Muay Thai is Thai Kick Boxing
and is followed fervently all over the country, as a spectator sport to be seen live at a stadium or enjoyed with friends watching on one of the local television networks.
Regardless of the hype of international games and rich football leagues, Thailand typically, has its own unique sport. Derived from similar martial art forms in India and China, kick boxing has been taken up by some foreign participants who have even joined the ranks of professional boxers.
But it is essentially very Thai, and very different from anything else around.
Muay Thai has been also been exported to Europe and America - there is a World Muay Thai governing body, the WMC, with 109 member countries. But when it comes down to it, this is Thai, and is best seen in the countries capital, Bangkok, at a genuine boxing stadium complete with all the musical accompaniments and athletic boxers.
The kick boxing history comes from a form of entertainment for the Kings of Siam, at festivals and village events and was known as Muay Boran.
King Rama V has a personal interest in the martial arts and encouraged the teachings of Muay Thai to members of the Royal Household.
His successor called for a change in the rules and where as before the boxers were bare fisted, this was changed with the fighters using cloth binding around their fists.
Nowadays the boxers wear full boxing gloves, but the techniques remain as before, that is the art of contact using eight points of the body, rather than just two.
The only part of the body which is not allowed to be used is the head. Otherwise, feet, hands, elbows knees can be used to combat the efforts of the opposition. Another unique aspect of Muay Thai are the various ring rituals which are personal to each boxer.
Entrance to the ring is always done by leaping over the ropes, rather than in the western way of bowing through the ropes.
This is because the head is the most important part of the body and must be kept above everything else.
A boxer may kneel on one knee and pivot round to all corners of the ring, or they may go from the centre of the ring and stomp around their opponent, in an effort to put fear into the other fighter.
Regional differences make up a good deal of the variations in ritual and type of skill by the boxer.
A fighter from the North East in Isaan will have a very different set of rituals and kick styles to that of one from the south The Great respect is always shown to the officials and to the audience, and to the teachers who have trained the fighters.
The Wai Khru dance preceding the fight provides the opportunity for the boxer to acknowledge the ancestral teachers of the art.
The headbands and armbands worn by Muay Thai boxers are significant in that these will have been blessed by a Buddhist monk and are worn to bring good luck as well as being something of spiritual importance, but the bands have to be removed before the fight begins.
Only the teacher or trainer can remove these bands at the completion of the Wai Khru dance.
The bouts are 5 rounds of 3 minutes each. Fighters are watched by a panel of 3 judges with a referee to ensure the rules are enforced.
Winners are decided by either a knock out or on points, so in that sense the format is very similar to Western boxing. However what the audience has here is the accompaniment of a musical band playing Javanese clarinet, drums and symbols as the fight progresses.
The music is in a kind of synchronization with the fight, but it is not an exact science! Muay Thai is fascinating to watch as a sport, as entertainment and as a spectacle.