Category Archives: Cultural Experiences

Bucket List #5: Train Muay Thai in Thailand

Another tick off the bucket list as I signed up for what promised to be a gruelling week of Muay Thai in Phuket. Muay Thai is the traditional martial art of Thailand and combines punches, elbows, knees, kicks and clinching and the Thai’s are brought up on it. From the moment they can walk they’re trained in the art of Muay Thai and often by their mid-twenties they’ve had well over 150-200 fights. If they weren’t so strongly Buddhist, it would be easy to call Muay Thai their religion.

Training Muay Thai at Phuket Top Team

Knees for days!

I checked out a few of the gyms in Phuket and with the help of a recommendation from a friend who has fought in Thailand for the past 2 years I settled on Phuket Top Team. I won’t bore you with the details but PTT have fighters in the biggest organisations of the Muay Thai and MMA world. As well as that the trainers their are a mixture of retired champions and some of the elite fighters still in competition. It was safe to say I’d be in good hands there but it also meant they would take no excuses.

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I had trained back at home for 2 years but it had been at least 18 months since then and the past 6 months of travel had taken a toll on my fitness. I secretly hoped my treks in the Himalayas would provide me with some fitness but it didn’t prove to help me all that much.

It was 2 x 2 hours sessions a day for 6 days and most of the sessions went down in more or less the same way. Skipping, stretching, sparring and clinching with other people of a similar skill and weight, bag work, 1 on 1 pad work in the ring with a trainer (this involved the trainer calling out combinations of kicks punches, knees and elbows for you to throw and occasionally throwing some back at you to block) followed by a warm down with a couple of hundred push ups and sit-ups.

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Fifteen minutes into my first training session the mouth guards were in and I found myself behind a pair of boxing gloves facing off with an Italian guy in our class. It was the first time back at training for both of us so we stuck to light sparring, moved around a bit, traded some punches and had some fun with it.

The trainers in true Thai-style weren’t so forgiving when my lack of fitness showed up during the pad-work. They’ve been training since they were 2 and excuses never worked for them so they expect the same out of you. In fact, the more you shut up and try to get it done, the easier it’s going to be for you. I saw people learn this the hard way, if you’re the type to whine and complain well guess who’s getting extra push ups.

Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

It’s all smiles for the camera.

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As the days went on my fitness was slowly coming back as was some of the technique I had hidden away from a few years ago. I was sore just about everywhere and spent my time in between sessions either in the pool, in bed or at the massage parlour up the road all of which seemed to make the after sessions that little bit easier.

trainers at Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

The Trainers at PTT

The week came to an end and I had to move on as I have the full moon party booked in on the 9th but I will most definitely be returning to train with the team again only next time I’m hoping to stay for a month.

Have you ever trained in a traditional martial art somewhere? What was your experience like?

Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

After attempting to tackle the Himalayas only to be turned back a couple of weeks ago I know had the Markha Valley firmly within my sights. The Markha Valley Trek is perhaps the most popular trek in the Ladakh region and can range from 4-10 days depending on your starting/finishing point and how fit you are.

We started at Chilling and ended at Chokdo 4 days later. We had orignally allowed 6 days for the trek but we put in some serious hours of trekking each day and managed to race through the trek in time for the Kalachakra Festival back in Leh.

Guides aren’t really neccessary on this trek as it’s quite well marked but I would highly recommend  a book with a basic outline of the route and homestays available. Camping is also available. In saying this we got lost on day 1 of the trek and a leg that should’ve taken 1.5-2 hours took us 4 and had us sliding down a rocky slope, wading up a river knee-deep in water and pretending to be native trackers tracing out old footprints but we got there!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves as the scenery was simply amazing.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

There was only one way day…

River crossings became normal on day one

River crossings became normal on day one

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

Prayer Wheels

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Wunderschön

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The two Swiss girls that dragged me through the trek – Team WunderSchnell!

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The beautiful lady of the homestay in Hankar

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Multi-coloured mountains.

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

It snowed on the way to the pass at 5200m. Naturally my beard was good at catching it.

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Have you trekked the North of India before? What has been your favourite place?

How I Became a Sculptor in Mamallapuram

The main street of Mamallapuram is lined with countless stalls selling immaculately handcrafted sculptures and most of the shops owners spend there days working on new pieces in front of their store. I was in the rare mood for shopping probably because I had a good reason this time, my dads 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to send something home for him.

Wandering through a few different stalls nothing seemed fitting, I got chatting with a local sculptor out of the front of his workshop and he downed his tools and invited me in for chai. I was asking him about getting a small piece custom made and engraved when he suggested that rather than pay someone to make it he’ll teach me to make something myself. The idea sounded great except for one small thing – my discernible lack of artistic talent. He was persuasive enough that I agreed to come back and start Sculpture 101 with him the next day.

Sculpting away...

Sculpting away…

Venkat – my new sculpture instructor – was patient, persistent and extraordinarily resilient, nothing was a better example of this than his story of losing his home, store and complete collection of his work and tools to the 2004 tsunami. An event tragic enough to floor even the strongest of characters didn’t seem to deter his spirit and with the help of the community he managed re-open his shop not long after.

I walked into his shop at 9:30 the next day and he was eagerly awaiting with the tools laid out and a cup of chai and biscuits. We shared chai and looked through some of his work while I decided what I wanted to make and the type of stone to make it out of. I started carving away at big block of greenstone with the idea of a lizard perched on a rock, this was to be my first piece and more of a practice piece than anything too serious.

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The next two days were spent drinking chai, going out for lunch and sculpting in-between. It was awesome I began to make friends in the town and despite my now sore and calloused hands my lizard was starting to take shape.

Then it all came crumbling down.

I was starting to put the final details on the head of the lizard and must have hammered a little too hard into a fault line in the stone and a huge crack ran through – off with the lizards head! I was pretty disheartened, my hands were killing me and a day and a half of work had just gone down the drain. In hindsight, it seems petty to have become upset at losing one piece when Venkat had lost so much more in the tsunami 9 and half years earlier.

Out came a new block of stone, this time I was using a stronger stone which would be harder to carve but also harder to break. I chose a seated Buddha in the palm of a hand. This piece was literally make or break.

The days rolled on in more or less the same fashion – lots of sculpting and lots of chai. Venkat gave me a little help here and there with some of the finer details (I was still a little rattled about breaking my last piece) and my Buddha was starting to take shape. Four days of sculpting and polishing paid off, I had completed it and couldn’t have been happier.

The finished piece!

The finished piece!

In celebration I took Venkat out for dinner that night at a little local restaurant where we feasted on lamb thali. As with all celebrations in India they never just last one day so the next morning we went to the market to pick up some fresh fish, lamb and beer. Venkat invited his friend, a chef of 15 years at Mamallapuram’s nicest hotel to come and cook for us at Venkat’s hut. Venkat lived in a village about 15 minutes away in a hut with a tiny kitchen and no electricity. That didn’t stop his friend serving up 4 amazing dishes.

Cooking up a storm.

Cooking up a storm.

I’m glad to have made such a great friend in Venkat and it is a true example of his genuine friendliness that during my 6 days of sculpting not once did he ask for a fee or a tip for his services and was reluctant to take my money when I offered it. Mamallapuram is a place I will hold in high regard for a long time to come.