A Travellerspoint blog

October 2015

Mexico: Yucatán

Mayan Riviera and Mérida; immaculate beaches, amazing ruins, wonderful towns, diving beneath the jungle and phenomenal oceanic sites.

sunny 42 °C

Ace Mexico

I had an amazing, adventurous and sun drenched two weeks in Mexico..... super accommodation, amazing beaches, awesome diving , interesting Mayan culture and amazing ruins, a bustling town in Merida, friendly people, etc… and an all round ace time.

Transport

I flew from Madrid on new budget airline, Evelop, opting for their premium economy package at roughly 300 euros.
This got me seat #A1 with silver service, extra snacks plus more soft drink and coffee than I should have had!
I arrived at Cancun Airport feeling very refreshed after the 10 hour flight .... and jumped on a bus bound for Playa del Carmen.

Note: I was initially refused check-in at Madrid for not having a return/onward journey ticket....
Sky scanner saved the day, and I quickly found a flight to Cuba via Interjet... all sorted in 3 minutes.
I had to show the email receipt to the check in clerk and her manager before proceeding.... you've been warned.

Playa del Carmen

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PdC is a lovely, easy going, friendly, safe and well layed out town, centred on the main Avenue #5, just off the beach.

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You can get almost anything in the pharmacies here; diet pills, romance assistance, hormone injections, etc, etc...
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Lodgings

I stayed at Playa Karma Hotel, and really enjoyed it there.
It’s very well priced, well appointed and very quiet considering the 2 minute walk over to the clubs/beach.
It's a family run place and they gave me a lot of advice and assistance for my onward travel.

Diving

There is a huge diving community here and it is very cost effective.
I did 3 full days of diving with Scuba Playa, at sites around Playa DC, Cozumel and the Cenotes for USD280 including gear hire and lunches each day!
They were recommended to me and I absolutely recommend them to you.
Their service, staff, culture, knowledge, general organisation and offerings are first class.
It was also phenomenal value.

Day 1: Wrecks and Mayan Waterways
We dived around one of the wrecks sitting just off the coast of Playa. It had sunk in 1996 and was immersed in a lot of coral and wildlife.
Between dives the boat took us to shore at the mouth of an ancient Mayan water system!
We walked along the canals and our dive master explained the history!

Day 2: Cozumel
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Cozumel is a small island facing Playa del Carmen and takes roughly 30 mins by ferry to get there.
I joined my diving compadres from Japan, Germany and China on or ready-to-go dive boat And set out for our sites.

The water was crystal clear with amazing visibility, which was great because there was plenty to see. We saw at least three massive turtles, many, many kinds of fish and coral.
Cozumel island itself looks pretty ritzy with many high end resorts, and caters to the serious diver.

Day 3: Cenotes
The Cenotes are underground caves located in the jungles, and now full of freshwater, with enormous stalactites formed over (possibly?) millions of years.

Diving these sites is not for the timid, and requires an advanced open water cert. at minimum to join a trip.
We followed our dive master single file through many caves and tunnels, creeping past stalactites and interesting formations.
The passages are dark and narrow, but very, very rewarding!!

We passed through many tunnels and very low depths (approx. 45 metres).
I had to conjure a bit of calm and courage at points, but it was all worth it.

Enormous stalactites enhanced by the glitter and reflection of the water, it really felt and looked otherworldly!!
Absolutely up there with the best diving experiences of my life!

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Nightlife

All of the big nightclubs are on one street (Calle 12), making them easy to either avoid altogether, or stumble between them.
I had a great time dancing Salsa and Bachata with locals and tourists at Salsanera, and also experienced the truly memorable Coco Bongo....

Coco Bongo

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Visitors to Playa del Carmen will inevitably become aware of Coco Bongo.
I was sceptical about it, but gave it a go..... and so glad I did.
For me, it was a unique entertainment immersion experience with great acrobatics, choreography and music.
The show starts at roughly 11pm and finishes roughly four hours later!
There are many sets with many themes and featured artists /films including Guns n Roses, Madonna, MJ, Tron, etc.

The Michael Jackson section was thriller and bad.... chaaamone...
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When the show ended, the fun continued into the night, as the DJ span Reggaeton to the max and everyone boogied till dawn.
Ushers even encouraged people to dance on the bar(!) and let loose.
I had a great time!

Chichen Itza

This is an ancient Mayan site, of what once was a metropolis designed and built from pure genius.
The detail would be poorly explained here, suffice to say it was a marvellous experience and a highlight for everyone visiting this region.
I recommend watching the film, Apocalypto before visiting!!

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After some hunting around I went with Cancun Bay tours.
The tour took in one of the more scenic Cenotes first with an opportunity to swim and then lunch.

