Ancient rituals at the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony in Ayutthaya

Ancient rituals at the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony in Ayutthaya

Whoever thought Muay Thai is a mindless, aggressive and blood hungry sport: think again. During my recent trip to Thailand I discovered that Muay Thai is a sport of perfection, calmness and respected traditions. During the trip I had the honor to attend the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony: an ancient ritual in which Thai boxers from all over the world pay respect to their teachers and the legendary Muay Thai folk hero Nai Khanon Thom. This is my report of this extraordinary event. 

This article is part of the BoB report series in which we conduct interviews and report about cultural events and local experiences. 

Ayutthaya

In the afternoon we arrived at the Ayutthaya Historical Park, the location of the festivities. It was an impressive sight: hundreds of Muay Thai boxers, a boxing ring and market stands scattered over the ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

The Ayutthaya Historical Park. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
The Ayutthaya Historical Park. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Young Muay Thai fighters. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Young Muay Thai fighters. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Honoring Nai Khanom Thom

At the entrance we passed the statue of Nai Khanom Thom: the famous Muay Thai folk hero. Burmese soldiers captured Nai Khanom Thom in 1767. During his capture he was forced to fight Burmese fighters as entertainment for the Burmese king. Prior to the match he executed his slow ritual dance of the Wai Kru Ceremony. This scared the Burmese fighters, thinking that Nai Khanom Thom tried to curse them with evil spirits. Nai Khanom Thom easily defeated all his opponents with his supreme Muay Thai skills. The Burmese king was so impressed that he granted Nai Khanom Thom his freedom. In Thailand he continued his Muay Thai lifestyle with training and teaching. He became affectively known as the father of Muay Thai.

The Great Muay Thai Hero: Nai Khanonthom. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
The Great Muay Thai Hero: Nai Khanon Thom. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Spectacular fights at the Miracle Thai Boxing Tournament

We started off at the Wat Langkha Khao. Around this Wat (‘Wat’ is the Thai word for temple) the ‘Miracle Thai Boxing Tournament’ was kept. Some of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world participated in this exciting tournament. Hundreds of visitors sat around the boxing ring on small colorful plastic chairs in the unpleasant heat watching the intense fights. In the fights the strength, speed and precision of Muay Thai really came forward, as well as the mutual respect between competitors.

I had a good spot: right at the corner of the boxing ring. After every single round the boxer came back to his corner to attend and prep for the next round. Next to me his coaches were loudly yelling instructions in Thai. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I’m sure it was something like: ‘think about your left side defense, attack his right side, use your knees‘.

One of the Muay Thai boxers. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
One of the Muay Thai boxers. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Care of the fighters between the rounds. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Care of the fighters between the rounds. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Meeting Muay Thai hero ‘Buakaw’

During the tournament there was also a demonstration of the K-1 Champion and one the best (Muay Thai) fighters in the world: ‘Buakaw Banchamek‘. After the demonstration and the tournament our group was lucky enough to meet Buakaw in person!

K1-champion Buakaw in action. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
K1-champion Buakaw in action. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Me and Buakaw. I only had one thing to do... look into the camera... ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Me and Buakaw. I only had one thing to do… look into the camera… ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Learning about the Traditional Thai Arts at the market.

We continued to the market where we were able to learn about other traditional Thai arts. We witnessed the making of Aranyik swords, saw foreigners (and people from our group) getting a traditional Thai tattoo and tasted delicious Thai food and drinks. There were also practice area’s were the Muay Thai fighters could test their skills on bamboo sticks.

Food stall selling delicious herbal drinks. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Food stall selling delicious herbal drinks. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Sword making at the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Sword making at the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Participating in the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony

And then the big moment finally arrived: the 10th World Wai Kru Ceremony. Together with hundreds of fighters (both Thai and foreigners) dressed in black and red costumes we walked through the official passage. The old and honored Muay Thai masters walked in front and took a seat at the high stage at the far end of the field.

The procession to the ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
The procession to the ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

During the ceremony we saw a procession with white elephants, enjoyed beautiful music with traditional Thai instruments and saw gracious female Thai dancers. Offerings were given to the old Muay Thai legends who had their own altar on a white offer table.

White offer table with statues of the old Muay Thai legends. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
White offer table with statues of the old Muay Thai legends. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

After that a few (inter)national fighters were awarded with a new Mong Kol (sacred headband with protective powers) such as an honorary Mong Kol, silver Mong Kol and a golden Mong Kol. The color of the Mong Kol says something about your achievements in the Muay Thai sport.

