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8.23.10: Koh Phangan, Thailand

Monopoly, Massaman, and Muay Thai....

sunny

Today was a lackluster day I spent lazing around the hotel. It was overcast all morning so we decided to hang around and explore the game wall. For the past two and a half months, we have worn ourselves out with Gin Rummy, a game I’ve mastered over the years of battling my grandpa for victory. We’ve been through 3 decks of cards and they have been a lifesaver in times of mind-numbing monotony.

Now we had a wall of games in front of us and could finally give the cards a rest. We ordered some banana-coconut milkshakes and decided to throw some bones. Dominos entertained us for a while, but when the clouds were still not letting up, we turned our sights to Monopoly. I unpacked the board and noticed that the typical ‘Boardwalk’ and ‘Park Place’ were missing and instead I was staring at ‘Piccadilly’ and ‘Oxford Street’; it was the British version.
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It had been eons since the last time I’d past ‘Go’ and I even had to refer to the rule book before I shelled out the cash. Never in my life have I finished a game of Monopoly, eventually my attention span will deplete and I will surrender before I die of boredom. I don’t know how we did it but, after two more smoothies and a lot of real-estate developments, we finally finished the game. I lost.

By now the sun was gleaming off the water and the clouds had depleted, so I hopped in for a quick swim before lunch. I soaked up the sun and air dried on my way back to the lounge where I enjoyed a delicious peanut massaman and spicy prawn crackers.

One thing that was a must-do for our island itinerary was to see a traditional Muay Tai fight. Muay Tai is possibly the most brutal form of martial arts practiced today. It is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it uses 8 points of contact mixing the use of punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes.

The pool bar we’d been in the night before had a large poster advertising a Muay Tai match for tonight and our eyes lit up. We’d made friends with the owner of Hotel Harmony, a nice English man in his 40’s, who told us he could get us tickets. It turned out that he was good friends with the announcer and ended up scoring us V.I.P seats directly behind the judges!
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We got to Haad Rin Boxing Stadium and met up with the announcer who showed us to our seats. Just as promised, we were right behind the judges in the best seats in the house.
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With a few minutes before the bell rang we headed to the snack bar for some goodies. This snack bar was unlike the typical hotdog, popcorn, soda snack bars of the U.S. This concession stand had homemade egg rolls, coconut battered chicken, shrimp kabobs, and more. We grabbed some beer and a few egg rolls to enjoy before the match. They were delicious! They were smothered in a sweet chili dipping sauce and each bite was messier than the last. I am a firm believer that, the messier the food, the more delicious, and in this case, it was definitely true!

I heard the ding. I smelled the sweat. It was time for the true meaning of ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. The lights danced as the announcer introduced the first fighters. They marched out from the back as the crowd cheered in anticipation. They were rough, they were tough, they were… eleven? Yes, apparently they were starting the match with some pre-teen entertainment before the big boys came out.
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They entered the ring and began their pre-fight ritual, a must for any traditional Muay Tai fighter. Wearing only his shorts and a traditional headband known as a Mongkon, he starts in the center of the ring to bow to each of the four sides of the ring, paying his respects to the audience, before returning to his corner.
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Then the fighter places his hand atop the ring rope and walks counter-clockwise around the ring, symbolically closing off the ring for him and his opponent.
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When the ritual was all over, the battle began. These kids were vicious! They were punching and kicking like their life depended on it. I know some people whose parents didn’t let them play pop-Warner football because it was too dangerous and here are these toothpick ten-year-olds beating the crap out of each other while everyone cheers them on. The icing on the cake was the announcers commentary, this one really jumped out at me, he said, “Despite their age, they intend to hurt each other and that’s what really counts!”.

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I guess the Thaïs have replaced coddling their children with all out violence. Somehow I don’t think this would fly in America.

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The 2nd fight was, what seemed at first, like an unfair pairing between a 14 year old and a 17 year old. I was proven wrong when the 14 year old dominated with Hulk-like strength to put the 17 year old to shame. Imagine going back to high school the next day after being whooped on by a 14 year old kid. Tough break.

They brought out the men in fight number three where two Thai’s went head to head only to have the man in blue knocked out in round 2. Short but sweet.. knockouts are always entertaining.

The fourth fight got international, pairing New Zealand in red vs. the Czech Republic in blue. I had my money on the Czech beast who came out sporting a Che Guevara tattoo on his calf, “Fighter” tattooed across his stomach and a Mike Tysonesque tattoo on his face. You don’t mess with a guy with a tattoo on his face. Only psychos sport face tattoos, no good can come of it.
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This guy looked like he would rip off your head and eat it for breakfast, saving your limbs for a mid-afternoon snack. He was easily 40 lbs. heavier than the New Zealander who I pitied from the start. Had I been carrying cash on me, I would have thrown down a pretty penny on blue. Thank God I didn’t though, because his Mike Tyson wannabe didn’t come through as expected. Instead of biting the guys ear off to spare himself of defeat, he decided that a knock out was more graceful and went down after only 40 seconds. It was brilliant.
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The 5th fight was a snore fest, a perfect excuse for more egg rolls.

As the 6th fight began, the scent of Tiger Balm was breezing through the stands making my eyes water.
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A Frenchmen and a Thai entered the ring ready to brutalize each other for victory. Immediately I bet on the Thai. It just seems to me that maybe history has shown us that the French are not the best fighters. This guy looked like he had no reason to be in the ring. All he wanted was some Cabernet and Brie. The fight ended leaving me feel sheepish once again. The Frenchie conquered the Thai.
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Maybe brie is to the French as spinach is to Popeye. That’s the only logical explanation I could come up with.
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The last fight of the night concluded with a sweet knock-out from one Thai to another; a perfect ending to a perfect night!
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Posted by emichele 09:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches thailand island tropical asia koh_phagnan

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