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Thailand

Muay Thai in Phuket

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

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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)

Laos into Thailand (via Isaan)

From remote haven to tourist...er heaven

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Awoke in the wee hours and quiet serenity, just in time to see the gorgeous sunrise over the Meekong.
Took a share bus from Don Khong to Pakse, and then connected at the terminal for another bus, west bound into Thailand.

The bus stopped at the border for disembarkation and immigration check.
Once we processed through, the bus was waiting for us on the Thai side and we continued down towards Ubon Ratchathani.

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Ubon is curious quiet city; one of the major four of Isaan. It certainly isn't a tourist hub at all, and so feels marvellously un-farang'd.
The streets are quiet, serene, lit up, yet somehow bustling with nice restaurants, and shops and a fantastic night market.

Visitors to Thailand will become quickly aware of the higher proportion of folks working in tourism - hospitality and entertainment are from this region.
Ethnically, Isaan genealogy is closer to Lao, as is the language.
In this humble beholder's view, they're very beautify people.

I stayed at the Sri Isaan hotel at the suggestion of the friendly cab driver who intercepted me at the bus stop.
The hotel was super clean, nice comfortable bed, wonderful amenities and awesomely friendly staff.

In the morning, took the leisurely Air Asia flight down to Phuket.

Upon arriving took a cab straight to 'Bangkok Hospital' to get a sore eye checked out. I assumed it came from swimming in the Meekong....

If you need medical attention in SE Asia, Bangkok Hospitals (locations all over the country) are the best private hospitals I have come across in the world (and this includes Australia!).
I was seen by an eye specialist within about 10 minutes of arriving and registering!

Sadly doc's orders included "no swimming" until the thing had cleared.
After a series of tests it turned out to be a symptom of dehydration...

Coincidentally I had family in town and we call caught up at Bliss Beach Club (http://www.blissbeachclub.com)
Awesome food, vibes and very family friendly.

Phuket is a big diverse island - from the bustling and crazy Patong to the calm and serene Nai Harn.
Here's my entry on Phuket first time 'round

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Next update will be from sunny, mountainous Nepal :-)

Later....

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged lao ubon isaan Comments (0)

BKK - I love this city!

A shorthand guide to Immersing yourself in the super stylin', futuristic, jovial, hedonistic urban jungle of Bangkok!

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Bangkok

There is no city quite like Bangkok.
Urban Thais are super funky, fashionable, friendly and really know how to enjoy themselves.
On the other side, you can see how this city prospers - the work hard / play hard attitude is apparent here. The hospitality is second to none!

If you have seen Ridley Scott's vision of a future megatropolis in his masterpiece, Blade Runner, Bangkok will look familiar, especially viewed from the speeding Skytrain at night.

I stayed here for 4 nights to decompress after 6 months of rough (but amazing) travelling in India.
This is a summary of what I did, including some tips on how to make the most of your time here.

Khao San Road and Surrounds

Every backpacker at some point ends up on this street. Everything from quality cafes to travel agents, tattoo and piercing studios, big nightclubs, one-of-a-kind t-shirt shops, pad thai carts, a muay thai gym, etc ,etc - are all here in this condensed street.
If you are looking for traditional Thai culture, it isn't here, but it's convenient and you're sure to make new friends or bump into old travel buddies.
The only potential downside is that it's a little way out from the heart of Bangkok and areas like Sukhumvit, etc.

Lodgings

I stayed at Buddy Lodge and would definitely recommend.
Service is great, location is unbeatable, it's super quiet inside and the price is great for the area.

Shopping

I like BKK for shopping more than KL - it's more fashion forward and focuses more on open markets than big malls (though there are some mega malls!)

Chatuchak Market

By far my favourite market on earth. It dwarfs all of the London markets and is a mecca for everything from vintage clothes, records, designer wear, jewellry, pot plants, pets, furniture... a massive food area... You'll be sure to leave with stuff you never thought you needed!
I left with almost more bargains than I could carry!

MBK

Famous MBK is HUGE! An interesting combination of shops and stalls selling fake and real gear - watches, sports gear, bags, shoes, high fashion, etc.

Siam Paragon

The enormous posh shopping centre. This was the only place in all of Asia that I could find sticking REAL backpacker gear (Osprey and North Face backpacks, Merrell shoes, etc, etc. A godsend as my old Osprey had graciously passed on.
The cinemas here are also really impressive (caught Dark Knight Rises - first western film in 8 months!)

