A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Thailand: Wandering in Bangkok

Exploring the enormous, dramatic, traditional yet futuristic megatroplis

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It's a big city...

Bangkok is impossible to explain.
It's huge, very diverse and full of contradictions.
It can be culturally conservative, yet folks are so open minded, accommodating and always smiling.
I experienced an amazing, diverse nightlife, with some great underground clubs, hidden bars, and scenes that really push the envelope.
It is THE city that is certain to realise Ridley Scott's vision of the megatropolis in Blade Runner.

I'll start by summarising my experience of each area I stayed in.....

Khao San Road

Probably every backpacker visiting Asia has or will stay at Khao San Rd at some point. Lonely Planet calls it the centre of the backpacking universe; made even more famous in the novel / film "The Beach", where Leo's character stays before discovering Phi Phi Island.
Khao San Road offers some of the cheapest food, clothes, accomadation, etc in all of Bangkok.
I wouldn't say it's particularly Thai in culture. Almost everyone is either a tourist or works in tourism, and speaks English. There's no challenge, but it's great fun and a good place to decompress.

Crazy Khao San Rd:
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Having said that, I was there on a Saturday night, and a lot of young Thais came out to Khao San Road to party.
During the day it was pretty sleepy and most folks walking about were either hungover, arriving wide eyed or racing to a long distance bus.
I stayed at Khao San Park Resort which was absolutely fantastic and only AUD$30 for a 4 star style room w/ brekkie.

Sukhumvit

A melting pot of business, clubs, bars and entertainment.
For me this is the best area to stay as it is on the sky train, central, close to the major shopping areas and within easy reach of the major bus terminals and airport (via train).
The super thing about Sukhumvit is that at about 11pm the market stalls close mobile bars pop up in their place; lining the entire road and stay open 'till around till 2am (when the police shut them all down).
Hawker food stalls remain open and are scattered amongst the bars; and so folks eat and enjoy liberally poured cocktails - makingfor a fun and, easy going, yet really sociable atmosphere.
In my opinion this is the best way to get to know locals and experience Bangkok at night.

Silom

Silom used to be famous for PatPong, Bangkok's red light district. The council have decided to clean the place up a bit, and PatPong is now a night market with just a few ping pong shows and girlie parts littered around the place.
Again, it's on the skytrain, so pretty handy for transport, but the nightlife was a bit drab. There weren't really any highlights here and only stayed in the area for my muay thai camp down the road.me I'll probably go back to Khao San or Sukhumvit.

Siam

I didn't stay here, just explored....
This is the shopping mecca - I would say more so than KL, because of it's diversity: market style stalls lining the paths around the super flash and HUGE malls. In my home town we have the largest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere, Chadstone.
MBK, or Siam Paragon make Chadstone look like a tiny milk bar, in terms of size, style and service.
The service in these centres are incredible and the food halls are out of this world.

Busy Siam and all the malls at night:
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Highlights

The highlight of Bangkok is the city itself, the people are friendly, super trendy, open minded, polite (actually exemplary), and will bring you into it's fascinating and amazing underworld and corners if you are up to it, learn some thai and show that you are not just the usual farang.

No trip to Bangkok is complete without going to one of it's many rooftop bars.
A local pal and I went to the top of the Banyan Tree (61 floors up!) for a cocktail at Moon Bar.
At night it was indeed spectacular, and we happened to be there on a full moon, which made it even more special.
It was a great experience though I wouldn't say the drinks and service matched the location, or justified the prices (though cocktails only amounted to roughly AUD$15).

View from Moon Bar:
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We had the option to stay for dinner, but it didn't look that special, and the prices were just crazy.
2 minutes walk from the fancy Banyan tree we had the best hawker chicken noodles I've ever had... goes to show 'eh!

Which brings me to my next highlight - FOOD! Hawker food is everywhere. You can't walk more than 10 paces without passing a stall of either fresh fruit, cooked chicken, noodle stalls, etc.

The guide book says Bangkok can be confunding and frustrating, but many folks are always a bit sad and sentimental when leaving Bangkok for the last time whilst visiting Asia.
That sentiment describes my feeling to a tea!

Posted by SkinnyFists 02:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping bangkok siam silom sukhumvit Comments (0)

Thailand: Muay Thai Training Camps

A tour of some of the muay thai camps throughout Thailand.

