| bjj resources

 BJJ FAQ  Academy

This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

19 May 2004

RTW 04: Thailand

Temples and Palaces - 17/05/04 (Bangkok)

This was technically our second arrival in Thailand, as we’d already passed through the airport on our flight to Cambodia – previously, we were going to try and get to Cambodia overland using the arduously printed out instructions from a website accessed in Kathmandu, but overcome by laziness and a desire for more time and less hassle, we made the decision to book return flights to both Cambodia and Laos instead.

As interested as I was in Bangkok (well, mainly the muay thai), we were only planning on exploring Bangkok over one day, and that one day purely because we couldn't directly connect up flights back from Cambodia with flights out to Laos. On what proved to be our first day, we manged to pack in the two main sights, the Grand Palace and the Wat Pho temple complex, plus a bit of shopping/drinking down the famous tourist mecca, Khaosan Road.

The Palace was a gaudy fairground of monolithic buildings crammed together, spread across terraces and the careful topiary of tree filled parks. It appeared that in Thai architecture, there was no such thing as excessive decoration – all available surfaces were festooned with tiles, carvings, frontons and the like in a dazzling display of borderline kitsch. At the tacky pinnacle was the gold reliquary, which looked rather like it was made of plastic spray-painted gold. However, this perceived tastelessness on my part may have been because I'd just been spoiled by Angkor Wat – of course, the Palace had a scale model in wood. Very strange when you’d spent the previous day wandering around the original!

This continued into the next complex, Wat Pho. The ridiculously large – 46m long – 'Reclining Buddha' vied with a forest of wedding cake spires for the most astonishing view. The Buddha of Wat Pho attempted to do with sheer size what the Palace’s Emerald Buddha did with detail. Having said that, there was plenty of intricate work on the mother-of-pearl inlaid foot-soles. It was a difficult task to fit the whole thing into one photo: there has been a lot of awesome stuff on this trip that a camera really can't do justice.

We finished on Khao San Road, where I picked up two Bruce Lee print T-shirts – Kathmandu condensed on one road! I also found myself peeling off beer labels to stick in my growing collection of two-dimensional souvenirs I’d been storing in the plastic pouch of my Ong Bak DVD (bought in the construction site that was Suzhou at the time). The Bruce Lee shirt has since wowed many in various bars across the breadth of England; the response is usually along the lines "holy crap! That’s horrible", but hey…:p

My Quest for Muay Thai - 18/05/04 (Bangkok)

We were supposed to fly on to Luang Prabang today, but the gods of muay thai apparently decided to step in. The next morning my poor friend was vomiting profusely. I moved the flights back one day, meaning I now had the opportunity to check out the martial arts side of Thailand. I began the day by investigating various muay thai tour prices, which proved a bit expensive. They ranged from 100 baht to 1400 baht, without even including all transport.

I made the surprisingly long pilgrimage to Ratchadamnoen Stadium, where unfortunately there were no matches that day. Once I finally got back, I decided I would try to attend a muay thai class at Jitti’s Gym.

The only school I found (which may or may not have been Jitti's Gym, I couldn't tell) proved less than friendly. While there was a large sign proclaiming ‘Foreigners Welcome!’ the group of tough-looking Thais across the room, making dismissive hand gestures, most definitely indicated ‘Foreigners Fuck Off!’ It seemed today was not to be a training day.

However, I did finally satiate my muay thai cravings (as a spectator, rather than a participant) at Sanam Muay Lumphini, unfortunately much further than Ratchadamnoen. I got on the B4 no.47 bus from Thanon Ratchadamnoen Klang, a short walk from the Sawadee Khaosan Inn where we stayed. The way to the stadium proved relatively simple, though I spent the journey desperately clutching my little Lonely Planet city-map trying to recognise the streets I was passing. Considering all signs were in Thai, that wasn’t easy!

After arriving, I bought myself a second class ticket from the ‘foreigner’ booth for 800 baht, considerably cheaper than ringside or tour seats (thought that saving was ruined when I lost my damn passenger service thing at the airport! Grr). Inside my class, there was an open area with a fence separating the numbered seats at ringside and some low wooden benches behind me. I got in at 6pm, and opted to watch the matches standing, for a better view. It soon became clear that the only people who bought ringside seats were tourists, either young westerners on a tour, fat westerners with a prostitute, or Japanese. The ceiling was dotted with air-con fans, and a large fan stood upright in the standing zones.

The two build-up fights were relatively uninteresting, indicated by the large amount of empty seats and complete lack of announcements. Interestingly, high kicks were put to frequent use, before the match descended into extended exchanges of knees from the clinch, usually occurring from the end of the second round on.

The entertainment picked up with the fourth fight, second event, where two shorter but more powerful fighters squared off. There was a far higher proportion of techniques used in this match, with the eventual winner in the red corner putting together some rapid punching combinations. The stadium was now filling up, the noise level began to rise, and the announcers started up, giving a brief description of the weight. Very short clip below (not sure if it was this fight, but the three seconds should hopefully give you some idea of what it was like):

Eventually, a female voice took over, explaining in English and then Japanese (I guess those must be the two main tourist groups). She covered topics like the ritualistic Wai Kru, use of the mong kron and the average age of fighters (they begin at 8, fight professionally from 15, then retire in their 20s). The announcer also went into more detail on the fighters’ record, and it became clear that tonight at least, the younger fighters seemed to have more experience. The 17-19 year olds commonly had over 90 fights, while the oldest fighter of the night, at 25, had competed in just 75.

As the night progressed, to my surprise I saw that throwing your opponent from the clinch was quite acceptable, and always raised a big cheer. The noise levels were later augmented by a loud grunt from the respective fighter’s corner – and eventually, from the audience too – which would accompany each and every successful knee strike from the clinch.

After the fourth event, where the tough looking 22 year old in the blue corner lost despite his dominance of the early rounds, there was a brief but entertaining demonstration of ‘muay baray’, the ‘original’ muay thai. Two fighters dressed with traditional hand wraps went through a choreographed display of eight different techniques, culminating in a beautiful step-on-the-knee-and-kick manoeuvre. This was in stark contrast to the brutality of some of the earlier fights, one of which featured a fighter throwing his opponent to the ground, then football kicking him in the head as he lay prone on the mat.

The main event finished the fight card, which involved all the fighters coming back on for photo opportunities. The two final fighters were presented with a giant golden glove each. They were apparently competing for a purse of 500,000 baht: the younger man in the red corner, 18, defeated his 25 year old opponent.

My own battle was about to begin, with an arduous journey to my bedridden friend. The bus I joined helpfully returned to the bus station instead of my hostel, whereupon I think I was told (in Thai, so he could well have been saying "Get off the bus, you wanker, its stopped!") to wait on the bus until the next driver arrived. This then resulted in a tense (for me, anyway) 20 minutes or so as I wondered if the only other passenger, sitting in the dark a few seats behind, was going to rob me or not. I did eventually get back to my friend much later, without getting mugged, quite pleased with myself. I’d successfully – if rather slowly – navigated my way round Bangkok.

< Cambodia - Next: Laos >

No comments:

Post a Comment