Thailand has announced the launch of a new visa for foreigners looking to train in the country’s famous indigenous martial art, Muay Thai.
The development comes as the country pulls out all the stops to encourage increased arrivals to support a creaky economy heavily reliant on tourism.
Thai prime minister Srettha Thavisin announced in his X (formerly Twitter) post that the new 90-day Muay Thai education visa is ready to be rolled out to tourists interested in studying the sport in its home country. The announcement follows a move to promote Thailand’s soft power as lawmakers decided to go all in on a drive for cultural tourism in the Kingdom under five main interests: film, food, festivals, fashion and fighting.
There has been some pushback in the travel community in Thailand, with several professionals citing an existing Muay Thai visa as a reason why the new credential is superfluous and that the government is becoming desperate in its tourism strategy. However, the current Muay Thai visa only runs for 60 days and is notoriously hard to obtain.
Lek Nawat, a freelance travel agent operating in Bangkok, is keen for the Muay Thai visa and the push towards putting cultural experiences front and centre as reasons to visit.
“I am glad to see this kind of campaign from the new government. The culture of Thailand is often overlooked (beyond food) as a reason to come here. Tourists sometimes just see Thailand as a place to party, but there is so much to discover here beyond the nightlife and beaches – though they are wonderful, too,” she remarked.
“There are no hard dates for when the Muay Thai visa begins, but once they do, I am sure I’ll be able to create exciting packages to entice tourists who want to dig more into Thai traditions and learn about our way of life.”
Answering accusations of governmental desperation, Lek believes they should be desperate and welcomes any ideas they have. “Tourism is so important to Thailand, and a sense of urgency to get back to previous levels is exactly what I want to see in our leaders.”
At the other end of the scale, one tour manager in Chiang Mai and a veteran of the hospitality industry in the region is concerned about how easily the visa can be misused. “I wonder if it will be like the Thai language visa, where people come to study but then spend more time having a good time and hanging about in bars than studying.”
The government, however, has already declared that those who apply for the scheme must demonstrate they have already begun Muay Thai training and will have to live and stay at gymnasiums and training camps certified by the Sports Authority of Thailand for the full duration of the stay.
A new government website, Now Muay Thai, has already gone live, providing information on the best places to train in Thailand to support the campaign.