One of my favorite memories in Thailand is of going to watch fights at Lumpinee Stadium. The name alone holds so much intrigue and esteem toward what Muay Thai fighters strive for – to be Lumpinee Champion. Fighters I know personally and admire wholeheartedly carry “Lumpini Champion” in their names the way academics heft around Ph.D – Kaensak sor Ploenjit was champion of both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Stadiums, and Sakmongkol Sitchuchok and my trainer at Sasiprapa Gym, Paowarit Sasiprapa were Lumpinee Champions.
My husband and I took the canal from Bangkapi where I was training at Sasiprapa Gym and then transferred to the train which took us into the heart of Bangkok. A little kid sitting in our train car had a Mongkol sticking out of his backpack, but he kept staring at my husband, Kevin, as if he thought maybe he was going to fight at Lumpinee. We ended up following this kid all the way to the stadium, his little mark of being a fighter leading us like a gas-lamp through the hectic streets. He ended up being one of the early fights – he was awesome.
The block which holds the stadium is also host to a large number of equipment stores, divided by brand, and a few custom short shops the size of a closet. The buzz of the street grows as the fights draw near and when you’re perusing the equipment shops you can spot the few trainers or cornermen of a fighter purchasing forgotten items – tape, anklets, wraps, etc. You can feel Muay Thai.
There are different prices for Thai and Westerners at the ticket office, which is pretty standard across Thailand. We purchased non-ringside seats and found our way to the entrance. There is a large poster of a former Miss Thailand winner, dressed in traditional warrior garb and – I had read somewhere – had performed a Ram Muay for her talent. It’s beautiful to have a huge image of a woman on the facade of a boxing stadium, but also ironically frustrating in that no women are allowed to perform real Ram Muay as fighters within its walls.
We chose seats in an area that was pretty much empty. The gamblers filled the opposite side – it was absolutely amazing how many people there were all crammed together, yelling to place bets, yelling to encourage fighters, all screaming “dtee, dtee!” together to call for knees from a favored fighter. And down by the ring were all the other foreigners, in the expensive ringside seats. From where we sat we witnessed a few cats and a dog that must live within the stadium just walking around. The stadium seating was old wood, the ceiling was even older wood and some lazy fans pushed the air around in a lame attempt to circulate the hot air inside the stadium. Where we sat there were large slatted windows behind us that breathed cooler air over the empty bleachers behind us. There was something immensely romantic about how decrepit this historic and famed stadium seemed from inside. We absolutely loved it.
Just now I came across an article from the Bangkok Post titled: “Lumpinee set to hang up its gloves: Famed boxing stadium moves to a new site in 2014” In short, the old site of Lumpinee is set to close in early 2014 and a new facility will be erected in the meantime to become the new Lumpinee Stadium in the north of the city. The reasons cited for a new stadium are bringing it up to date with modern technology and moving it away from the clogged traffic where it currently sits. More telling is an early mention in the article that where the current, historic Lumpinee Stadium sits is prime real-estate for commercial development.
The article describes the new facility’s features and amenities:
Maj Gen Surakai said the new stadium will be fully equipped and integrated with modern facilities and technological features on offer. It is designed to provide convenience and accessibility to physically challenged people.
The stadium will have three buildings, the main one containing the principal boxing ring and which will be air-conditioned.
It will have 500 ringside seats, 800 seats on the second floor and 2,500 seats on the third floor. Combined with those with standing tickets, the ring can accommodate up to 8,000 people.
The second building will have staff offices with rooms for important guests. It will also have an exhibition hall detailing Lumpinee’s history and a Thai boxing museum.
The third is a five-storey building. Boxers will train on the first floor, while the second to the fifth floors will be reserved for car parking space.
The new stadium will cost 380 million baht to build and construction of the foundations is proceeding.
“A gigantic monitor will be put up outside the stadium to relay major tournaments,” Maj Gen Surakai said.
Lumpinee was originally built in 1956 as a rival to the older Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium, which was finished in 1945 under the orders of the Prime Minister of Thailand. Lumpinee was founded and operated by a succession of Royal Thai Army Generals. You can see the history and a list of the Generals on the Lumpinee site.
This change of venue, not only the closing of the original stadium but the ramping up of modernity for the new one makes me immensely sad. Part of what I loved so dearly about the experience at Lumpinee was that you could feel the years of fights within the stadium’s walls, the warped wooden floors and the cavernous, dark secret world underneath the bleachers that the dog and cats inhabited. I loved those useless ceiling fans. I loved the way the stadium seemed to breathe through those slatted windows against the expanding heat and excitement of the gambling crowd. An air-conditioned stadium with fancy big-screen TV’s and lighting rigs for fighter entrances with music blaring over the speaker system sounds perfectly horrible in contrast to what I felt in that original stadium.
And maybe I’m a purist to a fault. I completely admit to casting a crooked eye at gyms that are equipped with wall-to-wall mats, rings that aren’t stained, heavy-bags that aren’t in need of repair on a regular basis and so help me God if it’s indoor with air-conditioning. I just can’t. I know good fighters come out of gyms like this and I know there are fantastic, true legend trainers who are under their employ at places like this. But if your gym has treadmills and/or a pool, I won’t go near it. It’s just so far from what my heart finds satisfying about Muay Thai gyms in Thailand. If as a foreign woman I was accepted to train in a gym that was a few tires and one heavy bag hanging under the train tracks, I’d be pretty thrilled to train there. The grit and simplicity of gyms set up under leaky tin roofs go together with my love of training Muay Thai the way sweat and pain go with improvement. I just don’t see beauty in the cleaned up approach.
And so it is with this modern facility, as described in the Bangkok Post. I’m all for making the stadium more accessible, not only for persons with mobility considerations but while we’re at it why not for women also? But I’m saddened by the renovation of what, to me, was the sensory soul of Lumpinee Stadium. When Master K tells me he kicked the flowers off of bushes to get better reach on his kick, I feel Muay Thai the way you can feel poetry in a language you don’t understand. I love that this is something that has never changed about him, even if the circumstances of his life have. And I know that there will still be beautiful Muay Thai in the new stadium and fighters and fans will likely benefit from the facelift – I guess I’m just saddened by the loss of all the character that gets effaced by the smoothing out of a lived-in face.