Tag Archives: muay thai

Favorites from Koh Tao

Favorite coffee shop: Through the Looking Glass

Favorite beach: toss up between Ao Luek, Hin Wong and Koh Nangyuan

Favorite island dog: Am (Through the Looking Glass)

Favorite beach bar: Mol’s Beach bar Hin Wong

Favorite sandwich shop: Through the Looking Glass (chicken, bacon & mayo!!)

Favorite Monthly Rental: P’un House (in Sairee. If you are a light sleeper, do bring some ear plugs to drown out street noise!  Another great place to check out too is Sabai House or the Bottle House.)

Favorite view: The View bar

Favorite gym: Island Muay Thai

Favorite Italian food: Thaita

Favorite Thai food: Mint Kitchen (I specifically recommend the green curry!!)

Favorite homemade booze: Baileys from Taste of Home

Favorite night out entertainment: Lady Boy Cabaret

Favorite place to relax: Chalok Bay

Favorite sunset bar: Fizz (Sairee)

On to Koh Phi Phi Don

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Ao Luek & Chalok Bay

On the south side of Koh Tao, the beautiful beach of Ao Luek and the quiet hippy town of Chalok can be found.  I hadn’t spent a great deal of time on this part of the island during my stay on Koh Tao mainly because it was “so far away”.  I put that in quotes of course because Koh Tao is only 21 square Km (21mm- inside joke!) so really, not getting to that part of the island simply came down to laziness and being cheap!  However, if ever on Koh Tao I would NOT miss going to Chalok and Ao Luek!!

Ao Luek features stunning crystal clear waters with unbelievable snorkeling visibility, several delicious and reasonably priced restaurants, and is one of the hotspots to check out for potential shark spotting!  A baby whale shark made an appearance there one morning and several other fellow snorkelers mentioned spotting many other baby shark species (all harmless!!).

Chalok bay has an amazingly calm and quiet hippy vibe that is a breath of fresh air compared to the party atmosphere of Sairee.  Freedom beach, at the tail end of the bay is a nice spot to chill out with an easily accessible walkway along the rocks of the ocean that leads back to the quiet and serene bay.  Best of all, the New Heaven Dive School (located in the heart of the bay) offers marine conservation projects.  Every day at 4pm they allow random passing volunteers to engage in the daily activity of treating and feeding injured sea turtles!!  The turtles are released (once all better) into the wild and are the only turtles I’d seen on “Turtle Island”.

Chalok bay was recommended to me by a husband and wife team who also frequented my favorite coffee shop and bakery (Through the Looking Glass) who own a bungalow rental property in the area.  It was definitely worth the visit and had my Muay Thai gym and favorite coffee shop not been located in Sairee, I could absolutely have seen myself staying in Chalok for an extended time soaking up the chilled vibes.

On to Leaving Koh Tao

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Through the Looking Glass

I was first introduced to the local bakery and coffee shop called ‘Through the Looking Glass’ on Koh Tao by an acquaintance I’d met while volunteering for ‘Trash Hero’ (a volunteer group that got together weekly to pick up trash on the island and beaches).  After one particular volunteer session, the fellow volunteer suggested we get some lunch, so we wandered into ‘Through the Looking Glass’ for a nibble.  While I honestly wasn’t very hungry at the time, I soon discovered why the little bakery was a local favorite.  Their coffee was REAL (fresh ground!!!); all the breads and baked goods served were made and baked FRESH on the premises (seriously, finding baked bread is a treat all by itself in Thailand, but to also find cakes, brownies and other goodies??? Pinch me now!!); and their chicken, bacon & mayo sandwich was to die for!!!

Though I didn’t know anyone there (except the fellow Trash Hero volunteer) it was easy to see (apart from the delicious food and coffee) why this place was so popular.  Everyone said hello to one another whether they knew them or not.  The owners (Deb and Rick) engaged with customers and treated everyone as good friends.  The location itself (being off one of the main roads in Sairee) was a delightful spot for people watching.  And best of all, everyone was greeted by Am.  Am was once a street dog who adopted Deb and Rick.  While she stays true to her street dog nature by bounding off and visiting her street dog friends daily, she also enjoys the loving attention and care of her adopted owners.