At Chichen Itza we were divided in to English and Spanish language groups.
The guides were very informed having extensive qualifications in Mayan archeology, history and anthropology.
Their insights really added to the experience, and I left feeling somewhat informed and mesmerised at the end.

We were on the bus for a total of 5 hours, and in Mexican style the beer, tequila (mixed with lemon) flowed all the way home courtesy of the tour company!
The mood was jovial, the conversation flowed and everyone agreed it was a really amazing and experience!!

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Tulum

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After a really nice time in Playa, I moved south to Tulum in search of more Mayan ruins and a bit of PnQ.
Tulum is a tiny, friendly town with strong Mayan roots and the most amazing Mayan site I saw in Mexico.

My hotel, Teetotum was amazingly lovely, unique, and charming...
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Tulum Ruins

The ruins are worth the journey. Incredible! Set on the coast to add a bit of drama.
You can get close and in some cases climb the stairs of some ruins.
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The surrounding restaurants are a bit of a tourist trap and charge exorbitant prices.
I'd recommend going to Subway instead.

Tulum beach is lovely, sleepily super chilled, with no shortage of great places to stay, eat and drink.

Mérida

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The Capital of Yucatán is a beautiful city with warm, friendly people and a thriving arts culture.
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It would be a great place to live, and many Americans do immigrate here.
I saw really interesting art, co-ops, studios, galleries, resto-galleries everywhere... complemented by the music you can hear throughout the city!
Salsa, Reggaeton, Reggae.
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As the world celebrated Octoberfest, Merida was no exception.
An entire street was closed to traffic in favour of Bavarian style open air beer halls, bratwurst BBQs and German music.
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I stayed at the amazingly serene Lux en Yucatán, for seven nights and definitely recommend it.
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Mérida is an amazing town, and really shouldn't be missed if you visit this part of the world!

Muchas Gracias Mexico. Adios

Yucatán is an amazing part of the world, particularly for diving, incredible beaches and Mayan ruins.
It's very safe an easy to get around, and I had an awesome time.

Over to Cuba....

Posted by SkinnyFists 18:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches diving ruins maya cenotes chicen_itza play_del_carmen Comments (0)

One week in Spain!

Latin launch and España short time....tale of two cities...Barcelona v Madrid

sunny 30 °C

Barcelona

Barcelona is rightfully famous for wondrous gothic architecture, bustling laneways, an amazing harbour, full on nightlife and much more.

Walk and Discover

I did a lot of walking, as the weather was lovely and it's a fairly flat city.

Plaza de Catalunya

Plaza de Catalunya

Stunning harbour at sunset

Stunning harbour at sunset

La Sagrada Familia

A big draw for me was to see La Sagrada Familia - and it did not disappoint!!

Gaudi's vision thus far is nothing short of spectacular, and it's wonderful to see Barcelona's ongoing commitment to realising it!

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Here's a tip - book the tickets online well in advance. The ticket office isn't always open, and online tickets sell out fast.
There are wifi hotspots for tourists to connect with their own devices and purchase tickets (you need to reserve time slots, which are allocated and limited)
Tickets are scanned via your device at the gate.

I wasted a bit of time walking down there, only to be able to reserve a slot for the following day.

Amazing stained glass window effect

Amazing stained glass window effect

Interior panorama

Interior panorama

Totem representing the loneliness of Christ

Totem representing the loneliness of Christ

Quiet contemplation....

Quiet contemplation....

It's well worth splurging on a ticket to go up one of the towers!
The views are incredible!
View from the Nativity Tower Sagrada Familia

View from the Nativity Tower Sagrada Familia

Another hint is to look our for Antoni Gaudi's tomb within the complex. It isn't sign posted, but serenely surrounded by lit candles

Lodgings

Praktik is a superb Spanish hotel brand and their La Ramblas arm is remarkable, with awesome staff and really incredible rooms!

Reggaeton, Reggaeton, Reggaeton

I went to Boulevard on La Rambla on the Saturday night purely based on recommendations.
This place goes off!!
Both locals and tourists filled the joint to the brim and got their bounce on.
I arrived at 1am and before I knew it - the lights came on and it was 6am... but that's just the beginning...
There were a myriad of after party options for those inclined, but I waved the white flag and retreated home.

Fast Train to Madrid

If you are doing intercity travel within Spain I recommend the RENFE fast train rather than flying.
Total journey time is faster, it's cheaper, more comfortable and you see more!

I booked a tourista plus seat at Barcelona station and was soon on the high speed train bound for Madrid in first class luxury for EUR129.
There was a display in the cabin showing current speed, which hovered around 300km/h... boom!
The journey is markedly smooth with no bumps and there is a lovely countryside view to behold all the way.

Madrid

Madrid, Madrid - how I love thee so much!
Cosmopolitan, unpretentious, raucous, friendly, stylish, with plenty to see and do, awesome parks, etc.

