Category Archives: Travel Planning

New Friends and Muay Thai Fights

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.

Chang Beer, changover

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.

Muay Thai Fighting at Lumpini Stadium

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!

 

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Leaving on a Jet Plane to Thailand

Leaving on a Jetplane

After months of travel planning, our departure day was finally here! Bursting with anticipation for the impending evening flight, the daylight hours were spent in wrapping up the mundane details of cleaning, bill paying and packing.

Travis was being transported to the Portland Jetport by his family, while Bekka, Heather and I were utilizing the services of Abbey Road Taxi.

A rapid check-in at PWM, and a round of pre-flight brews at Shipyard later, and our journey was underway. The weather conditions had delayed the JetBlue flight somewhat, and did nothing for the physical constitution once aloft. I experienced my first-ever, brief bout of motion sickness on a plane and regretted the beer instantly. Travis fared the best out of our group and was solicitous when we exited the plane in a hurry at JFK, (John F. Kennedy Airport), to catch our first connecting flight.

Time Difference Between New York.and Bangkok

Hurry Up and Wait

We navigated the terminals at JFK, Heather and Travis in the lead, playfully racing each other along the moving sidewalks as Bekka and I brought up the rear. As we jumped in the sinuous line that had formed to board the Qatar Airways flight for the next leg to Doha, we heard our names over the intercom. Apparently they’d been hailing us well before our previous flight had even arrived. Once at the desk, our seats were soon arranged and after dickering about baggage weight, the flight attendant finally sent us off to rejoin the dwindling line.

We happened to strike up a conversation with another passenger in line, Jeff, from California who was also en route to Bangkok, Thailand. One bag and a ukulele were his only luggage and, he informed us, he was preparing to move there for an entrepreneurial business venture. We traded pleasantries for a while as we boarded the flight, and  made our way to the assigned seats.

A good number of the other passengers were of Arabic descent, single men and families, whose conversations were incomprehensible to us. Their modest clothes, in comparison to those worn by the many American travelers, stood out in stark contrast.

The plane was far from full capacity and while Heather had a window seat, with Bekka in the middle and Travis on the aisle, I enjoyed a full, middle row with three seats to myself, after ousting a seat interloper. There were plenty of in-flight amenities including multiple meals, snacks and beverages at no additional charge. The visual entertainment included a wide variety of music, video games and strangely, the Tom Cruise movie collection.

Announcements were made in both flowing Arabic and the crisp syllables of British-accented English throughout the flight, informing us of anything from an upcoming meal service to the progress of our flight.

Jet Blue Flight from PWM
Travis and I, after boarding the first flight at PWM

Bekka was the only one who didn’t manage to catch a few zzz’s during the next twelve hours to Doha, which if you knew her, you’d find highly unusual. At home, she is known for her ability to sleep through entire weekends, coming out of her hibernation only to forage for food.

This flight had also been slightly delayed, so in preparation to book it to our next segment, we grabbed our bags from the overhead compartments early and were in the aisles to disembark the moment the seatbelt lights were turned off. We were stymied by the movements of the passengers and found ourselves next to Jeff again as we waited for the line to make any forward progress. As we were all going to be in Bangkok for a few days, I gave him my card to reach out when he arrived to coordinate a meetup. His next connecting flight was hours after ours, as he had initially intended to go to Europe first, but missed the departure at JFK, so he decided to make his transition to Thailand a week earlier.

We made time through the terminal to get to our next Qatar flight, and ended up with some time to spare before boarding. A mix of languages from Europe and the North American continent dominated the air here. On board, yet another passenger had decided to keep my aisle seat warm for me, and the others were together in the middle row. This Qatar Airways flight was as full of amenities and hospitality as the last. There were two ladies from Poland seated next to me, who made some small talk, but mostly only deferred to me as an English dictionary when they didn’t understand one of the announcements or written forms.

Bekka was still unable to drowse, while the rest of us drifted in and out of slumber between reading, watching a flick, or some such seated activity. It was light out as we landed and the lines moved more quickly to exit the plane.

Arriving at Suvarnabhumi-Bangkok Internaional Airport

Before heading to the immigration line, we stopped to get our bearings and visit the currency exchange. The current rate was $100 USD to 3240 TBH (Thai baht). I took map screen shots on the iPad of our route to the hostel and  we made our way to the immigration line. For the number of travelers passing through the terminals, it surprisingly only took us about an hour to get through the line.

Travis had taken care of the arrangements regarding accommodations for our stay in Bangkok. A place called the Shanti Lodge, upon recommendations from friends at home, so all we needed to do was find the best means of getting there.

The Shanti Lodge website recommended using the Express Line, which would cost 150 baht each, but we found it was closed for the week. It was just as well, as the City Line Sky Train was only 45 THB each and got us to the same place, the Phaya Thai Station.

Bangkok City Line Train Token
Bangkok City Link Sky Train token

Instead of taking a taxi the final 2.3 miles, we decided to take the scenic route and hoof it.

