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Sports in Phuket You May Not Find at Home

Sports in Phuket You May Not Find at Home

Sports in Phuket You May Not Find at Home
by Jeremie Schatz,
10 February 2022

One thing tourists and expats find fascinating about Thailand is just how different so many things are compared to what they’re used to in their home country. Of course, this is the motivating force behind why many people pack their bags to explore the world. Compared to western countries, there are many aspects of life in Thailand that seem very exotic whether it’s the customs and culture, architectural styles, and religion. And while you will certainly find a whole lot of people obsessed with ubiquitous football, you may also spot some sports that aren’t quite what you’d find at home. 

Sepak takraw

Sepak takraw | Cr: มติชนอนนไลน์

Sepak takraw is a sport found practiced in Thailand as well as neighboring countries and has become more well-known in recent years. It is played on a court similar in size to a doubles badminton court with a net set with the top at 1.52 meters.

At first glance it looks like a volleyball match with a small ball and the big difference being hands can not be used and it’s mostly played with feet. However, there are several differences. Firstly, the ball is smaller and was traditionally made from woven rattan, but has now been replaced by synthetic materials. It is usually played by teams of two or three. The scoring system is the same as badminton. It’s quite impressive to watch as players display acrobatic moves getting vertical or even upside-down.

With these similarities to volleyball and badminton, one may assume that it’s a newer spinoff of these sports, however, it’s been around for quite some time. Historical records have shown it being practiced for around 1,500 years in Malaysia where it grew out of a demonstration of physical skills with reflections of Burmese dance and martial arts. In Thailand, it has been practiced since at least the 1600s. 

These days sepak takraw is included in many international sporting competitions with dozens of countries around the world represented. 

Muay Thai/Muay Chaiya

Muay Chaiya | Cr:ข่าวมวย

Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is another homegrown sport that has enjoyed greater international notoriety in recent years. This is mostly due to the burgeoning popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) as a sport of which Muay Thai plays a role. 

A cross between martial arts and kickboxing, Muay Thai is an ancient practice with roots in practical physical battle. It blends the typical offensive and defensive maneuvers of western-style boxing with a focus on close-quarters striking with elbows and knees. 

Muay Thai and Muay Chaiya differ in their approaches to stance, striking, and counterattacks with Muay Chai having increased priority on defensive tricks and counterattacks. 

Kite fighting

Kite fighting | Cr: 77ข่าวเด็ด

As this sport is seasonal as it depends on the winds, it’s not seen taken part in as often as Muay Thai or sepak takraw. However, it is a traditional sport dating back at least 700 years. It is mostly practiced between November through April when many provinces host annual competitions. It is an important aspect of Thai heritage with everyone from farmers and commoners to members of the royal family taking part. 

What makes this sport especially interesting is the deep traditional roots of designing, building, and intricately decorating the kites. There are several different styles with various regions of the country representing different shapes and decorative styles. 

The competition involves two teams of up to 10 members, one with the “male” chula kites, and the other with the “female” pakpao kites. The chula kites are around 2-2.5 meters tall and strongly built. They have three bamboo barbs on the string below the kite used to try and snare the pakpao kites. The pakpao kites are only about a meter tall and are light, delicate, and maneuverable. These have a loop of string trailing where the team attempts to outmaneuver and snag the chula kite and strangle it. The sport is obviously full of metaphor for men pursuing desired females and the games played in the process.