Food

Thai food is my favourite by far - light, spicy, nutritious. Bangkok is amazing for food; from street stalls, side cafes to posh restaurants.

Markets

All of the markets in Bangkok have great food stalls offering BBQ chicken, noodle soups, rice dishes, spicy salads, great coffee and bustling friendly atmosphere.

Street Food

Most working / commuting locals dine at streetside stalls; Sitting at shared plastic tables and chairs enjoying steaming spicy chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, etc - ready in seconds - whilst chatting and laughing amidst the whir of activity.

Nightlife and Clubbing

Bangkok's nightlife is like no other - uninhibited, boisterous, classy / trashy (depending on how you like it)

Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit is one of the main thoroughfares of the city, a business district bundled with large expat community, a ton of bars (rooftop and ground dwelling).
Some of the more notable places include Q Bar and Bed Supperclub, at roughly 11pm the market stalls lining the streets make way for streetside bars serving strong coctails, and makes for an interesting bar crawl.

RCA

RCA!!! 3 enormous Ibizan like nightlubs side by side in an industrial estate... classy, huge, marble floors, champagne n coctails, high fashion, livin large, hands up high, electro, house, ambient chill, mashups. This is the place to really party.
What I really loved about RCA was the lack of farang - the place where mostly mad-fer-it Thais go to party!

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok khaosan_road rca route_66_club Comments (1)

Thailand: Impressions and Departing Thoughts

Thoughts and impressions on Thai culture, it's varying modes of tourism, and this wonderful nation.

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Visiting Thailand

I had a wonderful, eventful, fun, amazing 2 months in Thailand that went too darn quickly!
I'm really, really sad to be going.
I've made true and wonderful friends, both local and farang, and learnt / was inspired by a culture so different to my own..... I will definitely be coming back!!

Thai Culture

Courtesy

Being polite, moderate, calm and understanding is an integral part of being Thai and Buddhist.
Observing simple but firm rules will mean the difference between being seen as obnoxious farang, or a gracious guest and potential friend.
Remember; the feet are the dirtiest part of the body, never wear shoes into a home, or touch your feet at a dinner table.
The head is the most sacred part of the body - and must never be touched univited.
Never, ever pat the head of a child - it will cause great offense.

Thai Speak = Sweet Music

Thai's rarely raise their voice, even when being festive.
I was with a local friend in Bangkok on a crowded Skytrain. The train was packed but so whimsially (almost musically) quiet, with chatter everywhere
A group of European tourists bounded in at one stop, yelling and bumping into local people without apology or care, or even awareness of the environment and mood around them.
I felt a little off, but looking around the train you could see how silent, disappointed, even incensed some of the local people were.
Later my friend, told me that kind of loud behaviour contravenes teaching at school and by parents.
Thai's are open minded folks but do appreciate visitors making an effort to adopt at least some of their courtesies and customs.
If you choose not to, don't expect any recourse, however don't expect to make friends either.

Listening to Thais (especially ladies) talking to eachother is a marvel - it is a tonal language that flows wonderfully. I love it!
They say French is the most beautiful language - Thai surely is a contender.
Even on TV and radio - interviews are like music to my ears. I have no idea what is being said but could listen all day!

At muay thai training, we are taught - never, ever get angry or show aggression. It is a sport of endurance and tactics, not anger.
Fight with a calm and clear mind, and respect for your oponent
This exemplifies the Thai ideal in a broader sense- always remain calm, and smile when there is a disagreement.
Resolve issues with an open and understanding heart and find the outcome is always mutually agreeable.

Buddhist Thailand

Thailand is about 98% Buddhst - and firmly so.
Most Thais go to Temple, meditate, pray and worship Buddha, and live acording to his teachings (though eradication of materialism hasn't quite sunk in yet).
When I say most Thais, I do mean most. At a club in Bangkok I met a group of Gen Y Thais who are investing THB10,000's into their temple for "lucky".

Tourism in Thailand

Adventure and Backpacking

I found Thailand to be a backpackers dream. Bouncing between the islands, finding nice digs and fun stuff to do was easy. They make it SO easy.
From diving, to rafting, skydiving, or finding a secluded beach to bronze yourself on.... like Axl sang, "it's so f*****' easy"

Though I loved the Full Moon Party it was a bit sad to see such a beautiful place get so trashed. It's good to see that this sort of thing is confined to Haad Rin beach. All other beaches I visited were so gorgeous, well maintained and beautiful!

