Aside from Thailand’s obsession with English Premier League football and the ever popular “Muay Thai” (Thai Boxing), the Kingdom has a variety of home grown “sports” enjoyed by Thais in their own very special way.
Said to have originated in southern Thailand, which is probably why the Malays play it too, this competitive and truly acrobatic team sport involves knocking a light weight ball, made from Ratan, back and forth over a badminton net. This highly skillful game is all about speed, acrobatics and for me, the defiance of gravity as aside from their hands players can use any other part of the body to keep the ball up and launch it back over the net. Matrix style moves are common place as players often somersault in the air to kick the ball. Friendly “knock ups” can be seen everywhere with players standing around in circles, heading, kicking and keeping the ball aloft. However, if you want to see some serious bouts, visit either the National Stadium or the Hua Mak Stadium.
Kite flying, “chak-wow jula” is enjoyed not only in Bangkok, but all over the Kingdom between March to May each year. However, during this period the serious business of “kite fighting” competition in Bangkok is focused on Sanam Luang (the large open area beside the Grand Palace) where at weekends spectators will see amazingly hand crafted kites of various shapes, sizes, colours and designs in aerial combat. Funnily enough, these airborne battles match “male” and “female” kites up against each other with the winner knocking their opponent out of the sky!
The beautiful, but raving mad, Siamese fighting fish, locally known as “Pla Gat”, has been cross bred so much that aside from its stumpy looking fins and the fact that it will insanely attack its own reflection, it is not easy to identify one from an ordinary fighting fish. Nevertheless, once bets are placed on this widespread local sport, competition between combatants couldn’t be simpler with two male fish placed into a glass jar and thereafter must fight to the death or at least until one tries to do a runner! Although most fights are typically over within minutes, some victories have been known to take hours.
Thai Bull Fighting
Down in Hat Yai local farmers have their own, safer, form of bull fighting. Unlike the deadly Spanish style, Thai farmers simply get their bulls to “lock-horns”, in a test of strength with the winner being the animal still standing in the centre of the ring or the one that hasn’t fled. Almost comically, in a well matched contest you will see owners actually giving their bulls a helping hand, push and even a kick up the backside! You can catch the action on the first Saturday of each month at the Khlong Wa Stadium.
Mak Ruk (Thai Chess)
“Mak Ruk” is more like the western style chess game rather than the Chinese one. Although the object of the game is the same; to get checkmate, it’s played a lot faster than its western counterpart. In general, the size of the “Mak Ruk” board, the number of pieces and the rules of capture are the same. Kings cannot castle and aside from the queens and bishops, which can only move one square, all other pieces move in the same ways as those in the western style of the game. Mak Ruk is enjoyed by all Thais with games commonly seen all over the kingdom.