As you probably already know, combative sports have been a big part of my life since fifth grade when I started wrestling. Eventually, wrestling evolved into coaching and a few different martial arts, which eventually led to Brazilian Jiu Jutsu. Well, those don’t really exist here in Myanmar, but I was bound and determined to find something to fill that void.
Luckily I came across a local guy that runs a mixed martial arts gym, and for three weeks now I’ve been training in the Myanmar martial art Lithwei. A cross between Mui Thai and Kickboxing in which fighters compete in the ring, professional Lithwei is absolutely brutal- competitors only wear tape on their hands, and you’ve got to knock out your opponent twice (!) to win.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to head out to a local match with a few of my local friends, and it was an absolute blast. I didn’t have my camera, so pics are few and far between (and the ones I do have are cell-phone quality), but gather round and hear my tale of a lovely evening filled with good food, good people, and a lot of fighters getting bopped in the nose until they didn’t know where they were anymore.
My adventure started off at 2:00 in the afternoon when one of my local friends picked me up and we drove the twenty or so minutes through town to the area around the famous U Bein Bridge. As comfortable as I’m becoming in Mandalay, spending time with a group of locals was a whole other level of immersive. When we arrived at U Bein, one of the few rather touristy areas around Mandalay, we dipped between some buildings to a small outdoor eater, some words I don’t know were shouted around, and a dish of absolutely fantastic mutton and rice came out, flanked by a pair of ice cold beers and a straw-impaled coconut. The two of us were soon joined by a handful of other locals I hadn’t yet met, two of which were one of the sponsors of the event and one of Myanmar’s top lithwei fighters.
Soon it was time to head over to the fight, a traditional looking boxing ring beautifully positioned next to the bridge and water. Suffice to say, we weren’t the only group interested in watching some fights as the area around the ring was absolutely packed with a standing crowd. I was fortunate in that my group had an area reserved for us to actually sit, literally right next to the right. I never expected such a great view, and it definitely made the night that much more memorable. Check out a few shots below.
As cool as it was to have the fight outdoors- the weather was literally perfect- it did come with the someone obvious caveat that once the sun went down, the books swarmed in biblical proportions. They actually had to pause one of the fights to hang diesel soaked leafy branches and spray about 5 industrial size bottles of bug spray, which apparently worked, because the swarm largely dissipated for the last hour or so before the end of the final fight.
Finally, after all was said and done, we decided to grab some grub on the way home. Now, take what I said about the perks of eating with locals and multiply it by ten. On our way back we stop in the middle of what appears to be a neighborhood (which are largely just scrap shack rooms hodge-podged next to each other), walked into what appeared to be someone’s home, only to find four tables and a chalkboard menu written in mystifying Burmese. A quick conversation went down, the few workers (family?) started cooking, and I was greeted with what I’m confident in saying was the best Asian food I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what the dishes actually were, but we had a mixture of meat and vegetable dishes that were about as close to perfect as I’ve ever had. The best part? All four of us ate for a total o about 11 bucks.