Perhaps it was a week or two that had passed since first popping in for a bite at the Looking Glass when I got to thinking that I needed a routine.  When staying in one place for a while, it’s important to develop a good routine that also gets you out and about.  So far my only real routine had been to go to Muay Thai training but then after I’d want to chill out the rest of the day at home and would find myself not engaging with the outside world so much.  So I decided I needed to inject a social routine, and the Looking Glass was the only place that popped to mind when thinking just how to get it done.

The new routine went as such: Muay Thai training in the morning, home, shower and then to the Looking Glass for coffee.  It was no time at all before I practically knew every person on the island!  As I chilled out at the Looking Glass consuming (admittedly) a ridiculous amount of coffee (up to 6 cups a day, but on average only 4) I met numerous new people, got caught up on all the goings-on of the island, spoiled Am with lots of loving, and chatted with Deb and Rick whom I grew to consider as family.

For the rest of my time on Koh Tao (over a month) not a single day passed that I didn’t stop by for a visit (except for their day off).  It was quite a bitter-sweet moment when it came time to leave the island.  Once Anna arrived, while we did spent another 10 days or so exploring Koh Tao together and enjoying daily coffees and sandwiches at The Looking Glass, it was time to move on and explore more islands of Thailand.  For our last night on the island we went out with Deb and Rick to A Taste of Home (delicious German food and homemade Bailey’s!!) and drank and ate and laughed until the wee hours of the morning.  I miss Deb, Rick and Am terribly but am blessed to have known then at all.  It’s friends like them that you meet along the way that make traveling all that much more special!

On to Ao Luek & Chalok Bay

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Kayak to Koh Nangyuan

Off the North West of the island of Koh Tao, there lies another much smaller privately owned island of Koh Nangyuan.  Since being on Koh Tao for the past couple of months now, I’ve always thought to go visit Koh Nangyuan as I’d heard spectacular things about it.  Of course it has popular spots for diving and snorkeling, but it also has a bit of hiking and provides beautiful views looking back on Koh Tao.  To get there however one must either go on a snorkel/diving tour or hire a taxi boat.  Since I was on my own I couldn’t justify paying the price for a taxi boat, however I knew that Anna (my neighbor in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and whom I’d visited in Scotland and she’d visited me in Italy) was coming for a 5 week trip to Thailand.  So I waited for her to come to do some of the activities that aren’t near as fun solo as with a traveling buddy.

When Anna first arrived we were absolutely lazy.  I stopped doing Muay Thai, we slept in until 10 every day, had cocktails nightly on Sairee beach and generally lounged about.  When I’m on my own I’m in travel mode which means saving every penny and taking advantage of every day.  But when a friend arrives who is on vacation mode, the spending increases and the relaxing skyrockets!  Isn’t that what people do on vacation??  After the first week however we snapped to and started actually planning activities that extended beyond reading books and napping on the beach.  Afterall, there is literally so much to do and see on this teeny 21 square km island that it’s impressive!

One of the activities I saved for her visit was to visit Koh Nangyuan.  But instead of going there the “conventional” way, we opted to kayak there :).  Deb and Rick (friends I’d made on the island who own my favorite coffee and sandwich shop on the island, Through the Looking Glass) suggested where to go to rent the kayaks.  So semi-early one day after a couple of cups of coffee, Anna and I made our way to Wind Beach for the kayak rental.  For 600 baht we rented a double kayak complete with life jackets and a dry bag for the entire day.  We were supposed to give something as a deposit for the rental (passport- though recently I heard it’s actually illegal for people in Thailand to hold your passport, monetary deposit, room key, something!) but as we didn’t arrive THAT prepared, after a few minutes the guy simply said, “no problem, just write your name, where you stay on the island and where you from”.  Good thing!

We packed the kayak with our stuff and a large plastic bottle of water, snapped on the life vests and headed out to sea!  I’d only done sea kayaking once before in my life and that was years ago in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica in a single kayak to boot.  Riding in a double kayak is a teeny bit different.  First off communication is KEY!!  For if one person is paddling right and the other left, well no one would get anywhere!  Since Anna is similar in nature to myself however, even when we did goof up or get out of sync, we simply laughed it up and got back in communication.  It did take probably the first 10 minutes or so for us to completely organize ourselves with our respective duties on the kayak (Anna in the back would call out commands- left, right, steering!!- and I in the front would look out for obstacles) but once we did we rocked it out!

