Every April during festivities to mark the traditional New Year, or Thingyan, village temples on the island of Bilu Gyun in Mon State hold bare-knuckle Burmese kickboxing contests.
These events are a highlight of the year on the island (translated as “Ogre Island”), located just west of the state capital Moulmein.
The main contest is held on April 16 in a specially set up boxing ring at a temple in the village of Bo Nut, but temples in other villages also host competitions on other days. The fighters, referees, fight officials and crowds move from village to village every day.
Similar to Muay Thai, Burmese kickboxing is called Myanma let-hwei. Boxing gloves are not worn, but a length of bandage is wrapped round each hand. All surfaces of the body are considered a fair target and any part of the body, except the head, may be used to strike an opponent.
Fighting varies from impressive high kicks to the head and body to close quarters wrestling and tussling. On more than a few occasions during the fights on Bilu Gyun, the audience had to quickly move out of the way as the fighters fell into the crowd.
A small band of musicians also supplied musical accompaniment, picking up the tempo as the match got more intense.
The kickboxing was free, but the fighters received cash prizes. At the biggest contest in Bo Nut, the boxers shared US$120, but at the smaller contests, like the one at Galoq, where these photos were taken on April 14, the biggest cash prize was $35.