In the north, trekking and jungle adventures are really fun!
Chiang Mai really is a traveller's paradise, and the trips from there are really wonderful!

Fitness and Health Tourism

I initially came to Thailand to do a detox and yoga program. This particular program isn't really offered at home, and I found many retreats offering the same very comprehensive, well run, ideally located, and widely praised programs to choose from in Thailand.

Same goes for muay thai camps. It is the ultimate fitness sport requiring supreme determination, agility and strength. The many camps offer programs from 1 day to monthly. I met so many people; both men and women, who come here to do muay Thai for a couple of weeks and end up staying 3 months!!! These places are so efffective, well run, fun to be part of and cheap - it's almost intoxicating!
There are HEAPS of other retreats for yoga, etc, too.
In my reasonable amount of travels, Thailand is #1 for variety and stuff to do (India is next so this may change)

So long.....

I initially only wanted to stay 2 weeks here because of how commercial, etc I heard Thailand had become, (it probably is a hipster's nightmare in that sense) though stayed 2 months, because there is just so much to do and appreciate!
Once you spend a few weeks here, get to know the culture and places, you'll find it is an amazing country!407265_101..04304_n.jpg

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged thai_culture thai_tourism Comments (0)

Thailand: Visa Run and India Visa

Managing an extended stay in Thailand and applying for Indian Visa from Bangkok

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Visa Run and Indian Visa

Visa Run

For most westerners: if you enter Thailand at a land border, you are granted a 14 day stay, or
If you enter via an airport you get 1 month.
I did 2 visa runs during my 2 month stay - one of each type.
Any travel agency can help you do a Visa run, it's an industry in itself.

My first run was an overland trip from Samui to the Malaysian border at Hat Yi.
It was a LONG trip, though very well organised and went something like this:

  • Picked up by mini bus at around 4am, and taken to the ferry port.
  • Ferry to the mainland (van came with), and then
  • 4hour+ drive down to the border.
  • Exit Thailand; surrender departure card and get passports stamped for exit.
  • Walk over to the Malaysian entry point, fill in an entry card, get passport stamped and cross into Malaysia (i.e. walk around office).
  • At other side of office fill in a Malaysian departure card and get exit stamp on passport
  • Walk back to Thai border and fill in a fresh entry card.
  • Submit entry card and get passport stamped with 15 more days allowed
  • Pick up water and snack and jump back on the bus
  • Embark on arduous 6 hour journey back to Samui.

For my second Visa run, I flew to KL.
Air Asia was nice and cheap, and it was only a short flight.
It also happened to be Chinese new year, so KL was alive!
I stayed just the one night and flew back into Thailand, and sure enough got a new stamp for 30 more days of muay thai!!

Indian Visa from Thailand

The Indian Embassy site in Thailand warns that non Thai nationals are given low priority with no guarantees, etc when applying for a visa, and would only be granted a 3 month single entry visa, maximum.
Applying from home would get me a 6 month double entry visa.
Both points were concerning.
I filled in all the requisite forms and took them, along with 2 passport photos to the VFS centre in Bangkok.
The waiting area was filled with "spiritual" westerners, with barely any Thais or Indian folks in the queue.
I waited 2 hours for my number to be called.
The lady took my fee, forms and passport and said I could actually have a 6 month multiple entry visa (bonus!), and that processing would take at least 6 working days :-)

I was given a receipt and tracking number.
I was able to track my application online, and found that it was ready earlier than expected.
I have to say the VFS centre in Bangkok was really well run, and professional.
It seems a lot of people travel from Thailand into India and wait until the last possible moment to process the visa, as it is effective from issue (i.e. folks want to maximise their time in India)

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand_india_visa indian_visa visa_run_thailand Comments (0)

Thailand: Chiang Mai - Culture and Treks

Exploring and the wonderful, serene and funky travellers paradise, and trekking the amazing jungles of the surrounds.

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Chiang Mai

If I knew what Chiang Mai was like, I certainly would have come here sooner.....
It is the second biggest city in Thailand and capital of the north, however absolutely nothing like (if not polar opposite) to Bangkok.
It's quiet (even in the peak of tourist season where hotels are nearly all full), chilled, patient, friendly, health consciou and deeply cultural. It's hard to explain.
Everyone who comes here loves the place. There is plenty to do - yoga, meditation, cooking classes, cycling tours, trekking, museaums, etc. The tallest building you'll see must only be 4 storeys.

