Muay Thai Fight Nights… Is there any better entertainment possible for an evening?? While I’ve seen fight nights in Sangkhlaburi over the New Year, it wasn’t until I started training in Muay Thai Kickboxing that I really started to not only appreciate, but also notice so many more details of the action.
On the lovely island of Koh Tao, fight nights take place every 10 days at the Island Muay Thai training gym. And every 10 days I would stay up past my normal bed time of 10pm (hey, I was trying to stay healthy and get in shape so early to bed and early to rise was my schedule then! That was until Anna arrived… but that’s another post!) and join in the fun of the fights.
Being a solo traveler does have its perks, as does training at the same facility where the fight nights are hosted, but in truth if the owner and trainers of Island Muay Thai weren’t as nice of souls as they are, I would never have had as much of a great time as I did in each of the 7 or so fight nights I’d been to since being on the island. Why do you ask?
Ring side seating!! Sitting beside the owner (Patone) in his elevated judges chair literally right smack on the edge of the ring. The scent of deep heat oil was thick and awakened the senses, you could feel the sweat from the bodies fling your way as a punch or kick hit and ice was potentially flung your way during the round breaks as the assistants iced down the fighters. There were even a few times where the fighters pinned each other against the ring and were pressing so hard against it that it seemed they may fall into my lap if the ropes didn’t hold! All the action could clearly be seen and it just added another level of thrill to the sport!
Of course I never expected to be able to sit ring side. But when I showed up for the first fight night and picked a spot in the top row of the bleachers sitting on my own I think the owner felt bad for me and invited me to sit with him, even offering to buy me a beer. And again though I figured it would only ever be a one-time thing, after about 3 times it seemed to just be the way it would be. It was a generous gesture and one I won’t soon forget for sure! I also wasn’t alone in being ring side as others were also invited for the up-close fun, but I was just tickled to have been one of them 🙂 Though admittedly I do wish sometimes I would forget watching the fighters spit and (sadly) shed blood over the ring surface knowing that the next day I would be sprawled on the very surface doing my cooldown stretches or sit-ups, lol!!
Speaking of blood… Yes, Muay Thai is obviously a contact sport and there is always the chance for skin to be split apart and blood spilled. I’ve never seen fights in Bangkok, but I’ve heard that aside from featuring (no doubt)the best fighters and having to pay a pretty penny to see a show, that the fights are quite brutal in that blood is often shed due to them being “glove-off” fights and the fights aren’t near as often broken up by the ref. Here the fighters wear gloves and the ref often intervenes if it looks like an unfair hit (striking someone when they are on the floor) or stand-off (the fighters are locked into a hold where neither can really make a move) and skin breaking injuries only occur if an elbow has made contact. Surprisingly most of the fighters don’t even wear mouth guards! And while most fights I’ve seen result in the usual bruises, one fight night in particular resulted in a cracked tooth, 2 split shins, and 2 split skulls!! Ok, obviously the skulls weren’t cracked (I hope!) but at least the skin on their skulls were.
Each fight night featured 7 fights in total, each going a max of 5 rounds or 3 rounds if women were fighting. Winners were chosen within the first 5 rounds if they knocked their opponent out (or did enough damage that the opponent tapped out) and if the fighters made it all 5 rounds then the winner was chosen by the judge based on points they’d earned from each kick, punch, elbow, etc. I still haven’t a clue how the point system works really (i.e. how much a kick or punch is worth in points) but perhaps one day I’ll get into that nitty-gritty:)
Down for the Count
Pictures as you can tell are quite a bit hard to take in great focus… Of course that depends on the camera AND the user… But honestly while many more could have been taken, I found that my focus was diverted from the fight while snapping away because I kept trying to get that “perfect shot” and I didn’t want to miss a potentially great knock-out!
Sometimes the final fight would feature a falang (foreigner, i.e. non-Thai) fighter who had come to the island just to visit or continue training and they would be asked to fight in the upcoming event. Those fights honestly were not my favorite to watch because they seemed quite poorly matched. It always seemed the falangs were either really tall and ripped or just muscled to the hilt and they were up against a Thai fighter who looked at least 50 pounds (whether in weight or muscle) lighter and a foot shorter.
Dressed for the Ring
Probably my favorite of the fights was one that was cleverly fought. It was against two Thai fighters and while one was getting in lots of punches and kicks, the other would either endure the hit or miss it by avoidance. Into the third round it looked like the one fighter was going to eventually get pummeled over but he kept avoiding hits just enough to stay active and in a single split second when the intimidating fighter let his guard down, the other fighter let out a swing kick right to his head and knocked him out. Ding, ding game over!! It took several minutes to wake up the knocked out fighter too! Overall, if ever in Koh Tao and looking for a fun night out, I highly recommend going to the Muay Thai fight night!!
Many days after my morning Muay Thai Kickboxing workout I’m left exhausted wanting to do little more than just relax with a book or have a massage. The best remedy for my sore body (especially my feet) however is to walk. I really have to rev myself up for the task however. Especially since the walking includes doing so during some of the hottest hours of the day. Usually I head to Hin Wong for a snorkel or Sairee to just hang about but this time I thought to check out a new route.
My initial plan was to head to Jim’s bar. Located high up on one of the hills nearby, it seemed like it would be a nice ‘goal’ place to walk to and to be rewarded in the end by a cold drink and hopefully a beautiful view to boot. Armed with my plan I headed out toward Hin Wong bay but made a turn at the top of the hill toward Jim’s bar instead of heading down to the bay. The walk there wasn’t altogether unpleasant. Though there were bits with a 20% or 30% grade to them, the majority was variable enough to cut the monotony of just walking uphill. Bits of the path were concrete while other bits were only dirt and gravel cut through with erosion from storms.