Lodgings

Again stayed at Praktik - the flagship Metropol branch in prime position next to Gran Via Metro.
This is absolutely my favourite city hotel on Earth and my second time here.
...incredibly decorated

...incredibly decorated


View from the roof of Praktik

View from the roof of Praktik


Praktik roof view

Praktik roof view


Praktik panorama

Praktik panorama

  • Hint...look up photos with #Praktik on Instagram and the TripAdvisor reviews.

Dancing

I was itching to get my Salsa on!!
The lady at hotel reception recommended Tropicana, near Plaza Espana.... so I went.

It was great to dust off the proverbial cobwebs, and after talking with their instructors she gave me some proper schooling in Kizomba!
There were also some wonderful performances!!!
Bachata performance at Tropicana

Bachata performance at Tropicana

Language was a barrier, however dance (yet again) proved to be a wonderful way to communicate and engage with others in spite of that.

Friendly and Funky Madrid

I caught up with friends living in Madrid and enjoyed really amazing food and atmosphere at Tuk Tuk restaurant and Lolina Vintage Cafe.
It would have been great to spend more time exploring - it really felt like an exciting and creative metropolis.

Bye Madrid, Adiós España

Madrid is a beautiful city, by foot and to behold from above.
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If I had to choose between the two Spanish titans....Madrid has better and more comprehensive nightlife options, friendlier locals and doesn't feel nearly as touristy... more like a home.
If you're considering a visit to Madrid, don't hesitate any longer!

Posted by SkinnyFists 18:38 Archived in Spain Tagged sagrada_familia barcelona spain madrid fast_trains Comments (0)

Muay Thai in Phuket

relaunchyrskinnyfists... Muay Thai training, plus other adventures in paradise.

sunny 34 °C

Muay Thai Training

I've been studying Muay Thai for a couple of years now, and decided to go back to Phuket where I discovered it first.... and try out some new camps.
It was a brilliant trip, and I gained yet more insights to share here....

Muay Thai sits proudly as the national sport of Thailand.
Ask any Thai who their hero is, the reply will likely be either Buddha or Buakaw (Por Pramuk).

Muay Thai - Culture and Religion

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The national sport of Thailand is closely reflective of the nation's religion, Theravada Buddhism.
Theravada is the oldest and undiluted philosophy and teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha.

Other traditions and interpretations of Buddhism emerged later in history, and are quite different:

  • Mahayana (India)
  • Vajrayana (Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan)
  • Zen (China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan)

Siddharta's premise was that if one can endure physical strain whilst maintaining mental composure, they will enable themselves to eliminate suffering within, resulting in capacity for selfless compassion in our external interactions, plus greater mental clarity.

His own enlightenment was borne out of his own endurance - to sit in lotus, until an answer came (and boy, did it take a while), no matter what occurred in his mind, no matter what his physical being felt. He was a determined fellow, and a true enabler!

During his life as a teacher Buddha encouraged his students...even if your legs feel like they are on fire as you sit in lotus, they will not fall off, they will not break...continue, breath by breath and the results will unfold

Under Muay Thai tutelage, the message is the same - keep kicking as hard as you can, and forget the pain - you're legs are not going to fall off - they are getting stronger - your mind is getting stronger, your heart is getting stronger!

...and it's true. After a two weeks of training, you feel strong, confident, happy, buoyant and resilient.

As foreign tourists, training at camps is a chance meet and engage with Thai people on their terms, and understand a significant part of their culture.
Since discovering the sport three years ago, it has enriched my life in so many ways - you could say it's a passion - but it's more than that!

Here is my review of a few camps in attended in 2012

OK, so the training this time...

Maximum Fitness and Muay Thai

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Stop #1 was Maximum Fitness situated right on Patong Beach!
Patong Beach outside Maxiumum

Patong Beach outside Maxiumum

The training schedule was typical for most camps:

  • 30 minutes skipping
  • 10 minutes shadow boxing (so trainers can assess technique)
  • 1 on 1 training with pads. Muay Thai is all about responding, recovering and devastating quickly, and I really developed that aspect of my fighting here.
  • Sparring: time for students to put training to work.... against each other. Training with pads is one thing, but it doesn’t hold you in stead for the real world or force you to defend properly.

I learned a lot from sparring with the long termers and trainers here!

  • Conditioning. After sparring it’s time for repetition and what sports trainers call - the metabolic finisher.

Each person takes one bag and together, as a group, in unison, and as hard as you can, complete:
- 100 kicks
- 100 knees
- 100 elbows
- 100 punches

  • Abs: A variety of excruciating ab exercises, together as a group all in time.
  • Stretching and warm down.

I loved training here. The only downside is lack of AC in the boxing area.
I'm guessing this is to build discipline and endurance, and remain traditional.
Most gyms are outside in Thailand, but this one was enclosed, and I was getting dangerously close to heat stroke some days.

