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Monday, 25 January 2016

Darren Brown - London to Island Life. Koh Samui.

My friend and training partner Darren Brown has now moved to Thailand.

I met Darren whilst training at third Space in central London well before I moved to Thailand. Now I'm back in London we are doing the big swap. I am picking my career back up and buying all the trappings of western life just as Darren is shedding all of his and heading for island life.

Luckily we got to cram in some good training sessions whilst we were both in London and Darren even asked me to corner him for his last UK novice class fight before he heads off. Below is the video of the fight. I look more nervous than him.

Darren is going to be contributing to this blog from Thailand to give us all some insight into Island training life, TEFL courses and generally training and fighting Muay Thai. I'm looking forward to a fresh perspective and really hoping it inspires me to get back into a more disciplined training schedule here in the UK.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Arkangelo - Charn Chai - Possible January Bootcamp

Missing all these guys. Work might be offering me a short contract break between a short term contract and an open ended contract. But due to budget they may want me to take January off... This would be amazing. Genuinely considering a little month long Thailand bootcamp. Archangel - if you are still reading this... get saving! I'll give you a free haircut if you meet me out there! Get to catch up with the crew!

Nut Wins tournament on Max Muay Thai

If you have followed this blog you will have seen me train with Nut. One of the nicest guys in the world. Always smiling and when not in the gym he'll be found just pottering about with his son. For a long time he was my neighbour, we couldn't exactly speak to each other but it never stopped us hanging out on the stoop trading photos, drinking Sangsom and messing around in a Laurel and Hardy style. When language fails physical humour steps in. For me Nut sums up what I aspire to be in my relationship with combat sports. Couldnt be nicer and friendlier yet when he chooses to switch it on you are in no doubt you are dealing with a different side of his personality. But this isn't loosing your temper or letting it all hang out and going berserk. Nut is an excellent trainer and sparing partner and never short of a giant grin or a kick in the butt and a knowing look when he catches you staring a little too long at the new girl that just arrived. When you would spar with him there was always this switch moment where you could see he was just about to change it up a gear. You were about to get a much harder time. The smile was always there but the eyes would change. It can only be described as a slightly manic grin, something akin to a Thai version of The Joker. But as quick as it would come on he could switch it off. Never angry, never carried away by his emotions and never a bully. I learnt a lot from Nut. Which all in al makes me even happier to see him having such success at Max Muay Thai recently. Taking fights in Pattaya, China and Japan he has been a busy boy. The travel no doubt takes it out of you but this is Thailand so no one complains, they just have a nap and try to crack on as best they can. In the case of Nut, this was a tournament night on Max Muay Thai (televised on Channel 8)where he had to fight twice in the evening. Receiving monstrous cuts to his forehead in the first fight Nut went on into the final covered in Vaseline making him look all punk'd up but at a severe disadvantage. But as I say... touch gloves... chin down, eyes up... and there it is. The Joker focus. Great to see him take the belt, the money and the spotlight. So well deserved. God damn I miss Thailand right now!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Bami and Turbo sparring

Bami is a week out from his second Max Muay Thai fight. Great to see him getting some good sparring in and looking healthy. Cant wait to see his performance when closer to 100% healthy.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Muay Thai Video Podcast

Ethan McKinley flew out to Thailand to visit me and record a podcast interview discussing my decision to leave my film career in London and move to Thailand to train and fight.

We cover a wide variety of topics from Thai culture and fight preparation to meditation and massage.

Please enjoy and share.

Recomendations in Pai

Best steak in town: Pai Pub

Quickest Wi Fi in town: Pai Pub

Best Tattoo shop in town: Cross Tattoo

Best Thai Food in town: Pai Chan

Best Western Food in town: Om Garden

Best Coffee in town: Cafecito 

Best Scooter rental in town: Aya service

Monday, 4 May 2015

Muay Thai Roundtable - Forum

Sylvie of '8 Limbs US' and Emma of 'Under the Ropes' have worked together to provide a Muay Thai forum for men and women training across the world with a focus on any useful information and discussion specifically about travelling, training and fighting in Thailand.