Peek at Sairee
Butterfly Garden Free View
Butterfly Garden Free View_2
Though it is possible to make the trek with a motorbike or an ATV, I prefered walking. First because of the exercise aspect, but most importantly because of the condition of the unpaved bits of the path. They really were quite treacherous and while during my hike up I didn’t notice any accidents, on my way back down I witnessed 2 rolled motorbike accidents (one with injuries) and heard from another person that he’d witnessed 3 as well! But I’m getting ahead.
Looking to Jim’s Bar
The View Entrance
The View Path
It felt like I had been walking for hours! No one was in sight except the occasional random passing motorbike and the sun was beating down hard on my skin. I took appropriate breaks here and there to chill in the shade and have some water or take pictures of the local wildlife (I spotted a water monitor!!) and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat to the point of all my clothes being soaked through, I trudged on having no idea how far or close I was, yet determined to get there. Eventually (after going up the 30% grade bit of the path) I made it to a little bar. It turned out to be the Butterfly Garden! That was good news for me since Jim’s bar wasn’t too far beyond that. I stopped for a sugary tea to replenish a bit of energy then continued up the hill to Jim’s.
I was surprised that Jim’s wasn’t that far at all from the Butterfly Garden since on the map they seemed to be a bit further apart. It literally was just up the hill from the Butterfly Garden. While it was a cute little bar, no one was there and the views were simply of the surrounding jungle. So instead of sitting and staying, I opted to check out a bit further along the path. There were signs for the Mango View Bar and another place simply called The View Bar. One was down the path to the right, the other to the left. I chose the right path toward The View Bar and about half a km later, I’d arrived to one of the most stunning views of the island I’ve seen so far! You could see just about the entire island including the National Park islands to the South of Koh Tao, a bit of Koh Samui to the SW and even the mainland of Thailand!
Koh Samui View
National Park Island View
So stunned by the beauty of The View’s views, I took a seat on the patio and ordered a drink. I learned from the owner that the place had only been open for 5 months now, the deck I was sitting on was only a month old and the bar itself is the highest bar on the island! There was only one other couple there when I first arrived which gave the atmosphere an even more peaceful and beautiful appeal to it. I met Suay (beautiful), the local squirrel who would pop in every time it was hungry for some fruit. He ate out of the owners hand but unlike other squirrels I’ve seen, he didn’t live in a cage. He simply came and went as he pleased 🙂 He did come over and sniff my toes at one point during his search for some more food, but sadly my camera didn’t reload fast enough to capture the shot 😦
I spent hours up there sipping on drinks and chatting with people as they came and went and was reminded just how international Thailand is. Within the few hours I was there I met people from Spain, South Africa, Norway, Germany and the States. Quite an impressive mix! In any event, the day was moving along and it was time for me to start heading back along the 3.5km path back to my place. As I came back into view of the Butterfly Garden however I was coaxed into staying for “just one drink”. “Have a beer, kick up your feet! Free view!” the Thai’s were calling to me. And though I had been kicking up my feet for several hours I thought, why not? So I settled in for a beer and started chatting with the locals who owned the place and a tourist from Canada.
The View Bar
The View Bar Patio
It was then that the local said they were going to have a barbecue. And the main meat of this barbecue?? Locally caught and freshly killed bat… Yes bat! I LOVE bats!!! Ok, not in the eating sense but I love those cute little critters!! I’ve loved them since caving in college and have always adored their little furry faces! So when he pulled out the bodies ready to be put on the barbecue, I couldn’t believe it and figured there was NO WAY I’d eat a bat! Alas, after 2 beers (why not have 2 when you’ve already had 1??) I thought, yea, I could try some bat! The meat was very tough and quite hard to pull off the bones but it was flavorful. I only had one wing however as I started to feel a bit guilty for having eaten one of the cute critters, but at least I tried something new.
I ended up staying for another couple of hours at the Butterfly Garden having beers (3 in total, I promise!) chatting with people coming down or up the road, heckling them to stay for some bat, doing some Muay Thai play fighting with one of the locals who then invited me back everyday to practice with him for free, and sadly witnessing 2 motorbike rolls (one resulting in a nasty road rash injury). After my 3 beers however, the sun was really starting to set and it was definitely time for me to head back down (I still had 3km to go!) before it became pitch black. I thanked my new Thai friends for the bat and conversation, and headed down the quickly darkening path back toward town. I won’t lie that I kept thinking how idiotic I was to have waited so long to go back down as the path became darker and darker. But, all’s well that ends well, and my hike down the hill was thankfully without injury!
I made it to the bottom of the hill just in time to see one of the most stunning sunset skies I’ve seen since being on Koh Tao. I wish the picture I took did it justice, but really it doesn’t. Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take night shots well at all!! 😦 All in all, it was a beautiful day full of unexpected people, experiences and breathtaking views all around. And on top of being thankful I’d made it back home in one drunken piece, I was also so very thankful that I’d made myself get off my duff that morning and make that hike in the first place. I will definitely have to go there again!
After leaving Bang Saphan I headed directly to Champon to catch a catamaran over to the very beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Only 21 sq. Km, Koh Tao (turtle island) has surprisingly a lot going for it! It boasts 2 of the top diving schools in the world and is considered one of the top spots in the world to dive, has several volunteer opportunities from being a “Trash Hero” to helping at the Animal Clinic and even some Marine Conservation programs as well. In addition, it has 2 Muay Thai Kickboxing training facilities: Island Muay Thai (where I’m currently training and will write more about in another post) and Monsoon Muay Thai Gym.
