Travel – Thailand
This is a recap of my trip to Thailand in early August 2016. It’s part diary, part photo journal, part training recap. If you want a quick synopsis of how I stretch and exercise while traveling on planes and at airports, read the bottom of the post.
Bangkok – Day 1
- Activities – Mall art, traffic, Jim Thompson house (Thai silk promoter from DE), Muay Thai fights at Lumpinee Stadium.
- Bangkok’s airport taxis require spinning a ‘Random Death Generator’ wheel to pick your driver. The taxi driver I approached looked sane and sharp. However, he directed me to a ticket generator like the meat counter at a supermarket. That’s a clever way to evenly distribute rides between drivers and randomly dramatically increase your chance of death if you’re paired with a drugged-out driver. My driver had a bottle of ‘Tussin’, but that was not ‘Tussin’ he was sniffing and sipping. Whatever it was, he stayed coherent enough to slow down appropriately on the packed early-morning Bankok highway, while I struggled to keep my eyes open to assess whether I need to jump out of the cab at 50 mph. Now I know why my hotel charges exorbitant prices for a ride from the airport. With possible death as your competition, you can charge a premium.
- Getting upgraded to the top floor (22) of the hotel is a better start to the day.
- Bangkok smells. Bangkok is hot. Bankok has a lot of traffic and I just came from Bangalore where it can take 2 hours to drive 10 miles.
- The food at the Bangkok malls is pretty good. Pad Thai. Solid. Lots of people at the malls. Cool, vertically arranged buildings. Art makes the mall more like a museum with the gift shop embedded throughout.
- Close to a thousand teenage girls waiting outside the mall for an Asian boy band.
- Sky Walk allowing you to walk above the streets and traffic is critical. I can’t imagine getting around without it.
- Jim Thompson – Revitalized Thai silk. Built 6 houses for art displays. Bought Buddha art, spiked gargoyles, urinal containers disguised as cats. Delaware doesn’t get enough credit.
- Close to two hours in traffic to go 10 miles to Lumpinee. Taxi driver doesn’t seem happy he has to take me so far in traffic. At least he’s not snorting anything.
- Light night at Lumpinee fights, but still a large crowd in the cheap seats. Betting commences between every round.
- Knees are loud from the front row. Fights are much more engaging when the crowd yells on cue every time their fighter lands, even if it’s blocked.
- Pace is slower than Delco and Tri-state amateur kickboxing brawls.
- Kicks are massive. Knees are deadly. Boxing is…tepid. It’s there in spots, but no one turned on the heat.
- One-minute breaks are closer to a minute-and-a-half. Fighters are drenched in water between rounds with a man-length, low to the ground metal pool catching the water. Referees need 15 seconds to wipe down the fighters after they take a few extra seconds to finish a prayer between every round. If these traditions started as stalling techniques, I’m highly impressed.
- Best fight is the main event which is the 3rd to last fight. The losing fighter jumps on the ropes between the 4th and 5th round raising his hands like he’s won to pump up the crowd. I’m not sure of the strategy there, but it entertained us like a pro wrestling match. He could have saved his energy and maybe won the fight.
Bangkok – Day 2 Morning
- Activities – Grand Palace. Wat Phra Krew (Emerald Buddha). Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha).
- Traffic is better on a weekend morning.
- The Grand Palace crowd is deep, even 10 minutes before opening at 8:30 am. Getting in is a shoulder-to-shoulder push one slow step at a time.
- The crowd resembles Disneyland density after an hour.
- Taking a good picture of yourself alone is a three dimensional art. #1 – The shot needs to be clear of hordes of people or a rando in the exact wrong place. #2 – You need to find someone competent and motivated to take a good photo. #3 – You need to show them the angle and shot you want in seconds before the intersection of these 3 factors disappears.
- Wearing a light gray shirt was not a good idea. Luckily, I sweat so much it is now an evenly dark gray shirt. I’m amazed that it dries in less than 1/2 day and doesn’t smell. Merino wool is good for heavy sweaters in heat.
- Asian girls like getting pictures with tall, pasty-white American men. Four girls wanted a picture with me at the Grand Palace. I now know what Charles Cannon, one of my Kickboxing students, felt like in Japan as he towered over the masses.
