After leaving the suffocating congestion of Bangkok, it would an understatement to say that everyone was thrilled to reach the comparatively calm city of Pattaya. As we drove into the city, small glimpses of the sea could be seen from the highway.For me, it was pacifying to see the ocean again, it had been nearly five years since I had seen it last. Something about seeing those faint glimmers of sunlight shimmer off the gently undulating water puts the mind at ease. Seeing the size and power of the sea makes you contemplate your relative insignificance in the universe, but in a pleasant way that somehow makes you feel as if you are an important component of it.
Immediately after we reached the beach we were greeted by a family friend of Giulia's named Enzo. Enzo is a middle aged man with skin like a baseball glove, a youthful smile, and a stunningly beautiful Thai girlfriend. With his help we were able to secure a room for the night and get settled a little bit. A few hours later, as promised, Enzo reappeared at the Bungalow and told us he wanted to take us to a place called Walking Street. After the frenetic pace of Bangkok, all four of us were ready for a nice quiet night on a quaint and unassuming shopping mall in a small Thai beach town. None of us could have been more mistaken.
Walking street attacks your senses long before you actually see it for yourself. The thunderous thump of club music, the smell of fresh Thai food emanating from the streets surrounding Walking Street attempt to prepare you for the onslaught that is about to ensue. As far as the analogy goes, Walking street is very similar to the strip in Vegas, except there are fewer lights and infinitely more opportunities to sin. Lady boys and scantily clad young women crowd the streets, handing out flyers and tickets for free drinks. Giant neon signs offer what are referred to as "short-term hotels" for very reasonable prices Behavior that would normally be resigned to seedy back-alley establishments in the States is generally accepted and, especially towards the end of the night, also encouraged. To the uninitiated traveler, the entire experience is repulsive, unexpected but also admittedly curious. And while our sensibilities ultimately prevailed over the Walking Street, the entire experience is impossible for fat, white, dirty old men, (which the vast majority of the population consists of) to resist.
The next day, the four of us were finally presented with an opportunity to decompress a little bit. As we sat on the beach soaking up the Thai sunshine, there was a tangible sigh of relief among the group. We were promised a Muay Thai lesson by Enzo as well, but thinking that the experience would be very basic, we were content to relax and let our blood pressures return to a healthy level. As the sun reached its hottest, we were greeted once again by Enzo and taken on a brief taxi ride into town where the gym was.
The Muay Thai gym was fairly small and inconspicuous, its patrons, however, were not. Gargantuan men from Germany, Russia, and even an MMA fighter from the US were training hard, creating sonic booms as they hit the stationery bags with their legs and fists that reverberated along the entire street. To stumble across this scene as a first-timer is, obviously, a bit humbling. But if one has a good attitude and a decent level of fitness, it is pretty easy to get into the swing of things.
The training itself is incredibly different than I anticipated. Like any good work out, the first step is to have a good long stretch. followed by some light cardio. Enzo also showed us the basic stance, movements, and techniques that are fundamental to Muay Thai. The work out regiment itself is set up just as a bout would be. You train very hard for three minutes, then you take a one minute rest. While this may seem easy at first. At the end of an hour and a half session, the sweat poured from us as if someone were constantly dumping a bucket of water on our heads. We thanked the very amiable, and incredibly still energized, Enzo before heading back to town, crawling for our beds and falling into a deep sleep, where pleasant dreams of the sloth and lethargy that would describe my next few days danced through my head.
More to come very soon!
-Vern the Worm