Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS IN THAILAND

Continuing my “Six of the best” series marking my six years in Thailand, I present my pick of boxing matches and events I have experienced while living here (in date order).

1. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v SURIYAN SOR RUNGVISAI (October 8, 2010)

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

This rare all-Thai derby unfolded in deepest rural Si Sa Ket, with established legend Pongsaklek fending off a ferociously dogged challenge from young upstart Suriyan. It was expected to be a comfortable afternoon’s work for the massively more experienced WBC flyweight champion Pongsaklek, but Suriyan – little-known at the time, and fighting as Suriyan Por Chokchai – fought his heart out, pushing the older boxer to the brink over 12 exhausting rounds. Such was the level of desire exhibited by Suriyan – just 21 at the time – that when his body verged on collapse to the point that he vomited in the ring – and over Pongsaklek – in the midst of a draining 10th round, he took only the slightest of pauses before waging back into battle.

At the time, the feeling was that Pongsaklek must have past his peak to have been pushed so hard by the unheralded youngster, but in fact he would go on to score one of the signature wins of his career (see No. 2), while Suriyan would refine his crudely effective aggression and end up winning a world title of his own.

2. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v EDGAR SOSA (October 21, 2011)

Champ and challenger weigh in

Champ and challenger weigh in

I was privileged to be ringside for Pongsaklek’s last great performance. As ever, the vultures were circling, ready for the fall of an ageing champion thought to be ripe pickings. Sosa, a former world titleholder himself and top-5 mainstay, represented Pongsaklek’s sternest challenge in years, and was seen by the majority as favourite to unseat the greatest Thai champion of his time.

But Pongsaklek, at 34, put on a marvelous mix of effective aggression and crisp counter-punching, bulwarked by sharp defensive reflexes that had Sosa missing by fractions. By the end of the 12 rounds, the Mexican challenger had long since been drained by his frequently futile attempts at offence, and by the punishment he had received in return, and Pongsaklek was a handsome winner on the cards. It would be his last world championship victory.

3. ADRIAN HERNANDEZ v KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK (December 23, 2011)

Kompayak wins the war

Kompayak wins the war

There are some fights when one boxer just won’t be denied, regardless of what the form book suggests. Examples such as Ricky Hatton suffocating Kostya Tszyu  and, more recently, Marcos Maidana running over Adrian Broner spring to mind when thinking of how a lesser skilled boxer can beat one with seemingly all the advantages just by the sheer force of his will. And yet, Kompayak’s breathtaking rout of defending WBC light-flyweight champion Hernandez trumped even them.

Kompayak would go on to have a vulnerable world-level career afterwards, and Hernandez would gain emphatic revenge 10 months later, but the Thai’s title-winning performance was the result of one man just refusing to be beaten. Kompayak exhibited a cast-iron chin, walking through tremendous offence to land even better of his own, but Hernandez’s greater skill and sharpness threatened over and over again to put him on the ascendancy.

In an unrelenting contest fought under the unforgiving afternoon sun, Kompayak finally cracked the Mexican once their war dragged on into the deep end. A furious assault that should not have been possible after such effort had already been expended dropped Hernandez in the 10th, and having given so much himself, hauling his body back up was beyond his capabilities.

4. KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK v KOKI ETO (August 1, 2013)

Eto fends off Kompayak

Eto fends off Kompayak

Watching how Kompayak won his first title, and how he defended it, two things were clear. One, I could imagine him losing to a more skilled boxer, but I certainly couldn’t imagine losing to someone who worked harder than him. But that’s exactly what Eto did.

The Japanese challenger boasted a six-inch height advantage and a prohibitive reach, yet he inexplicably chose to slug it out with the squat Thai, trading rapid combinations. His edge in speed got the better of Kompayak’s extra power,  which at times threatened to cancel the looming upset. But Eto never wavered, and inexplicably never tired.

Many foreign boxers have wilted under the Bangkok sun in these draining open-air afternoon fights, but Eto not only lasted the distance with ease, he even finished stronger than the local. Perhaps all the hard fights finally caught up with Kompayak, but it was a magnificent effort from both men, with Eto’s workrate at times jaw-dropping, and Kompayak pouring Arturo Gatti-like levels of heart and resiliency into proceedings.

In some ways, I selfishly wanted to see a rematch, but in other ways, it is a relief that Kompayak hasn’t fought since, enjoying a very well-earned rest, or perhaps even an as-yet unannounced retirement.

5. FINAL NIGHT AT LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM (February 7, 2013)

The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The old stadium

Lumpinee Stadium was one of the country’s two most historic muay Thai venues. It closed earlier this year, but not before hosting a gala farewell promotion.

The name and championship lineage continues at a new site, but a modern facility can’t possibly replicate the history and atmosphere of the creaking old stadium.

I covered the last night at Lumpinee in full detail in a previous post.

6. BANGKOK THROWDOWN 2014 (June 13, 2014)

Me (blue) vs Felix

Me (blue) vs Felix

For personal reasons, this was a landmark event (and the reason for the pause in posts in my Six of the Best series). This night represented my return to competitive boxing after 17 years out of the ring. While I have trained on and off for most of my adult life, I’d not had an actual match since way back in 1997. My more relaxed working schedule in Thailand, combined with the number and quality of boxing gyms in Bangkok, combined to allow me to pursue the sport diligently once again after moving here, culminating in a match at this inaugural promotion at The Lab gym on Sukhumvit Road.

