Such is the national obsession with muay thai, or Thai boxing, that when Wijan Ponlid returned home from the Sydney 2000 Olympics with the country’s only gold medal (for international flyweight boxing), he was paraded through town at the head of a procession of 49 elephants, given a new house and over 20 million baht, and offered a promotion in the police force. Belatedly perhaps, muay thai has recently entered the canon of martial-arts cinema: Ong Bak (2003), Tom Yum Goong (2005) and their various sequels were global box-office hits, and their all-punching, all-kicking star, Tony Jaa, who performed all his own stunts, has been appointed Cultural Ambassador for Thailand.

Though there are boxing venues all around the country, the very best fights are staged at Bangkok’s two biggest stadiums, Rajdamnoen and Lumphini, and are well worth attending as a cultural experience even if you have no interest in the sport itself (see The media & Thai boxing).

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