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Leah Welch with her trainers at MMA Phuket
Leah Welch with her trainers at MMA Phuket


Learning to Kick Like a Man in Thailand

By Leah Welch

The motorcyclists were bees darting between each other, inside an intricate honeycomb, filling the entire crevice of the city.  Bangkok, Phuket, Thailand was a flower I was ready to pluck. 

Everything was in constant flux from roads to beaches and the in between, here to there, where there was always something better, brighter, and so faster the sound of the buzz:  to make it across Thailand, speed is a necessity.

I am addicted to movement, so Thailand was the fruition of desire.  I made my few clothes into the guts of a small bag, and caught a twelve hour flight out of LAX.  The muddy, monochrome winter of the states became extinct beside exotic words like sawasdee, baht, kawp-kun krap/ka'. 

I was ready for the razor sharp color of a new culture; my first exchange after getting off the plane in Bangkok was in a taxi ride from Suvarnabhumito Sukhumvit Soi 1Backpackers Hostel. 

A taxi ride in Bangkok is like one in New York: fast, incoherent and costs too much.  One important tip for any traveler going to Thailand is to always ask for the meter to be running. 

If the driver refuses to do this, get out of the cab.  I haggled one driver down from 600 baht to 300 baht for a ½ hour ride from the hostel to the airport (roughly from 18 USD to 9.5 USD), but still felt I had been had. 

Most hostels cost around 300-350 baht per night, but can run less if the stay is extended, and then monthly rates apply.  The hostel I stayed in was decently outfitted with internet, shower, DVD player, cable, and the saint of all annuities:  Air Conditioning. 

Seven Hours in Bangkok

I only had seven hours in Bangkok:  I couldn’t stay to see all of it; I’m addicted to movement, I had to speed to Phuket.  There was a great community of people who stayed at Sukhumvit Soi 1, and the veterans of hostels are glad to share out–of-the-way nooks of the city (restaurants, bars, non-tourist beaches).  Although being a female I was at first wary of meeting new people, after reading about horror stories of kidnappings, and other brutal art forms, these worries were continually put at ease throughout my trip as I ran into very kind and open people of all nationalities. 

The wayward traveler combines the dichotomized emotion of pity and gratitude whenever an all-inclusive tour package bus drives by with a full onslaught of caged faces peering at the by-passed land of a country that looks like the smile of  a pretty girl with a secret:  mysterious and beautiful.  Although tour packages allow for out of the way visits to different areas of Thailand, with a little research, social networking, and a heavy pocket book, these places are easily reached for the individual traveler.  After the necessity of airport, taxi, and then dumping my bag, I went to find that mystery. 
           
Thailand is equipped within one to five miles of every hostel with a motorcycle rental, and a 7/ 11 (Thailand’s Walmart).  These rentals range from 300-2000 baht from one day, week, or month.  There are also car and bicycle rentals.  Since I’m the frugal traveler I opted for the bicycle with a broken pedal for one month for 700 baht.  If money isn’t a luxury and one wants to rent a car or motorcycle then it would be prudent to have an international driver’s license.  If not the vehicle enthusiast may run into two scenarios: jail, or bribery, either of which is its own adventure.

In Phuket the fruit is sweet.  The restaurants in tourist areas are more expensive than the street merchants.  I would bike at four am to a little cart on the side of 4022, to get a breakfast of seven fried breads for five baht; they were like doughnuts but without the sugar, and can be found to the delight of the sweet toothed connoisseur in many Asian restaurants in the States, but never as fresh as what I found in that cart. 

Finding Treasures

Through word of mouth, and a little luck, these treasures can be found.  The place with the sweetest fruits is Forest Bungalow where a woman named Ma cooks a very good, affordable, and palatable meal for 100-200 baht, depending on the size of an individual’s appetite.  She’s located with the obscure directions of being on Soi Tad-ied Chalong road just before or past the blue roofed bar (depending on which way the traveler is coming).  For breakfast I would order a gigantic bowl of oatmeal (about the size of my two fists together), a fruit plate with sliced pineapple, strawberries, and bananas with a side of yogurt, and a water equaling 120 baht, Aroi! 

She offers diverse servings such as spaghetti, chicken curry, chicken cashew, noodles, and a general smorgasbord of Thai or American food with outside patio seating. 
           
I would also visit Phuket Spa on Soi Tad-ied Chalong which offered swimming pool privileges for 100 baht for the entire day.  They also offer Thai massage, one hour for 200 baht and other beautifying techniques such as body wraps, and facial scrubs.  The rooms are private and air conditioned.  Beside the Spa is a small family owned restaurant offering authentic Thai food for a very reasonable price per dish (about 25-35 baht) with bottled water.  For the person with an adventurous  palate, and a penchant for seafood, with tentacles showing, this is the roadside restaurant to find, and indulge oneself. 

