Khao San Road.
So, nothing too interesting to note as we crossed the Cambodian-Thai border at Poipet. However, driving along in a small 12 person van saw the first of several noticable differences about Thailand. First off, their freeways are well developed. For the first time, we traveled at speeds equivalent to American highways: around 60-70 mph. And then when we got to Bangkok
, there were more cars than I had ever seen in SE Asia. And traffic jams, oh yes. Traffic snarls on the main roads and it's stop and go in the late afternoon. And real tuk tuks boast stronger engines here and belch black smoke; it all definitely felt like LA. Finally, the reverence for the Thai monarchy, particularly King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is profound.
Check it out! Sausage wrapped in bacon!
His picture is EVERYWHERE. It adorns huge portraits and billboards on buildings, clocks and picture frames in people's homes, and everything in between.
Anyways, we got dropped off by Khao San Road
, the undisputed tourist trap of Bangkok. It's one long street filled with roadside vendors selling pad thai, fried rice, fresh fruit, t-shirts, bags, belts, watches, dvds, and other knickknacks along with countless bars, 7-11s, tailors, travel agencies and hotels in between them all. The police close off all motor vehicle traffic in the evening and the place gets absolutely packed with foot traffic. For all the touristy soliciting that goes on here, it's actually not too overbearing.
Everyone here is pretty chill, drinking from beer bottles or cocktail buckets all day and night.
The first night was uneventful as we had been on the road all day and we retired early after making plans for the next day. Remember the broken camera? I went to find out where I could get it fixed. Our hotel actually did some quick research and gave me the address to the Sony Service Center in Thailand. Fortunately it wasn't too far away (maybe about 3 km) and with good directions, I took the public bus and got there with help from the locals. The lenses needed to be replaced they said, but at least it would only take an hour rather than a week as the techs were stationed at that facility. So a leisurely walk around and after some Thai noodles and snacking, I came back an hour later and my camera worked again! Not that cheap though, cost about $60 for the lens, $30 for labor and 7% VAT.
Muay Thai fighters paying respects before the match.
But hey, the timing was critical. Because when I got back to the hotel, we quickly ordered tickets for that evening's Muay Thai fight at Rajadamnern Stadium. We had to rush off in a taxi to get there on time and I tell you, that was the worst traffic jam I have ever been in. Due to how the traffic lights worked at this main roundabout, we literally sat in one spot for over 10 minutes. But with some creative driving from our driver (who also happened to be both a tour guide and a pimp as well), we got there in time.
Ringside seats cost 2000 baht, or around $66 and with 2nd and 3rd row seats being 1500 and 1000 baht respectively, we couldn't pass up the ringside seats. And they were definitely ringside, literally 3 steps away. The tickets are actually good for the entire evening which features 10 fights.
The animated crowd in sections 2 and 3.
Each fight has 5 rounds with 3 minutes each and about 2 minutes break between rounds. A fighter enters the ring wearing a ceremonial headband and large necklace and they perform riturals in the ring, praying to each corner and such. It definitely highlighted the idea that Muay Thai is a way of life, not just a sport. Also, these fighters are light; the smallest ones weighed in at 97 pounds! But they are wiry and fit. As they fight, a band plays fight music to match the action in the ring. And as the rounds progress, betting takes place, usually in the 2nd or 3rd row sections where dozens of spectators call out and give hand signals to bookies whom we couldn't recognize amongst the huge crowds.. Muay Thai fights actually occur daily and alternate between 2 stadiums in Bangkok so some of these spectators really know their stuff and even start yelling advice to the coaches who actually turn around and relay the message to the fighter.
5th fight: Blue getting knocked out.
The trainers meanwhile douse the fighter with water and massage his body; they bring out a large metal pan where they sit to catch all the water. Overall, it's quite the spectacle.
The fighting itself was also interesting. Most of the early rounds are devoted to feeling out the opponent attacking with jabs, elbows, push kicks and quick snap kicks to score points. Later on, fighters tend to close in and they grapple getting in knees to the opponent and I assume trying to gain position for points. You can't do takedowns it seems as the referee breaks up the fighters so the grappling is usually a lot of twisting and turning on the ropes. Most fights ended with a declared victor, but there were 2 knockouts. The 5th fight was fierce with very little grappling as both sides walloped on each other with strikes.
This might be my best action shot. The vids are much better.
In the 4th round, Red managed to push Blue into a corner and as they grappled, Red got in a punch and an elbow to Blue's face and Blue collapsed. The already loud stadium (and us) went wild. Blue didn't stir and needed to be carted off on a stretcher. And the 10th fight featured the other knockout. The fighters were a Japanese guy in Red and a European guy in Blue which I assume kinda acts like an outreach program showcasing foreign Muay Thai fighters. Despite the two weighing in at around 130 pounds, the European was easily a head taller than the Japanese and used his range to his advantage. In the second round, he pressed hard going in with the first jumping knees we had seen all night. Blue pressed Red into a corner and pummeled on him and Red fell to the ring dazed and the fight was called.
Sangsom bucket. A staple of Khao San Road.
It was definitely one of the most badass things I had ever seen. The whole thing started at 6:30 PM and we didn't leave till after 11 PM. Then we got back and started drinking bucket after bucket of Sangsom Rum mixed with Coke and Red Bull. Only cost 300 baht or around $10 and these are like kid pails you would find on a beach. I managed to stop myself before I drunk myself stupid and retired at around 2 AM.
This entry got really long so I'll split this part of Bangkok in half and share the second part for the next entry. The pics when they're up, don't quite do the Muay Thai fights justice so I'll try to get a few videos included as well.