Catamaran to Koh Tao
Koh Tao Arrival
The island itself is lush and green with a large variety of foliage and critters all around. The beaches are breathless with clear blues and greens and abundantly diverse marine life to boot. Sadly, the island does have a dark past as it is the site of the very unfortunate murders of a young British couple just last year in September that made news world-wide. There are even websites dedicated to the “dark side” of Koh Tao, but so far I haven’t witnessed or felt any dark side to the island.
Koh Tao Arrival_2
Koh Tao Arrival_3
Koh Tao Arrival_4
Koh Tao Green
Like the two neighboring islands to the South of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao also parties it up every full moon. They call them “Full Moon” parties, which is really just another excuse to do what people do nightly here (party in bars) but apparently kicked up a notch. Before coming I had heard the Government is trying to put a stop to them because of the drugs that also surface during the parties, but so far all the islands are still celebrating the moon phases. The other two islands apparently also have half-moon parties and even new moon parties! I haven’t experienced the Full Moon party here (the first one I will be present for is tomorrow night) but honestly have no interest to join the crowds at the bars for it. See, while this place does have a huge party scene to it, my purpose here is to train in Muay Thai and get involved where I can in the available volunteer opportunities. Guess I’m growing up a bit… Just a bit though;)
The expat community here is also huge! Most are in their early 20’s and have come here originally just for vacation and ended up getting jobs and staying. I would say honestly the population of people from the UK or Australia is possibly more than that of Thai’s and Burmese. It is legal to get a job in Thailand as an expat if it’s in an area of expertise that a Thai local wouldn’t necessarily have, such as teaching English or in the case of Koh Tao, diving instructors. One of the bummers in my opinion about having so many expats on the island however, is that the Thai culture seems lost a bit. Many of the locals speak better English than most native speakers and while they may view it as a benefit for them, it’s hard to find locals who only speak Thai. Hence why I wrote my other post on “Talking Thai” so I wouldn’t forget what I’ve learned so far!
Sairee Main Road
Sairee Main Road_2
As the island does boast some of the best diving in the world, there are dive shops absolutely everywhere! You could probably throw a rock in any given direction while walking, and within only a few meters (depending on your location) could hit anywhere from 3-5 of them! They really are everywhere you look, which makes it tough when trying to pick one to go with. Everyone has their opinion on which is the best, and so far each person I’ve spoken to has named a different one as “the best”, lol!! Though I do have my open water certification, I have yet to have done any diving as it’s been so long since my certification and I would have to do the refresher course AND for this month at least, I am tapped out financially on my extra-curricular spending. It’s all about the budgeting! Perhaps next month I’ll get into it, but for now, I frankly enjoy going to the beaches and simply snorkeling! It’s free to snorkel on your own (though there are snorkel tours available too) and the variety of marine life seen snorkeling is impressive enough to me to stick with that for now.
Truth be told… while there are several beaches around the island I’ve so far only made it to two! Sairee beach and Hin Wong beach. Hin Wong beach is teeny and is privately owned so the owner (Mol of Mol’s beach bar) asks that each visitor either pays 50 baht (equivalent of just over $1.50) or buys a drink from the bar. The snorkeling is unbelievable there and I keep returning for it’s absolute beauty and range of marine life! Every time I go I see something new! There are irradescent clams, blue-spotted sting rays, parrot fish, all sorts of damsel fish, christmas tree corals, anemones, puffer fish, and on and on! Every time I go I also wish I had an underwater camera so I could share the beauty under the water!
Hike to Hin Wong
Hin Wong Bay Peek
Hin Wong Bay Peek_2
Hin Wong Bay
Hin Wong Bay_2
Hin Wong Bay_3
Since I don’t have a motorbike however (the roads are absolute crap on the island and the other drivers are nuts to boot!!) I walk there, which is yet another way I get my exercise. It’s a literal pain in my rear to scale the wee but very steep hill to get to the other side of the island, but it’s well worth it once there!! While I do adore going to that beach, I also try to space out how often I go because inevitably I end up having some drinks at the bar then curse myself as I have to make the trek back over the hill, sweating my rear off (and hopefully some of the booze) to get back to my place. Mol herself is quite the character too! She is a native Thai but speaks English perfectly and even has a cockney accent when she drinks, lol!!
Hin Wong Crab
When I first arrived, I walked my way in the blistering heat from Mae Haad (where the boats all dock) toward Sairee and found very close to the Wat a place called Happy Bungalows. For 400 baht a night I got my own bungalow with a bed, bathroom and little fridge. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure honestly how long I’d actually stay. My plan was to check out the two Muay Thai gyms and if I liked one, I would stay for a month to train. If not, I would hang about for a few days to a week then head elsewhere. Within 3 days I’d decided to stay and found a monthly rental with a kitchen through Bua Management. Now almost 3 weeks in, I’m planning to stay for another month. There are two reasons I came to that decision: first, I’m really enjoying the Muay Thai training and want to give it another month and second, one of my friends will be popping into Thailand to see me. Since she is interested in diving, I figured I may as well stay put so at the very least she gets to do some diving in one of the best spots! 🙂
While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat. ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave! In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling! Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.
Walk to Ao Noi
Fishing Village from Afar
Fishing Village Welcome
I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens. The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road. The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park. The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!
Fishing Village Bay
Khao Ta Lai
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Khao Ta Lai_3
Toward Ao Noi
Turn off for Wat Ao Noi
I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade! I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead. But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared. The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)! I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.