Thai Kickboxing
           
I went to Thailand to find the measure of myself in the world.  As part of that philosophy of self I joined a Muay Thai kickboxing camp:  MMA Phuket is headed by Will "BigMac"McNamara and is a training camp which includes group and individual training in mixed martial arts, grappling, and Muay Thai, with bungalows (sidebar Muay Thai rates, and housing rates, restaurant).  Some of the activities include beach training, sparring, yoga and fight night (an underscored favorite of the trainers and trainees).  MMA Phuket offers twice a day training which is good not only for the person looking to gain skills but also to lose weight. 

I was hesitant when I first arrived being a female, but the camp was not full of testosterone driven machismo; there were a few ladies on board. 

The camp has a slew of trained Thai fighters and the classes are all taught in English.  While I was training the battery of words I heard diurnally were “One-two, one-two-three-four – PUSH UP!  Kick.  Left elbow, right elbow, knee.  PUSH UP!”  I had a great trainer, Oh.  The groups are separated into beginner, intermediate, and fight training.  Even though the training was with a group of people for Muay Thai, each person typically worked on an individual basis with their trainer. 

Training starts immediately.  Some women may be hesitant about starting new ventures, delving straight into something, but I found this training teaches that mentality needs to be pushed.  Even without any former training and with only a sundry reference of Bruce Lee movies, I got my mitts wrapped up in a pair of 8 oz gloves that made my hands look like big marshmallows.  I was not intimidating, but Oh gave me advice every day which struck straight to the purpose of me choosing a Muay thai training camp to stay in Thailand. 

Loosen Up

Oh told me it was time to let go of fear, to loosen up.  In Muy Thai the motion of a punch is contingent upon the position of the whole body, making focus key in attack and defense.  So, when I punched, my elbows couldn’t be cocked in, my fists had to be up by my face for protection, I had to stay on the balls of my feet and be dancing constantly so I wouldn’t be hit, and then I would stop and simultaneously be punching or kicking.  Oh asked me how I felt, on the balls of my feet, dancing around him, ready to jab, attack, repeat.  I felt like a water insect – awkward on the land, my body contorted, and my limbs akimbo to their normal positions.  I split the skin of my right big toe the second day.  I felt great.

Oh was patient, a young Thai man, nothing but lean and smiles.  The entire camp was open and friendly and they loved to joke around so training was rigorous but sane.  In his wisdom, Oh told me, “Stop thinking like a girl.  You are too used to being pretty.  Now is time for something else.  Think, move, like a man”.  He was talking about the way I moved my hips: with a pop up circular motion.  Any one schooled in high school anatomy knows that women’s hips and men’s hips move differently.  Whenever I kicked, I kicked, quite uncontrollably like a girl. 

My physiology was defective for Muay Thai training.  Men move their hips in a forward thrust motion which delivers a kick or knee to the gut with accuracy and much pain to their opponent.  Now was time for the brute.  These differences in pelvic motions was demonstrated to me by Oh and another trainer, one moving like a girl, with a pop up hip, the other moving with a manly thrust; repeated in the center of the boxing ring was an anachronistic sexual dance done by two Thai men; one being brawny, one being Barbie.  This was hysterical, the comedic sexual display had me laughing in fits with my marshmallow mitts round my belly, doubled over. 

Why Study Muay Thai?

Oh asked me my first day, “Why do you want to study Muay Thai?”  I flipped the pages of my mind for my reason and I came across an answer pointing toward a conglomeration of life, travel, and Muay Thai.  I am educated, I have two degrees, I have read thousands of books, and until recently have been in school since I was five years old.  I know the academic world, and I felt I was wasting something unnamable, until I came across the idea of joining my body with my mind, because up to this point in my life, one outweighed the other with a very advanced leap.  It was time for something different. 

The ancient Greeks believed in exercising the mind in equal measure with the body.  I knew my body was in distortion from lack of movement, so I hopped a plane, crossed the Pacific, hailed a cab and stood face to face with this answer, this brown-eyed man and all I wanted to do was knee him in the gut as a punctuation. 

I had to let go of my circular hips and learn to fight, to learn not to be just pretty. I had to be brave and  let my strength grow.  I wanted to punch him with the same urgency I would have pulled Milan Kundera off the shelf.  Jab, and the intellect and sinews are finally matched:  Balance. 
           

Samui Island in Thailand

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