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Thailand club trip 2017 report by Rashaun Leslie, Danny D and Robert Mondo

Rashaun Leslie

Visiting Thailand was one of the most amazing, enriching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. A country robust of culture, hospitality, and adventure, Thailand is one of my favorite countries I’ve visited.

My journey began with my flight with Emirates (which is hands-down the greatest airline I’ve ever flown!). They provided us with the utmost comfort during our 22-hour ordeal. We were inundated with so much food and entertainment that the two-legged journey didn’t feel as long.

We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport (aka BKK) and made our way to our hotel in Bangkok. We stayed at Pinnacle Lumpinee Park Hotel, and I was quite satisfied with my stay. My room was quiet and comfortable, and every morning, we were greeted by birds at the front entrance. The breakfast buffet was highly delectable, serving a mix of Thai and Western dishes. The rooftop bar was a comfortable space to sit down and have a couple of beers (Singha and Chang my personal favorite), while watching the Bangkok skyline.

Our first full day in Bangkok consisted of tours of various marketplaces through our tour guide and new friend, Teya. The first one we visited, Samut Songkhram, was filled with unique Thai foods, fruits, and treats. My personal favorites were the fresh pineapple and khanom krok, a coconut-rice pancake, filled with sweetened condensed milk and scallions, cooked on a cast iron skillet. We then made our way to a traditional Thai household, where the family showed us the activities of their daily life, history, and customs. They had many unique animals, such as monkeys, various birds, chickens, cats, and a massive python, which I held for 5 minutes for 50 baht. We then headed towards Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where we used a speedboat to zip through the many canals and merchants, finding many monitor lizards along the way.

Later that evening, we headed to our first live Muay Thai tournament at the new Lumpinee Stadium. Muay Thai is taken very seriously in Thailand, which is evident by the passion and heart expressed through the fighters and spectators. Most of these fighters appear very young, and from what I’ve been told, started training at the age of 5. Their techniques are very technical, and you can tell that each punch and kick is meticulously calculated. We even witnessed a couple of knockouts, which had the crowd roaring throughout the stadium.

The next day, we did some shopping at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which was similar to a flea market. Many interesting souvenirs and household items can be bought here for a reasonable price once you master the art of bartering (you’ll become an expert after a week in Thailand!). Later that night, we headed to Rajadamnern Stadium to watch more Muay Thai fights.

 

On Monday, we took a two-hour drive to an elephant sanctuary, where we took part in an exciting jungle safari, while riding on the backs of elephants. These elephants were highly intelligent, obeying the commands of their trainers. We rode through various terrains and even crossed a river, where the elephants engaged in playful activities, such as diving and spraying us with water.

After getting washed up and having a quick lunch, we headed to the tiger sanctuary, where we had the opportunity to interact with tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars. I chose to feed the tiger cubs, who were very playful and energetic.

Tuesday was the day we got down to business and headed to our first gym to train, Jitti Gym. Training in Thailand is a culture shock in comparison to the training I received at home, with training taking place outside in the sweltering heat. My first 30 minutes of training was definitely a test of my stamina, in which I was desperately gasping for air and feverishly drinking the ice water from the shared container. However, the experience was highly worthwhile, because I was able to correct some bad habits and improve my techniques.

Wednesday consisted of a walk through Lumpinee Park, which was reminiscent of a nature reserve in the middle of a bustling metropolis (similar to Central Park). Afterwards, we took a tuk-tuk (motor taxi) around the city and saw many Buddhist temples.

Thursday, we started our day at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy, where we received one-on-one training from the highly skilled trainers. Later that evening, we head back to Rajadamnern Stadium to catch one last Muay Thai tournament.

Friday was another test of my skills when we trained at Sor Vorapin Gym. This gym was hidden in an alley near the bustling Khao San Road, yet when we found it, I immediately knew this gym was the real deal. Our instructor, who has been training since age 10 and retired at age 29, did not hold back during our grueling session. After jumping with the heavy rope for approximately 20 minutes in 95-degree weather, we went straight into the ring, where my stamina and speed were, once again, tested. He didn’t shy away from throwing punches or kicks to remind me to defend myself properly. It was truly an authentic Muay Thai experience that I look forward to taking part in again.

Later that evening, our dear friend, Teya, took us back to Khao San Road, which was busy with many tourists and locals, hanging out at dive bars and restaurants. For those who are adventurous, there were many vendors who sold exotic edible insects, such as spiders, roaches, crickets, scorpions, and frogs for 30 baht.