I'll be popping in and joining the conversation to share the little bits of information I have been able to gather during my time here in Pai, Thailand.

Come join the discussion and take the fear out of travelling and fighting in Thailand.

Rosanne's First Fight

Team mate Rosanne de Wit travelled through to Wat Chan for her first ever Muay Thai fight.

Here is a video of the fight.

Good to see more people taking the plunge whilst here in Thailand and putting their skills to the test.

I think in the west we wait too long to get in the ring. Whether it be amateur fights with shin guards and no elbows or full pro rules you learn so much and videos like this help other people get the confidence to follow in their foot steps.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Tattoo - Decision to get tattooed in Thailand

Recently I started getting my left leg tattooed. When I first arrived in Pai I met a tattooist called Mink who works out of a studio called 'Cross tattoo'. He had tattooed my friends Petr and Guy from the gym and is an extremely talented tattoo artist.

We started talks about doing a large back piece for me but when my triple entry visa became a single entry and my stay in Thailand was no longer guaranteed I had to cancel my plans with Mink. I couldn't start such a massive under taking when I didn't know month by month whether my re-entry would be approved.

Months later, after my fight and after my trip to Cambodia I find myself back in Pai but with a little spare time before leaving for the monastery, and still the desire to get something tattooed. Just something small. A little momento. But isn't that how all these things start.

My decision to get tattooed was clearly influenced both by the trainers getting tattooed and by the prevalence of tattoo artists in the gym. I started to see everyone getting tattooed, and not just gym logos or small designs but larger mandala pieces and they were having the work done either in the gym itself or in their relevant guesthouses by the swimming pool or in other beautiful locations. I made my mind up and started talking with Iris, a dutch tattooist training at the gym who specialised in black and grey dot work. She had recently tattooed my friend Germaine and it just seemed like a good fit. I left the design very much up to her and my input was simply that I wanted to incorporate some dot work geometric patterns and the whole shape to follow the shape of the shin guards we wear when training/sparring.

I moved into the same guesthouse as Iris (Pai Chan) to make things simpler in the hope progress would be quick so that I could heal up and get back to training without losing too much of my time in Pai. I needed to avoid rushing back to the gym and catching an infection as so many others had suffered.

The experience of getting tattooed whilst sat in a bamboo hut next to the pool over looking the mountain ranges was amazing. It made the pain really easy to manage as I was able to look out over the mountains and not concentrate on the localised pain. I also think after the Muay Thai training my shins were very desensitised.

After starting the front of my shin with Iris I decided to do the back of my left calf with Mink. The idea was to link the two pieces and have the large shin guard shape on the front with a mandala tattoo on the back to balance out the distribution of ink/weight when looking at the whole piece.

The work done in the studio was the same experience as I have had in London based studios. Very clean, very professional and very precise. I am extremely happy with the work Mink has done and  I'm really looking forward to getting more of his input on finishing the design and making sure both pieces work well together. Both him and his team at Cross tattoo have been extremely helpful with the design element of the work being done. The plan for this week is to fill the area behind the mandala, framed by the black border with dot work geometric patterns to better match and work with the panels on the front of the leg.

Neither the front nor back are finished as I write this, but I will update soon enough with another post that shows the 2 pieces once they are all finished and healed up.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Tattoo - The Western influence on Thai style.

When I arrived at Charn Chai Muay Thai 6 months ago the trainers took a great deal of notice of my tattoos. When they got chance they would closely inspect each arm commenting on how they thought they were beautiful. The traditional Japanese tattoos I have on my arms are very different to the traditional Sak Yant tattoo style from Thailand and on my very white skin the colours really popped.

I have encountered this open like and interest in tattoos everywhere I have travelled in South East Asia. It would really seem that tattoos don't carry the same negative connotations here as they do back home or even in China/Japan. 

