Archive for the ‘thailand’ Category

and the winners are…

February 7, 2010

Last night we checked in to our 100th hotel. In celebration of this milestone, we reviewed our list of accommodation and decided to let you in on some of the best and worst moments. Note to our mums – I’ll give you the nod when it’s time for you to leave.

The good:*

Friendliest welcome – Tony’s Guesthouse, Melaka & North West Guesthouse, Mae Sariang
Tony – what a legend. The man is a kindred Little Creatures lover – need we say more? After tiring of “always screwing the union” as a government employee, his life now revolves around cooking the perfect eggs for his guests and fishing.

We only meant to spend a day or two in Mae Sariang, but a week later we were still lounging on the verandah at North West. We had no need that Tukta and Kitti couldn’t cater to – they let us take our own beers from the fridge; lent us their bikes and knew the best lady-boy in town to go to for a haircut.

Country with highest accommodation standards – Vietnam
Despite the fact that we encountered two of our most horrific hotels in Vietnam (see below), the general standard was very high. There doesn’t seem to be much of a culture of ultra-cheap dorm beds and shared bathrooms, but when $10 buys you a spotless fan room with TV, attached bathroom and hot water, who cares?

Best on ground – Zhilam Hostel, Kangding
We’ve already sung the praises of this place, but it deserves another shout-out. Dare I say it, Kris could charge double for this place and it would still be good value. Endless hot water in pristine bathrooms; crisp linen, and Kris and Lillian seemed to know exactly the right moment to ask you if you wanted a cup of tea. Worthy candidate in the “friendliest welcome” category, but we had to share the glory around a little.

OK, so I’ll quickly move on to the nasty bits because we all know they are far more interesting. Mums: leave now.

The bad:

Worst value for money – Prince of Wales Hotel, Singapore
How on earth did we land ourselves in a hostel above an Australian-themed backpackers pub? Our first stop on the trip, I can only think we were blinded by the excitement of it all. Apart from being full of shocking bogans, the wailing of dreadful covers bands blared from the bar downstairs until 3am every night and all the advertised “perks” turned out to be not nearly as appealing as advertised. “Free breakfast” = a few loaves of stale sliced bread, Nescafe and eggs you cook for yourself in a greasy pan, the stocks of which stop being replenished about 30 minutes before the ridiculously early cut-off time of 9am – so, if you’re us, you end up with cold coffee dregs and a dry crust for breakfast. “Air con” = will be switched on at 10pm and turned off at 6am. Even at $60 for a spartan private room, you still have to share a bathroom with the room next door and from the $20 dorm beds, you have to schlepp downstairs to use the toilets in the pub. Boo.

Biggest disappointment – Ko Tarutao
One thing we noticed consistently throughout SE Asia is a lack of concern for upkeep. New places go up and then are left to decay, quickly, as one might expect in a tropical climate, without a sniff of fresh paint or basic maintenance until they reach the point of no-return, when they are torn down and rebuilt again. Being government-run, there was a small army of staff employed on the island, but it was as though highly specific jobs (I mean highly specific, like “sweep this one square metre of concrete”) were allocated on Day One and that file was then hastily closed with a sigh of relief, never to be reopened. Broken windows, burnt-out light globes and wonky doors abounded and despite being promoted as an eco-resort, there was rubbish everywhere – but it was nobody’s job to fix it, so it never happened.

Bed bugs – Greens Hotel, Jerantut & Welcome Hotel, Bombay
Conveniently for Linds, both incidents occurred when we were sleeping in separate beds. My bout in Bombay prompted a response of “Oh my God” from the guy on the reception desk.

Weirdest – Lete Hostel, Xining
Where else but China would it be perfectly acceptable to rent out the top two floors of a high-rise apartment building to a youth hostel? An eerily deserted rabbit warren of rooms, with staff who looked at you as though you had two heads. And I’m pretty sure they used a damp mop to clean the carpets.

Most dangerous – Can’t remember the name, Xiahe
Apart from nearly dying from exposure during the night, going to the toilet involved taking your life in your own hands. Guests are required to take the most circuitous route around the outer perimeter of the courtyard to avoid a savage dog, whose chain is just a mite shorter than what he needs to reach you and sink his teeth into your leg. I knew he was there, but I was still half scared to death every time he barked – not really what you need as you’re scurrying towards the fetid loo, bladder bursting from already having delayed the trip for as long as humanly possible.

