Two weeks ago, my bandmate and lifelong friend set out on a journey to the land of smiles with one mission – to experience as much as the country had to offer in the nine days we had on the ground. Through jam-packed days of adventure we faced perils and setbacks of all kinds, including braving long nights in some of the world’s most questionable of accommodations, running out of gas on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere on motorbikes, getting chased by packs of wild dogs, braving tourist scams of all types, and even surviving two different forms of debilitating jungle illness – only to find ourselves on the other side having had some of the best times of our lives. Below are few photos and points of interest from our journey.
Muay Thai at the Fairtex Thepprasit Stadium
Location: Deep Suburbs Of Pattaya
It would have been hard to grow up during the ’80s and not become completely obsessed with the movie Bloodsport. Jean Claude Van Damme’s role as Nok Su Kao – ”the white warrior” who took on Thailand’s baddest – was an irresistible story for any American kid. In the decades subsequent to the film’s release, Muay Thai, along with the rise of MMA has become a household fixture in American sport. But, seeing an authentic Thai Boxing fight in Thailand way away from the tourist trap fights of the big city was definitely a spectacle to behold. It felt a bit like being inside Sagat’s level from Street Fighter II – stray dogs running around, men yelling with betting tickets in their hands, and a traditional Thai fight music band playing from the ringside orchestra pit. We watched several hours of epic bouts ranging from the youngest Thai fighters (aged seven and up) to full-grown adults duke it out for the glory –unforgettable.
The Canal Neighborhoods of Bangkok
Location: Chao Phraya River In Central Bangkok
A favorite tourist trap for travelers arriving in Bangkok is to hop aboard a Thai Long Tail Boat and go for a cruise down the Chao Phraya river that runs down the center of the city. The river gives way to a vast network of estuary canals that run deep into the city’s interior – carving out water streets and neighborhoods similar to those seen in Venice and Amsterdam. By Western judgment, these waterways are basically open sewers with water so polluted that if one were to fall in the result would likely be toxic shock and hospitalization – but not to the locals here. Kids can be seen fishing, bathing, and playing in these waters with no fear at all of its quality. One can only stand back and marvel at the human gut’s ability to adapt its flora and fauna to its environmental circumstance. Travelers beware though – one drop of this drink down the gullet and the rest of your trip will be spent in the loo.
The Temple of Dawn, The Big Buddha, and Local Buddhism
Location: Bangkok And Everywhere Else
Just a few days in any city in Thailand and it becomes abundantly clear of the impact and influence Buddhism has on daily life. Never did we see a tuk-tuk driver, business owner, or any local person that didn’t exhibit some kind of outward behavior signifying their affiliation with Buddha and/or adorn himself or his real estate with reverential garb or decoration serving the same end. In addition, shrines and temples that honor Buddha are just about everywhere – including the world famous golden reclining Buddha, the “Big Buddha,” and an entire spectrum of smaller temples and local shrines. Pretty much all of these temples are pretty breathtaking places to visit – beautiful, friendly, and peaceful just like the practitioners of its tenets. The biggest mystery, though, was the offering of red Fanta sodas complete with straws left at the many street shrines throughout Bangkok. Does Buddha have a thing for red drank? What gives?
The Sanctuary Of Truth
Location: Suburban Pattaya
This was a strange one. With such an epic name you’d think this place would be steeped in history from ancient days and hold tons of fascinating stories within its walls. But in reality, the Sanctuary Of Truth is a very modern construction funded by a Thai millionaire to commemorate and celebrate traditional Thai architecture and culture. But just because it’s not old doesn’t make it any less jaw-dropping. The entire structure is built completely from wood using traditional Thai building methods devoid of nails. Just about every inch of its interior and exterior is adorned with intricate carvings that pay homage to both Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses. Oh, and there was also an elephant ride out front – couldn’t resist.
Location: Central Pattaya City
As the Lonely Planet travel book series puts it – the city of Pattaya is “synonymous with prostitution.” And truly, after walking through some of its neighborhoods at night, it would be hard to walk away from the place with a different conclusion. Pattaya’s Walking Street is a roughly quarter mile stretch of road packed to the gills with go-go bars, beer bars, nightclubs, and sex show venues. If there was ever a geographical center of iniquity on earth, it would be this place – yet, lest I jump to Western judgement, the local sex workers here appear genuinely unabashed about their professions and completely unapologetic about their daily work. Chalk it up to the difference between Christian sexual shame and Buddhism, an unintended consequence of a globalized world economy, or simply a dire need for these women to make money for their families – whatever the reason, the practice of the world’s oldest profession is alive and well in Pattaya.
The Ladyboys Of Thailand
Walking the streets of Bangkok and surrounding cities, one can’t help but notice the prevalence of Thailand’s peculiar “third gender.” Ladyboys, as they’re called locally, have become the subject of joke and lore among Western visitors shocked not only by their numbers, but by their remarkable public openness toward their lifestyle. Thailand is known for having a peaceful, orderly, and tolerant society and one can only assume the country’s lasse faire attitudes towards sex and diversity make the perfect environment for Ladyboys to be themselves. Peace, tolerance, and equality – three great words to live by and practice in Thailand and everywhere else.