The difference between the tattoos Farang arrive with and the local Sak Yant style is very pronounced. The nature of the designs, inks and techniques used in Sak Yant mean they can be low on detail. They also don't seem to age well, they fade and blur very quickly. I say "they don't age well", this is obviously a personal opinion, some may well feel the changing of a tattoo over time as the skin changes is in keeping with the tattoo ageing process. This may well be different now as the inks have been developed over the years and now age a lot better. After all, old sailor style tattoos suffer the same fading and blurring.

Of all the trainers at the gym the young guys seem to be most influenced by western style and this constant influx of tattooed farang. Even the fashion here follows a mix of European football teams and American college style (Baseball caps,Varsity jackets). 

In the 6 months since I have arrived I have seen all the trainers take an interest in getting tattooed for the first time or adding big designs to the smaller older ones they already have. The most notable being two of the younger trainers, Kaew and Kong who have been covered in massive hyper masculine tattoo designs in early 2015. The designs they have chosen maintain only the slightest link with the traditional Sak Yant style. As with any youth culture they are progressive, incorporating the influences they have been exposed too. It definitely feels like the prominence of tattoos on the people coming through the gym has effected them. 

An American tattoo artist called Garth arrived at the gym wanting to trade tattoo time for one on one private training time. Garth presented a very affordable option for the trainers and they jumped at the chance. Kong choosing to cover his back with a graphic novel fantasy style rendition of Hanuman (Hindu monkey god) for his first ever tattoo. Pain did not seem to play a part for Kong and he had his back covered in 3 sessions with colour detail to be added in the future.

Kong and his Hanuman back piece.

Kaew is the youngest trainer and was the first to get tattooed. Using excess cash from his fight earnings he had a local studio tattoo his arm with Bamboo. Encouraged by the lack of pain and with Garth's deal on offer he then chose to cover his arm and chest. 

Diving into this machine work he suddenly realised just how painful tattooing can be. So now having signed up to such a big piece he uses Sangsom (Thai Rum) as a pain killer before each session. 

Kaew has chosen a modern take on a Japanese sleeve featuring Koi Carp. I tried to stress to him that he should look into the symbolism of what he was doing and that he needed to get the Koi swimming up his arm. But he is 19, and the tattoos are essentially free, so he didn't listen to me. Unfortunately Garth does not seem to have been as fussed about the symbolism as me and so has tattooed all the Koi (except the one done in Bamboo) swimming down Kaew's arm. As far as my understanding goes, this is bad luck and does not resemble the traditional depiction of the Koi, which should be swimming up the arm. This reflects the story of how a great Koi swam up, against the waterfall of Yellow River in its pursuit of passing through the Dragon Gate and as a result was transformed into a Blue Dragon. This story reflects the pursuit of personal advancement and achievement. The Koi has also come to depict masculine qualities because of its bravery both in climbing the rivers and when the fish is caught it will lie still on the chopping board awaiting the knife much like a warrior facing his own death.

Thai people in general are very superstitious. I wonder if Garth had properly explained the symbolism whether it would have affected Kaew's choice of design. I'm a little disappointed Garth didn't make him more aware.

Also, Koi is the Thai word for 'cock'... so Kaew now has multiple cocks tattooed on him and the other trainers seem to find this massively amusing.

With Garth doing this tattoo trade it has perked an interest in all the other trainers who are now talking about getting gym logo's or fight names tattooed on themselves. We'll see how many go through with it now that Kaew keeps telling them how much it hurts.

It's funny to see these guys who get in a ring and fight every couple of weeks worrying about the pain aspect. You'd think they would be macho tough guys who see it as a challenge but they really never act macho. I guess if you have nothing to prove you can be way more honest.

Next under Garths needle will be Bank. Nephew of Kru Bee. Although not a trainer he has done a deal with Garth and be covering up an older drunken tattoo... a tattoo that words cannot describe... so i'll leave it to a drunken picture...

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tam Wua Forest Monastery

Visa run time again, my last trip over to Mae Hong Son immigration office to extend my tourist entry visa by 30 days. This takes me past Song Kran (Thai New Year - Water Festival) to the end of April at which point I will be leaving Thailand.