The ugly:

No categories here – there is one undisputed winner of this dubious honour:

Trade Union Hotel, Ben Tre
This place had the vibe of a private enterprise which had been taken over by the Communists at the end of the war… and never cleaned since. Cigarette butts in the shower drain, highly suspicious wall stains and a roach graveyard under the bed. It was after staying here that “presence of a toilet seat” became a mandatory item on our room inspection checklist.

Notable mention must be made of the place we stayed in Vinh Long, also in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. I was suffering a nasty head cold at the time and couldn’t face venturing outside our otherwise passable room, so Linds waited until after we left to tell me that there were soiled prophylactics down the side of the bed.

* excluding statistical outliers – namely, posh hotels funded by other people’s generosity

the great asian shirt drought

September 15, 2009
It’s time for a rant. I’ve had one brewing for a while now. At first, my ire was directed towards WordPress and its formatting idiosyncracies. I even went so far to draft an angry post about it but, thankfully for you, I lost it in cyberspace. However, a bigger issue has been making my blood boil throughout this trip and it’s high time I got it off my (shirt-clad) chest. This rant has the added bonus of making me feel especially righteous. And it’s far more satisfying bitching about real people than about a computer program.
 
It’s other travellers. Not all, not even most, but a highly noticeable minority. The sort that quibble over paying 18,000 dong for a beer in a restaurant when they paid 12,000 for one at a shop (a difference of about 35 cents) and then happily go and blow five times that amount on a crappy Zinger burger at KFC. Or those who are continuously wanting to know if they can have their noodles with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, when it’s clear that all the noodles come out of one pot that has chicken bits bobbing about in it, all the while barking their demand at the vendor in English when it’s clear that the vendor doesn’t speak a word.
 
But those who get my goat most of all appear to be victims of a strange phenomenon known as “the Great Asian Shirt Drought.”* Would you walk down the high street of whatever godforsaken coal-mining backwater that you’re from without a shirt on? No. Would you even wait for a bus on the side of a highway or dine in a restaurant in the aforementioned backwater without a shirt on, exposing your flabby gut and bogan tattoos to all and sundry? No. Then why is it suddenly appropriate to do all of these things and more without a shirt on as soon as you touch down in SE Asia?
 
Clearly, there is some sort of acute shirt shortage! Somebody call the UN! Tell them to send urgent shirt aid!
 
PUT A SHIRT ON, YOU CHUMP.
 
 
*Nobody but Linds and me actually recognises this phenomenon. Yet. I’m hoping it will catch on.

bangkok: the redux

June 23, 2009

Since being on the road, we’ve been introduced to a term previously unknown to both of us: the “flashpacker“. Usually a little older with a decently paid job at home, this subset of independent travellers is often on a shorter trip and fills the category of accommodation at the upper end of “budget”. The flashpacker is, of course, in stark contrast to the old-skool “backpacker” who will seek out a city’s cheapest fleapit so they can instead spend their hard-earned pennies on beer/buckets and tubing*.

We find ourselves somewhere in between these two species. Most of our accommodation leaves a bit to be desired, but we rarely end up sleeping at the dodgiest joint in town. And while we’re generally happy with our budget digs, we are by no means beyond a bit of luxury every now and again.

Linds’ parentals, Richard and Mary, recently embarked on a SE Asian epic journey of their own and kindly invited us to join them in Bangkok before they jetted home. Needless to say, our second jaunt in Bangkok turned out a little different from our first. Deluxe buffet breakfasts; room service; World’s Comfiest Bed™, and a list of complimentary cocktails which we systematically worked our way through. Highest recommendations to the Grand Millenium Sukhumvit and massive shout-out to Richard and Mary for a few days of uncompromised bliss (and for being tireless camera-purchasing companions).

Our return to Bangkok also allowed us one final opportunity to seek out the much-fabled restaurant, Chote Chitr. Linds read a review of this restaurant ages ago on the New York Times website and armed with nothing but a completely useless set of directions (and umpteen internet reviews commenting on how difficult it is to find the place), we had attempted to track it down on our first visit to Bangkok. It would be an understatement to say that it didn’t end very well: both exhausted, hungry, sopping wet and on the verge of a homicidal rampage. However, in some sort of freakish omen a map was published in the Bangkok Post but a week after we left the city and as it turns out, the place is actually quite easy to find… if you have a map (funny, that). Even better, the food lived up to the hype so we dragged Richard and Mary back there a few days later.