Turn off for Wat Ao Noi_2
En Route Wat Ao Noi
Detour to Beach
Detour to Beach_2
Hut on Beach
As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi. I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!). Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat. The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular! I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff. Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat. A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.
Wat Ao Noi Bay
Wat Ao Noi Bay_2
Start of Steps to Wat
View from the Top
Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :). I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness. I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out. An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha. As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor. I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!! They lived in the cave!!
Stranger in the Dark
Stranger in the Dark_2
I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid! I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs… Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave. Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉
Reclining Buddha 1
Reclining Buddha 1_2
Reclining Buddha 2
I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position. Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there. And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.
I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again. I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness. There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it. There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.
As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed. At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them. As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water. One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.
I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests. Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi. The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community. After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.
Wat Ao Noi
Wat Ao Noi_2
Wat Ao Noi View
Wat Ao Noi View_2
I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch! I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me! One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet. It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot. Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…
When we first arrived in Prachuap, we had only paid for 2 nights because the owner said that for the 13th (what would have been our 3rd night) all the rooms were booked. You see, Songkran, the Thai New Year (also known as the Water Festival) was just around the corner so many Thai’s were traveling to their favorite vacation spots to celebrate the occasion. So while for the first day here was simply spent lounging on the beach, the second was dedicated to trying to find somewhere else to be for the night of the 13th. As we wandered the main road trying to find accommodations for the 13th (and were constantly told ‘no space’) we kept thinking more and more outside of the box with suggestions like “well, if it’s only for that one night that there’s no availability at the Ban Thai Hut, then we can just ask if we can store our bags there and sleep on the beach! No worries!”.
As fate would have it however there WAS space at our hut, it was just that the price was going to be increased for the nights of the 13th and 14th. Of course for Holidays they would up the price… Even though the price hike was annoying, it was really a God-send that we didn’t have to go anywhere because on the morning of the 13th (when we would have had to pack up and move locations) we woke up to an absolutely HUGE thunderstorm that rocked on with lightning and thunder for most of the day. We kept laughing at the prospect that we had thought to sleep on the beach… Lol!
April 14th was the official day to celebrate the Thai New Year. However in most places, especially larger cities such as Chaing Mai and Bangkok, they choose to celebrate for an entire week. Songkran, as mentioned above is also known as the water festival, and is aptly named because for the duration of the celebration days of Songkran people go crazy with water fights! Buckets of water are thrown on passersby, cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, basically anything with a pulse (though they don’t target the dogs thankfully!! :)). If you aren’t hit by a bucket of water, you will be hit by a hose, or a water gun, or by a truck driving by with people in the bed of the truck chucking out water all around. It’s absolute water mayham!! I loved it!!!!
Water Fight Kids
Water Fight Kids_2
Water Fight Kids_3
There are a couple of confusions surrounding the Holiday however… Well, the first isn’t a confusion as much as a concern really. But apparently the number of motorcyclist deaths DOUBLE each year during Songkran because of crashes related to people chucking water on them while they drive!! I did see a news report from Bangkok this year however saying the death toll was down more than 20% from last year, so that’s good…
Getting into the actual confusion bit about the Holiday; Songkran is the Thai New Year. Yet on January 1st, their year turns over. They went from the year 2557 to 2558 on January 1st. So……….. The question remains in what way is Songkran the Thai New Year? I have yet to have this explained to me nor to find anyone who actually knows the answer to this (and I refuse to Google it just yet as I’m curious to actually find someone who knows). What I have heard from some is that Songkran is more of a “last chance” for water “festival” meaning that mid-April marks the beginning of their dry season where not so much rain can be expected for months until the monsoon season hits… Still confusing is that they also celebrate the Chinese New Year… So essentially it seems in Thailand that they celebrate the Western New Year (January 1st) when their physical calendar year also changes, they celebrate the Chinese New Year, AND Songkran which is their “actual” New Year and/or perhaps just a water celebration before the dry season… Anyone else confused?
Water Fight Kids_4
View from Bar
Water Fight Kids_5
Moving along, the actual day of Songkran (April 14th) was overcast but not rainy and in this sleepy little town of Prachuap, it was rather low-key. About a 5 minute walk from our place were 5 kids set up on the side of the road equipped with a hose, large buckets, smaller buckets (for use to chuck water) and several water guns. When there wasn’t any traffic to pummel with water they simply turned on each other or scooped up small buckets of water to pour on themselves, lol!! It was great fun watching them and all the smiles on the faces of those going by who were hit with water. And it was even more fun watching the random truck pull up and start a water fight from the bed with the kids on the street.
Water Fight Kids_6
Water Fight Kids_7
Water Fight Kids_8
Water Fight Kids_9
All in Good Fun
Water Fight Kids_9
We watched this activity for several hours drinking beers and chatting in between. At one point I went back to the hut for my camera and saw some guys painting each other up with some festive paint (a new part of the Songkran tradition apparently) and after asking if I could take their picture, they proceeded to give me the blessing of slathering some paint on me too 🙂
Back at the bar where we were drinking, we met a couple for the UK who had been living in Prachuap for a while, and they invited us to “the wall” for some more drinks. The Wall is literally the sea wall along the main road of Prachuap on the South side of the pier that splits the bay. We had yet to go to that side, so took the opportunity (in our already quite intoxicated states as we had missed eating breakfast and lunch) to go. We hoped in the bed of the truck and headed over to the wall. I was furiously trying to take pictures along the way and totally neglected to think about the prospect that while the Songkran celebration was quite docile along our little local strip of the bay, it would potentially not be the same on the other side of the pier where it was known to be more touristy.