Whilst on the road I saw a 'Rescue' vehicle. I am not exactly sure what role the Rescue service fulfils but I believe it is a volunteer service that is somewhere between an ambulance and a fire truck. I have only ever seen them respond to traffic accidents and emergency situations, but they don't seem to have any specific government provided equipment. From what I can tell they are just trained first aiders who dedicate their time to helping people in emergency situations. Either way... the rescue vehicle I saw was possibly the coolest most Mad Max thing I've seen. If I had a crash and that car came to my rescue I would feel in very good hands. Assuming they don't harvest my organs or strap me to the bonnet as a warning to other drivers!

Between Pai and Mae Hong Son lies 108km of mountain roads. 20km before you get to Mae Hong Son, nestled in a valley surrounded on all sides my magnificent mountains is Tam Wua Monastery. This is a buddist monastery with bungalows and dorms available for people who wish to come and learn more about Buddhism and Vipassana meditation. It is open to both Thai and Farang, men and women. 
The setting is absolutely stunning. Well manicured grounds featuring a peaceful lake with large Koi Carp, small stream, orchid and a small farm growing various vegetables for the kitchen. All this over looked by extremely steep rock faces giving the impression of complete seclusion from the world.

Nuns in white meditate in the shade.

Upon arrival at the main hall I meet a Thai lady called 'Sue' who gives me the low down on what to expect and how each day breaks down. 

5am - Wake and meditate in your *Kuti (*bungalow or dorm).
6:30am - Make food offerings to the monks at the main hall.
7am - Breakfast at the main hall
8am - 2 hours Meditation - sitting/walking/laying down
10:30am - Make food offerings to the monks at the main hall.
11am - Lunch (last meal of the day)
1pm - 2 hours meditation at the main hall. Incuding a longer walking meditation.
4pm - Work around the monastery grounds - cleaning/gardening/kitchen work.
6pm - 2 hours chanting meditation in the chanting room.
9pm - Must be back in your Kuti or dorm.
10pm - Lights out.

Once all this was explained I was informed of the rules that I must abide by if I wish to stay. Firstly you have to wear all white clothing. I don't own any white clothes, fortunately they are prepared for this and kitted me out. Seemingly I was not the only one who was not aware of this and as a result 90% of people are wearing the same white fisherman's trousers and loose fitting shirt.  This 'uniform' doesn't do anything to allay my fears that this is a cult. All laundry was to be done by hand. I just showered with my clothes and then let them dry in the sun. Pretty basic. But you are not exactly working up a sweat so the whites stay pearly white.

Other rules include, men and women sleep and eat separately. No smoking, drinking, electrical goods, music, swearing, lying and try to keep your voice low when talking. Also, all the food prepared is vegan. So although unsaid, eating meat is not an option.
I broke the electrical goods rule fairly consistently by using my phone as a camera. Guess what, I'm not sorry. All the rules are intended to help you strip away distractions and live a pious reverential existence. For me taking photos does not effect this. If anything it allows me better recollection of my time there and will allow me to gain more from the experience in the long term. Plus I also believe that any skills learnt here need to have real world relevance. They are of no use to me if I cannot include them in my life back in England. Piety and avoidance of temptation is great if you're a monk and you have no intention of jumping into the vipers nest, but I need to learn skills that I can use once surrounded by London life.

Some people had chosen to use their time at the monastery as a silent retreat. They wore badges that said 'silent and happy'. These people were also not allowed to read or write unless it was reading their chanting book. The experience these people had chosen to undertake must have been extremely challenging. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can be so strong willed as to overcome natural urges to socialise and be part of the tribe. In truth I am little jealous. They seemed to side step the social ranking of people. Although 80% of the people I met and talked too were extremely nice and wanted to share their knowledge and help each other progress, there was definitely a visible ranking of people. A subtle competition over who could be most reverential, who knew the songs in Thai, who bowed the lowest, who could sit the longest. I guess human nature is unavoidable. It's just disappointing to see people creating a 'scene' around something like this. Trying to create an in crowd of enlightened people, those with the right sitting posture and appropriate vegan hand woven scarf. All that just made me want to check out even more.

