Saturday, 13 August 2005

Muay Thai (lots of it!)

Today has been an excellent and action-packed day. I booked into my hotel (same as last time, Lodge-1 on Th Sukhumvit soi 1, but a different room), dropped my dirties off for washing where I will collect them tomorrow morning at eight.

Before checking-in I stopped off, as planned, at a Burger King to make up for the total lack of food the previous day. It has occurred to me that when I head up to Chiang Mai the day after tomorrow I will likely not be eating anything I like for quite some time... a week or two, maybe! Once settled in and showered (which was really nice -- hot water, even!) I got the Sky Train at Phloem Chit station to Banghampalu and caught a taxi from there to the Grand Palace. I tried chatting up a tuk-tuk driver but he wasn't content with 50B (about 80p) for the drive... he should have been because in an air-conditioned taxi on a meter it cost just 61B. Anyway, I quickly checked-out the Palace, which was more impressive, in my mind, than Wat Pho. I wasn't so keen on the enforced trousers-to-your-ankles and had it not been for the masses of other foreigners wandering around in oversized elastic trousers, I might have looked silly!

I took my shoes off to go in to see the Jade Buddha but got bored as all it seemed to involve was going in one door and coming out the next -- not so great when I could see the buddha damn well from outside. It wasn't like you could go in with a camera, either. So I gave up on that and took a few photos of people praying. I'm not too sure where I stand on this, actually, but I've seen loads of other people snap away and I don't try and hide the fact I'm taking photos. So far nobody has objected or given me any funny looks, which is good enough for me.

As it got close to 12:50 I made a dash for the exit (which took a while as I couldn't find the exit I came in at to return the baggies) and found a taxi to take me back to Siam Square, where I was to watch my film at 13:10. Unfortunately I didn't get there until about 13:25, which meant I missed the oh-so-entertaining pay-homage-to-the-King bit at the beginning as well as a few minutes of the film. It's not like it mattered... there wasn't really a story that I could make out, other than something to do with elephants. It was a great film though -- I don't know what it's called but it starred the same guy that was in Ong-Bak, which was the most crazy martial art-cum-crappy storyline I've ever seen. Ong-Bak was done entirely without wires but I don't know about this one... it wasn't quite as good, but that might have been as much to do with the fact that big baddies appeared from nowhere, as much as anything else. If you can find a cinema playing it, I'd advise you to go. I don't know the name but there aren't that many Thai films kicking about, are there?

After that I headed back to my hotel room to empty my CF cards onto my laptop, splash a bit of talc (which I've found works very well for soaking up sweat in all sorts of funny places (think itchy heat or whatever it's called (trapped sweat goes itchy)) and have a drink. I also quickly stuck my mobile on charge as it had run out. Then I headed straight to Lumphini Stadium to watch some Muay Thai (Thai boxing)! I managed to get directions to the stadium from a Japanese couple in the end, as they were on their way too.

Following the advice from the Lonely Planet I ignored the hawkers selling tickets (although they looked very official and I honestly couldn't see the problem) and went straight to the window. For some reason all the pricing categories were shifted about and I had to pay the ringside rate for the not-quite-so-good seating. No idea what that was all about but it wasn't a massive amount.

The first match was a real let-down as they didn't seem to be doing much kicking at all. As I later found out (i.e. as soon as the second match began) they were just doing normal boxing. I have no idea why. The place was fairly empty to begin with but did fill up a bit towards the end. The fighting ranged from fairly poor to what looked really good to me. There were plenty of kicks to all parts of the body (anything goes, including private bits) but my favourite was when one of the guys from the main event smacked the other guy around the neck and head with his foot. It makes the stuff you see on TV look like a toddler's game, I swear. Lots of groin punching, kneeing and elbowing, as well knees to the back. I was a little unhappy not to see any elbows to the head, or any bring-the-opponents-head-down-hard-on-your-knee business. That's fairly classic Thai boxing stuff, I'm sure. But all-in-all it was really good but is in no way reflected in my attempts at photos. I've got some serious respect for boxing photographers now... although I'm sure they must sit right by the canvas underneath the ropes to get the brilliant shots they do.

Only one guy went off on a stretcher though, which was a little disappointing. Fortunately it wasn't one of the 14-year-old kids that seem to have taken it up. Maybe they're just not important enough for a stretcher and have to shift themselves off?

After that (wow, it really was a busy day!) I headed to Si Lom to try and find one of the many Indian restaurants down Th Si Lom (Th is short for something in Thai that means "road") but gave in after about three minutes of not seeing any (but being invited to see quite a few different ping-pong shows, etc.) and went in to a Mexican place I saw. I was in for a bit of a shock when I looked at the menu after ordering a coke... my nachos were just 150B but chicken fajitas were 750B! That's about GBP10! I have no idea what they were on but I just wasn't in the mood to argue... my bill came to 1230B in the end, which is about GBP17! I must have spent almost fifty squids today, what with the expensive meal, the boxing, the Burger King, getting ripped off a little for taxi rides and my hotel at 700B/night. I probably didn't spent a quarter as much for three days on Koh Phanghan island! But I had a lot of fun, which I didn't really have on the island.

Finally I've been in a tuk-tuk! I arranged to pay 150B (just over two squids) to get from Si Lom to Th Sukhumvit Soi 1 (my hotel), which was about 15 minutes. I really enjoyed it and can't quite understand why I didn't get in one before. It wasn't particularly cheap as I could have got the Sky Train home just as quickly for about 20B (told you it was an expensive day!) Again, well worth it, especially for the amusing tips like: "you want girl? Lots by this road (waits about 10 seconds and points to two beautiful Thai girls sat on the curb) about 500B (GBP7) each!" I didn't bother to mention that at such a bargain price they also threw in a couple of STDs and a stolen [wallet|mobile phone|laptop|camera]. We had a sort-of race with another tuk-tuk too, which managed a most impressive wheelie with two big German-looking guys sat in the back... it would have been more impressive if it didn't almost cause a traffic accident with an oncoming taxi.

But now... now I'm sat in bed with a bottle of Coke from the FamilyMart down the road and I'm ready to go to sleep. Tomorrow morning I pick up my laundry, pack my bag, get a shower and get dressed (obviously I dress in some dirty clothes to get my laundry) before getting some breakfast/lunch (Burger King) and going to the bus station to catch a VIP bus to Ayuth--whatever. I was going to get the train but I figured I could leave my bag at the bus station (after removing the smaller rucksack with laptop and other such goodies), which is where I'll be heading back after visiting a few ruins. The official plan is to view Ayuth... then head straight for an overnight bus journey to Chiang Mai. It won't be a sleeper bus, but it will take a long time and I will sleep (I really hope I will). At Chiang Mai I'll check-in to a hotel, shower and then check out some places before coming back for an early night. Well, here's to hoping!

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