Water Fight Kids_10
En Route to The Wall
En Route to The Wall_2
Just as we pulled up in the heart of the area we had to stop in the road because of traffic. It was then that I realized how much celebration was going on and tried to as quickly as possible to put my camera away when I was hit from head to toe with a bucket of ice-cold water!! Yup, they don’t care what you have on you, what you are wearing, what precious things you have that you may not want to get wet; if you are out and about, no matter your state, you will be soaked!! They even have special bags they sell for phones and tablets so you can take pictures but keep them dry, lol!! I was soaked and my camera also got hit through, but in the spirit of it all (I was warned it could happen) all I could do was laugh and enjoy the great cheer! But needless to say the picture-taking came to an abrupt end!!
En Route to The Wall_3
En Route to The Wall_4
En Route to The Wall_5
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En Route to The Wall_7
En Route to The Wall_8
En Route to The Wall_9
En Route to The Wall_10
We got some more drinks and I purchased a roll of toilet paper to dry my camera with and simply sat on the wall chatting for hours! The conversations lasted long after the sun went down until we were past the point of being in any way sober and were then in desperate need of food! We parted ways with our “wall” friends and headed to find food and pass out accordingly. Good times! Another Happy New Year it was! 🙂
The next day, having risen at the rear-crack of morning (also known as 11 am) we bounded out for something to eat before hitting up the beach. Now, again, we had been so very starved of food selection while living in Sangkhlaburi, so food or eating or snacking or anything to do with any food topic seriously took up most of our consideration! I also wanted some coffee, so we found a place down the street, on the way to the beach, called The Coffee Club. They also served food of course!
En Route to Beach
En Route to Beach_2
En Route to Beach_3
En Route to Beach_4
Now, another thing about me… I never, I mean NEVER take pictures of my food. I’ve never understood it before… I understand plating can be quite well done and very picturesque, but in general have never understood why people take pictures of their food. However, on this occasion, after having looked at their menu and seeing that they had a grilled chicken sandwich that included AVOCADO (I seriously almost fainted when I saw that and then nearly cried!!!) I couldn’t help but take a picture of both the menu AND the food once it arrived. I mean, come on! It was even served on ciabatta bread!!! I again almost cried at seeing REAL bread again!! So yes, I’m now a photographer of food…
In any event, we spent the rest of that day lounging on the beach with some beers and I proceeded to get one of the worst burns I’ve had in a long time! Not just along my shoulders, but my stomach and high up on my thighs as well. It’s now been almost a week since that burn, and though I’ve been slathering myself with coconut oil and pure aloe vera, I’m still red and a bit itchy, lol! The day basically just passed on the beach (rough life I know) then we went off for a few happy hour cocktails on one of the beach bars along the pier. We sipped on several cocktails, talking away the hours when we were suddenly visited by some interesting guests on the roof of the next bar over.
Yes, three macaques decided to see what all the happy hour fuss was about! I wasn’t sure what to expect from them because they can be quite violent at times, but these three just seemed to keep to themselves, accepting bits of food they wanted from sharing people. Once dinner time came around, we opted for the Spanish Tapas restaurant It did not disappoint!! We ordered a liter of homemade sangria and had about 6 different dishes between us! It was quite a treat that neither of us had had in a long time. We were supposed to have left the next day but Jo heard that there was a Muay Thai fight the next night, so we decided to extend our stay for a night in order to catch it.
Hua Hin Beach
Hua Hin Beach_2
Hua Hin Beach_3
Hua Hin Beach_4
When we rose that next day, it seemed to just be a comedy of errors. Of course, despite my burns we still had to go to the beach to hang out and swim for a bit. We didn’t last that long though as the heat of the day felt twice as hot on my skin and as there wasn’t any shade to sit under, I could only bear it so long. From the brief beach time, we went off to scout where the fighting was to take place but when we got there, we found out they only had fights 2 nights a week (Thursdays and Saturdays- and we were on a Friday). Dejected by that, our next thought was to go get some food (again with the food, I know!! ;)). Jo had seen something on TripAdvisor about a mexican food place that got great reviews along Dechanuchit Alley, near Prapokkiao (street?). So off we went in search of that…
Hua Hin Beach_5
Hua Hin Beach_6
Hua Hin Beach_7
Another brick wall was hit as even though we were using the GPS app on TripAdvisor to find the place, it seemingly didn’t exist. However, the street where it was supposed to exist on was an absolute bustle of energy! There were restaurants lined one after another along this strip of road and though they were each already quite spacious, the street was being turned into an extension of the restaurants so people could sit in the street and other general shop owners were setting up for a street market!
Hua Hin Beach_8
Hua Hin Beach_9
Hua Hin Beach_10
At this point I was seriously kicking myself for not bringing my camera because it seriously was a sight to see! Hundreds of people walked about busily setting up their shops. I mean not a single person was simply hanging about (except us). Everyone had a job to do and there were even people who set up a little lemonade stand and walked up and down the road selling cups of lemonade to the workers. Jo and I got a coffee from a shop nearby Ko’s restaurant and simply watched the life around us.
Interestingly for us, a bar was even being set up on the street just next to where we sat! So of course, even though at this point neither of us had had any breakfast or lunch, we just HAD to get some cocktails once the bar opened up! As we sat on the street downing some beverages, a banner caught my eye several food stalls down. I went to get a closer look and (suspenseful music here) lo and behold it was an advertisement for a Muay Thai fighting match TONIGHT!! Yay!!! So essentially, had it not been for us wandering to find the non-existent Mexican food place, and for us to decide to hang out with coffee to watch the street wake up for nighttime activities, and for us to decide on having a few cocktails at the street bar, then I never would have seen the advert for the Muay Thai!! We took this as a very good sign that we were supposed to see a fight on this night!