And so ended our time in Thailand. She is a fickle mistress, both frustrating and lovable, and stark contrasts confront you at every turn – hardened tuk-tuk shysters crumple and coo at the sight of a chubby baby; amazingly liberal programs for prisoner rehabilitation exist in a country that has no qualms jailing those who contravene extreme lese-majeste laws. The New Internationalist’s country profile gives a pretty good round-up of the social-political issues.

______________________________________

*Tubing: a backpacker phenomenon apparently unique to Laos. Combines floating down a river in an inner tube with a lot of beer. Incredibly dangerous and have a little think about the river, kids: I’ve seen where SE Asian raw sewage ends up and it ain’t in a sewer.

death of a camera

June 17, 2009

Once upon a time, Linds and Catie went to Chiang Mai. They were very happy there. They rode their bikes to yoga every morning; the cafe across the road made their own muesli and delicious wholemeal pancakes; the Sunday market was delightful and the secondhand bookstores were “all killer, no filler”. Life was good.

Then one day, a water bottle emptied its contents into the backpack and drenched everything therein, including Linds and Catie’s beloved PowerShot A640. That was a terrible day. The staff at Mike’s received an unexpected lesson in English expletives and after several attempts at resuscitation, the poor little camera was declared dead. Linds and Catie were very sad.

After several days of mourning, Linds and Catie decided they needed to get back in the camera saddle. Another little camera had caught their eye – the Canon G10 – although at first, it appeared to be unattainably out of their price range. Bolstered by buffet breakfasts and complimentary cocktails, they tackled the electronics malls of Bangkok with an almost religious bargaining fervour. And after many, many hours they emerged victorious, clutching the coveted G10 and more than a little pleased with themselves for having nabbed one at a bargain price. They loved their new G10 very much and spent many hours playing with it gleefully and discovering its new functions.

And they were happy because they knew the little PowerShot would have wanted it that way.

The end.

Poor Fellow My Country

June 6, 2009

Xavier Herbert’s “Poor Fellow My Country” has been sitting on my shelf for 11 years now – the olds gave it to me for Easter ’97.  First published in ’75, it’s set in the Northern Territory during the interwar years and follows the lives (amongst many others) of Jeremy DeLacy, a wealthy pastoralist, and his Aboriginal grandson, Prindy. At its core, the weighty tome is concerned with the struggle to create an identity for what Herbert calls “Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo”, or the southern land of the Holy Spirit…

As one who appreciates the odd rant, the sustained rage is impressive. The book itself is divided into three “books”, the titles and accompanying epitaphs of which give a pretty good snapshot:

Book One: Terra Australis – Blackman’s Idyll Despoiled by White Bullies, Thieves and Hypocrites
Book Two: Australia Felix – Whiteman’s Ideal Sold Out by Rogues and Fools
Book Three: Day of Shame – A Rabble Fled the Test of Nationhood

Without wanting to sound like a tit, it has been one of my life goals to get though this book, and while sitting in a Mae Sariang guest house – final success! It’s seriously long, just shy of 1500 pages, apparently making it one of the longest novels ever published. It has been a bit of a laugh carting it through Thailand. Other backpackers must think I’m reading the Bible – what an odd looking missionary!  I’m now going to indulge in Inspector Rebus for some page turning relief.

northern exposure

June 6, 2009
 
 
Sukhothai: Every time I say the name of this town, I can’t help but be reminded of Sylvester the cartoon cat and his catchphrase “suffering succotash.” A whistlestop tour to tick off the ruins of this 13th century Thai kingdom – impressive, but I think we had more fun just riding our dinky bikes around the historical park.
Mae Sot: We were very glad to arrive in Mae Sot after the prayer-inducing minibus ride from Sukhothai. Caught our first glimpse of the security around the border area as two of our fellow passengers were hauled off the van at a police checkpoint for not having ID but given the maniacal driving, perhaps it was a blessing of sorts. Being Australian, we have limited experience of border towns but Mae Sot certainly seems to be a typical one – a little seedy and bustling with illegal activity. Failed to notice until after we’d checked in that our guesthouse was in fact next door to the immigration lock-up – woops! – which is probably where our friends from the bus ride ended up. Some delicious Burmese food restored us after the depressing trip to the border where we gazed across the river as hustlers touted bootleg cigarettes and Viagra from the dry riverbed.
Mae Sariang: Even if this sleepy little riverside town hadn’t otherwise enchanted us, the journey there would have been worth it alone. Apart from one other farang passenger, we were the only ones who remained aboard for the entire journey from Mae Sot and quite frankly, six hours in the back of a sawngthaew is barely enough. We jostled for bum space with an ever-evolving cast of Karen villagers and their wide-eyed babies, sacks of mangoes and chillis, boxes of who-knows-what*, a stowaway frog and a clapped-out motorbike – but it was all strangely endearing. Our fellow farang was the irrepressible Ineke, a Dutch volunteer at the surrounding refugee camps, who showed us to our delightful guesthouse and introduced us to a band of other volunteers who turned out to be excellent company, formidable drinking buddies and a wealth of information on the best bits of Mae Sariang – the lovely Joy and her Oreo shakes; laab; riverside lounging and massages.
A quick aside to pay homage to the joy that is traditional Thai massage. What’s not to like about having your limbs used like stirrups? Masseuses employ their elbows, feet and forearms liberally and greasy oils, whale music and awkward semi-nudity are all avoided. It’s a lot like involuntary yoga. Particularly hilarious to watch a flock of tiny Thai women giggle nervously and draw straws for who massages the big farang. Invariably, their strength is disproportionate to their size but watching them massage Linds is kind of like watching Lilliputians conquer Gulliver.
 