- Scams, scams, scams. A well-spoken Thai man on a corner tried to convince me that my next destination – Wat Pho – was closed to non-Buddhists until the afternoon for a special holy day of prayer. There were a few cues. He spoke solid English. He asked me where I was going before telling me what was closed, meaning he would have told me anywhere I was going was closed. He didn’t let up when I tried to walk away as he tried to sell me a tuk-tuk ride with a man that just happened to pass by at the right time.
- Street food is top notch. Pork fried rice with a strong spice. Mango juice. Shrimp and noodles with an herby broth.
- The Golden Reclining Buddha is worth the price of admission. Over 100-feet long solid gold.
Bangkok – Day 2 Afternoon
- Activities – Boat ride across river. Wat Arun. Hotel. Chatuchak Weekend Market.
- Wat Arun is under construction. It’s a tall spire-looking monument with spectacular views from the top…from what I’ve heard. I could only go up halfway. Maybe, next time.
- Cold coffee never tasted so good after four hours of walking in a sweat-drenched shirt in 90 degree heat with a clear sky.
- After a quick break at the hotel to shower and change into a non-grey shirt, Chatuchak Weekend Market is next.
- The market was described as five massive football fields long of individuals selling food, jewelry, clothes, home goods, and just about anything else you can imagine. “If you find something you like, buy it because you’ll never find it again.” Both descriptions are spot on.
- Art alley has reggae playing, smoke emanating, and sculptures latching onto your imagination.
- T-shirts are an easy, light pick-up at $2-$3 each for shirts that would cost $30-$50 in the US. An espresso cup with bonsai hand painting is my only other purchase.
- Food options abound. Fresh grilled bread. Meat, meat, meat. Tea brewers, ricemen, Ice cream makers all have their place.
- The market ends earlier than I’d like at 6 pm. I saw almost half and got lost traversing between the two sides.
- A long subway ride takes me to Chinatown where…it rains. And rains. And rains. Time to go back to the hotel.
- The pool is closed because it rains. The hotel gym has barbells, but no squat rack. Still I can safely load 135 pounds on the barbell and squat up from the bench press. Hopefully, no one calls me out for barbell squat jumps when clearly the gym isn’t designed for squats.
- Dinner is more Thai seafood and rice at ‘You and Me’ in the hotel.
Krabi – Day 1
- Activities – Cliff-side resort. Great food and coffee in Ao Nang. Long-tail boat. Railay Beach.
- The trip to Krabi is smooth. No more drugged-out taxi drivers. An hour and a half flight. Booked the back of the plane and the row is empty, meaning a horizontal nap is in order.
- Bansanai Resort is 5 minutes off the Ao Nang beach, meaning it’s way cheaper than a hotel on the beach with excellent rooms, beds, cliff and small lake views. A shuttle to the beach runs every 1-2 hours.
- The 3 pm shuttle leads me to Cafe 8.98. Top notch, fresh ground coffee and high quality food are the norm here. Lunch is eggs and chorizo served in a cast iron pan with a little arugula on top. Capuccino and passion fruit cheesecake to carb and caffeinate up for the hot weather blood sugar burning to come.
- I catch the last Long Tail boat to Railay beach. They won’t leave until there are 8 passengers total, so there’s a short delay. The 10-minute ride is choppy, wet, loud, and fun.
- Approaching Railay begins to uncover the beauty of this beach. Cliffs on the left. Mountainous rocks on the right. Stunning from the beach. The East side is the dirt side with few people. The West side is tourist-packed from Dragon-tail boats, locals, and tourists at resorts and restaurants on the beach. A black doggie scampers back and forth along the beach. A soccer game erupts with locals and tiny, 3-foot wide goals. They’ll never score a goal, unless everyone pulls a hamstring like the first soccer sprinter I see.
- Railay’s one-lane restaurant row is short and touristy. I find one good coffee-man passionate about making a good cup and get his coldest recommendation on a hot day – iced latte – while selling his tourist customers a couple more fruity drinks. Why not? It’s only a dollar.
