I have to start this post by pointing out that while traveling it’s hard to find an occasion to really dress up for. Since being on this particular journey I can only think of a few times that I’d made any real effort in dressing up or even in trying to look good. Putting on makeup seems ridiculous to me as the heat would just melt it off and even shaving legs or plucking eyebrows sometimes goes longer than needed because there isn’t anyone to impress. The only times I did make an effort on Koh Tao (i.e. put on some earings or wore a clean top with my jean shorts) was when I went to Fight Nights because it was the only time I ever went out at night on Koh Tao (pre Anna visiting…).
This all changed the night Anna and I went to the Lady Boy Cabaret on the Koh Tao walking street however… It wasn’t just me but Anna as well… For some reason we felt compelled to make an effort to look good at the show knowing full well that just about every (and I mean EVERY) one of Lady Boys in the cabaret show would look a million times better than us!! And the kicker?? Yes, they are all MEN!!!
Lady boys in Thailand do not carry the stigma as they do in other parts of the world. It is perfectly accepted by the society that a man would rather be and live his life as a woman. Of course, while it’s accepted socially there are apparently a few kinks in other ways as I’d recently been told about (lady boys can’t hold certain jobs and in general have difficulty getting hired in “normal” positions and have to be registered as male making it impossible for them to leave the country since their ID says “male” yet they show up as a female, etc). But in general they at least seem to be more accepted by people of this country and not as people to shame. Yet another lesson to learn from Thailand! Alas, baby steps…
Going to the Cabaret was another on my list of things to do when Anna arrived so after our kayak to Koh Nangyuan, several pre-party beers, plucking eyebrows and fussing over the best dress to wear we headed out to the walking street for some Lady Boy entertainment. Neither of us wore any makeup though because again it’s just too hot, even at night in my opinion, to bother!
From previous walks past the cabaret bar I’d noticed the place was always packed so I rushed us out of the house 40 minutes early to make sure we got a seat. Turned out we were the first to arrive (go figure) so we had the pick of the place and were seated by one of the staff members (who funnily enough is an awesome Muay Thai fighter!!) in the second row center stage. The first row was reserved apparently… Drinks were ordered and for the first 20 to 30 minutes it seemed that perhaps I had been a bit too hasty in shuffling us there so early as the crowd really wasn’t gaining in numbers. However by the time the show was due to begin (about 10:30) the place was absolutely packed! And the people who had reserved the front row didn’t show, so the staff moved all of us from the second row onto the first!! Yay!!!
Putting on a show
I tell you what, those ladies put on such a fun show and looked amazing doing it!! They really do put most real women to shame in their beauty and though I know that some are surgically helped along, they still are absolutely stunning! In fact, there was one Lady who if put next to Ariana Grande, I would seriously have a VERY tough time figuring out which was the real Ariana!! And I swear that at least two of them could seriously be Victoria Secret models!! The show was fun and energetic with the crowd getting into each song, singing along, clapping and hootin’ and hollerin’! The lead ladies in each number were spot on in their performances (especially the “Christina Aguilera” lady who not only “sang” perfectly but had the attitude and moves to match) and it was impressive to watch them dancing their hearts out in 6 inch stiletto heels!!
The show consisted of about a dozen or so songs being “sung” (lip-syncing) by a lead Lady with her accompanying dancers but at one point a brave young man was plucked from the audience, sat on a chair, blindfolded and had some naughty acts “performed” on him. That act REALLY riled up the audience with laughter and cheers! It was seriously a great show and honestly better than the show I’d seen in Key West during my time there.
Anna with the Diva
Snapped with a Lady
When the show was over the Ladies offered the crowd to take pictures with them for 100 baht a pop (a girl’s gotta make a living!!) so of course Anna and I had to get ours taken with one. This show is definitely one I would absolutely recommend to attend! Admission to the show is free but they require one drink purchase per person which is quite a bit more pricey than other places, but then again their pour is nice as well. I can’t tell you how long the show went, but when we left it was energizing enough that Anna and I ended up staying out till 3am sipping “Pink Ladies” poolside at one of the pool bars called ‘The Office Bar’ (the only one open at that hour in honesty!) not far along the walking path from the club. Ah, such fun 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:)
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!!
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 day trip to Cinque Terre and Portovenere was mainly just for a viewing of each place. It had been a while since I had been to either spot, so it was time to reconnect, even if just for a day. Portovenere, which means the port of Venus (in my first version I said “door” of Venus, hence the comment below, lol!!) is another lovely seaside town located not far from the Cinque Terre in Liguria. The cutest of its features in my opinion is a little church at the end of the town that is built up on the rocks jutting out to sea. It is a very popular place to get married, and in fact while we were there, one wedding was just ending and as another bride was making her way up the steps for her turn, lol!! Portovenere also has a grotto and often times the waters of the area are blessed with pods of dolphins!! Unfortunately for me, the day after we were in Portovenere, a pod of 50 dolphins was spotted!! Oh well! It was probably just as well because otherwise I would have jumped in the water to chase them, lol!! Anyway, as the trip to Portovenere was really just for a quick reconnect, not a ton happened aside from wandering around and taking pictures. So enjoy them while they’re hot! 😉
Medellin is a proper, fairly large city situated in the valley between two mountain ranges. It is very picturesque despite the land being completely covered in homes and apartments. It has a great energy to it, very young and vibrant and they have quite a few things to do there. The temperature wasn’t quite what I had been used to… Now you have to bear in mind that until now I had been used to and living in tropical, Caribbean temperatures so anything less than 78 Fahrenheit (about 25.6 Celsius) I considered COLD!!
I stayed in Medellin for several days simply walking the streets, taking the tram up to the top of one side of the valley and going to their various museums, which included a science and natural history museum. It was a big city like many others, which really doesn’t appeal to me in any huge way other than it being nice to have the conveniences of a big city. But definitely worth a visit just to see the way the city is structured!
I have to admit really that after the craziness of actually getting there and getting settled there, every other day spent there was quite dull in comparison! Sorry, no crazy stories of actually staying in Medellin!! So to keep this post somewhat interesting, below at least are some pictures! Several from the bus ride over, and several more of Medellin itself. Some of the pictures taken from the tram seem foggy. That’s due to the glass of the tram, not from any pollution from the city:)