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Muay Thai in Bangkok

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Muay Thai, Thailand’s famous martial art style, is known for trademark elbow, knee and shin strikes, in addition to a variety of punches and kicks.  This style is thought to date from at least the 1400’s, if not earlier, and became internationally widespread through the 20th century, partially thanks to the interest of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V.  There is a legend of a famous Siamese (Thai) fighter – Nai Khanom Tom – who was captured by the Burmese army in 1774 when Ayutthaya was attacked, and the Burmese king wished to determine whether the Thai or Burmese martial arts style was best so he organized a competition.  Nai Khanom Tom was chosen to fight for the Thai style and defeated ten of Burma’s finest Parma fighters.  The king was so impressed that Nai Khanom Tom was allowed to return home, granting great renown to his Muay Thai fighting style.   Nowadays, both men and women compete in different circuits, both nationally and internationally.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Nicole and I decided to enjoy a night out on the town and experience it for ourselves.  Our car and driver picked us up from the hotel just as the sun was setting, and drove us through town to Rajadamnern Stadium.  We were greeted as we exited the car and taken to pick up our will-call tickets and were led out our VIP seats.  The excitement in the air was electric.  Already, the light-weight fighters were in the ring, cheered on by the crowd under the domed roof.  A live band with traditional instruments played background music to add to the suspense.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Before each fight, the contestants would participate in a sacred ritual dance called wai kru ram muay (or wai kru for short) to pay respect to their teachers, families, and to ask for victory.  Each fighter performed a dance unique to their training school. In addition to flamboyant shorts, each boxer also wore a tasseled headband called a mongkol and decorative armbands called prajioud which had been blessed by Buddhist monks to help bring protection and victory.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

To our surprise and entertainment, we found that the food options included fare such as beer, coco cola, popcorn and hotdogs, for very cheap prices, and arms loaded with snacks, we settled in to enjoy the experience.  Once each fight would begin, the locals would crowd an area roped off for people to stand at each corner of the ring.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

The fans would cheer, grown, scream and yell advice at the combatants.  In the case of one or two of the contestants, a fan club of girls with signs also descended to cheer from the sidelines.  Although gambling is illegal in Thailand, the security guards didn’t seem to mind too much as long as no one was filming the many excitable bookies placing bets.  (We strongly advise all of our guests not to participate in gambling or other illegal activities while traveling.)  The crowd went particularly wild during a knockout in one of the rounds.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Once the title fight had occurred, Nicole and I were taken to meet one of the top fighters and pose for a photo with him before we were escorted back to waiting car and driver who took us back to the hotel.    All in all, it was a wonderfully fun and exciting experience.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Thailand’s Famous Fresh Markets

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thai food is famous around the world, and there is no better way to experience the real deal than to head to a local food market.  Here you’ll find just about everything under the sun and you’ll have the chance to dine out the way the locals do and enjoy the people-watching.  Thailand boasts dishes that are unique to each region so it is worth visiting multiple markets with a local guide who can help describe what you are seeing, smelling and sampling, and who can also translate and make suggestions for you (and let you know when to steer clear of things that may be too spicy or not properly cooked).

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Chiang Mai, Tien, explained the local specially encompasses a certain egg noodle soup (which was delicious) , but she also had me sample the local coffee, the best fried chicken that I have ever eaten in my life, fried pork rinds, fried water buffalo skin, a variety of fruit, a different noodle soup and as I was feeling bold, blood sausage soup, which I decided was not to my taste.  Pork dishes seem to be a particular favorite to the Thais.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Bangkok, Well led me to a local market (hidden down a maze of back alleys between the tall buildings) where fresh vegetables and spices are brought in daily from the countryside.  Here we sampled tamarind, fresh ginger, turmeric, a variety of candies made from sesame seeds, peanuts and honey, and admired the fresh flowers used in decorations, wedding ceremonies and as offerings at temples.  (I confess that I steered clear of the very large fried cockroaches- I’ve tried crickets before and so far that has been the extent of my bravery on eating bugs.)  The space for this market was donated by the Royal Family so there was also a shrine set up in their honor.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