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Muay Thai

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. Thai's love it like Victorians love AFL, or Colombians love soccer.
It's a beautiful and complicated sport requiring supreme levels of fitness, flexibility, agility, patience and determination.

Over the past few years more and more Westerners have discovered muay thai, and farang friendly camps are springing up all over the country.

Having trained on and off over the past 6 weeks, I have to say it's addictive - like learning a new instrument, you just want to keep developing and improving your technique; getting your angles right for maximum impact and becoming stronger each day.
Just as you get sore fingers getting used to guitar strings, your limbs (especially shins) can get really sore and raw as you harden up!
As a tip, Thai masseuses know exactly how to ease the pain and renew the limbs of injured fighters with Tiger balm.

In my limited experience of just some of the camps I can say they are all very different in vibe, style, demands, etc.

Style and Approach

In my home country "kickboxing" is usually associated with tatoo covered meat heads who like to show off.
Muay Thai is not kickboxing... it couldn't be further from it! Muay thai requires calm, patience and maximum concentration.

In keeping with Thai culture anger and aggression is forbidden when competing or training in the national sport - even whilst fighting.
If you watch a professional fight, you will see two calm, expressionless individuals in combat who show a deep respect and courtesy for each other (despite dealing some serious blows).

Camps

Rawai Muay Thai, Phuket

I joined Rawai, as it is just around the corner from Atsumi and wanted to get fit after fasting for an extended period.
The camp has a happy and fun vibe - run by four brothers who really know their stuff.
All instructors are patient and good with farang.

I did 4 days training.
Each day has 2*2 hour sessions; 8am - 10am and 5pm - 7pm - with a mandatory 8km run at 7am to warm up :-)
As beginners we learn correct techniques for punching, kicking, blocking and defense, elbow and knee blows, etc - mostly just with the bag and sometimes practicing in pairs.
It was a really fun and genuinely tough experience and great way to come out of the fast.

Super Pro, Koh Samui

SuperPro is located in party central of Samui, Chaweng. So, you can work off those beers pretty darn quick (if you still have energy to go out in the evenings, that is!)

SuperPro is one of the most demanding camps I trained at, and certainly one of the best organised.
The guys work you hard! You really don't stop much during each 2 hour session.
- 20 minutes continuous running or rope skipping to warm up.
- Then freestyle on the bags, followed by guided attack combinations on the bags (punch+punch+uppercut+hook+knee, etc).
- After every 15 minute round we had to do 10 push-ups then 12 sit-ups before a measly 1 minute break for water - then back into it.

What I really liked about SuperPro is that every participant gets at least 1 personal session with a trainer on the pads - so you really develop your angles, position and technique.
Personal sessions are the most demanding - the trainer tells you what he wants and you must respond without delay ("punch!" "left kick", etc).
If you're not giving power they will tell you too - "come on, more power!"
A lot of guys were staying at SuperPro for a few months to really hone their skills and fitness and I can see the appeal.

Horizon, Koh Phangan

Horizon is located in one of the most beautiful, chilled corners of the world - Haad Tian, Koh Phangan.
The camp itself it on the top of a rocky hill overlooking a beautiful lagoon - with lovely elevated huts for sleeping and a nice (if not a little run down) gym with stunning views out in the open air.

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The vibe here is more relaxed than the other camps, but the training is more personalised.
There were only 6 other people training whilst I was there, and the lead trainer worked individually with us throughout the day. I probably didn't get much more fitter here, but technique improved 10 fold.

Surrounding the camp, there is a health retreat and a few hippy cafes - aside from that it's just like "The Beach"

After each training sesion we jumped straight into the sea for a swim. I tell you, there is nothing like it, when you're so hot and knackerd than to jump into the cool clear-blue sea.
Had a wonderful time here. Not as strict or rigid as other camps, but training suited the environment.
I would actually recommend this place as a starting point or for people who are not so serious and want to train in paradise.

You can view all the photos taken at Horizon and surrounds here

Fighting Spirit, Bangkok

This is where things got pretty serious! Though sadly I only had 1 day here....
I turned up for training at 7:30 and the instructor asked me to shadow freestyle to assess my technique. He said my blocking was off so I had to do continual leg blocks for 10 minutes. Doing this for just 3 minutes is exhausting - 10 was killer.

