November 28, 2004
DAY 402: Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is a free-for-all martial art invented in the 15th century by the Siamese military as a way to keep the troops fit in hand-to-hand combat. Nowadays the style of fighting is seen in stadiums, movies and even in fighter video games. With punches, kicks, grabs, holds -- anything but headbutting -- it is boxing meets karate meets wrestling. When the bell rings in Muay Thai, you can literally kick your opponent's ass.
Every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, Muay Thai fighters come to Ratchadamnoeon Stadium in central Bangkok at their own will (and the suggestion of their promoters) to duke it out mono e mono. That morning I walked the twenty minutes to the box office to get a ticket for the fights, but it wouldn't open until the early evening. Thai boxing, for the meantime, would have to wait until the later part of the day.
"Question for you," I said with a serious tone, placing my notebook on the table like it was a case file. "Is tomorrow Thanksgiving or it is next week?"
"Tomorrow," he answered.
"It's always the last Thursday of November," the girl added.
"I haven't seen a calendar in a while," I told them.
They were Darrough and Aerin, a young couple from Chicago on a trip through the southeast quadrant of the globe. Not surprisingly, Darrough was a former dot-comer twenty-something who also kept a travel Blog. Although they had just arrived, the Chicagoans were to waste no time in Bangkok and were slated to leave that night via train with Paul to the beaches of the south after having traveled through India for the past couple of weeks, just like Paul and me. It seemed we all had similar itineraries and went to the same places. "Did you see the movie Dhoom?" Darrough asked me.
"Yeah." Wow, this Bollywood movie was pretty big, even for foreigners in India.
"[Aerin] met one of the [bad] guys in a nightclub in Mumbai."
"Not the guy that dies, not the main guy, not the guy that looks like Ben Stiller," Darrough said. "The other one."
"Oh." They too were impressed with Bollywood's version of The Fast And The Furious.
"When we got to the airport we saw the music video."
"I got the DVD," I told him.
"Yeah, I was thinking of getting it."
With that said, we were bonded and, along with Paul, we went for a walk around the backpacker district. It was their first time in Bangkok and we gave them the tour of Khaosan Road, a repetitive cycle of a 7 Eleven, a bootleg CD vendor, a food vendor, a backpacker bar, and so forth until the next 7 Eleven. Paul mentioned the sausage, bacon and cheese Extreme Pizza at The Pizza Company chain and we went to fill our stomachs before the nights ahead of us.
"So who has the better pizza [Chicago or New York]," Paul asked. Each American city was known for its distinct style of the Italian import; one might think there was a rivalry.
Aerin and I looked at each other and agreed on an answer without speaking. "They're just different," we said in unison.
What these short guys lacked in height, they made up for it in pure brawn (unlike short guys like me that make it up in witty Blog humor and pictures of poo). After a ceremonial respectful pledge to the king, the first two fighters were introduced to the ring, where they proceeded with stretching exercises.
In the red corner, weighing in at a hundred one and one half pounds... Jaosein POMKHUANNARONG! And the challenger, in the royal blue boxing trunks, all the way from the Kingdom of Thailand... Tweesaklek CHORTWEESAK!
The traditional Muay Thai fighter music came on, a strange blend of bongo drums and a clarinet that seemed like (not to sound culturally insensitive here) it was being played by a snake charmer who had a bit too much to drink. The two fighters duked it out with punches and kicks (picture above), although most of the time they locked arms in a grab and tried to kick the other guy's side with their feet or knee him in the chest.
After four three-minute rounds (one short of the total five), Pomkhuannarong won by knockout (KO), when he punched a guy to the ropes and the guy couldn't stand straight anymore. In simpler terms, he kicked the other guy's ass.
The seventh bout was the main event, "main" probably because it involved the heaviest fighters -- Dechsak Sortammaphet and Anantaska Loogbaanyai -- at the "heavy" weight of just 126 lbs. The crowd was really into this one, shouting their heads off and placing more bets, and for good reason: not only was an intense match of punches, kicks and holds right at the get-go, there was throwing against the ropes and tackling down to the tarmac.
In the end, Sortammaphet won by TKO, making a lot of gamblers happy -- in their minds they were probably thinking the Thai equivalent of the American slang, Kick ass! as the floor bookie paid them out, for that's what fighter from the red corner just did for them.
If you enjoy this daily travel blog, please post a comment! Give me suggestions, send me on missions, let me know how things are going back home in the USA. Knowing that I have an audience will only force me to make this blog more entertaining as the days go by. Donīt forget to bookmark it and let a friend know!