Lampang: Another whistlestop to indulge myself with the one cheesy tourist thing I’ve been dying to do: ride an elephant. You’ll probably be able to tell from the number of photos taken that I was beside myself with excitement for the whole day and generally revelled in all things pachyderm. Two little words have never prompted so much squealing: elephant nursery. Oh. My. God.

*Anyone who has queued at the Singapore Airlines counter at Perth airport will surely have noticed that when Asian people travel, they are usually laden with a pile of cardboard boxes. WHAT IS IN THESE BOXES? I’m dying to know. We’ll know we’ve been in Asia for too long when we throw away our backpacks and replace them with boxes.

tropical beer notes #8 – clash of the thai-tans

June 5, 2009

Singha Lager Thailand 5%

Chang Beer Thailand 6.4%

We’ve drunk our way from Hat Yai to Mae Sariang so it’s time to report in on the two most famous and frequently savoured Thai beers. Thailand is a beer drinker’s paradise. There is nowhere you can’t find a life-giving ale: street corners; temple gates; internet cafes; deserted beaches. A steward offered me an icy bottle seconds after our train crossed the border from Malaysia. What a lovely country.

Chang and Singha (pronounced ‘sing’) divide the Thai beer market between them; there is no third.. It’s like the olden days in Perthland when Swan and Emu where the beginning and end of choice. “Dodd’s been on the birds”, as they’d have said.

Chang is the young Turk of the two. Only launched in ’95, it has successfully chipped away at Singha’s long-held dominance so it now controls 60% of the Thai beer market. Chang’s rise and rise has been largely thanks to aggressive marketing, comparative cheapness and very high alcohol content. It’s made by the giant Thai Beverage Public Company Limited – listed in Singapore it has a market cap of about USD$4 billion. Rumor has it that Heineken taught them how to make the stuff before the Thais broke off the relationship.

Singha does things differently. It was first first brewed in 1933 and is still made by Boon Rawd Brewery, a private family company on its fourth generation of management. The Singha website devotes as much space to production promotion as their community work. I especially like the can – it’s charmingly retro and kind of reminds me of Dad’s Swan Light back in the America’s Cup days. The bottom is painted white – how cool is that?! Yeah, yeah, but when did you last see a can with a painted underside? Anyhow, obviously this is not a company that is interested in fashion.

Singha did drop the alcohol content back a few years ago from 6%  to 5% which makes it a better drop. The late great beer hunter Michael Jackson never believed that it was that strong anyhow, but you have to wonder if Singha did a “new Coke” as the change has pretty much coincided with its demise.

When it comes to taste they are both pretty standard lagers. Chang has slight bitterness with a sweet finish; it’s too strong and the alcohol overwhelms the already weakish flavours (plus consumption of more than three tends to lead to early morning “Chang dry horrors”, as Catie and I have dubbed them). The Thais often mix it with ice, which does weirdly improve things. I give it 10/20. I prefer Singha: it tastes simply like beer, a bit of malt and hops; a nicely balanced commercial style lager. It wins by a (ruddy) nose: 11/20.

Just as a final note – it’s worth mentioning that the Chang being consumed outside of Thailand is technically a different beer with an alcohol content of 5%. A savvy move to avoid tax overseas and keep the punters at home happy.

