Words and photo by Marc Schultz/Black Star Publishing
Did you know that one of Southeast Asia’s oldest native sports, known in Thailand as Sepak Takraw, can be seen almost everyday being played in and around the streets and parks of Bangkok? It’s the ideal urban sport, as it requires only a few square meters to play, but better still it gets people outdoors and exercising. In this sport players kick a small, hollow, woven rattan ball, but the variations on the sport are endless. In competitive games a net is placed between opposing teams and—much like in volleyball—players try to send the ball over the net and into their opponent’s area. And any part of the body can be used to do so, with the strict exception of the hands. Most play involves kicking the ball back and forth, and the footplay acrobatics involved are truly a sight to behold.
There are also many variations on the game. You’ll sometimes see people playing alone or in small groups—endlessly bouncing the ball from foot to foot hackey-sack-style. Meanwhile, in Myanmar the sport is known as chin lone, and is considered more of an art as there is often no opposing team, and the point is to simply keep the ball aloft, gracefully and interestingly. Almost every Southeast Asian nation has their own variation (and name) for this game, and it truly represents a shared history in this region. Go around Bangkok any late afternoon and you will see groups of Thais of all ages—young and old—jumping, kicking, laughing, and generally having a great time!