All in all I found the rules a little oppressive, archaic and overly familiar with all other organised religions. Perhaps this similarity between codes of conduct could be seen as a good thing, all religions agreeing on something! But I don't agree with any religious practices that don't modernise and remain relevant within a developing society. It all screams of tradition over function.

I think the reason I am a little over sensitive about this stuff is because the first meditation session I took part in was the evening chanting session. Monks at the front of class, then men, then the nuns and the women have to sit at the back of the class. This blatant sexism is odd. Especially when you have nuns sat behind farang new comers like me who have no idea what they are doing, yet somehow simply because of my gender I am seen as more valuable/superior. Maybe I am misinterpreting and its more about gender segregation than rank, but thats not how it felt to me.

The chanting began in Thai and after each verse was then repeated in English. Everyone chants along and tries to follow the script. Both the nature of a monk led sing-a-long and the translations made me very uncomfortable. The similarities between this and a Christian service were all too apparent. Although my family are not religious I went to a very strict religious Church of England school. A belief structure I never bought into. And yet here I am again singing and thanking a deity for knowledge and asking for forgiveness.
In retrospect the wording was not very severe, it was more about thanking and paying respect to the Buddha for his teachings and for passing on what he learnt. But at the time I felt like a fox in the hen house, saying the words but not meaning them in the slightest. For me spiritual exploration is about learning more about my own mind and using that knowledge to develop into a better person, trying to find as balanced an existence as possible not necessarily apologising for every experience I have had. Or being made to feel like I have led a distracted, shallow, hedonistic existence by a guy who has been a monk since pre-teen and could never understand the temptations or valuable life experiences that I arrive with.

The more I write about this the more I realise its not Buddhism or the practices taught here that were at fault, but more my own baggage that I bring with me.
I'm sure this experience is of huge value, but I couldn't get past my own discomfort with both authority and the idea of a religious guide.
The meditation practices taught and the opportunity to learn more about Buddhism directly from a monk will definitely serve me well as I try to develop my own meditation skills.
It was also great to hear what to expect at different stages of practice as I develop my ability to explore my subconscious and the relationship between my mind and the body. These things I will definitely take away with me and try to integrate into my own version of spirituality, my own version being a solitary pursuit which does not need a monk, a schedule or a shiny gold icon to focus on.

A most interesting lesson I did learn was the benefit of Muay Thai when trying to achieve a meditative, quiet mind. After the many hours of meditation practice and the description of the separation between mind and body into a relaxed void state, I realised the same state has always been more readily available to me in the gym.
When following the instruction of my trainer and repeating a strike to the point of exhaustion my mind shuts off and my body repeats the process in loop, and time and consciousness pause.
Perhaps my temple has always been the gym and the road.

In western literature it is often referred to as the 'Flow' state. But I have also heard it referred to as the 'Zen state'. This indulging of the subconscious and the quieting of the conscious serial processing mind is what we were striving for through meditation. I have found this state when road running and when hitting the bag. The channelled focus on my breathing whilst exercising seems to mimic the breathing practices the monks had us follow and the results I have felt were very similar. A temporary state of separation between body and mind, an ability to raise your consciousness above the sensations the body is sending the brain. Feel them but not be affected by them. Be sat on top of the fulcrum point of the swinging pendulum of sensation and emotion.

The dorm.

Up at 6am for morning offerings to the monks.

All in all it was a positive experience. But with my last 30 days counting down before I have to leave I was really looking forward to getting back to Pai. I really want to maximise my time in Pai before I leave. As much as the monastery felt like sacred ground, it also felt like everyone had their head in the sand. Turning a blind eye to the realities of the world we live in. I look forward to continuing the practices learnt in a real world environment with real world distractions.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Thai hair cut and a beautiful gift.

Putting the whole Cambodia incident behind me unfortunately required a fair bit of time and a lot of drinking.