PBG

PBG ringside

PBG ringside

PBG stands for Patong Boxing Gym, but really it’s way out of town, on the breezy cliffs of Karon.
My PT in Melbourne trains here and warned me that they are one of the tougher camps in Phuket.

This place boasts one of the best views I have seen from a camp - overlooking the stunning Thai coastline from quite an elevation, making it also quite breezy - a nice change.

Head trainer, M Bed assessed my fighting style and ability before putting together my program.

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Most of the conditioning and fitness aspect was left to me, (though we did tons sit ups and weighted punches)….. and we instead focused on technique and maximising power, speed and recovery.
M is the most effective, patient and encouraging trainer you could ask for!

Worked on maintaining defence whilst throwing punches

Worked on maintaining defence whilst throwing punches


M helped improve my kick technique, so that I could fire a succession of hard kicks whilst maintaining balance, defence and momentum

M helped improve my kick technique, so that I could fire a succession of hard kicks whilst maintaining balance, defence and momentum

One of the trainers at PBG fought at Patong Stadium on one of the nights that I was there.

Poland V Krabi

Poland V Krabi


There were also some really impressive match ups, including a ladies fight.

Here is a video taken during one of my pad rounds with M

I definitely had a wonderful experience at PBG, and can’t wait to get back there!

Other details you might find handy below....

Travel to Phuket

It was low season (August) in Thailand so prices were remarkably competitive.
Jet Star offered AUD$700 for business class, one way - Melbourne to Phuket direct. Easy!!
A lovely comfortable flight, great entertainment, awesome food options, very nice comfy chair….well worth the extra dough!!

Lodgings

R Mar

I spent the first week at R Mar Resort, and absolutely recommend!
Lovely staff and great facilities.
R Mar at night

R Mar at night

Though R Mar is close to all of the raucous nightlife, it’s very quiet - tucked away in a side Soi - surrounded by nice restaurants and a couple of bars. The surrounding area had a community feel.

Yorkshire Inn
I moved to the Yorkshire Inn for the second week for a bit of a change.
Yorkshire boasts one of the best gyms in Patong, and offers memberships/guest passes to non hotel guests - I saw many, many locals pumping iron here.

Owned by a Yorkshire couple (who would have guessed?!), it has great hospitality employing staff from Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Philippines.
It bears the hallmarks of British home abroad; modern and classic rock piped around the pool, English breakfasts, comprehensive pie menu(!), etc.
It’s on one of the busiest roads on the island - the extension of Soi Bangla - yet the rooms are nice and quiet.

Nightlife

Phuket is famous for the Bangla area, lined with raucous hostess bars and big heaving nightclubs.
It's easy to get fleeced here. If you're not careful and watch your tab, the hostess bars will leave you considerably poorer…very quickly….. but with a stellar Connect Four game ;-)

I was on a strict regime so didn't go out much.
Though, some local friends took me to Tiger Discotheque, which has very savvily targeted the young, hip...and wealthy Arab market.

The DJ blasted Arabic pop/house music… plus the ubiquitous snare drum heavy Thai pop that you hear EVERYWHERE across the country at night… bupbatabupbub.bubbatabubub.bubbatabubub
On the dancefloor I tried to Shazam many tunes to no avail, and so asked party goers to help identify the songs.
Many came to my aid! I had to add Thai and Arabic keyboards on my phone... and now I have a healthy library of Thai and Arabic pop :-)

Tiger Disco

Tiger Disco

Dental and Medical

Thailand has great dental and medical services.
I was treated in a Thai hospital after a serious accident in Cambodia some years ago, and rated their approach, attention to detail and care as outstanding.

This time I had a bit of dental work done at Sea Smile - highly recommended.
Even after all that tough boxing training, I was still tenuous about the anaesthetic needle... the dental nurse held my hand during administration and during the intense part of a filling - so nice!

Staff photo - I’m still under the fog of anaethsesia.

Staff photo - I’m still under the fog of anaethsesia.

Bye Thailand

For my last night in Phuket, a friend took me to a wonderful seafood restaurant at one of the highest points on the island.

The view was incredible, as was the food!

The view was incredible, as was the food!

...and so sadly, after two amazing weeks I left Phuket, for one quick stop in BKK

Landmark Room

Landmark Room


I've stayed at the Landmark on a few occasions, and they treated me to a free upgrade.

View of BKK from my window

View of BKK from my window

If you're interested in BKK, here is one of my detailed entries about it|http://liftyrskinnyfists.travellerspoint.com/71/

So... feeling a bit fitter and refreshed, after great training and adventures, I bid farewell to Thailand, bound for Europe.

Posted by SkinnyFists 15:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged boxing phuket muay_thai Comments (0)

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