Our final day consisted of visiting various neighborhoods throughout Bangkok, where there was a strong sense of community and pride amongst their residents. We spoke with retired fighters, who explained to us their experiences competing in Muay Thai and ways they gave back to their community. Afterwards, we had our final Thai meal and made our way back to the airport for our flight home.

All in all, Bangkok provided me with a memorable, worthwhile experience. I will definitely visit this place again sometime in the near future!.    

Danny D

If I had to choose my most memorable moment in life, my trip to Thailand would definitely be on the top of the list. Thailand was a beautiful, heartfelt, and an unforgettable experience. From the busy city of Bangkok to the calm country side, Thailand is a place I would highly recommend everyone to visit.

One of Thailand's unique tourist attractions was the marketplaces. The first marketplace had many exotic fruits I've never seen or tasted. Common fruits, such as apples, mangoes, and pineapples, were also being sold; in fact, I never tasted a pineapple as sweet as the one I had in Thailand. We also visited another market place, which was unique since it was on water, called Floating Marketplace. It was very fun, since I was being driven on a motorboat to reach these different markets that were above water.

Shopping for food and items at the market places was great, but I needed a little adrenaline rush. A great way to fill that need was going to different stadiums, such as Lumpini and Rajadamnern, to watch Muay-Thai competitions. Watching these fights on television is nothing compared to seeing it live!  I saw over 10 fights in a night amongst a very engaged and loud crowd, which made it even more exciting!

The stadium fights were not only gripping, but inspiration for me to do a little training; therefore, I went to different Muay Thai gyms to train.  This was a great experience, because I got to learn different styles of Muay-Thai from different instructors. In fact, I made sure to remember and keep some of the techniques that were shown, since it worked best for me. My training was definitely challenging and beneficial; it's probably one of the biggest reasons I will go back to Thailand.

Although the training was exciting, going to the Tiger Safari was even more thrilling. Under supervision, I got to pet and feed a baby leopard (although it didn't look like a baby). During that moment, I was laid on my back, while the leopard was on top as she ate piece of meat.  Glancing at her eyes as she laid on me was hair-raising and breathtaking, an experience I'll never forget! Another animal I fed was an elephant at the Elephant Village. I rode on these beautiful creatures under the hot sun in the jungle and into the water where I then bathed them, truly a peaceful experience.

Aside from the all fun activities, sightseeing was wonderful, as well.  To see all the huge and beautiful statues of gods, such as Buddha, Durga, and Ganesh, was very captivating.

Thailand is a beautiful country filled with very friendly people. There are so many places to go and things to do that will make your trip worthwhile. I truly had a great experience during my stay in Thailand, and I certainly and positively plan on revisiting there!

Robert Mondo

Thailand is an amazing place with rich culture, vastly different from the US.  During our time there, we learned about the huge Buddhist culture/population, experienced a number of huge open-air markets, rode with elephants, played with tigers, and of course, the trip with Peter could not be complete without watching a ton of Muay Thai live fights and training with the masters at Jitti Gym, Sor Vorapin Gym, and Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy.

Wandering around the various open-air markets (Our tour guide, Teya, took us to the Train Market (Maeklong Station), the Floating Market, and Chatuchak (Weekend) Market), I saw plates of food and beverages untouched on the floor near almost all the stands and stores.  These were offerings to the Buddhist gods to bring good luck and business to the people working there.  Not only that, but the city of Bangkok is covered in Buddhist shrines, temples, and statues - we couldn’t go two blocks without encountering a statue or building dedicated to the Buddhist religion, which is reflective of the 93% Buddhist population of Thailand.

One of the first things I noticed about Thailand was the heat - it is a constant 90+ and BALMY during the day.  Air conditioning was a nice reprieve; however, after a few days, I got used to the heat. It was 100% necessary to adapt to the climate, as all the training we did was sans air conditioning.  The training was very different from what I was used to at Belmars - it was all one-on-one intense padwork with the instructors, mixed with technique that reinforced good form and thinking on your feet (I left with a bruised leg, which will surely remind me to block correctly in the future).  Overall, we got a great workout, while learning loads more techniques and styles.

Muay Thai is a profession for many in Thailand, who survive by fighting in the stadiums for money.  Some of the masters we encountered had been fighting since they were 5 years old!  We visited two stadiums in Bangkok - Rajadamnern and Lumpinee - and both had at least 9 fights every night of the week.  Each round of brutality was accompanied by the music of the Pi Kaek (Javanese Clarinet) and was filled with knees, elbows, kicks, and intense cheers from the crowd.