- Railay was short-lived, but maybe I’ll be back tomorrow. I’d like to find out how to get to Phra Nang, which is revered as one of the top beaches in the world but looks accessible only from a $500/night resort or by boat and I don’t know of any boats that stop there.
- On the boat-ride back I meet 3 German girls who were on my boat-ride in. They’re in Thailand for 6 weeks (it’s good to be German). They’ve seen the whole country and recommend against Koh Phi Phi unless you want a party island. They’re negotiating a 7 Island Tour. I will have to look into that.
- Dinner is Seafood Tawa, Butter Roti and Chapati with Masala Chai tea and a gargantuan bottle or water. This is the best Indian food of my life with thick layers of flavor and spice and the tea was perfect.
- Time to collapse, but not before sprinting to the shuttle back to the hotel. I thought it picked us up where it dropped us off by the beach, but remember the pick-up is by the McDonald’s. I thought the McDonald’s was along the beachfront, but find out it’s a 5-minute walk up the hill on the main street. Time to sprint and I make it with 15 seconds to spare. Now, time to collapse. One small benefit of traveling alone is I can ride in the front of the shuttle with air conditioning instead of the military-like open-air benches on a covered flatbed in the back.
Krabi – Day 2 Afternoon
- Activities – 7 Island Tour. Chicken Island. Tup Island. Poda Island.
- The morning is filled with reading, writing, meditating, a big breakfast, rehab, and a workout and swim.
- The afternoon is the 7 Island Tour. The dock is long. Two boats are available. It was $5 extra for the bigger boat with more shade and well worth it for my pale-white Irish skin. I see the Germans again. They’re on the smaller Long Tail boat.
- The Thai tour guides have decent English, but not so good that it isn’t funny. It is and they know it and use it to their advantage throughout the day. Normally, I’m not a fan of tours and getting yelled at to go somewhere, but these guys are pretty good about it. They set expectations on timing, activities, and gear at the beginning of the day and before every stop.
- The first stop is Chicken island, which in my pictures looks like a strange high rock peak jutting out like a stone face. I don’t see the chicken resemblance, but I guess it’s a small rock-head on a large rock-body and that doesn’t sound as good as “Chicken Island”. I find a decent photographer to trade taking pictures.
- At the front of the boat I meet Son and Suman, Indians visiting Thailand and very happy to get their pictures taken with a tall American, almost as happy as the Asian girls. We chat throughout the day and take photos for each other or mostly they take photos for me and they get a group shot with me. It’s good to be loved.
- Tup Island is two small patches of land with giant rocks on either side and more stunning rocks in the background views. With small landspace it’s crowded most of the time we’re here. I try to land a sidekick photo while stumbling knee-deep with water pushing be in many directions. My handstand is less controlled, but luckily my photographer used ‘burst mode’ so it looks like a legit handstand hold. I need to get back to work on Handstand Walk practice. After hitting my 50-foot walk goal earlier this year, I’m less motivated.
- Poda Island is a legit 1/2 mile island with a snack stand with cold, canned espressos and a giant rock on the horizon that makes you feel like you’re on another planet. We spend about 45 minutes here, enough time to eat, drink, and meditate in front of that monster rock. Opening your dark eyes to an otherworldly site is an experience to remember.
Krabi – Day 2 Night
- Activities – 7 Island Tour. Phra Nang Beach. Fire Show.
- Phra Nang Beach is the piece de resistance for this tour. We arrive an hour before sunset and plenty of time to walk the beach end to end and back before dinner. On the backside of the cliffs are rock climbers scaling impressive walls one carefully planned step at a time. Beside that is a small cavern with fairytale views of the world exposed. The middle of the beach has another giant otherworldly rock, but that’s commonplace by now. The other side of the beach has more tepid cliff views compared to the cavern, but understated only in comparison.
- The Phra Nang water is warm. The air is hot. The beach is…mostly empty. That’s surprising based on the Railay West experience the day before. It appears that only the expensive resort and possibly this boat tour have access. The standard Long Tail Boats must not be allowed given their noise and ubiquity on the other side with Railay West and Phra Nang separated by a large rock.