But I'm back to training now. Currently only training once a day as my cardio is so bad and the smoke in the air is a real problem. But as I keep saying "Rome wasn't built in a day". Feels good to hit pads again, and now I have fought I am seen differently at the gym. One of the old guard almost. Trusted to show beginners the ropes, demonstrate techniques and lead the abs class. Ae (Bee's brother and head Thai fighter trainer) has taken an interest in me since my return and now singles me out to make sure he holds pads for me when he can. Its all 100% power on every strike. You coast and he notices. It's brutal. But amazing he cares enough to develop my Muay Thai by forcing me to elbow and knee so much more than before. Currently I have 2 cuts on my knee where I knee'd his pad and my knee slipped up and caught him in the teeth. It cut my knee and he just laughed it off.

Going and coming back seems to have endeared me to the trainers more as they have all been so nice since I got back. It's probably because I am being more social. Not just doing private lessons and never going out but actually making myself part of the Charn Chai family. It feels good.

Pet, a trainer and most devoted drinking buddy. Who always refers to himself as my bodyguard. Not because he protects me from trouble, but because he always ensures my glass is at least half full. One day whilst training he nipped off on his scooter and came back with this buddha necklace he had bought me. These necklaces are blessed and are seen as both a blessing, protection talisman and bringer of good luck. These are not cheap within the local economy and I treasure it massively.

Pet is at the front with the chest tattoo.

In other news. I went for a hair cut. This is my second haircut in Thailand on this trip BUT I had my iPhone for the last time and was simply able to show the guy an old picture of myself and say 'Same, same.'
With my phone currently in the possession of a Cambodian beach thief I had to rely on gesture and basic Thai. All went pretty well except for when trying to describe how high I would like the blade 2 shave to go. With one hand under the gown I used my free hand with a chopping like motion showing the height on the side of my head he should shave too.
All seemingly understood we progressed at great pace.
However, once he stood away and no longer blocked my view in the mirror it turns out he had thought I meant I wanted a line... a fake parting... shaved into my head where I had pointed.


So I now have a very trendy hair cut with a line shaved in it much like a teenage Thai boy.
It wouldn't be that bad except for the fact one of my trainers Kaew also has the line shaved in and he is 18. I now look like I am stealing style tips from an 18 year old... not a good look at 32.

One saving grace is my line is on the different side to Kaew's... and is massive, thick and not straight. So its more comedy than copying.

Can't remember if I posted about this or not but the young gym guys are going nuts for tattoos at the moment.
Whilst I was away Kong had his entire back done. 12 hours in 3 sittings. His first tattoo. In the picture below it is not finished. But you get an idea for size. The tattooist (Garth from New Zealand) said he sat like a rock. Showed no pain. Scary dude.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Burning Season

In Pai there is an annual farming tradition where they spend roughly the month of March burning the fields and dried jungle.
The point is two fold.
Firstly the controlled burns of the wild bush reduces wild fires.
Secondly it is believed the ash created by the burns fertilises the soil for the next planting season.

I don't know if the science backs up the tradition but it seems to make sense to me.

The downside however is also two fold.
Firstly the Thai people who are not farmers use the opportunity to burn their trash and garden waste which often smells very bad and adds to the ash cloud above the city which traps in heat causing very hot days.
Secondly the ash, pollen and other pollutants in the air get everywhere and you can see it in the air. The once blue sky now has a grey mask over it all day. When doing exercise you can really feel it. 3 rounds of pads and you get a burning in the centre of your chest and you can't catch your breath. I know a few of the fighters from the gym have had to stop running on a morning because they are just breathing in too much crap and it's making them ill.

The period only lasts 4 - 6 weeks so we should be past the worst of it by the beginning of April.

I have bought one of those surgeon breathing masks for when I'm on the scooter. The combination of that and sunglasses keeping the dust out of my eyes seems to help but it also shows how much stuff is being breathed in. A short scooter ride and the mask noticeably turns grey.