After dutifully completing the task but nearly puking at the end I was given a 3 minute break to drink water and rest.
We then did some kicking work on the pads. My right kick was off slightly, so he watched me do 300 consecutive right kicks into one of the big bags... the session went on like this..... this was hard training, evoking images of Uma Thurman when she trains with Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2
If I had more time in Bangkok I would have stayed longer.

All in all....

I was never interested in any kind of martial art or boxing, but muay thai got me hooked! I love the philosophy and it has improved my fitness, strength and confidence. Love it!

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged muay_thai rawai superpro thai_boxing fighting_spirit horizon_muay_thai Comments (0)

Thailand: Chillaxing in Koh Samui

Chilling and cruising Koh Samui between muay thai training sessions

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Samui

Samui Island is the perfect mix of traveller accessibility, activity options, nightlife and atmosphere.

I stayed here for 10 days doing muay thai training at SuperPro (mornings and evenings) and chilling at the beach for the most part of each day.
I stayed on Chaweng Beach, which is regarded as party central, however all the big party spots are concentrated in one small area. The rest is pretty chilled.
I spent the first few days at Chaweng resort, which was only OK for the price, but right on the beach, good service, quiet, and only 10 mins walk from Soi Green Mango where you have a plethora of options to party hard - clubs and bars - mostly open air and good fun.
Also along Chaweng are really nice night markets, and mobile bars with quality sound systems selling nice mojitos for THB50 - not bad 'ey!

When I decided to spend more time than planned I found Arina hotel to extend my stay, only THB900 (AUD$30) per night for a 4 star room with massive flatscreen TV and DVD player, balcony overlooking the gorgeous quiet street, and literally just across the road from the beach. Would definitely recommend this hotel! They are brand new so not on Agoda yet.

Met some wonderful people here who I still keep in touch with.
The bonus is, if you really want to party hard, Koh Phangan is only 25 minutes away on speedboat :-)
This was the perfect place to chill, get fit, meet fellow travellers, and swim a nice beach with a lovely moderate surf.

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Posted by SkinnyFists 03:33 Archived in Thailand Tagged chaweng koh_samui Comments (0)

Thailand: Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan

Nothing quite prepares you for the madness.....

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Once in a lifetime...

I was in Koh Samui, relaxing for a couple of days before commencement of muay thai training at SuperPro.
I went into a tour shop to use the net.
The owner was a friendly chap and asked what I was doing in Samui.
"Muay Thai and chilling on the beach..... nothing else planned mate" I replied.
He offered, "You wanna go to Full Moon Party tomorrow? Once in a lifetime experience...."
I thought about it for a while - this would definitely mark an end all the good detox work in Phuket, but passing on the chance would be regrettable!

Getting There

The Full Moon madness is on Had Rin beach, Koh Phangan. You can get a ferry from other parts of the island or Koh Samui fairly painlessly.
FMP runs every month (for every full moon), and seems fairly well organised.
I was picked up from my hotel at 8pm and met fellow Melbournites Sarah, Ben, Lauren and Adam on the bus who were up for a big one.

On the bus:
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Sarah had already been a couple of times and knew what we were in for - rest of us were in for a surprise.
The ferry took about 25 minutes to Had Rin pier.

We're on a boat ............. :
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As we walked towards the beach, the crowds of neon clad, sunburnt, wasted western backpackers grew thicker and wilder, whilst the bass grew deeper and louder.....

Party time

I've been to Ibiza, Glastonbury and many festivals and parties.... I thought I'd seen some wild times, however nothing quite compares to the Full Moon Party. It's huge, loud, and ultra-festive.
Along the (probably gorgeous, otherwise) beach there are huge sound systems pumping all kinds of dubby and uplifting techno and house; equipped with big podiums for the adventurous - even a water-slide!
There are massive fire displays and neon painting stands so you can decorate yourself for the party (I opted for neon fire down my forearms).
Needless to say it was a totally amazing, fun and reasonably hassle free night filled with boogieing, big sounds, big smiles and general camaraderie. I didn't see many problems.
Towards the end, a few passed out bodies littered the beach, but that's about it.
I didn't see a single policeman or authority figure the whole night. but apparently there were undercover cops everywhere.

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Glowstick duelling:
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Can't go to an international party and not show off our city's world famous shuffle ;-)
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Most people were wasted - not just wasted, but TOTALLY wasted.
I hope they remembered at least some of the extravaganza, because it was a spectacle I'll often revisit in memory lane.

