Khuenkeaw is in many ways a remarkable young lady - a woman who
wanted to be a doctor, but instead became a Muay Thai fighter to
make ends meet. She is also a woman who has followed very
traditional Thai ways and worked to give her sisters education.
These days she works in Chiang Mai in project management,
construction and landscaping, and is a tireless worker for
charity. There are young boys in Chiang Mai who now know that
charity truly does begin at home - in their case, Ratana’s
Ratana is a local lady, born in Lamphun to a
farming couple. They were not large scale farmers, and with
eight children to feed this was in no way a silver spoon
upbringing. They all had to pull their weight and help. When not
looking after younger sisters, or assisting her mother, the
young Ratana was a bit of a tomboy. Rather than playing with
dolls, the young girl was more often seen playing football or
sparring with the boys in Thai boxing (Muay Thai).
Muay Thai was to have a great influence in
her life, for many reasons. Her uncle had a training camp for
young hopefuls, and exhibition bouts would be arranged, for men
and women. “One day, one of the women did not turn up, and I
stood in. I didn’t want to be a fighter, but I got 500
baht!” said Ratana, remembering the auspicious and financial
start to her fighting career. She was 15 years old.
Back at school in Lamphun she studied hard.
Her dream was to be a doctor, but she knew this was not going to
be possible. “We came from a poor family. We did not have
When she finished school, she still harboured
the hope of further education, so she went to work in the
tobacco factory to save some money. The odd Muay Thai fight
helped finances as well. In fact, she fought 19 times for 19
wins, that’s a better average than Mike Tyson!
Eventually she had enough to keep herself and
she went to Sukhothai to study Law for three and a half years,
but did not enjoy it, and went to work in Bangkok for the
It was in Bangkok that a chance meeting was
to change her life, and take her away from Thailand for the next
12 years. A friend’s mother had a silk outlet in the capital
and used international models to display her fashions. One of
these models was a Belgian woman whose family had time-share
apartments, and Ratana became friendly with her. This led to an
offer to come to Belgium to work with her family in the
Ratana returned to Chiang Mai and studied
interior design and then went to Europe where she worked for the
model’s family as an interior designer. She did not
particularly like the work, but this experience was giving her
family an opportunity they could not have had otherwise. “Thai
salary is not enough to help the family, so the wages in Belgium
were very good and I could then help them.” Over the 12 year
period, she assisted four of her sisters through college and
university, to become a nurse, a police officer, a computer
programmer and a doctor - the career she had always dreamed for
Her sacrifice for her sisters over, she
returned to Thailand. “I didn’t like Europe, the weather or
the job. I didn’t have many friends,” she said, ending a
dozen years of experience overseas.
She now applied herself to the books again,
and studied housing construction and landscaping, even building
a house for another of her sisters. This energetic young woman
was off and running again.
Muay Thai was once more to have a profound
effect on her life, however. She went to a Muay Thai show and
there she met the Swiss announcer. They started talking that
evening, and are now married and have a six year old daughter.
On the business front, she has built 26 rooms
that she began to rent out to ensure a steady cash-flow and
continued with her contract landscaping.
Again it was a European connection that
affected the next part of her life. Three years ago, she carried
out some landscaping for Annelie Hendriks, and found herself
introduced to the aims and objectives of the Samsara Foundation
and the Foundation for Education of Rural Children (FERC).
“When I went there, the eyes of the children showed they were
looking for some hope. It made me happy that I could do
So Ratana has thrown herself behind these
charity organizations and has been directly involved in being
the architect for their buildings, project management and even
working as an interpreter for the disadvantaged children.
But her help for the needy does not end
there. She spied a young boy in a beer bar center one day who
looked very hungry. She gave him some food, and then found him
waiting each day for her. He did not speak much Thai, but she
asked him if he would like to come and live in her house. The
answer was “Yes!” and so she began her extended ‘family’
of young hill tribe and homeless Thai boys who are staying with
her, now numbering 15.
“So I work harder to look after these other
children,” said Ratana. That includes getting up at 5.30 every
morning and going jogging with them, and then taking them to her
husband’s Muay Thai camp where they are taught not only how to
fight, but also to be self sufficient. She has arranged
scholarships for these children, to ensure they get their
Ratana says, “Everyone wants to have a good future,” and
she is certainly someone who is making this happen for the
underprivileged. She has not stopped yet either. “I want to do
good today - and tomorrow.” Let me assure you, Ratana, you are