Samui Wining & Dining
GHOST BUSTERS
A look at some of the best fun on Samui and why ghosts are a part of it – at Lamai’s lady boxing!

A look at some of the best fun on Samui and why ghosts are a part of it – at Lamai’s lady boxing!Thai people believe in ghosts – although that’s a bit simplistic. But there’s nothing like this in the West, so it’s hard for us to grasp. Essentially, Thais believe that people who’ve lived a good life will reincarnate into the next one, while the spirits of the baddies are stuck here wandering about, causing all sorts of mayhem and malice. This story is about the ‘lady boxing’ in Lamai. But, to appreciate what you’re seeing, you’ll need some background first. Without which, well, it’s just a couple of girls thumping each other for cash – only a small part of the tale.

          

Thai boxing (Muay Thai) is a very serious business indeed. And in almost every way there’s an entirely different approach to the boxing we know in the West. For a start, it’s all very spiritual, and there’s a lot of ritual attached to it. You’ll sometimes see visitors smiling about all this, and wondering if it’s all a bit of a show for the tourists. Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s all back to those ghosts again, and the belief that the head is the most sacred part of the body and must be protected by spells and prayers, and by invoking the help of good spirits. This is a completely different facet of the happy-go-lucky smiling faces you see around you on the street and in the shops and resorts. And it’s worth understanding these things if you want to get the most from a visit to the ‘lady boxing’.

          

Once upon a time, Lamai town centre had two clusters of ‘beer bars’. One set of these were blocky rectangular structures made up of a small room with a tiny U-shaped bar attached. The other set were all little ‘rotundas’ – a thatched circular roof with matching circular bar beneath. Due to this they earned the nicknames ‘Square Bars’ and ‘Round Bars’ respectively. Somewhere in the middle of the 2000s, the entire nest of the Square Bars was demolished. A look at some of the best fun on Samui and why ghosts are a part of it – at Lamai’s lady boxing!And this matched that period when Lamai was in a serious decline, overshadowed by the energetic expansion of Chaweng.

          

At which point someone came up with a clever idea. Why not build a boxing ring in the middle of the Round Bars? And that’s what happened. In the early days the weekly shows featured enthusiastic male amateurs seeking to gain a little experience and hopefully earn a crust in the process. There was no money for the winner, but a quick tour of the audience usually collected a respectable sum in appreciative tips. And then, nobody truly knows how or why it happened, one day a pair of young ladies appeared in the ring.

          

Legend has it that the girls worked in different bars and had become entangled in an intense love triangle, with one of them enraged that the other had stolen her boyfriend. Feelings ran high and shouting matches were ongoing, leading one day to the pair of them going at each other hammer and tongs, tooth and nail. The owners of each bar stepped-in and said,“Enough! You can both get this over with and settle it once and for all and with honour,A look at some of the best fun on Samui and why ghosts are a part of it – at Lamai’s lady boxing! on Saturday . . . there!” . . . and pointed at the boxing ring in the middle. In this era there were no female boxers on Samui (and very few elsewhere). Word spread, and the crowds flocked in to see the spectacle. This new idea was so successful that the program evolved to the point where, out of the eight bouts each Saturday, six of them were between females – hence the name that emerged; ‘Lady Boxing’.

          

Today it’s advanced again and become much more main stream, now that women have established themselves in Muay Thai (albeit still at the fringe, as Muay Thai is traditionally about ‘male warriors’.) The contestants all wear professional kit and earnestly undertake the pre-fight rituals to ask permission from the spirits to fight, and then appease the good spirits, invoking them to destroy any bad spirits and their hidden malice. Two elements are symbolic and are always worn. The lesser of these is the magical ‘Prajioud’, the ‘bandages’ around the biceps which have two cords attached and are worn throughout the fight to protect the fighters from injury. The other is the headband that looks like a tennis racket; the sacred ‘Mongkon’.

          

The Mongkon has magical powers, has been thrice-blessed by a Buddhist monk, and the magic is directed at the most sacred part of the body, the head. The fighter is not allowed to touch it. It’s handled only by his trainer, who chants incantations and casts spells before placing it on the fighter’s head. After which the fighter enters the ring by leaping over the top rope – it brings bad luck if he goes under it. Unless it’s a female fighter, that is. She is obliged to enter only through the bottom ropes, and only then may receive the Mongkon on her head.

          

The show is advertised to begin at 9:30 pm, but in reality kicks off about an hour later. There’s no charge to go in or sit down, but the bars bump the drinks prices up a bit to make up for it. And the program has changed, too, with the ladies – now serious and looking professional – usually having just three bouts. You’ll also see young male amateurs and even very competent kids of 10 or 11 years old. But the best thing of all is the atmosphere. It’s electric! It’s infectious! It’s enormous fun, with all the bars screaming for their champion, singing, chanting and stamping. Yes, it’s all serious stuff at heart. But with everyone generating such a psychic tsunami of positive vibes, there’s probably a whole lot of ghostbusting happening, too!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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