The More, The Merrier
Saturday morning was an opportunity for everyone to recuperate from our long flights. Well, everyone that is but Leanna who had only had a two-hour flight from Malaysia. Rough life.
While Travis introduced Leanna to Khao San Road, Thirza, Bekka and Heather spent their mornings primarily in our rooms upstairs.
I spent the better part of the morning in the open setting of the Shanti’s first floor restaurant going back and forth between rereading Mooncalled, writing, and catching up on some correspondence.
The previous night I had gotten an email from our new Californian buddy from the Qatar flight to Doha, Jeff, and replied with an invite to join us in the evening. It was agreed that he would meet us at the Shanti around 3:00 PM where he would be introduced to the rest of the gang and we could coordinate transportation for what would then be a party of seven (yikes) to the Muay Thai fights.
It was late morning when a girl strode confidently through the front entrance of the Shanti, slung her bag down on the bench across from me and asked if I minded her sitting down. I was caught off guard initially by her query. I was one of the only restaurant occupants, and there were plenty of open tables available, but then realized it’s the sort of thing I do myself when out and about at home or traveling as a firm believer in the saying, “the more, the merrier” so why not someone else?
Harriti, as she introduced herself, was staying at the hostel next door, but had been scouting for somewhere to grab lunch. She’d walked towards the end of the block, turned around to retrace her steps, and then come inside the Shanti when she’d seen me sitting by myself. She is from the states as well, the D.C. area, but has been in India working for some time and was on a two-week holiday in Thailand, most recently from Chiang Mai. Over lunch she shared some inspiring photos from the time she spent at her favorite attraction in Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park and highly recommended the experience. That location believes in following more humane practices in handling the elephants, rather than utilizing the chains and hooks of many others, and offers a variety of ways for visitors to interact with the elephants during your visit. There was an impassioned animation when she spoke and she expressed that she wanted to go back and do a longer volunteer stint at Elephant Nature Park in the future because she enjoyed her time there so much.
When she heard that Bekka and I were planning on taking a cooking class while in Thailand, she had some excellent advice on that as well! A place called Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School, which operates just outside of Chiang Mai, has an organic farm on premesis to utilize produce from when taking a cooking class there. Sammy’s classes are rated top notch on numerous blogs and sites, so that combined with her personal testimony did it for me.
Fast forward a few hours and Harriti has been introduced to the crew. She’s a good sport for repeating over and over, everything from her current travel and job history, to the correct pronunciation of her name (which is with more of a roll of the tongue on the R’s), that we mangled many, many times. Coincidentally, Harriti is also a couchsurfer!
We invited her to come watch the Muay Thai fights with us too, but that held no particular allure for her. She was interested in the Night Market though. Thirza got her phone number so we could drop her a line when we were en route to the market later. I decided it was a good time to leave the group downstairs to keep getting acquainted and catch a few zzz’s before our night out.
One of the gang came to wake me up when Jeff joined the group. We thought we had our plan together, so we found a cab that could accommodate our increased party size and set off.
Lumpini Stadium Muay Thai Fights, Bangkok, Thailand
Apparently there is an old Lumpini Stadium and a New Lumpini Stadium. Luckily our taxi driver was friendly AND efficient and he eventually guided us to the right one after what was a serious comedy of errors and conversations amongst us all.
Upon arrival were pounced on immediately by two women who worked at the venue who said we could only use baht if we wanted the seats in the stands. Since we had planned on using cards for the most part to save baht for smaller purchases, we had to grab ringside seats. Very likely a ploy, but as we were already later than anticipated, we didn’t press the issue and followed one of the women in to buy our tickets which were another surprise as prices were significantly higher than they’d been listed online. I take full responsibility as I should have taken more screenshots and dickered overpricing, but hindsight is 20/20.