- Dinner is a “BBQ”, but really it’s an excellent carrot curry, mounds of rice, heavy veg, a single chicken wing, and a little more chicken protein. The sky is darkening. The tour goers are hungry. The line is deep. I sit on a stump facing the large rock in the middle of the beach and put down a first plate followed by a second 1/2 plate mostly with excellent curry sitting with the tour guides.
- The tour guides pack up and load the first half of our party onto the Long Tail Boat, while I hang back admiring the dark scenery. As I meander towards the boat I stand beside the buoy rope line extending into the ocean. Seconds later the rope smashes me above the pelvis reminding me to heed my surroundings as I carefully back away from the ornery buoys.
- That buoy beating might have been a premonition as the Long Tail boat appears to be stuck on the rope line. The guides are confused. The boat is too far away to communicate with effectively. I’m happy to get an extra half hour to lay on the beach in front of the cavern and beach in the dark with only the spotlights from the restaurant projecting a faint picturesque glow onto the cliff lines.
- Untangled the little boat connects with the big boat to drop off the first 1/2 of our group’s passengers. We load up on the second boat and ship off avoiding the tangled buoy rope and depositing ourselves back on the big boat.
- Our last stop is the dark middle of the sea for glowing plankton snorkeling. The tour guide leads everyone out to what he describes as a frightfully, scary experience in the spooky, dark ocean. Another rope line is our lifeline back to the boat and I venture out to the end of the rope. When everyone is in the water, we man our snorkeling gear, the boat turns its lights off, and we plunge our heads underwater frantically moving one hand side to side like Mr. Miyagi and The Karate Kid until indigo-lighted plankton appear in the midst of of our hands. After a few minutes the guide asks, “Can you see plankton?” “Yes” we reply. “I can’t hear you. Can you see plankkktoneee?” screams the guide in his mangled English. “Yes!” “Are you having fun?” “YES!” Meanwhile another pair of German girls sings what sounds like a Christmas Carol in the calm, quiet, sea-gurgling night. When I ask the name of the song, I find my German too weak to translate “SpongeBob Schwammkopf!” until they slow down the words for me.
- Dripping back on the boat the guides speed us back to shore with “Moves like Jagger” blaring from the radio as a few people shake their shoulders too tired to move much more after a long day.
- The workers at the end of the dock serve hot tea for the fire dance show. The guides tell us they will let us go home after the show, but no one would want to miss this. A teenage Thai boy is the warm-up act swinging two five-foot long ropes in circles while dancing and spinning side to side. Next, the main tour guide pretends to fall into the crowd (really me since I’m in the front) with a flaming pole falling out of and safely back into his hands. He twirls and spins before unleashing a long wire that he swings in between his legs like the Harlem Globetrotters. He purposefully spins it close enough to touch fire to skin over and over again. The pain seem slight, but fire on skin can’t be easy even for 1/2 second. The night ends with a proper call for tips after a cheap tour, excellent service, and good food.
Krabi – Day 3
- Activities – Lakeside room. Ao Nang Beach. Muay Thai training. Violin bar with Canadians singing Irish songs in Thailand. Downpour.
- I walk around downtown Ao Nang by the beach looking for Muay Thai shorts without “Thai Fighting” on the belt line. After walking up and down the main strip and beach line for 1/2 hour in 90 degree clear sky heat drenched with sweat, I give up. Cheap soccer shorts will work. I head back to Cafe 8.98 slurping down a rasberry-mango slush and enjoy a roasted pumpkin, artichoke, blue cheese salad that tastes more like pulled pork and shaved brisket. That doesn’t make any sense, but this guy knows how to cook a vegetable. With cold coffee downed and a blueberry, avocado, yogurt smoothie in hand I meet the owner who’d been sitting behind me before I exit. He’s from Finland, worked as a chef in the UK for about ten years, and been in Thaiand the last four. He almost left Krabi, but with pour service and food quality four years ago he sensed a business opportunity. He was right. You couldn’t imagine bad food or service at this place and competing restaurants have stepped up their game to match. Excellent food is the norm here, even if it isn’t the cheap, excellent street fare and variety of Bangkok.