The morning sea while not insanely choppy did have quite a few waves to overcome.  The channel between Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan is often frequented by passing dive boats, tour boats and taxi boat traffic which added to the waves, but we took it all in stride.  Currents were another thing to contend with as we found ourselves often being spun toward land so we had to paddle to the left much more than to the right, which of course exhausted that side faster.

We crossed the channel safely however and then were faced with a new question… Where are we supposed to park this thing over there??  We weren’t given any instruction when we left so who knew where it was appropriate to land… The first little bay area we reached, just next to the pier where the boats came in, was where we decided to go and we very slowly and carefully navigated our way to shore.  I say “slowly and carefully” because just beneath the surface were tons and tons of coral and sea slugs/cucumbers!  We had to paddle very shallowly as well so we wouldn’t knock any corals and navigating became a bit trickier to avoid the living marine life.  We thankfully made it to shore without incident to marine life however and pulled the kayak to dry land.

It just seems that each beach that I’ve been to in Thailand just gets more and more beautiful than the next.  Koh Nangyuan is no exception!!  The structure of the island is essentially two small island connected by a sandbar which on either side exists beautiful ocean bays full of a ridiculously lush array of sea life!  We immediately had to get in the water to cool off and do a bit of snorkeling.  The snorkel didn’t last terribly long that first time however because the fish in that particular bay kept nibbling at us… Guess they knew we were new to the island, lol!!

As we emerged from the first “dip in the pool” we were approached by a Thai gentlemen who obviously worked on the island.  He asked if we were the ones with the kayak and then said we had to each pay 100 baht to be on the island…  It was then that we were told that this island was privately owned and hence there was a fee to walk about it and play in the waters surrounding it… We did come with plenty of money, but it would have been nice to know in advance of this extra charge.  So I’m sharing it for future travelers!  Also, I don’t know if for the taxi boats, if the charge to get there includes or not the 100 baht fee to be on the island… In any event, just be aware of this additional cost.

Moving on.  The small island bit to the South had a walking trail that led around the edge of the island to a beautiful viewpoint, so we headed off on it to check it out.  Mind you, it is possible to sleep on the island so as we skirted along the very shady (i.e. sketchy) barely still standing wooden plank path, we were passing several pleasant-looking bungalows.  We went to the viewpoint that was on the southernmost tip of the island and then had to turn back as the wooden path was falling apart and almost demolished in bits beyond a point, and headed up the trail that led to the top of the island for another viewpoint.

Though it was very hot and the walk was completely uphill, it really wasn’t a terrible walk by any means and not terribly high either.  The only struggle really was competing for space at the top on the rocks to be able to take pictures without other in them!  There seemed to be quite a few impatient people really who wanted to simply scramble to the top, took ages getting “just the right shot” with them in them and then hauled down.  So needless to say it took us a bit of time to get some shots, and once completed we leisurely made our way down.

At this point it was time for a nibble of food and as we sat down at the only restaurant on the island with our plastic water bottle in tow, it was then we noticed the signs just about everywhere that read “NO PLASTIC BOTTLES”…. Ooooppsss!!!!  Apparently plastic containers are NOT allowed on the island and all beverages from the restaurant are served in glass containers.  Again, just another little tip for future travelers:)  We were never yelled at for having the bottle however and we made a very big point of being sure to carry the bottle home with us, regardless of it being empty.

After the nibble it was time to check out the North end of the sandbar to see what kind of snorkeling action we could get there.  Don’t worry mothers we did wait about a half hour after food to go swimming 😉  The North end of the sandbar was lined on both sides with umbrellas and beach chairs and seeing as the sun was out in full force, we opted to pay the 150 baht for the set-up.  This part of the island was by far my favorite and it as quite evident it was the favorite of just about everyone else there too.  The water was crystal clear and reminded me of the waters I’d seen at some of the beaches on the Island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.  I lovingly started to refer to that bay as the “kiddie pool” as the waters were very calm, quite deep, but so clear you could simply stand on the edge and see all the marine life.  All sorts of fish (including puffers!!), sea urchins, anemones an cucumbers could be found in a relatively small area.  The bay was large enough however to accommodate several dozens of snorkelers and several classes of divers working on their refresher course.  It was absolutely spectacular snorkeling that I spent at least an hour exploring.