Back home, while many people these days turn to Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu for a break from reality, Bekka has a subscription to the WWE network that she watches religiously on her iPhone. She and Travis also regularly gather at a friends house when there are more high-profile matches scheduled, so they were the most keen of our group to watch the fights. Before anyone starts chastising me because they’re not the same, the level of athleticism, dedication and spirit of competition it takes to participate in either sport CAN be compared, and there are many people who enjoy a mix of these types of sporting events, that’s all I’m saying.
I’ve seen quite a few wrestling matches myself when I was a kid and in school, some martial arts competitions, and more recently the Lucha Libre in Mexico City, so it was more of a point of cultural interest for me. Leanna had watched MMA in the past and Thirza had expressed her own avid interest in viewing the fights. Heather, on the other hand, had been distracted and only half listening when the rest of the group had been chattering away about Muay Thai fighting, because she was appalled when she sat down and realized what was actually going on. Part of the way through she exited the stadium to wait and read a book outside, leaving the rest of us to our cheers, jeers and Chang beers. It was at some point during the evening that Jeff introduced us to the term “changover,” which is a hangover resulting from drinking an excess of the beer brand called Chang, the equivalent of an American Budweiser.
As they entered the ring, the Muay Thai fighters here were much younger than we expected, all in their late teens to mid-twenties. To say they’re fit would be an understatement as there were six-packs and lean, wiry muscle on just about every one. All the fighters entered over the ropes as opposed to between or beneath them. I found out later why this is.
Most Muay Thai Fighters enter the ring wearing a headpiece called a Mongkon, or Mongkol, which is considered sacred, and after each fighter performs the Wai Kru and Ram Muay rituals it is removed and put in their corner for luck by their coach. The head is also the most important part of the body in Thai culture, so you do not go between the ropes with this sacred headpiece on. This is a very abbreviated version, but you get the gist, right?
Before each match, the opponents perform a ritual called Wai Kru, which is to show respect to the fighters Muay Thai teachers/coaches. The next phase of the tradition is know as Ram Muay, or a boxing dance. The ones we saw performed before each bout were fairly basic, but there are Muay Thai fighters who perform their Wai Kru with more elaborate moves which is a way you can gauge the fighters strength and control. These can garner a strong level of appreciation and applause from audience members.
Most of the matches we watched had a great amount of grappling embraces between the youngest fighters that had to be broken up, while the more experienced fighters circled each other warily, trading more frequent and powerful kicks and strikes to each others bodies. More than one participant had a hitch in their step, at the end of their match.
It was interesting watching reactions and listening to shouts of the coaches and other attendees, even if we couldn’t understand what they were saying. Cheering on their favorites or trying to yell advice – and there are always ones that get so into the action that they start to unconsciously mimic the moves of the fighters blows as they’re happening, as if they can absorb some of the impact. I’m going to skip anything resembling a play-by-play as it would be inadequate.
There wasn’t any of the soap-operatic theater and bravado that goes along with fighting matches like wrestling, Lucha Libre fights and other more glitzy sporting entertainment from these fighters and they all seemed to come together and part amicably in the end. My description of the events won’t do them justice, so if you get the opportunity to watch the athletic prowess of some of these folks, take it! There’s a beauty and a raw power that can’t be denied.
As we prepared to leave the fights we found Heather waiting on the steps outside, engrossed in her book, AND a torrential downpour. This was not good for us, but very good for the taxi drivers, because they KNOW they have you where they want you when it comes to haggling about the price in such weather. The best we could find was a smug cab driver who wouldn’t go below 600 baht for his van, and no two smaller cabs were less, so we paid twice as much going as we did coming, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose!
The weather also put the kibosh on the Night Market as the idea of sloshing through the streets seemed much less appealing. Jeff went with us back to the Shanti and then on to his own hostel in another part of town. Harriti wandered over from the hostel next door and finished the night with us in the Shanti Restaurant as the rain didn’t let up for a minute. We made plans to meet in the morning to see more of the city and eventually hit the hay.
**At some point in the near future I will be able to add the videos and more pics from this particular day, but they’re not immediately accessible, so apologies for the sparse visual cues!
Next up, China Town, the Golden Buddha and private booth karaoke!