- The late afternoon is Muay Thai training at Emerald Gym run by a French fighter recommended by my friend Gabe Dougerty. Gabe trained in Thailand for several months a few years ago as he grew into a high-level Muay Thai fighter. Suprinisgly, the gym was within 1/2 mile of my resort. I’m glad I took a shuttle ride though because the roads to the gym winded narrowly to the middle-of-nowhere farmfront space. There were two rings, dozens of heavy bags, an office, and rooms and showers off to the side. That’s it. A few people were there, but a small horde arrived in time for class mostly on motorcycles. Given the $200 dollar per month price, a small fortune in Thailand, I was surprised at the number of students. Most were in excellent shape or just starting their journey to get there.
- Training was two and a half hours of jump rope, shadow boxing with one on one technique coaching, bag work, pad work, clinch work, and calisthenics. The coaches did not like my Boxing guard or my Roundhouse kick, even a little. They keep their lead hand way out in front to help catch kicks and block incoming attacks. It works well until you fight a Boxer, but that’s not the Thai speciality. It took me 15 minutes before I changed my guard without constant prodding. I turn my Roundhouse kick over with my hip for maximum power. The Thai kick is more of a high ascending diagonal kick, which seems less powerful to me but I’ve never seen anyone kick as hard a Thai fighter so there must be some magic here after you practice long enough. I’ll practice this a bit to develop another style. That diagonal rise is similar to the Thai knee technique, which was the best pick-up from the training session. My knee extension, hand positioning, entry and landing with a strong, pointed leg will all improve. I picked up some minor points on horizontal and up elbows too.
- The warm-up ended with 20 Burpees. It was nice to breeze through that part of the training and the calisthenics at the end except for the push-ups. All my push-ups were deep, full CrossFit-style push-ups and they were doing half push-ups really fast. The ab work was pretty easy.
- Clinch training was the challenge. After my partner moved on to a new drill, one of the coaches worked with me for what was supposed to be five minutes and turned into thirty-plus minutes of competitive clinching without major impact from strikes, but heavy head fighting to establish position, sweep attempts, and full clinch work from me. The coach was way better than me here, but probably didn’t expect me to not quit for thirty minutes. He was more winded than I was, but wouldn’t quit himself. We stopped for a mutually agreed draw. That’s hard to find in the heat of the battle, so we each picked up plenty of respect and left with our heads high.
- I rushed through showering and cleaning up to make it to the 7 pm shuttle for the Violin Bar and I’m glad I did. I cooled off in the restaurant for a few minutes since I was still sweating profusely and it was hot. The music was outside and I found a table up front after multiple Irish dance songs lured me out. The Candian husband and wife had a large Irish following in Canada and used all their material for four hours of music every night at this restaurant. “Wagon Wheel” and “Don’t Stop Believin”, which won me a free drink when I guessed the song, were the other highlights of the set. I left after two hours sprinting to the McDonald’s in the pouring rain that dumped inches in minutes for over an hour.
- The last morning was another big breakfast at the resort with lots of reading Shantaram, finishing writing and fine-tuning the ‘Eat More Fat’ post, and 100 (5×20) Burpee workout with rehab between sets.
- Kosher meal is the way to go. Served first. Occasionally bigger portions. Cleaner (less ingredients), fresher bread. Non-dry protein (i.e. not chicken breast). Dessert isn’t bread. Usually mousse.
- Logged 300 plus Bodyweight Squats, Air Presses, Air Pulldowns/Rows plus ~10×5-minute mobility sessions over 36 hours of travel. Body feels loose, strong, and energetic leaving plane.
- Airport lounges are awesome! Bangalore had a poor kid’s dream with an endless supply of diner food. Frankfurt was upscale, quiet, and full of high-quality sausage, pastries, meat, cheese, and a top-notch espresso machine. Best of all, the Germans created an exceptional airport shower. Clean never felt so good as traveling in a sardine can for 20 hours. Poor sardines. They deserve a wash before consumption.
- Once again Global Entry is a huge time-saver. Beat my work colleagues through customers by 20-30 minutes. If you travel once a year internationally, check out Global Entry. If you travel domestically only, check out TSA Pre-check.