If you find yourself drawn to food, we’d recommend our Bangkok’s Culinary Delights tour to sample more of Bangkok’s legendary street food.  I personally can’t wait to go back and try more of the savory soups and delicious grilled meats and fried fish I spotted.  If you want to learn to prepare these dishes yourself, we recommend taking a cooking class with Pantawan Cooking School in Chiang Mai, and Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Royal Cremation Ceremonies in October 2017

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thailand has been mourning the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej since last October, and this October (2017), will mark the end of this period of mourning.  The king’s body will be cremated and both official and religious ceremonies are expected to mark the occasion.  The Thai government has officially announced that the ceremonies will take place October 25th -29th, 2017, with the official cremation date on October 26th.

For travelers heading to Thailand in October, this means that the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and the surrounding areas will likely be closed off to the public.  It is rumored that the Grand Palace may close as early as the 23rd of October in order to make preparations and rehearse for the ceremonies.   The day of cremation (October 26th) will be a public holiday, and many business, museums and attractions will be closed out of respect.  You can find further details about the expected schedule of the cremation ceremonies in this article from the Bangkok Post, and you can see photos from the last Royal funeral, which included an elaborate procession, in this article from the International Business Times.  A procession for the upcoming ceremonies in October is also likely, and so traffic delays can also be expected.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep our guests updated on what to expect, and if necessary will adjust itineraries to work around the closures.   If you plan to travel to Thailand before the end of October, we recommend reading our blog about what to expect when Visiting the Grand Palace during this period of mourning, as there are certain unusual regulations in place for the year.  For example, visitors to the Grand Palace are still expected to dress entirely in ‘mute’ colors – black or dark navy until after the cremation ceremonies in October.

As always, please remember that deep respect should be shown to the King and Royal Family at all times. Showing respect for King is the law (known as the lese majeste laws) and all people within Thailand, including foreigners, are required to abide by this law.  Additionally, the Thai people loved their King and deeply mourn his passing.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

 

Other Blog Articles Related to this topic:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

What to Expect in Thailand Over the Next Month – October 2016

What to expect from Loi Krathong this year – October 2016

Visiting the Grand Palace

Thank you from Stephanie Whitehead

Stephanie, Heather and Michelle with Narla in Siem Reap

We love hearing back from our guests after they’ve traveled and we especially love seeing their photos!  Our goal is to make every trip amazing and perfect, and it really makes our day to see it happen.  Here is a quick note from Stephanie Whitehead about her trip last November:

Dear Andrea,

I’m not sure where the last three months have gone and I do apologize for not writing sooner.  I traveled with Journeys Within in November with two of my friends Michelle (U.S.) and Heather (Australia) and wanted to thank you and your staff for an absolutely amazing time!

From the time we landed in Bangkok to the time we left Siem Reap everything was so well organized and just fabulous.  Our guides, Well in Bangkok and Sina in Siem Reap could not have been more friendly and knowledgeable.  Although we are all independent gals, I have to say we felt very looked after and safe at all times.  We used the suggestions on your cheat sheets extensively for spa, restaurants, activities and shopping. Your friend Pisey at the market was lovely… bought several things at her stall as well as a couple of nice things from Douglas at Trunkh!  I especially enjoyed our time with JWOC and our evening with Narla, Makara and friends.

By the way, I have to mention that the staff at the Kralanh Petite Villa were so friendly and accommodating, a definite asset to your property list!  Everyone we met helped to make our stay so very special.

I hope to travel with Journeys Within again in the future… maybe Laos and Myanmar?  I’ll have to see if I can get the girls on board!