The one benefit (aside from for the farmers) has been some amazing sights. At night the wild bush burns look like fire snakes making their way across the mountain sides. I can't capture it with a photo but amongst the low contrast grey view of the silhouettes of the mountain ranges you just have these glowing lines of fire highlighting the shape of the land as it is consumed by fire.

After spending the day at the river when riding home after the sun had set I ended up quite close to one of the burns. It was beautiful. Like something straight out of a National Geographic volcano special. The soft orange glow of the fire with flames jumping up behind the trees spitting burning ash into the air which glows then cools as it falls. It looked like lava bursting up over the hills with a sunset backdrop. If I had seen such a large wild fire like this in England it would have been the source of huge panic and there would be firefighters everywhere keeping you hundred of feet back. But here its just left to do its thing and your able to stumble upon these amazing views. A really unique sight.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Home at last.


Back in Pai.

Grabbed a scooter and found a bungalow for 4000baht a month. Dropped my bags and showered off the travel grime.

Immediately went to Joy's cafe and was welcomed with literal hugs from everyone. I've only been gone about 2 weeks and they had no idea what went on in Cambodia. They just didn't think I was coming back and so were happy to see me. Damn its nice to be back.

I told them the Cambodian thievery story and after much sympathy and shared horror stories it was decided a bottle of Sangsom would help cure all ills. It pretty much did.

'Joys Cafe' to 'Mountain Bar', 'Mountain Bar' to 'Boom Bar', 'Boom Bar' to 'Don't Cry', 'Don't Cry' to 7/11 for 4 am cheese toasties and chocolate milk. Old stomping ground thoroughly stomped.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Almost back to Pai...

I have managed to make my Western Union cash transfer last me a seemingly endless journey.

Got a coach from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, stayed 2 days whilst changing my flight back to Bangkok.  Flew to Bangkok, immediately travelled across the entire city from the airport via a train into the city centre then via taxi to the domestic airport. The taxi driver quoted 100baht for the trip which was half what I had been told he would charge. Once we got to the airport the fee was then 400baht. The toll road he used to get us there was 100baht.

Positive side of me says we just got lost in translation and the journey was always far longer than a 100baht fee. The guy who just got ripped off in Cambodia however didn't take it so well. So shouting match in the airport drop off section ensues.

I end up paying him and only just making my domestic flight to Chiang Mai.

Once in Chiang Mai I jump in a tuk-tuk and head to the familiar areas of town.

Damn it feels good to be almost home.

I'm staying in the guesthouse I stayed in when I came down to fight so i can now kick off my shoes and relax for the first time in what feels like forever.

Tomorrow I need to find another Western Union branch to collect cash and then it's the 3.5hour mini bus to Pai. Hire a scooter. Find a place to live for the next month or so. That sounds very doable. Home at last.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Cambodia... is shit.

Specifically Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville.

After a few beers around 1am I went for a paddle in the sea. Found a quiet spot on the beach, took off my shoes and shorts, hid them under a sun lounger and waded in up to my calves. The sobering cold water made me realise it was a dumb idea so I turned back. Must have been in the water all of 45 seconds.

When I came back my clothes had been stolen. So thats my iPhone, all my cards, all my cash and my room key all gone at 1am. I had to walk back to my bungalow in my boxers.

As I'm looking around for my belongings thinking maybe the wind just blew them away I see a silhouette of a young boy about 30m down the beach come sprinting out from the closed bar front grab a stack of clothes off the beach and sprint back disappearing into the black lightless bars that lead to the shanty town of shacks and dump sites just behind the beach bars.

A moment later 3 Danish girls come out of the water screaming "no, come back, you have our passports!!". The kid is gone and not coming back. Any Cambodian bar owner or staff we can find didn't see anything and has no idea who took our stuff. We link through the back and find some tuk-tuk drivers who want to give us a lift. They did not see anything either. And don't seem to comprehend that none of us have any money left and so no we don't want a taxi ride.