Hua Hin Beach_11
Hua Hin Beach_12
Hua Hin Beach_13
After our several cocktails (and a free whisky shot) we stumbled our way to the site of the fight (the name escapes me now, go figure!) bought our tickets (800 baht each!!) and finally had some food at the Italian place next door. Though all the events of the day seemed to just line up in random ways so that we could see a Muay Thai fight, after having seen the 7 fights, I still call the day a comedy of errors. I say that because only about 3 of the 7 fights were actually worth watching. It was a disappointment and honestly we saw better fights over New Year’s in Sangkhlaburi than what we watched there. Oh well! And we weren’t the only ones who felt cheated as there was another couple in 7-11 (where we went after for more booze) who were talking about how lack-luster the fights were and how disappointed they were. I mean, come on, for 800 baht we were expecting some really good fights! Not seemingly mismatched, gloves on, not highly ranked matches! Oh well. Just goes to show not everything turns out as you’d like. 🙂
Ok, now I know I’ve said this before about places I’ve been to… But I ABSOLUTELY LOVED AMSTERDAM!!!!! Honestly if I can find a place with such charm, spirit, acceptance and SANITY as exists in the people and politics of Amsterdam, yet somewhere warm all year round, well let’s just say I will have found home:) Alas, it does get cold there in the winter so sadly I won’t be able to call it my new home… The search continues, grrr!!!
Moving on… Why do I LOVE Amsterdam so much, you may ask?? The reasons are so numerous I’m getting excited just thinking about the prospect of writing about them! Their views on sex and drugs, their tolerance for people of different religious backgrounds, races, sexes and lifestyles. Then tack on the natural and pure beauty of the city itself with the crazy architecture and lovely Venice-like canals running throughout. So many extremes live peacefully together within a stone’s throw of each other. Everyone is accepting of one another and though they may not always agree, they don’t bother or use any sort of violence toward another. They just coexist and go along with their lives and leave what they don’t agree with in peace. Ah, just wonderful!! So many places and people could learn a lot from this kind of mentality.
Seriously??? I’m NOT High!!!
Am I High? Or are the Buildings Crooked??
Buildings and Bridges
The only warning I will give people about Amsterdam is BEWARE THE BICYCLISTS!!!! Seriously, they will run your rear over and not even look back if you dare to get in their way!! Not kidding either… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the bike lane or even in the street and had a near heart attack because I was almost run over by a passing cyclist. As one of guides during a tour I took said (and I’m paraphrasing here): the people of Amsterdam are wonderful and friendly people. However something happens to them when they get on a bicycle. They suddenly morph into crazy homicidal maniacs who will take you out if you get in their way. LOL!!!
I stayed at the StayOkay Stadsdoelen Hostel a short distance from the train station and just a few blocks from the Red Light District. The hostel itself was nice and located directly on one of the canals, and even though I was sharing the room with 19 other people, being on the canal gave it a nice view and some charm.
When I first arrived via train into town I have to be honest that I wasn’t impressed at all. The area around the train station isn’t anything to write home about as it’s kinda dumpy and industrial. However just a few minutes of walking took me into one of the hearts of the city (the Red Light District) and the cute homes, canals and vibe started to thrill me. Funnily enough, I had no idea that I had been walking through the Red Light district while trying to find my hostel and only learned later while looking at a map where I’d been. That just goes to show you how classy the area is. It’s not “in your face” or intrusive in any way, though it’s there.
Oh wait… I did say I had only one warning about Amsterdam for tourists. Well… I just thought of one more… Do NOT take pictures of the women in the windows of the Red Light district!!! This was a warning given to us during the “free” walking tour and the “Red Light District” tour I took later that night. As it was told to us by our tour guides the women of the district are entrepreneurs. They are not things to be gawked at or disrespected. And if they catch you taking pictures and you don’t pay them anything for them, they may come out from their window, chase you down, take your camera from you, stomp it to a mechanical pulp with their 6-inch heels and walk away. Yes, apparently this does happen quite often… In fact it happened during my tour of the District to an unfortunate gentlemen. Personally I was so freaked by the prospect of my camera getting stomped to death that I didn’t even take my camera out while walking through the district, lol!
The walking tour I went on started in front of the National Monument just across from the Royal Palace. It covered the Red Light District, Rembrandt’s house, the Nieuwmarkt, coffeeshops, a little known community of charitable women, the homomonument and we were left just about a block away from the house of Anne Frank. At this point I had been on several of the “free” walking tours in various cities and what I really appreciate about them is that each is so unique. Not just because they are obviously about different cities, but because each guide tells the stories that they find most interesting. So each tour guide will give a different experience to each participant. Love it! I paid for a tour of the Red Light District which included stories on the history of the district, a peek on a live sex show, how Amsterdam has come to embrace the district and ended with drinks at a club.
Now I will admit that while I was perfectly fine during the walking tour, I was a teeny bit (fairly plastered) drunk during the Red Light District tour… I do regret that I was so intoxicated during the tour because I don’t recall as many of the stories as I would like to have. But I guess you could say it’s just another reason to go back:)
In my “defense” the reason I was so intoxicated is because I was thinking about getting a tattoo or new piercing so I would always be reminded of the good times in Amsterdam. I even went so far as to check out various options. Turned out to be too expensive and I wasn’t terribly inspired on what to get so I ended up settling on a pair of flip-flops to remember my time by, lol!!! But after deciding against a tattoo or piercing I had several hours of time to kill before my night tour, so I wandered into a bar…
Turned out it was a gay bar, which didn’t bother me because it had fabulous music, was low key and not terribly crowded at the time. However as the hours went on, the crowds grew and I had befriended several of the other bar patrons hanging out and the next thing you knew shots were being bought for me, I was buying shots for others, and well, I’m just happy I made it out of there and to the tour at all!! The shots were a typical (and yummy I may add) shot of Amsterdam called “Heuge Meug” made of cognac, Tia Maria’s and a splash of Bailey’s… YUMMMY!!! But lethal too, lol!!