The rest of the day was simply spent reading under our shade, dipping in the kiddie pool to cool off, snorkeling and generally relaxing.  Around 4 we decided to head back to Koh Tao to turn in the kayak and though the waters were calmer in the afternoon, we did have some harrowing moments as the boat traffic (we must have hit rush hour) was a bit on the ridiculous side!  But after about 45 minutes and dodging about a dozen boats or taxis, we made it safe to shore and headed straight to the Wind Beach bar for a nice cold beer.  We watched the sunset while sipping on our beers (though it was quite cloudy at that point so not the best sunset sadly) and I even bought a beach dress from a traveling sales lady.  Though we were both exhausted from our day of activities, we had plans for the night as well… It was time to check out the Lady Boy Cabaret!

On to Night with the Ladies

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Koh Tao Fight Nights

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:)

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.

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!!

Back to Thailand 

Unique View of Muay Thai Training…

I’m too cheap to pay for the upgrade to allow enough media space for video clips, so instead of simply uploading a video of some of my recent Muay Thai training from the beautiful island of Koh Tao, I thought I’d simply write out what a typical training round “sounds” like.  Plus, I also thought it may also be a bit more entertaining this way 😉

After stretching, several minutes of jumping rope, shadow boxing, 100 front kicks on the bag and my hands wrapped and gloved up it’s time for training.

Before getting into it, I gotta admit a funny on my part.  I would hear throughout the training that the trainers would say “ma” quite a bit.  “Ma” in Thai has several meanings (dog, horse, come) and since I was most familiar with “ma” meaning “dog” from working at the animal shelter, I kept wondering why the trainers were calling us dogs, lol!!  But then I recalled it also means “come” so that made more sense!

Round 1 (written as I hear it from the trainers with accompanying translations and/or my inner thoughts as the round goes along…)

  • Ma, Ma (come, come)
  • Jeb, pap (left front jab, right front jab)
  • Pap (right front jab)
  • Ook ma (left hook punch)
  • Pow-wer again! (more power needed in the punch, again!)
  • Ook ma (left hook punch)
  • Jeb (left front jab)
  • Ubber cut, ma (right upper cut, come)
  • Ook ma (left hook punch, come)
  • Pap (right front punch)
  • One two, pap-pap (front punches, left first then right)
  • Oh-oi! (trainer is taking a swing at my head that I must lean back to dodge quickly or get hit)
  • Jeb jeb (left front double punch)
  • Again ma!
  • Jeb jeb (left front double punch… again!)
  • Pow-wer!
  • Jeb jeb, ma (Ugh, punch harder!)
  • Yees, goud (yes, good!!! Happy day! 🙂 )
  • Ubber cut ma (right upper cut punch)
  • Four ma: one, two, three, foor (4 alternating front jabs)
  • Pap (right front punch)
  • Oh-oi! (whoa, I almost got hit that time!)
  • Pap (right front punch)
  • Oh-oi! (hee hee, missed it!!)
  • Knee!  One, two (thrust right knee twice into the stomach pad)
  • Knee!  One, two (thrust left knee twice into the stomach pad)
  • Elbow (step forward, smack right elbow in the pad)
  • Elbow (remember to step forward first!)
  • Up Elbow (step forward, thrust elbow upward into face)
  • Ehy-uup (trainer is holding pads at his head signaling for a swing kick: right leg)
  • Oh-ehh! or Oi-ish-she depending on trainer (heard if the kick was powerful or good enough)
  • Ehy-uup (another right leg swing kick)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she (yay-yaah!!)
  • Jeb (you get it)
  • Pap (more punches)
  • One-two, pap-pap (pretty much with every hit on the pads the trainer makes an accompanying noise, hence the pap-pap)
  • Block! (trainer is trying to kick my side, so I block his kick with my shin and fore arm)
  • Ehy-uup (swing kick again… Man this is getting exhausting!)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she
  • Sweech keek (this means to avoid his low kick to my left leg by changing my stance of left foot forward, right back to right foot forward, left back so I can then easily kick the pads at his head with my left leg)
  • Oh-ehh!/oi-ish-she (oh man I’m really getting exhausted…  Just gotta breathe!!)
  • Ma, ma ( really it isn’t break time yet?!?!?)
  • Jeb
  • Pap
  • Foor: one two three foor (4 alternating front punches)
  • Elbow ma (strike with elbow)
  • Elbow ma
  • Ehy-uup (oh God another swing kick, BREATHE!!)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she (happy day!!!)
  • Ehy-uup (I can make it, I can make it!!)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she (happy day again!)
  • Front keek, ma (front kick right, come)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she (seriously is he just trying to make me feel better about my dwindling energy?!)
  • Front keek, ma (front kick left, front kicks aren’t so hard really)
  • Oh-ehh!/Oi-ish-she
  • Jeb, elbow ma (left front punch, swing behind with right elbow and strike, then back to original position)
  • Pow-wer, again ma (not forceful enough, more power, dang-it!!! come)
  • Jeb, elbow (Ugh, that powerful enough??)
  • Yees, good (yay!! Happy day!!)
  • Ten: one, two, three, foor, five, seeks, seven, eight, nine, ten (10 alternating front punches at rapid speed… Energy, energy!!)
  • Again! (Phew, breathe, ok, again…)
  • Yees, again! (Seriously?!?!?! UGH!!!  Breathe, I can do this!)
  • Yeeah-pap! (final right front punch… Thank goodness!!!!)
  • Five ma ehy-uup (ok, ok, breathe, just 5 right swing kicks)
  • Five ma Ehy-uup (OMG now the left leg… I may vomit…Breathe, breathe, BREATHE!!!!)
  • Break! (Thank.Goodness!!!!! Can I go die now?)