Three 'wai's' before receiving their new Mong Kon.  ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Three ‘wai’s’ before receiving their new Mong Kon. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

After that it was our turn. One by one we approached the altar, did three wai’s (bendings) and received a white Mong Kol. One of the ceremony masters put the Mong Kol on our head and we received personal blessings from each of the Muay Thai masters.

We also received a white Mong Kon.  ©Bunch of Backpackers.
I also received a white Mong Kon. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

At the final part of the ceremony, it was time for the communal ‘Wai Kru‘. During this Wai Kru hundreds fighters on the field slowly executed the rhythmic, powerful movements of this sacred ritual showing respect to their teachers and the Muay Thai legends.

Waiting for the Wai Kru.  ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Waiting for the Wai Kru. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Fire dancers and white elephants at the Amazing Thailand Show

The day was concluded with a dinner in the ruins of Ayutthaya and the ‘Amazing Thailand show’ with fire dancers, traditional Thai dance, more Muay Thai demonstrations, drums and a battle with elephants. A highly spectacular end of the day!

The spectacular Amazing  Thailand Show.  ©Bunch of Backpackers.
The spectacular Amazing Thailand Show. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

From complete Muay Thai outsider to a bit more insider

I came to Ayutthaya as a ‘Muay Thai outsider’ and therefore felt privileged to take part in this sacred event. Because of this day I understand the deep-rooted traditions of Muay Thai better and more specifically the meaning of the Wai Kru ceremony. I think the event is a great way to promote the Muay Thai sport and to protect its traditions.

Honored to take part in the ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Honored to take part in the ceremony. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Promotional film of the World Wai Kru Ceremony of the Tourism Authority Thailand (TAT)

Want to visit the annual World Wai Kru Ceremony?

The World Wai Kru Ceremony always takes place at March 17th. Keep an eye on the TAT website for updates.

Bunch of Backpackers’ participation was part of a Tourism Authority Thailand (TAT) sponsored trip: The Thailand ‘Muay Thai’ Academy trip. Even though I was asked to write articles about this trip, all opinions and views expressed in this article are my own.

Meet 'travel mastermind' Manouk: a 29-year-old sassy girl from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With BoB she inspires you to explore the world, meet the unexpected and follow your dreams. Happy travels!

22 COMMENTS

    • Hi Randall, if you’re interested in Muay Thai I think you’d really enjoy this ceremony :)! Maybe you can attend the 11th edition?

  1. Wow, what an exceptional experience, they really do it up for these events, lucky you…please do share it on my link up today at Travel Photo Mondays

  2. Hoi Manouk! Zeer mooie post, de foto’s zijn geweldig. Als mede “muay thai hero” heb ik ook ontzettend genoten van de gehele ceremonie. Je hebt het exact beschreven zoals het was. Een onvergetelijke ervaring! Het was trouwens een plezier om samen met jou deze reis te mogen meemaken. Groetjes, Jempi :)

  3. Wow, just wow! I am so jealous! I went to see a few matches and did a little training in Muay Thai in a small gym when I was in Thailand, but to get to experience something like this is just on a whole other level! Fantastic post!

  4. I sadly did not make it to a muay thai fight when I was in Thailand, but they look great! They actually just opened a gym near me in Brooklyn so it’s definitely gaining popularity outside of Thailand.

    You got some great shots of that fight!

  5. What a unique an d wonderful experience you had! you truly immersed yourself in the Muay Thai culture and it seems to have been quite rewarding. These are the kind of experiences that make traveling the world so amazing. When you get to put yourself out there and learn about a new culture by connecting with its people and traditions. Great work!

  6. This is just spectacular. I love to watch sports from around the world, and so much better when they involve a deep cultural aspect to help you learn about the people. Fantastic report and pictures.
    JR

  7. Sounds like an amazing experience! We didn’t end up seeing Muay Thai fight while we were in Thailand but now I wish we had! Looking forward to more of your travels.

    Ashley and Alex

  8. Yes, I learned about Nai Khanom Thom, the Muay Thai legend, since I was young. His name is Khanom Thom, not Khanon Thom. Actually “khanom thom” is a kind of Thai dessert that is boiled flour balls filled with sweetened shredded coconut.

    It’s great that you could attend such a special ceremony!

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