Bangkok Throwdown was the latest boxing event staged to raise money for the excellent children’s charity Operation Smile Thailand, the local branch of an outfit which provides free surgery to poor children afflicted with cleft lips and palates. Previously, three annual gala events have been held at the Dusit Thani Hotel, and while The Lab’s fight night was of a smaller scale, it nevertheless did handsome business for Operation Smile and proved a popular night out for those in attendance.

As for my part, I fought a stablemate called Felix Schrick. In case you don’t know the result, I won’t spoil the video below, but I enjoyed the match and all the training leading up to it, and felt honoured to do something for a humbling charity which does such good, literally life-changing, work. With The Lab now expanding its combat sports schedule, as well as the recent opening of Lion’s Head, a rarity in that it’s a gym dedicated to western boxing in a land where there’s a muay Thai facility in every neighbourhood, amateur boxing is finally on the up in Bangkok, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS



ANOTHER YEAR IN PARADISE

Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.

What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.

FAMILY

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!

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MY BOOK DEBUT: TO THAILAND WITH LOVE
To Thailand With Love

To Thailand With Love

Having been published in newspapers and magazines, I have now, with the release of To Thailand With Love, completed the trinity of print media.

I have been referring to it as “my book debut”, rather than “my book”, as I am just one of several contributors to TTWL. It is the latest in the “With Love” series, edited by Nabanita Dutt and published by Things Asian Press of San Francisco, which combines travel writing with guidebook-style pointers and listings. Typically, the writers provide features on travel experiences in the country and append info for the reader to visit the destination for themselves, should they wish to. Previous “With Love” books have focused on Burma, Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam and North India, while a Nepal edition was published concurrently with the Thailand release.

Quite apart from my involvement, I would recommend any of these books if you plan to travel to one of the countries covered, or if you generally have an interest in them. The “With Love” entries offer a slew of out-of-the-ordinary stories and ideas which you might not find in more traditional guidebooks, nor hear from “ordinary” tourists.

I have three stories in the Thailand book, covering a wander around Khlong Toey Market (a totally authentic fresh market with lots of weird sights and smells), a trip to Bangkok’s Middle Eastern quarter (you can be transported to Arabia for three Sukhumvit sois and eat some things you won’t find elsewhere in Thailand, including sheep’s testicles), and dinner at a “jungle food” restaurant in Phatum Thani (crocodile, cobra and much more is on the menu).

There’s plenty more to digest from the other writers too, divided into chapters covering food, must-see attractions, spirituality, hidden treasures, shopping, remote destinations and tips on local life, volunteering and more. Complementing all this is some quite charming photography by Marc Schultz.

To Thailand With Love is available at Dasa Book Cafe in Bangkok, from Barnes & Noble in the United States, and can be shipped worldwide from Amazon. If you would prefer to order a copy from a bookstore of your choice, the ISBN numbers are ISBN-13: 978-1-934159-11-8 and ISBN-10: 1-934159-11-5.



5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY
Yuck!

Yuck!

Thailand justifiably has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best food, and as with any national cuisine, the best Thai food can be found in the country itself. Thais who travel will often bemoan the inferior quality of Thai food overseas, while foreigners who have visited here will never look at another country’s green curry in quite the same way again. Hell, I once had the misfortune of ordering a plate of pad Thai in Manchester and finding they substituted tamarind sauce for tomato ketchup!

Yet exactly the same logic can be applied in Thailand – if you’re looking for good foreign food, you might be best off going to the country in question. Just because the local food in Thailand can be mind-blowing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the kitchens of the Land of Smiles can perform similar culinary feats with dishes from abroad.

People who grow up with a certain type of food know it best. Add in the scarcity of certain ingredients in certain countries, plus how relatively new some foreign food is to Thailand, and stir in some peculiar local twists, tastes and takes on foreign dishes, and you have…

5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY

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BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
Nice tan!

Nice tan!

Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…

10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS

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MOMENTS, EVENTS AND PEOPLE THAT DEFINED 2012

As the end of last year approached and people started talking resolutions and fresh starts, and so on, I thought I didn’t really have much to report from 2012. My work had remained much the same, I had no new love interests, I continued to live in the same place, I had only one visitor and I’d only taken one foreign holiday. However, I had a browse through my Facebook friends list and phone contacts to jog my memory and it turns out 2012 was actually pretty packed, albeit mostly with small moments, but perhaps a long list of different – and mostly happy – moments is a good year after all. On that note, in no particular order, I present the people, places and things that shaped the past year for me. Continue reading



RUNGSAN AND THE REWARD FOR HONESTY

Rungsan and Jamie

“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to  Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown,  around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel.  Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.

There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.

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THE THAI SMILE: LOST IN BANGKOK, FOUND IN KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.

For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.

Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.

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BANG SARAY: 30 MINUTES AND A WORLD AWAY FROM PATTAYA

 

Pattaya’s skyscrapers loom in the background, but it’s easy to forget the city while lounging in Bang Saray’s clear waters

Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.

Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?

Maybe not. Continue reading




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