Cheers,

Stephanie Whitehead

(Vancouver, Canada)

Stephanie, Heather, Michelle and Well in Bangkok

Transitioning Through Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)

A Sculpture depicting the ‘Churning of the Sea of Milk’ in BKK – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Bangkok is such a large metropolitan hub that it has two major airports – Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK).  If you book connecting regional flights on your own without the help of Journeys Within, be sure to look closely at which airport you will transitioning through, as these airports are located across the city from each other and trying to connect between the airports to for a flight is not recommended due to the legendary Bangkok traffic.  Most International flights (and many domestic flights) arrive into Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), so we’ve focused this blog on helpful hints for this particular airport:

Terminal Arrival in BKK; most signs are printed in English and in Thai – Photo credit: Nicole Long

You can store your luggage in the airport for a fee of 100THB or roughly $ 2.83 per day, on the 2nd floor in Arrivals, and 4th floor of Departures, outside of the immigration.  You will be given a ticket and will need to show both the ticket and the passport to pick your luggage up, and will pay the fee at that time.  Not many of our guests choose to use this storage option, but it can be helpful if you find yourself with a very long layover or if you are chaining your Southeast Asia trip with another journey and have extra luggage that you won’t need while in Southeast Asia.  Be advised – if you are considering venturing into the city between flights, be sure to plan for extra time to pass through Immigration again.  It can take as much as 45 minutes to and from the airport to downtown by car, depending on traffic.  There is a light rail into town as well, but you will need to be careful of timing with this option as well. If you find yourself with a long layover, we recommend a nice long massage while in the airport, and using your extra time to peruse the many shops and sit down for a nice meal.

Plane to Terminal Transfer – Photo Credit: Nicole Long
Bangkok Skyline – Be advised: the traffic can be quite a challenge – Photo credit: Courtney Ridgel

BKK is a well-organized airport so travelers can easily locate immigration, information counters and kiosks, and the bathrooms if needed, making this an easier airport for families with small children, or inexperienced travelers.  We suggest visiting a bathroom before immigration as you won’t know how long the lines will be before you get there – we’ve seen it vary from 10 minutes to over an hour.  In order to speed up your transition through the airport, we recommend filling out your arrival paperwork fully before disembarking from the aircraft.  (And bring a pen when you travel – it can be difficult to find a spare while on an aircraft or standing around in Immigration!)

The shorter Immigration lines for Fast Track arrivals – Photo Credit: Nicole Long

BKK also offers a Fast Track service to help travelers to pass through Immigration more quickly.  A host or hostess will meet you as you depart from the plane, and will assist you in transitioning through the airport and in collecting your bags at the baggage claim.  With Fast Track, the process of passing through Immigration is faster, and there is always a shorter queue to pass through Immigration.  You can also book a golf cart transfer to expedite the process or help you make quick layovers through this large airport.  We recommend Fast Track for guests who have very tight transitions between flights, or for guests that simply want to expedite their Immigration procedures, and receive a little extra help.

The Fast Track Golf Cart Transfer service – Photo Credit: Nicole Long

For Journeys Within guests – If you are not transitioning to your next destination, when you arrive in Bangkok, you’ll pass through Immigration.  Thailand is one the most visited places in the world, so the airports tend to be much busier than those found in Laos and Cambodia. For US citizens, if you will be staying less than 30 days, no visa is necessary.  Your passport will be stamped on arrival.  You should receive the necessary entry and exit forms on your flight into Thailand.  (If not, you can always pick them up in the airport when you arrive.)  If you are not a US citizen, be sure to check the Immigration and visa requirements for your home country before traveling.  Collect your luggage and head outside to meet your waiting Journeys Within guide, who will be holding a sign with your name.  Your guide and driver will help load your luggage into the car, and will transfer you to your hotel to check in.   Your guide will run through your schedule on the way to your hotel.

Clear Customs and head to the Baggage Claim – Photo Credit: Nicole Long
The Baggage Claim area in BKK is very large – Photo Credit: Nicole Long