Nope… 4 more rounds to go….

On to Koh Tao Fight Nights

Back to Thailand

Muay Thai Kickboxing Training

Part of the reason I wanted to stay for a month on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, Thailand was so I could dip my toes a bit in the world of Muay Thai Kickboxing.  Though I’m not in perfect shape, I do really enjoy working out and try to get workouts in daily, even when traveling.  As any fitness fanatic knows however, the best way to stay on top of your fitness is to mix up your workouts.  Since I’m in Thailand, I figured why not give their traditional martial art of Muay Thai a try?

I did not originally come to Koh Tao expecting to stay so long.  I had the idea that I would “if and only if” I found a Muay Thai gym I liked.  On the island there are actually two gyms that offer Muay Thai training.  Monsoon Gym and Island Muay Thai.  I checked both places out, dropping by during their training hours just to get a vibe of each place prior to committing to either (if at all).  Dropping by during training hours was purposeful because I wanted to get the sense of two things: first a sneak peek at the training and how the trainers interacted with students (my trainers test) and second to see how I would be greeted during a busy time (my management test).

Blocking a Kick
Blocking a Kick

On the surface, my observations were as follows.  While Monsoon Gym doesn’t have a ring, it has a very impressive workout and training space.  The practice area looks brand new and their gym (to get in weight or extra cardio workouts) is also quite nice!  In addition, they offered a variety of classes such as capoeira and crossfit type classes that you could mix in with the Muay Thai training.  They even offered on-site dorms as accommodation (for an extra price of course) to those training with them.  It was evident that a lot of money was put into the place.

Kicking Away
Kicking Away

By comparison the Island Muay Thai training facility did have a ring but their training area looked rather used and broken in, so to speak.  Their gym area to get in extra weight or cardio workouts really wasn’t anything to write home about as it had outdated machines and not a huge variety of weights.  Whether the gym had a ring or not was not a concern or care to me as I had no intention to fight, only to train for fitness.  So on the surface Monsoon gym had me hands down (especially since they offered more of a variety of fitness classes).  However one huge difference between the two gyms led me to make my ultimate decision.

Gonna Get Ya!
Gonna Get Ya!

