Just to recap… I’d been exploring SE Asia in February 2019. Since then, I’d stayed (and trained!) in the following cities: Phuket (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), Hanoi (Vietnam), Chiang Mai (Thailand), DaNang (Vietnam), and Penang (Malaysia).
I now had only one month left in the SE Asian portion of my trip before flying back to Germany for BJJ Globetrotters Summercamp in Heidelberg. I debated for some time whether or not to return to Bangkok, or try somewhere new. Which, I think, is a dilemma that many travelers face. Is it better to explore an unknown city (which may turn out to be a new favorite), or to return to a place you already know and love?
The biggest appeal to Bangkok was budget, convenience, training, and… Vara! For convenience, Bangkok (specifically my little single-room studio close to the gym) really can’t be beaten. My tiny home was budget-friendly and well-equipped, with friendly landlords and close to a Skytrain entrance. There was a coin-operated laundry machine downstairs with plenty of hanging space to dry clothes (very important for daily training!). And (best part!) it was literally next door to Bangkok Fight Lab, which includes an amazing vegan cafe (Nourish) upstairs inside the gym! There was also a massive Tesco grocery store down the street and many restaurants in the area, placing everything I needed within an easy 10 minute walking radius. I was going to be taking some time off the following month to attend BJJ Globetrotters camp and visit my Belgian family, so wanted this month to be focused on training and making as much progress as possible on work projects in advance.
Ultimately, I left the decision of whether or not to stay in Bangkok again up to chance. I specifically wanted to stay in the same studio as before, which was often (unsurprising) fully booked (there’s only 6 rooms for rent, at least one of which was occupied by a year-long tenant). I thought to myself that if a room was available, I’d stay in Bangkok again. Otherwise I’d try a different city. As it turned out, the studio was free for the dates I wanted so – Bangkok it was!
Bangkok, Round 2!
My month is Bangkok flew by! I quickly fell into a comfortable daily routine of training and working all day long, with breaks as needed for food and laundry. Everything that I loved the first time continued to be awesome – good weather (despite the occasional downpour that comes with rain season), good cheap food, hangouts with Vara, and a really great gym atmosphere! In addition, the pollution had significantly decreased since my last visit, making air masks and daily air quality checks unnecessary. I even had the chance to squeeze in a few new cool tourist experiences.
After traveling SE Asia for 6 months, I finally went to a massage place! I was blown away by how extremely affordable these are here. In the US, a typical one-hour massage can cost anywhere from $40-120/hour. Here, it’s $6.50 – $13 per hour! There’s massage places everywhere in Bangkok, so it’s really easy to find one. You can easily spot the legitimate facilities by the uniforms the people working there wear. If it’s a simple outfit that looks a little like medical scrubs, it’s a legitimate massage establishment. If the workers are beautiful ladies in skimpy dresses with lots of makeup on… it’s probably a different kind of establishment.
The Thai massage at the place I visited was actually pretty similar to the Thai Massage places I’ve been to in the US, minus the relaxing natural music for ambiance. The message place consisted of two stories. There was a large downstairs area filled with big comfy chairs with people getting massages and some benches for arriving/leaving guests. And, a smaller area upstairs with a series of smaller private rooms partitioned with curtains. The entire place smelled of spices and tiger balm. You can choose the kind of massage you want from a menu. Some focus more exclusively on certain body parts (back/shoulders, for example), or include extra lotions and oils.
I went for the typical Thai massage, which is a full body massage without oils and lotions, and involved lots of stretching. These are held in the private rooms upstairs. You’re given a loose, light comfortable shirt and very baggy “fisherman’s pants” to wear. FYI – the correct way to wear these is put them on with the string in the back, then fold the left and right baggy waist part over the front, then tie the string over that. Vara came with me the first time I went here and explained how to put on the pants. You can leave or remove underwear and bra beneath these, and if you’re a woman the staff will specifically ask if you’re comfortable with a male massage person. It’s customary and polite to tip.
On my last day in Bangkok, Vara and Bohyun (who I’d met at Bangkok Fight Lab) had the brilliant idea of taking me to one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars! This is basically exactly what it sounds like – an open air bar on the top of one of Bangkok’s many supertall buildings. This one was on the 49th floor, was very impressive but was still by far not Bangkok’s tallest building. I expected it to be pretty cool, but the stunning 390 panoramic views of the city at night stretching off to the horizon in every direction still managed to exceed my expectations!
Another really neat thing that Vara and Bohyun introduced me to (on a different evening) was Thai Hotpot dinner. This consists of a pot of boiling broth on a hotplate in the center of the table. Guests order plates of various raw foods (meats, seafoods, noodles, tofu or veggies etc.) to add to the pot, making a sort of soup which cooks at the table with sauces to taste on the side. Very tasty!
Training at Bangkok Fight Lab
Training at Bangkok Fight Lab continued to be as excellent as before! Its was nice to be able to return to a gym and see familiar faces, and to catch up with everyone I met during my first stay here. The schedule continued to focus on one concept for a couple weeks at a time, progressively adding more details, related variations, and counters before moving onto the next technique. Which for me is the best way to learn, as I tend to forget things quickly if I don’t repeat them many days in a row.
Living so close to the gym, I was able to train twice a day on most days. The noon class was all-levels or fundamentals in gi, and I usually stayed for an hour of rolls. Evening class was all-levels gi or nogi. Classes most days were taught by black belt Morgan Perkins, with Friday evenings and Sunday mornings taught by black belt Colin Slider. I ended up renting a gi, since my two travel gis weren’t enough to train 2x/day and have clothing completely dry again in time for the next class (things dry more slowly in the very humid rain season). Having three gis to cycle through worked out really nicely.
Vara (purple belt) trained in the evening class as well, and continued to be my most regular training partner. A class with Vara always felt like I was getting 3x the experience as from a regular class, thanks to her insight and suggestions on how to improve my movements, and also for the number of reps we were normally able to get in. Giant thanks again, Vara, for a very awesome month of training!