the head with their deadly kicks. relentless assaults with their knees to the torso. the their faces were consumed with adrenaline and wrath. it was well officiated so the kids never got bloodied but one did get knocked out and you don’t need to see blood to know that some of the hits these kids took hurt like hell. the first three fights were all kids. ages ten and probably 12 and 13. then there was a clownish intermission of two guys and a midget with gloves and blindfolds on. the midget took his off halfway through and just started aiming for their junk. it was silly. then the big fight was actually adults, you could feel the intensity, you could hear the blows land and the screams that followed. big hits and blood and knockouts. after the official fights, other fighters came on to put on a show and have their time in the spotlight. which means they didn’t hold back. they were spin kicking, jumping and just going for the flashiest and deadliest attacks. i could not take my eyes of the ring.

there was an elderly australian couple next to us ringside and they started telling me all sorts of facts about fighting in thailand. because they been to these things “far too many times.” they claimed that the kids have to fight or they don’t eat and that many fights are rigged, as well as, the existence of bare-knuckle boxing in undisclosed locations where they fight to the death. the lady who called herself a “blood thirsty bitch” has been to one. she knew where and how to get the best deals, the best fights, the best bets. she was a pro at watching these kids and adults destroy each other.

i came out here seeking new levels of culture shock and i certainly got what i asked for. the fights alone would have been enough with age appropriate fighters. the youth pushed it over. the sounds made it real. then if i could pull myself away long enough i realized that the only other guy at the bar we were at was at the bar shoving money into thai girls bras and grabbing their asses all while another thai lady rubbed him down. we saw him at the atm later, smiling blissfully. one of the bars was called marinas ladyboy bar and that place was packed. there was gambling, there was prostitution, there was everything. and while i haven’t confirmed this i heard from jenn that snags offered to follow aria into the bar, i still have to follow up on this. it was a truly unbelievable experience.