On a side note, it was great to see cycling fixie culture is popular here! The main square at the city wall was full of kids on fixies doing pretty impressive tricks!

Night Market

Close contender to Siem Reap as far as night markets go. Open air, sweet smells of incense, amazing works of art, light on trash, high on welcoming atmosphere. Just loved it!
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Trekking

I did a 1 night/2 day trek run by a truly great guide named Kai, and 9 other intrepid travellers of varying ages from USA, Korea and Netherlands.
It was a nice mix of people and great fun!
We were picked up at 8:30 and headed out to the maket to get supplies then on to a Burmese villiage, where the expats are allowed to live and make products (primarily for tourism). It did feel a bit fake - like the place was built for tourists to come and look, rather than a genuine village - with proper toilets, etc.
After that we went to an Elephant camp to ride, and learn about the elephants.
This part of the trip felt again a bit off, as the poor elephants were chained up, clearly in pain and hot and bothered. The fellows working there, were hitting the poor things with pointed sticks to make them walk when they gave up. We fed the elephants banannas as a reward, but I really felt like doing something to help them escape. It was awful, and I won't be supporting anything like that again. The sentiment was shared throughout the group, so I wonder why it is still included in the tour?!

From that point however things completely turned around and the remainder of the trip was a great and unforgettable adventure.
We drove to the base of one of the moutains outside of Chiang Mai, and did a 3 hour (pretty tough I must say) hike to the top, where an ethnic village live and farm rice and chicken, etc. This is the most scenic part of Thailand I saw - beautiful lush mountains, with rice paddies and flowing rivers and waterfalls!

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When we arrived, we were able to have cold shower sourced from their dam, and then a traditional massage (that almost sent me to sleep).

A well earned rest before dinner:
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Meanwhile Kai was busily making us a delicious banquet of fried chickn balls, green vegetables, masaman potato curry and rice. So much we couldn't eat it all.

Dinner! :
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Then we sat by the fire whilst Kai did his best to sing us some well known hits on with his guitar, and one of the village chaps cooked pork steaks over the fire for supper which were really yummy. A lovely evening.
We all slept on mattresses in the hut (a little chilly at night).

Supper by the fire:
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In the morning, Kai had breakfast ready for us - coffee, tea and continental brekkie, with fruits.

Breakfast:
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We then descended down the other side of the mountain (a little tough on the knees) to an enormous waterfall at the base.
Most of us ventured into the (very cold water) for a nice shower under the flowing waterfall - truly gorgeous!
After some sun bathing and chatting with other groups it was time to continue on.... this time on rafts down the rapids!
We split into two boats and learnt the basics of whitewater rafting (second time for me, and equally as fun as Borneo).
We got some serious pace, and kit a few tricky spots, but made it through unscathed.
(I'm guessing) a few kilometers down, we stopped to change transport. This time, traditional bamboo rafts.
Each group sits in a straight line down the raft. I was picked as captain, and hence charged with rowing / navigating the raft.
It was no easy task to steer, but one you get a bit of pace up, they are really fun!!

By the waterfall:
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Our fearless and jovial leader:
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At the end of our journey, we were met with some tasty pad thai to replenish our strength.
By this point everyone was tired, and we waded back into the truck bound back to town.
This is once of the best tours I have done, despite the false starts, and recommend Kai's tour to anyone!

Departing Thoughts

Chaing Mai is definitely in my top 10 cities list.
The people here are genuinely friendly, health conscious, and very gracious hosts for tourists. I saw a lot of signs and graffiti showing resistance to the emergence of bars and nightlife. They really don't want Chiang Mai to become a Bangkok, and it's so great that they actively retain their culture.
Thank Buddha that Julia Roberts didn't come here for Eat Pray Love, because this place feels a lot more genuine than Ubud and is certainly less crowded and touristy.
The fact that it isn't on the coast may also be a blessing. I fear a beach could have detrimental effects on the space, culture and state of the city.
Travellers here seem like the real deal, and again I met some great and wonderful friends here.
Sad to be leaving, but know I'll be back!

You can view all of my photos from Chiang Mai here

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls trekking chiang_mai chaing_mai _trek village_trek Comments (0)

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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