By far the best ever photo anyone has ever taken of a Chang:

Pic courtesy of Rob and Critter

on burma

May 29, 2009

Yesterday we went to the edge of the Moei River, which is the border between northern Thailand and Burma.

There is a lot of buzz on the banana pancake trail about Burma being the “new” Laos – a place worth rushing to now before the masses arrive.

We aren’t going to Burma and for us, the answer to “Why not?” is pretty simple. The pro-democracy movement has long called for a boycott of foreign tourists entering Burma, arguing that to do so legitimises the junta and provides valuable US dollars to the military. The largest member of the pro-democracy movement is the National League for Democracy led by the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

We’ve met and had a few chats with tourists who’ve visited Burma. We always ask (politely – honest!) how they justify breaking the travel boycott. Answers range from staggering ignorance to a standard set of justifications: the presence of international tourists will help prevent human rights abuses; isolating the Burmese from the international community will only strengthen the junta’s ability to rule; a careful traveller can spend most of their money outside of military-controlled enterprises; and a widely generalised, post-factum observation that “most of the people seemed happy for us to be there.”

We think the most powerful answer comes from Aung San Su Kyi herself:

“Burmese people know their own problems better than anyone else. They know what they want – they want democracy – and many have died for it. To suggest that there’s anything new that tourists can teach the people of Burma about their own situation is not simply patronising – it’s also racist.”

In their wildly popular title “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring”, Lonely Planet acknowledges the boycott in a section of boxed text entitled “Should you go?” At least the question is raised but after mounting most of the defences mentioned above, their conclusion is that “with oil and gas, minerals, heroin, timber and other resources to draw on… tourism is pretty much loose change to the generals, but not to people trying their hardest to survive.” Curiously enough, the author of the Burma chapter is the only author not listed in the front of the guidebook – make of that what you will. Even more disappointingly, Lonely Planet fails to give the issues any coverage in their single volume Thailand edition, where visa renewal runs to Burma (via Mae Sot, where we are currently) are detailed – in our opinion, probably the worst sort of “tourism” that could be encouraged, providing easy money for the generals while totally bypassing any of the possible benefits to local people. Hopefully this practice might decrease in popularity due to the Thai government recently changing the length of visas obtainable at land border crossings from 30 to 15 days. The Lonely Planet website and Myanmar guidebook are marginally more measured in their approach but of course, the very act of publishing a guidebook encourages tourism and for this, many in the pro-democracy movement have called for a boycott of Lonely Planet.

For us, it comes to this: we would dearly love to go and although we don’t agree with all aspects of the boycott, we’re not prepared to say we know better than people who have devoted and, all too often, given their lives to the struggle for democracy in Burma. Admittedly, there are very few Asian countries that present no ethically grey areas when it comes to deciding whether to visit them or not, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and we have chosen to draw it at Burma. It’s a tragedy that when Thailand and India are undoubtedly the two giants of Asian tourism, their sandwiched neighbour still labours under such immense difficulty – a free Burma would no doubt give them a run for their money.

A detailed summary of the issues and Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments can be found at Tourism Concern.

Information:
http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/hrp/documents/Crimes-in-Burma.pdf
http://www.newint.org/features/2008/05/01/the-facts/
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bm.html

Activism:
http://64forsuu.org/
http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/burma
http://www.karenwomen.org/

News:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1300003.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/burma

bangkok stinks

May 28, 2009

Literally. Every step yields a new olfactory assault: smoking coals; sewage; diesel fumes; sun-dried squid; miscellaneous South East Asian smell that has lingered in our nostrils since East Timor.

Nevertheless, we found this strangely endearing. It’s been a while since we’ve been in a big city and even then, Singapore and KL are positively sanitised by comparison. We had a hunger for some grit and Bangkok certainly delivers on grit. The traffic literally snarls and it’s one of the only cities in the world where you can be run over by a shop.*

Speaking of shops, it might sound a little strange but we often had difficulty identifying them. In Australia, there is a very wide differential between a shop and, say, a living room. Not so in Bangkok, where families frequently attempt to make an extra baht by merging the two. Our powers of observation and deduction were tested daily as we peered through doorways wondering if the items on display were family trinkets or goods for sale. Significant failure on one occasion when we wandered into someone’s living area, foolishly mistaking it for a thoroughfare.