They say first impressions are the most important.  And as far as I’m concerned, they can make or break a person or business.  Monsoon Gym, while impressive visually, fell flat on its face when I popped by to check the place out.  It had the feel of where the cool kids and cliques hung out.  I stood around for about 10 minutes waiting to get the eye of someone (anyone) who worked there to ask questions about the courses.  Of course there were posters everywhere giving pricing information and such, and while I technically got all the info I needed just by looking at the posters, my point in going in personally was to get the feel of the place and people.  And based on that aspect, I was not impressed.  I finally struck a conversation with a random person hanging about who had been training there and talked to him about the place.  He was actually very nice and informative and had nothing but praise for the place.  But when he pointed me in the direction of one of the people who worked there (a falang whose exact role I can’t recall) and I went to chat with her, the welcoming was icy and indifferent.  I should mention however that based on my observations of the trainers themselves, I had no negative impression as they seemed very engaged with the students.

Bruised Up_2

On the contrast was my impression of Island Muay Thai.  Again I showed up during training hours and was immediately greeted by someone (who turned out was the owner) with a flyer listing prices and giving information.  And again, while visually the place was lack-luster compared to Monsoon, it felt more serious and more focused.  It had that wholesome “come as you are and let us kick your rear with a killer workout” feel that inspires me to work hard.  Also the vibe felt comforting and made me feel confident to simply show up as I was (even with several extra pounds to lose!) and not feel embarrassed that I wasn’t in perfect shape.  And to boot I was actually acknowledged as I came up to the place!  To me, the vibes between the gyms were night and day and I very happily (after finding a place to stay) signed up with Island Muay Thai for a month.

Bruised Up
Bruised Up

For the past month now, I’ve been going to Island Muay Thai about 4 times a week.  Between working out there and going there for the fight nights (every 10 days!!) it’s practically become a second home to me, lol!  I arrive a little before 8am to get in about 5-10 minutes of stretching, then hit the jump ropes for anywhere between 5-10 minutes, then it’s time to get the hands wrapped and the gloves on for training.  Depending on the trainer, the sessions can go in a variety of directions:  3 minutes on, 1 minute break or up to 10 minutes on and several minute breaks.  Either way the end result is always the same: I leave exhausted, super sweaty and ready for a cold shower!!  What I appreciate most is each trainer has their own focus, or specific set of things that they watch out for, or area of expertise.  What that boils down to is that I learn something new each and every time.  And each criticism from the various trainers compliment each other too.  So learning one specific stance or technique from one trainer compliments what you’ve been taught by another and so on.

Ugly Feet!
Ugly Feet!

I’ve injured myself a bit here and there (blisters, bruises, and feeling like my feet were broken) along the way due to my being exhausted and using improper technique, but I love the training!  They push me to work harder each time and the training is unlike else I’ve done so far.  I sweat buckets during each workout and sometimes feel like I could either pass out (because I’m holding my breath during the punches or kicks) or vomit by the end, but I still show up and am even staying for yet another month so I can train on 🙂  This time it will be 5 days a week just to see how much more fit I can get with it. Let the games begin!!

On to Unique View of Muay Thai Training

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Eating Bat and The View

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

Sun setting
Sun setting

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!

On to Muay Thai Kickboxing Training

Back to Thailand

Koh Tao Island

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.

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.

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!

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!

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!!

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! 🙂

Eating Bat and The View

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The ‘Squirrely’ Side of Thailand

I thought it only fair since I posted ‘Things to Love about Thailand’ that I should also have a little ranting page about things I find squirrely about the country as well.  Again, they are in no particular order 🙂

#1: Whitening
Ok, now I understand that this is 100% a culture thing.  Unlike many people in the Western world and many Europeans, Asians want white skin.  White skin is a sign of wealth.  For if you are wealthy, you spend most of your time indoors and don’t have to work or labor outdoors, hence you stay out of the sun, hence you have white skin.  On the flip side, having dark skin is a sign of poverty.  So ok, I get people here want white skin, but what I’m not a fan of is the whitening products and not having a real choice outside of it.  Deodorants, body washes, lotions, basically any product for your skin has chemical whitening agents in them.  As a falang who prefers a little color to my skin, and as a person who doesn’t want unnecessary chemicals put on my skin, it’s really, REALLY hard to find any skin products without whitening chemicals in them.  They are all “whitening”, “extra whitening”, “white and firm”, etc….  What’s worse to me is so-called skin care product experts like Nivea, Oil of Olay, Dove, and so on are on the whitening bandwagon.  They are just out to give what the culture wants despite what damage it may do.  All about the $$$$… Again, I get it’s a culture thing to want white skin, I just wish there were options that didn’t have the whitening chemicals in them, that’s all 🙂
#2: Electric Lines
I don’t know why it is exactly that electrical poles have what sometimes looks like hundreds of lines coming off of them stretching along every road and side road.  It’s as if they had poles with a few lines at first, then as demand for electricity increased they just added more and more and more.  It’s sometimes scary as when you walk by many of the poles you can hear them literally buzzing with electricity!  And between some of the poles the electrical lines stretch from the top of the pole to at least half-way down allowing the lines to sag almost to the ground.  Now, I’m not an expert in electricity by any means, so I may be way out of my depth here, but I would think there would be a “neater” or more organized way to get electricity where needed without just adding more and more to already congested poles… Hmmm…

