Inside The Muay Thai Bar Where Drunk Tourists Fight To Win Buckets Of Alcohol
Competing for buckets of alcohol, tourists -- many of them intoxicated -- throw punches and slam kicks into each other inside the ring of a reggae Muay Thai bar.
The Reggae Bar hosts professional fights but it's also known for encouraging travellers -- most without fighting experience -- to compete against each other.
The bar, which opened in 1989, advertises the fights as a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity. It tempts tourists with the reward of a bucket of alcohol if they win a three-minute match.
English traveller Fern Betty told 10 daily she was 'wasted' when she fought her friend at the bar during a backpacking trip two years ago.
She claimed the next day she woke up covered in bruises and her friend had a swollen foot.
"I think being drunk and the promise of a free bucket and medal afterwards swung it for us," Betty told 10 daily.
We didn't think about how dangerous it was at the time, but now I'm thinking about it ... we really could have hurt each other.
"I had a dead leg for a week from where my friend had kicked me so hard in the thigh," she claimed.
Julinho Alves, a tourist from Brazil, was at the Reggae Bar in March and claimed he was asked by waiters to fight another man -- despite being untrained.
"I've never had a fight in my life, not even at school. [Now] my jaw is a bit sore and I've got a bruise on my hips," he told 10 daily.
Alves said he agreed to the fight as he didn't want to have "any regrets", but it's what he saw after the match that left him disturbed.
"There is a referee there that 'takes care' [of fighters] but the fight after mine I saw a man get a strong punch and get knocked out. People started booing the other fighter. It was too much," Alves claimed.
Muay Thai Australia's president Anthony Manning said locally and internationally there were strict guidelines for the sport.
The World Muay Thai Council, which regulates the sport in Thailand and internationally, requires doctors to be present at matches, forbids drugs or substances before a fight and forces competitors to undergo medical testing.
"Drinking alcohol and being untrained and fighting is just plain stupid. Even the body in Thailand that regulates Muay Thai would be aghast [by that bar]," Manning claimed.
Even in Thailand, they wouldn't condone that sort of fighting. It's a rogue exploitation of tourists.
Manning said while every gym has a different standard and rules vary from state to state, in Australia, the average Muay Thai fighter will train in the sport for two years, five times a week, before they compete.
"People who are doing Muay Thai are athletes first," he said.
"Fighters need to be the same weight, age and have the same experience or skill level. We have an exorbitant amount of measures to mitigate the risk of competing in Muay Thai," he said.
The Reggae Bar told 10 daily "safety is our number one priority" and that there hasn't been any major injuries, blackouts of knockouts since the bar has hosted fights.
"Our referees are trained to ensure that no serious harm or injuries result from the match... every customer will have to sign a waiver before participating in any fights," Earl Dechsakda, whose family owns and founded the bar said.
Two women, who asked not to be named, told 10 daily while they had been drinking, they do not remember signing a waiver before the fight.
Four others said they signed a waiver before they got in the ring, but at least three of them had been drinking alcohol beforehand.
"I vaguely remember signing a form but I couldn't tell you what was on it. I think the fact we had been travelling for a couple of weeks at this point and had signed various waivers for different trips normalised signing forms like that. Plus the fact that we were really drunk," Betty said.
A sign uploaded to Instagram claimed to be taken inside the bar reads "if you don't order any drinks we will bite your ear off like Mike Tyson".
Dechsakda claimed the bar rejects heavily intoxicated participants, and fighters can choose whether the buckets are alcoholic or filled with mocktails or soft drinks.
"Tourists travel to Phi Phi Islands to have a trip of their lifetime. Our customers trust us on creating a safety environment [sic], which makes the bar a fun and exciting place," he said.
But video footage posted online shows dozens of tourists falling down inside the ring and suffering a host of injuries.
One photo posted to Instagram shows a man knocked unconscious and his opponent bragging about winning the match.
The person's account has since been changed to private but the post was liked by the bar's Instagram handle.
Another post on YouTube shows a blonde woman, wearing a bra, being carried out of the ring after a sloppy fight where she fell down multiple times and missed several punches.
Corey Lion, a tourist from the US, told 10 daily his opponent dislocated his shoulder in the first minute of the fight and the bar had to pop it back in.
Lion, who claims to have a background in boxing, admitted he'd already drunk six shots and "was a few beers deep" before the fight.
He said the bar did not wrap fighters' hands to protect their knuckles, which is commonplace in the sport, nor have a doctor or medical professional ring-side.
"Even when we are just hitting the bag, we always wrap hands. But drunken tourist or not, people should know what they're getting themselves into," Lion said.
Despite this, he said the bar is "a big hit, very entertaining and adds a unique element to the island."
But Manning says the bar's voluntary Muay Thai fights are deeply damaging to the sport's reputation as a whole, as professional matches in Australia and Thailand are heavily regulated.
"It’s an exciting and adventurous sport but you need to learn all the skills. If you get in a ring and the intention is to outscore your opponent by hitting them, you need a high skill level before you can even compete," he said.
"Muay Thai is the most overregulated and policed sport. A few [drunk] bogans participating doesn't reflect on the sport."