As for the walking tour, here are my favorite bits. The next post on ‘Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam’ are also highlights from the tour, but I just had so much to say on them that I thought it best to put them in a new post:)
Stock exchange: The World’s first stock exchange started in Amsterdam with the establishment of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the most powerful and successful trading company to trade goods out of Asia. How did they become so good at their trade (pun intended)?? Traders in the Netherlands devised a deal with one another. Instead of sending separate ships to Asia, one for tea, one for spices, one for pepper, etc. they would send out 20 ships and load 5% of each product on every ship. That way, if one ship sank during adverse weather only 5% of each supply was lost instead of losing 100% of a supply. So everyone was able to get their particular product back for trading. Clever, clever!! The trading company reigned for more than 100 years but eventually did decline.
Coffeeshops & the Red Light District: I write about these bits in great detail in the next post but for the picture below, this coffeeshop is actually where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s 12. The scene didn’t make any sense and in the next post you will learn why:) Notice the unexpected critter in the shop too… LOL!
Hi Kitty!! High Kitty???
Community of Charitable Women: This community started back in the 1600’s and is alive and well today. The way it originally began was with a group of women who wanted to take on the charitable responsibilities of nuns without actually having to take all the vows or chastities of nuns. Hence began the community of charitable women:) Now this title I’ve assigned is my own title- it’s not what the group is actually called (since I can’t recall specifically) and I’m not even sure where the community is in Amsterdam since I neglected to take a picture of what street we were on when coming to it. But I guess it’s meant to be that way since it was sort of a secret of the city. Behind the door in the picture below lay the community of women who simply want to live life giving to others. That is how the community began and today it is a peaceful and very sought out area of town to live. This community only allows people who meet the following criteria to live there: 1) they must be female; 2) they must be over 30; and 3) they must be single. To live in this community is so sought after that women are put on a waiting list. One story told to us was of a woman whose name was finally called after 10 years of waiting. When the call came she had been dating a steady boyfriend for several years but she promptly broke up with him so she could move into the community, LOL!! The picture of the grave below is of one of the original members of the community who died in 1654. She wanted to be buried in the street so she could feel the rain wash over her. When she did die however she was buried in a regular cemetary, even though it was against her wishes (If memory serves it was her family who buried her in the cemetary). One night the women of the community knowing her final wish for her resting place went to the cemetary, dug her up and took her back to the community where they burried her in the street. Now those are true friends!
Gateway to Serenity
Gardens of Community
Gardens of Community_2
Feel the Rain 1652
XXX: No, this doesn’t refer at all to the Red Light District or anything at all to do with anything X-rated, it is merely at the core of the 500 year old coat of arms of Amsterdam. It can be seen just about everywhere throughout the city however from the flags to street signs and of course on the coat of arms itself.
The Nieuwmarkt: this building is was the old gate to medieval Amsterdam and was built in 1488. It stood in the canal until 1614 and in 1617 it became a weighing station. Interesting story told by our guide about this place is that it was also the location of several “human experiements” shall we say… Doctors and surgeons way back when used this location to perform a variety of disections on human bodies to figure out how they work. If memory serves it was also the site of many executions that then led to their bodies being taken apart piece by piece to see how they ticked… Today it is a restaurant:) Steak anyone?? 😉
Homomonument: This monumnet is made up of 3 triangles, that if viewed above form a larger single triangle where each of the three smaller forms a point of the larger one. The Homomonument serves as a memorial to all gay men and lesbians who have had to face persecution at any point in their lives because of their sexuality. To me it once again shows how wonderfully accepting and celebratory Amsterdam is of the people who make their lives there.
The next morning thankfully turned out to be a sunny one and we prepped ourselves for the Park. As mentioned in the last post, the walk to the National Park was only about 300 meters from our hostel. As we walked toward the Park up ahead in the Park trees a bunch of the tree tops began to rustle and a deep, penetrating roar could be heard coming from the rustle… It literally reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park with a T-Rex about to emerge from the dense forest, roaring as it did!! It was a little unnerving until I was informed that it was only a Howler Monkeys making the noise and that there was nothing to fear. When we arrived at the entrance (about 8am) there were already a ton of tourist groups lined up in various places getting their troops together to enter the Park. B, A and I purchased our tickets (again $10 for tourists though this time I paid with colones and paid less than $10… perhaps it was because of the current daily exchange rate that the Parks do pay attention to) and entered the Park.
A few things we were told through the grape-vine about the Park prior to entering was #1 do not hire a private tour guide as many other tourists do this so you can always “bum” in their tours by simply looking where their tour guide is pointing to find something interesting and #2 go off the beaten path when possible away from the rest of the tourists and you will be guaranteed to see much more!
Keeping that information in mind we set in our walk without a guide. Both pieces of advice above came in great handy as alone the main path of the Park several tour guides had already set up shop with their binoculars on tripods pointing out insects and crabs to their hired tourists or pointing high in the trees sharing interesting information on a particular plant or tree. Luckily for us, B was a botanist (there is actually a more accurate name for his title, I just can’t recall what it is… Sorry B!! But I do know that his work involves cataloging every species of plant and tree!) and he knew just about everything there was to know about every plant so in a sense we already had a fabulous guide for that portion.