Getting Home

It's not so bad ferrying back to Samui (unless you get seasick). We had to wait about 40 minutes for our speedboat and were duly greeted by our mini bus to take us safely home.

All in all....

It was a great experience, and I made some terrific new friends.
I'd recommend FMP to anyone who still has a bit of party spirit left in them. Go on!

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged koh_phangan full_moon_party Comments (0)

Thailand: Atsumi Healing Retreat

Healing and rejuvenation through fasting, detoxification, yoga, meditation and learning!

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Atsumi

Atsumi is a health retreat offering a comprehensive and informative program for detoxification of body and mind through fasting, cleansing, yoga, nutritional education, meditation, spirutual guidance, varied exercise and many other great offerings.

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Where is it?

Located in beautiful, sparse, quiet and super health conscious - Rawai, Phuket - with raw food cafes, roughly five muay thai boxing camps, and a strong contender for world's best unspoiled beach (Nai Harn) - the perfect place to immerse yourself in a healthy culture with no looming temptations or notable nightlife.
In the mornings hundreds of fitness tourists stomp the pavements for the mandatory 8km run as warm up before their respective Muay Thai / yoga / etc training starts.

Nai Harn Beach:
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Why fast to detox?

Here is my in-eloquent explanation...

Western diets are full of acidic / toxic contents that our bodies weren't designed to ingest - i.e. sugar, alcohol, red meat, etc.
Further, we cook foods for taste however enzymes are completely killed off in the process and more toxins are introduced.

When we consume in this way our bodies go into "defensive mode".
As part of this defense our bodies produce a mucoid plaque in the intestines in an effort to shield the body from inducing the bad stuff whilst protecting our inner linings.
A consequence of the plaque is that it slows the flow of foods into our system, inhibits nutrient absorption (which is why people who consume higher levels of sugar, alcohol, etc have bigger appetites) and also becomes a breeding ground for nasties.

When we fast, we have a clear path to flush the plaque (and all that it has trapped) out of our system, whilst letting our other digestive organs recuperate.
Think of a car - if you really want to clean the engine, do you just drain the oil and then put more in?
No, you empty the engine and give it a good scrub, then a flush.

What happens?

In a nutshell, you don't eat anything, however throughout the day you consume:

  • 2 coconuts (water only, no flesh)
  • Liver flush drink (garlic, lemon juice and olive oil)
  • Lots of water
  • Capsules containing plant based proteins and vitamins
  • Several cleansing drinks (consisting of natural fibre and a dried volcanic clay)

.... the clay expands in the intestinal tract and stomach and pulls the mucoid plaque and all the bad stuff down through the system.

Participants do 2 self administered colemas to "flush" from the system.
Sounds horrible perhaps, but you gradually feel the benefits both physically and mentally, as your body becomes cleaner (both in and out).

There is a lovely herbal steam room to help expunge toxins via our biggest organ (our skin!).

Each day we had a choice of massage. I went for the Thaiatsu most days - a strong mix of traditional Thai and Shiatsu.
The masseuses were strong and buff almost like muay thai fighters (only, older ladies) - so the massages were brutal but effective.

Further Activities

There is daily yoga or fitness training in the morning, and a variety of interesting sessions in the evening including:

  • Meditation practice
  • How to come out of a fast (slowly and gradually, increasing metabolic rate), and keep the good thing going.
  • Technical discussions around nutrition, digestion ( incl. good food combos and BAD food combos), and technical explanation of what your body is going through
  • Chakra healing
  • ......much more

Atsumi grounds:
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Additional Offerings

As with most health retreats there are additional treatments that can be undertaken. Atsumi's are specifically eastern and I have to say very effective.
I did one session with a chiropractic/physio healer who (whilst inducing more pain than I have ever experienced), completely reset my body framework and healed an accident injury that several visits to a western osteopath did nothing for.
I also worked with a spiritual healer who guided me through some of my trials and bigger life questions - I have to say this session had life changing impact, and everyone else who did similar sessions reported the same impact.

Results

I left Atsumi 7kgs lighter, much fitter, happier with a much more informed balanced and calmer view of the world.
Would recommend to anyone!

Photos

You can see my photos of Atsumi and the gorgeous surrounds of Nai Harn :here

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged yoga detox health_retreat_phuket atsumi Comments (0)

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