Without hesitation, I can say that within my 4 months of continuous travel, so far this past week has been the most mind-blowing. I trained at two gyms, explored temples, attended a televised fight and went on a day-long motorcycle adventure – all while maintaining a steady job. I still have 8 months left before I go home but this week is going to be hard to beat.
Temples and Muay Thai in Bangkok
Training with Kru Suphan at Be Muay
The start of my “Adventure Week in Thailand” began last Thursday in a small, humid room a 20 minute walk away from the last stop on Bangkok’s skytrain. I was there to do what every martial artist is basically required to do while in Thailand – train in a local gym with a Thai Kru. I had about a year of experience in Muay Thai before BJJ took over my life, so I was a little nervous to see what I could actually remember.
The gym is called Be Muay and ran by the endlessly high-energy Kru Suphan. He passionately emphasizes the importance of understanding Thai culture, language and history if you really want to embrace this fighting style. The class covered basic techniques and was customized to each person’s skill level. The tips I got about shifting my weight while throwing a straight cross were helpful, but the most valuable thing I learned was how to say “sorry” in Thai –“Khor Thot Krab.” I’ve already had to use that more than a few times on the mat after accidentally kneeing someone in the groin.
If you’re not a hardcore Muay Thai fighter but you still want to experience the culture behind this martial art, Kru Suphan is the man to show you.
Exploring the Grand Palace
Friday was spent resting and working, but first thing on Saturday morning (that means noon for me) I set out to meet up a friend from back home to explore Bangkok’s Grand Palace. It was a huge complex filled with temples and statues ornately decorated covered in gold leaf and jewels. Black and white sashes were draped around all the walls as the country is in an official year of mourning for their late king. It was a little strange to see the mix of foreigners taking selfies right next to the crowds of Thai people dressed in all black formal suits there to pay respects.
Brutal Muay Thai Fights
On Sunday, a group of my traveling buddies got together and made our way to the local television studio to watch some nationally televised Muay Thai fights. After throwing some elbows and kicks of my own on Thursday, this was the next thing on my Thailand bucket list.
When we got there, one of my friends was forced to buy a black shirt outside the gate the because he was dressed too brightly. Since it was televised, everyone had to wear mourning colors for the king. Once we were let inside, we were immediately ushered to the stands directly across from the mounted cameras. Just out of view of the cameras was a big sign behind us that read “Seating for Foreigners.” I was told that they wanted to show how many non-Thai love their fights and how we all dress appropriately to honor the king.
After waiting about 3 hours on the steel bleachers, it was finally time for the fights to begin. The wait was worth it! All the fights went five rounds, with the fighters becoming more aggressive after every bell. The bleachers on both sides of the foreigner seats were filled with shouts and flailing hand gestures of betting locals. The crowd’s excitement level broiled higher and higher as the fights progressed; each knee, kick and elbow was followed by a huge “OW!!” from the entire crowd.
We saw traditional ring dances, a ton of passion from the fighters and crowd, and two vicious K.O.s. It was everything I had hoped for and I loved that I got to share it with friends that knew nothing about the sport before!
Side Trip to Chiang Mai
Right after the Muay Thai fights, I took the train back to the hotel to grab my backpack and then caught a late-night flight to Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand.
Motorcycle trip around the Somoeng Loop
My friend Aaron had been motorcycling across Southeast Asia and was posted up for the month in Chiang Mai. He told me about an amazing daytrip circuit just outside the city that he would take me on called the Somoeng Loop. I woke up extra early the next morning and rented a dirt bike.
We met up around 10am in the middle of Chiang Mai’s oldtown and headed toward the hills. We weaved through back alley streets trying to avoid police checkpoints since my California motorcycle license didn’t mean anything out there. We thought we were in the clear, but just before we reached the city limits we were waived off to the side of the road along with every other motorbike and scooter. Aaron got off scoff free because he was smart enough to get his international license. The officer demanded I pay 500baht, but he thankfully accepted the 300baht I deliberately stashed in my front pocket for this exact reason.
From then on it was nothing but beautiful mountains, winding roads and scenic pitstops. We spent the next six hours in complete bliss as we forget work deadlines, budget stress and just focused on the road ahead.
We capped the ride off with an insane resort infinity pool tucked inside a small roadside village. From the pool, we had an amazing view of an all-white temple sitting on top of the distant mountains. It was great way to end the ride.
Training at Chiang Mai Fight Fit
I had just enough time for a 30 minute nap after my ride before I had to run off to the Chiang Mai Fight Fit gym. I had met the resident black belt, Erno in a gym in Bangkok the week before and he invited me to come visit. The gym had just become affiliate with BJJ Globetrotters and I was the first traveler to take advantage.
Erno is extremely technical when teaching and demonstrating his techniques, which makes it even more amazing when he pulls them off at lightning speed during sparring. We trained takedowns and effective guard pulling on the first day. The second night as no gi and we went over reverse De La Riva, which I just heard of for the first time.
Even though I was working on unfamiliar techniques, I felt like I had my best two days of rolling this year while in Chiang Mai. Everything just clicking and my flow was as smooth as it had ever been. I think the perfect week that led up to training put me in a relaxed mindset and allowed me to spar without any worries.
Looking back on everything that happened last week, I know that I’m ridiculously lucky to have this life and I’m proud of the decisions and hard-work I put in to get myself here. I’ve spent the last four months exploring Southeast Asia and unfortunately this week is my last. On Friday, I start the next four-month chapter of my year-long adventure in Europe. I don’t want to leave all the amazing things I’ve experienced here, but I’m ready to explore all whole new continent!