#3: Sugar
I learned very quickly that sugar is super popular here in Thailand.  They put it in EVERYTHING!!  It’s even a condiment on the table for your meal!  They have the chili pepper powder, fish sauce, a vinegar sauce with sliced chili in it and sugar.  Nope, that’s NOT salt!  I’ve heard that Thailand is way up there for diabetes and obesity, though to be honest I haven’t noticed that many obese Thai’s, so while that part came as a surprise to me, after realizing and tasting that yes, everything does have a ton of sugar in it, it’s not so shocking after all.  Bread, coffee, “all natural juices”, potato chips, the list goes on!  If shopping on the street at the various vendors, if it looks like it may be tart or not have sugar in it, you really won’t know for sure until you take that first bite.  As someone who is trying to watch sugar intake for personal health benefits, I literally have to read every ingredient on what I pick up in the store to check for sugar.  I’ve done this action so often now, I even recognize the word in Thai (since the majority of ingredient lists are 100% in Thai).  Such a bummer!

#4: Visas
If you enter Thailand via air, you automatically will receive a tourist Visa for 30 days.  If you want to have a Visa for a longer period of time, you can apply before going to Thailand to the nearest Thai embassy for a 60 or even 90 day Visa.  It is possible to get a year Visa if you are doing some sort of education while in the country such as learning to speak Thai or Muay Thai training.  If you arrive in Thailand via land (bus or train) you get a 15 day Visa!!  Seriously???  What in the world would anyone actually be able to see of Thailand in 15 days!?!?!  I understand that there are many expats and travelers that get jobs while originally just visiting Thailand and aren’t being legal about it (paying the appropriate taxes and such) so the government is trying to limit the amount of time people stay in the country to make it harder for those who get jobs and aren’t legal about it.  I get that.  It’s just unfortunate from the perspective of regular travelers who just want to explore the country without having to leave every 30, 60 or 90 days (yes, even 90 days is a pain to have to do!!) especially with some borders being closed (well, you can leave, but you can’t come back).  I’m spending my saved earned money in this country… Wouldn’t they want me to be here for a longer period of time without having to leave?  Then again, maybe that’s part of it too… Paying for transport in and out of the country to be right by the Visa is also stimulating the economy… Hmmmm….  The rules do change quite often apparently and many expats who have been here legally for many years simply say that “that’s what happens when the government is ruled by the military”.  (Sigh)

#5: Thai’s Don’t Sweat!
Ok, this one is obviously just meant to be humorous… It simply astounds me how the Thai people never seem to actually sweat!!!  Seriously, if I’m sitting indoors without a fan directly on me I start to sweat profusely!  And even then, while the skin being hit by the fan is dry and cool, my backside is not!  Walking anywhere and well forget it, I’m drenched in sweat so often just walking about that my clothes change color from being sweat soaked.  I’m constantly peeling clothes off soaking wet clothes and setting them outside to dry after my walks and when they do dry they are streaked with white marks across them (from the salt in my sweat) so into the wash they have to go.  Yet watching Thai laborers in the sun constructing a new building, carrying materials and such, not a single drop of sweat anywhere!  Their skin isn’t glistening with any sign of stress!!  Ok, now of course this is a teeny bit of an exaggeration because of course they sweat, otherwise I’d think that was a major health issue, but seriously compared to how I and other falangs sweat, it’s night and day!  What is their secret???  I’m off for my third shower of the day now to rinse off the sweat from simply writing this post. 😉

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