A View From the Bangkok Sky Train
A view from the Bangkok Sky Train

Move It or Lose It: Crossing the Street

According to the map, it was a straight shot down Thanon Si Ayutthaya. Our most short-legged and travel weary companion, Bekka, ultimately set the pace.

The wide, tree-lined avenue, and all the connecting streets we passed seemed to have an unceasing flow of cars, trucks and motorbikes, all in a rush to get to their destination. They drove dangerously close to each other, swerving past the large number of tuk-tuks and idle vehicles that crowded along the road and crossed lanes without blinking an eye. This made crossing the streets, even narrow ones, an adrenaline inducing experience.

Speed Limit Sign in Bangkok
A lull in Bangkok traffic. Posted speed limit sign.

We must have just missed a large celebration of some sort, as there were dozens of brightly colored tents and staging being taken down at one of the larger intersections.

It took us close to an hour to finally reach what would be our haven of serenity for the next few days, The Shanti Lodge!

Travel Planning Tip: Layovers

Whenever I travel and have connecting flights, I always assume that there is going to be a delay. I’m rarely disappointed in this respect. I won’t book connecting flights unless there is at least a two-hour layover in between, even for domestic. This served us well on this trip, because if we had booked any of the shorter layover connections, we would have likely missed at least one flight, if not more.

So, my travel tip is to consider your itinerary carefully when booking segmented flights and give yourself a time buffer!

Traveling with Friends

Friendship is so weird, you just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like “yep, I like this one,” and you just do stuff with them.– Bill Murray

After much thought, I decided the chronicles of these adventures should begin with a quote about friendship that I find humorous and also quite apt, as friendship is one of my biggest personal motivations for travel, and the impetus for this entire trip!

Over the years, I’ve had many a look of confusion sent my way when I’ve asked for time off to visit pals in Arkansas (Pedro) and Ohio (Sarah), and many a, “Good luck” in traveling to countries like France (siblings) and the United Kingdom (Josh), There have always been friends that were either the inspiration for the trip, or companions on the road to discovery.

The cast of colorful characters that you’ll be reading about in the upcoming weeks are part of a core group of friends who I’ll be sharing these next cultural journeys with. Some are already avid, world travelers in their own right, while  this will be a first-time abroad for others.

Instead of littering my first written piece here with old photos or scavenged stock photography, I am going to start with a clean slate. As our travels take shape, that will be the time that I’ll throw in some fresh visual stimuli, so relax! Until then, here is an introduction.

How Our Traveling Party Met

Good things happen when you meet strangers. – Yo-Yo Ma

It seems a good idea to briefly describe how the original notion for our party to travel to Asia came about, instead of a complete history of our intertwined meetings, since people keep asking. It started with friendships that were forged with some international visitors to the “The Pine Tree State,” Maine.

Niko, from the Phillipines, Leanna, from Malaysia, and Thirza from Holland had all come to Portland for employment opportunities at different times. They each posted on the Portland couchsurfing website (an alternative, travel networking site), that they were interested in connecting with locals. After replying to their posts, and arranging initial meetups, it took no time at all for these kindred spirits to be absorbed into the motley crew that has been assembled over time.

From holiday celebrations and birthdays to dinner parties, pub crawls and Renaissance fairs, these new friends grew nearer and dearer to our hearts. Then, sadly visa expiration dates closed in and they all traveled back to their respective countries.

Through the wonderful world of social media, many of us stayed in contact and agreed that a reunion was in order, but where to have it?

Choosing a Destination: Our Travel Itinerary

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.– Lao Tzu

Leanna and Niko offered to show us around their home-countries, which sounded like an excellent idea as the rest of us had never traveled to Malaysia or the Philppines before. We could add other points of interest on as we went.

After months of emails, Facebook posts and phone calls, our itinerary finally developed, with no resemblance to our original plans, but in a good way.

The Mainer’s, (Bekka, Heather, Travis and I), are flying in to Bangkok, Thailand together. Leanna arrives to BKK from Malaysia, and Thirza is arriving from Germany, where she currently resides. Niko’s work obligations are preventing him from participating in this trip, so we now have six travelers. Travis, our token male. has begun to refer to us as his harem. He’s a real comedian…

The current travel plan is to spend three weeks touring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam! Angkor Wat, Halong Bay and Ye Ping, a local lantern festival, are some of the sites and events we have been researching.

What’s Your Modus Operandi

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with friends. – African Proverb

As someone who typically travels alone, and operates under the idea of, “I’ll figure it out when I get there,” this has been a lot of travel planning for me. This is also the most people that I have ever traveled with for a long period of time before.

As a solo traveler, your flexibility is increased, as the only will you must bow to is your own. When traveling with friends, in a group, there are numerous opinions, feelings and preferences that must be taken in to account, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Too few of us learn the delicate art of compromise.

That’s being said, I have already warned my future travel companions that at some point I will probably disappear for a day or two, to preserve our friendships. I admit that I can be a real bear when not given what I consider a sufficient and reasonable amount of personal leeway to do as I please.

Our departure date is less than two days away…

Stay tuned for updates!