After spending over a month in the tourist-dominated south, where menus mostly comprise the same handful of dishes tailored to farang tastes, we were also hankering for some authentic cuisine. We managed to track down a few items on the hit-list, including yam hua plii, miang kham and sangkhayaa fak thawng (what?), as well as lots of incidental noodles and some chocolate cake. Also revelled in the wide availability and usage of ingredients that are difficult to find and heinously expensive at home – most notably limes and exotic mushrooms. Just wishing I could get my hands on a wok.

Similar to the Phi Phi dilemma, we debated long and hard over whether to visit Bangkok’s the infamous Khao San Road, hallowed mother of all backpacker ghettos and highest concentration of neon signs outside Vegas. We skirted around it a few times and one fateful Saturday night, decided to plunge head first into the abyss. Like most things we think we’re too cool for, once we gave it a try, it was actually quite fun.** There wasn’t as much shockingly bad behaviour on display as we had expected and there were actually quite a lot of Thais out for a big night too, perhaps on account of this guy who was performing in a free concert. But take heed young grasshopper: it didn’t end well.

* I must attribute this incredibly witty remark to someone else, although I can’t remember who. I read it somewhere (yeah, good story Catie).
** Note, however, that this will not deter us from being too cool for most things in the future.

Linds at Lumphini – a night of Muay Thai action

May 28, 2009

Entering Lumphini Boxing Stadium was a sort of time warp to how I’ve always imagined 70s football: grubby standing room terraces leading up into the darkness; near compulsory cigarettes and booze; collapsing leaking roof; stands without a trace of advertising – how wonderfully antique. The crowd was exclusively male and all maniacally obsessed with their chosen fighters and following their punts.

Getting to Lumphini was half the fun. The last (only) time I rode a motorbike was on the Humphry family farm in 1992. What better way to reacquaint myself with two wheels than in Bangkok rush hour, in the dark, in a monsoonal downpour, on the back of a motorcycle taxi whose driver weighed 40 kilos less than me?

As soon as I jumped off the bike (happily still in one piece), I was immediately met by a lady who I presume worked for the stadium. We took off so (I think) I could inform myself of the seating options. Explaining that there are three classes, I was told in no uncertain terms that foreigners belonged in first, which was situated ringside (full of flashpackers and Thai property developer types). I suggested that I might like to sit up with the mug punters in third class: “No! Not wanting you! Thai people only!” A little bewildered, I decided to ignore her. Anyway after a bit of back and forth, and much to the chagrin of my new mate, I got my third class ticket and wandered in. As for the Thais not wanting me, as far as I could tell they were so absorbed in following their bets they didn’t even notice the big farang wandering around, looking a little nervous.

After sinking a couple of Changs in the bar under the grandstand, I settled in for the evening. Note that Chang was possibly the weak option; all the locals where smashing Song Sam and soda.

Before the bout there are three minutes of ‘dancing’ by the fighters, honouring their trainers and the spirits. For this part of the bout they wear a headband that sort of looks like a tennis racket without strings. If you’ve seen my attempts at dancing, it’s something similar – little bit of leg raise here, jiggly arm around there, ending with a fall onto the knees. Bouts go to five rounds so they are over relatively quick and are accompanied by music that sounds very much like a combination of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and a Bombay snake charmer.

It took me a while to figure this out but I’m pretty sure that the crowd selects a mode of cheering depending on who they are going for. So supporters of red trunks yell “Hooooooi!” when their man delivers a blow, while blue trunks yell “Wwwhhhaaaa!” when fists and knees are flying. Things dissolve into “Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!” when they are going hammer and tong; it creates the most incredible din.

“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!”

The fights run on from each other really quickly, with the judges giving their decision seconds after the final bell (no KOs on this night). The fighters end by hugging and unquestionably accepting the decision. There is something dignified about two men who’ve just pummelled the buggery out of each other acting with such grace.

In a very Thai move, Lumphini Stadium is owned and operated by the military, so none of this tendering out rubbish – more 70s. Security inside the stadium is provided by the military police and like 70s cops they wear proper uniforms and carry big pistols (ok, so that was based solely on Dirty Harry).

For the fans it’s all about the punt, with this being one of the few legal places to have a bet in Bangkok. There is no TAB equivalent or even recognisable bookies in their ring. Bets are communicated to men who look just like everyone else via a series of hand signals that get more frenetic as the fight goes on – betting is allowed until the judges’ decision. The scene is reminiscent of pre-internet stock trading – so if you want an idea of what the crash of ’87 looked like, get down to Lumphini. The weird thing is that I saw no money change hands and nothing was written down; how the bet takers remember who, how much and what odds is beyond me.