We made our way along the path sighting many spiders, a scorpion eating a wasp, a variety of crabs hidden in a variety of clever places, a toucan (YAY!!!) and lizards!!
At a certain point we came across a point of crossroads where we could either go straight, right or scootch our way around the “closed” sign of a path to our left… Well of course we chose the path to our left!! 😉 The path was closed because it hadn’t been groomed recently, but it didn’t bother us at all. We made our way up the path to a quiet area where no sounds except that of nature could be heard. It was amazingly blissful!! So quiet with only the sound of the wind rustling gently through the trees. It is quite an amazing thing to stop and just listen to the beauty of nature!! We stayed there for a bit taking in the sounds until some new sound caught my attention high in the trees. Of course curiosity took over good sense as I followed the noise only to spot my first Howler Monkey!!!!!
Such amazing creatures!! These small, black monkeys with faces so familiar in human features and hands even more so familiar are just an incredible sight to take in!! They travel in troops usually anywhere from about a dozen to a dozen and a half! There is only one alpha male of the group and the rest are females or young males and it’s also pretty common to find a new mom in the troop as well. Their hands and feet, as well as the underside of about the last 6 inches of their tail do not have any fur on them so they can easily grip surfaces. The roar of the alpha male can be heard from great distances around! I have since found out that they only roar early in the morning or to announce to another approaching troop that they are coming too close to their territory, or if rain is approaching!
As I gazed above me in wonder, they simply gazed right back wondering what it was I was up to! I of course took a few photos and kept my voice low as I called my friends over to see them as well and then we continued up and up and up the path again passing many other lizards and even an Agouti or a Tapir that ran off too fast to take pictures of (hence why I’m not entirely sure which it was exactly… but it was definitely a land mammal). The path ended on a platform at what seemed like the top of the world!! Though it wasn’t a 360 degree view, it was still magnificent!! You could clearly see the bay below and the jutting rocks that formed it, as well as a little cave carved into the rock, as well as the land clear south of us all the way to what we speculated to be the Oso Peninsula!!
After several pictures we headed back down the path to the main portion passing many other tourists who had also opted to take the “unbeaten” path. Now sadly, it was about this time that the batteries in my camera started to fail… I was able to get a picture or two in, but then would have to shut the camera down, take the batteries out to rest for several minutes then reload them and pray they would work again for a few more pictures!!
There are about 5 walking trails in the Manuel Antonio National Park and we ended up taking each of them to their various destinations. Along another path of interest, we came across a tourist and his young son. They were surrounded by a large troop of Capuchin Monkeys!! The Capuchin monkeys are most famously recognized from their white faces and black bodies, as well as their “star” quality. They can be seen in movies such as Outbreak and the Hangover Part II, as well as in the TV show Friends. Now I don’t advocate the use of wild animals for our entertainment, nor was I thrilled about the scene we had encountered. Despite the Park rules that warned to NOT FEED THE ANIMALS this father was blatantly ignoring them as he and his young son continued to offer the monkeys a variety of fruits. While it was quite an amazing feeling to have so many monkeys coming at you and around you in every direction all trying to get their piece of fruit, I opted to remove myself from the center as I do not agree with feeding wild animals, and this next bit is part of the reason why: At one point the young son was trying to offer one of the monkeys a piece of fruit. The monkey was quite reluctant to simply take the piece of fruit from the boy’s hand, so it didn’t. The boy, probably too young to understand the wrong in his behavior and not being told otherwise from his dad, continued to push his arm forward toward the monkey, trying to entice it to take the fruit. A few moments later, the monkey had had enough and literally slapped the outstretched hand of the boy away and screeched!! The father finally stepped in and told the boy to no longer feed the monkeys and they headed away.
Wild animals are wild folks, and should remain that way!! We have no business interfering with their nature and even less business trying to tame them. Ok, I’ve said my peace on that topic for now… moving on!
This particular path ended at a magnificent lagoon-like beach!! Unlike the black sands of Manuel Antonio beaches in the “city”, this beach had white powdered sand!! Hermit crabs were everywhere by the hundreds as well as a variety of crabs once again. Sadly, myself nor my two companions had realized there were beaches in the Park to swim in, so none of us had our suits on to be able to swim!! So for all of you out there who are planning to visit the Park, please take that bit of advice as your #3 lesson:)
We hung around this beach for a bit wading around the water and taking pictures (camera battery pending) and then started to head toward the exit. The exit path went right along another large and lengthy beach portion that once again made me “tisk” at myself for not thinking to bring a suit. Many tourists were lined on the beach taking in the sun and enjoying the water. We even spotted some caper bandits (i.e. raccoons) going through some tourist bags that were left on the beach for some goodies they could eat.
All in all we had already spent about 4 hours walking around the Park, so each of us were ready at this point to exit and get something to eat and of course a cold brew.
When we reached the exit, we were greeted by a few men with little row boats. Indeed the only way to exit the Park (unless you were willing to walk ALL the way back to the main entrance) was to cross a little river, too deep to wade through (another reason the suit would have come in handy!!) for $1.00 a piece! With no other real choice we all paid and took the maybe 15 meter boat ride back to the “main land” and headed back to the hostel.
The rest of this day was spent simply relaxing, enjoying good food and of course some good beer on the beach!! It was quite a nice ending to a fantastic Park day! It was during this afternoon that B, A and I shared our plans for the next day. “A” had only a few more days in Costa Rica and planned to spend them in Montezuma (on the tip of the Nicoyo Peninsula). “B” opted to spend his remaining days in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio, and I planned to continue heading South to Uvita.