The Danish girls are in tears but no-one cares or offers assistance. Fortunately for me I was staying in a bungalow at the back of a 'hostess bar' so when i get back there is still someone up to offer me a spare key. I couldn't sleep. Knowing I had an alarm set on my iPhone for 7am to make tomorrows ferry I get out of bed at 6:45 and head back to where my stuff got stolen. I talk with more bar owners and staff, explaining to the Cambodian staff that I am willing to buy back my phone an cards if by chance they can get word to whoever might have 'found them'. The western bar owners are sympathetic and explain how it works. The kids steal from the beach all day and night handing everything over to a handler who discards the bank cards keeps the cash and sells the phone at one of the local markets a week or so later once the original owner has left town.
I walk around hoping to hear the alarm or find my discarded shorts with my wallet nearby still with cards. 2 hours later I give up. No sign of anything.

The police were useless, well corrupt infact. When I arrived at the station i was in a queue behind other tourists who had also had their stuff stolen from the beach the night before. The idea that these police officers who work this beach front don't know who is doing this is just farcical. There is so much money getting stolen they must be getting a kick back. I was in Sihanoukville for 5 days and I could walk down the beach and round up 5 suspects simply after seeing what I have seen in 5 days.
But no the police have 'no idea' who it is and will not entertain the idea of walking the beach to find the kids. Instead they want me to pay for a translator so they can ‘provide’ a crime report for my insurance (which doesn’t cover anything i lost by the way!). Looks to me like the assumption is the tourist is insured and so they don't really lose anything and if they want to make a claim lets hit them again for a translator fee. Who oh so surprisingly they could provide but I would have to pay. Because my policy doesn't cover me I just left and didn't file a report. Their deterrent on paperwork worked.

But I managed to cancel my trip to the islands and get a refund on the ferry ticket I had for the next day, I used the money to call England and cancel my cards and get replacements sent to my family in the UK who are going to forward them to my gym in Thailand. They will take about 2 weeks to arrive so I am making my way out of Cambodia and back to Pai through Bangkok. Doing it on the cheap as I could only send myself £300 via Western Union. But it’s all fine. I’m all sorted now. 

Currently in Phnom Penh staying in an 8 person dorm and I fly to Bangkok in 2 days. 
But yeah I really cut my time short in Cambodia cause I just hate the people. I wasn’t a fan before this and now I can’t relax. Constantly think someone is about to steal from me. 
Even before my stuff got stolen I thwarted 2 pick pocket attempts on me and 1 on a girl I was with. A big group of kids come running up to you on the beach in the middle of the day all happy and smiling and grabbing at you and joking like some happy scene from an Oxfam advert (the bit after they have put the well in). But whilst this joyous encounter is happening the older kids are actually routing through your pockets and opening the zips on your back pack and helping themselves to anything they can find before they all run off.
Or even worse at night the kids come over to play or sell bracelets but once they get a female target the littlest one grabs at her breasts or groin and whilst she reacts to that distraction the other boys go through her bag. It's like a fucked up magic trick. All distraction.
I got so fucked off with these kids when they came near me I would just push them away by their faces. But with no punishment for their behaviour they just bounce right back and give it another go. So even when you're launching kids left and right you can still feel the one behind brush against your pocket. It's like that scene from 'Jurrasic Park: Lost World' 'where the hunter gets torn up by a group of tiny 'harmless' reptiles.

This place is just too much hassle. Everything from the tuk-tuk drivers giving you the hard sell on trips, MDMA, weed and prostitutes, the litter and pollution everywhere to the customer service being the worst I have ever encountered. Its exhausting. Not a fan of Cambodia. 

It has beautiful beaches but the poverty is just everywhere and the people don’t know to look after their natural resources so they pollute and litter like crazy. It’s proper third world. Shanty towns and sand beaches filled with washed up plastics. 

Anyway, sorry about that little downer. Just been a rough couple days. The 2-4 hour coach back to Phnom Penh took over 7 hours. Nail in the coffin.

If Thailand is the land of a thousand smiles, Cambodia is the land of a thousand out stretched hands. Perhaps this is the result of social engineering with genocide. Turns out you need the educated middle class.