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Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Lampang, Thailand

Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand

Lampang Province is situated in the northern region of Thailand. The capital city is formerly known as Nakhon Lampang but nicknamed Meung Rot Mah (Horse Cart City), which refers to the fact that horse-drawn carriages are still a major form of public transport. Indeed, slowing down a pace or two and taking a tour in an attractive traditional horse cart is a great way to explore the city.

Lampang boasts a long history which dates back to more than 1,000 years. This is an area rich in archaeological evidence, which reflects the ancient civilisations of Hariphunchai, Lanna and Burma. There is a great deal of interesting architectural styles to admire in this area. A good place to start is at Ban Sao Nak (House of Many Pillars), which is a huge teak house built in 1985.

 

Many animal lovers come to the area to visit the National Elephant Institute, which was formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. Here you can interact with and learn all about the mighty beasts in a natural environment and also volunteer to take can of them for a few days.

Lampang is also an area of outstanding natural beauty. Nearby to the capital city you will find the stunning Doi Luang National Park and the Chae Son National Park. There are also many sparkling waterfalls in the area such as the enormous 110 tiered Wang Kaew, Wang Thong, Than Thong and Nam Tok Jae Sawn. Take a swimming costume as most of these waterfalls have large pools for bathing, a great way to cool down and relax in the heat of the day.

Of course, in an area of such profound beauty and history it is only natural that these aspects should be reflected in the local temples. Temples of note include Wat Si Rong, Wat Si Chum and Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, which was once home of the Emerald Buddha. Also look out for Wat Pongsanuk, Wat Chedi Sao and the extremely pretty Wat Phra That Lampang Luang.

Located 25 kilometers from Lampang is the bustling Thung Kwian market, where you can sample the local produce have a cheap meal at one of the many small stalls and pick up a bargain or two.

Another great place to visit is the cotton weaving villages of Jae Hom and Mae Tha, where you can watch the cotton being woven on traditional wooden cotton looms. This is also a good place to buy the wide range of different products that are skillfully created from the local cotton.

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand

This picturesque northern province is situated 785 kilometres from Bangkok and shares borders with Myanmar in the north and Laos in the east. The city of Chiang Rai was founded by King Mengrai in 1262 and the centrally located King Mengrai the Great Memorial depicts the king in all his former glory.

This is a great place to visit if you appreciate cool weather, walking amongst attractive natural scenery, good food and chilling out in a city that has all the charm and atmosphere of a small village.

The city of Chiang Rai has a rather sleepy, relaxed feel to it, and exploring the streets can yield some interesting sights. The pure white temple of Wat Rong Khum has to be seen to be believed, whilst Wat Phra Kaeo is the original home of the Emerald Buddha, now located in the temple of the same name in Bangkok. Also worth exploring are Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Doi Tung.

Although not as large as its neighbour in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar is a great place to pick up a bargain or two, whilst the sleepy village of Chiang Saen with its interesting history, warm welcome and architecture is a great place for a day trip.

But it is Chiang Rai’s natural beauty that draws most visitors to the area. As well as enchanting jungle waterfalls such as Khun Korn Waterfall and Pong Phra Bat waterfall, there are also dozens of hot springs scattered around the area, where you can soak up the goodness of meltingly hot water and natural minerals either in public pools or secluded in your own private tub. Look out for the Pha Soet Hot Springs and Huai Hin Fon Hot Springs and Waterfall with its stunning jungle backdrop. What could be better than listening to the insects and wind in the trees as you enjoy a good soak?

The Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is a great place to learn about the local people before going on a trek, and The Hall of Opium museum also provides a lot of interesting information about life in the area, both past and present.

No visit to the area would be complete without a trip to the absolutely stunning Phu Chi Fa Forest Park, and animal lovers can get up close and personal with the elephants at the Mae Sa Elephant Training Center.

Chiang Mai, Thailand


Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Situated in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai Province is full of natural beauty spots such as Doi-Suthep-Pui National Park, Thap Lan National Park, Buak Hat Park and dozens of inviting waterfalls, among which Huay Kaew falls, Mae Sa Waterfall and Wachiratharn Waterfall should not be missed. The area is also a great place for bird watching, so make sure you bring your binoculars.

The capital of Chiang Mai Province is Chiang Mai city, which is the second largest city in Thailand and forms the focus point for travel to the north. Thousands of people visit Chiang Mai every year, drawn by its rich culture, cool climate and wide range of entertainment options.

Chiang Mai boasts over 300 temples, of which Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, situated atop Doi Intanon – Thailand’s biggest mountain – is probably the most famous. Other temples worth seeing include the ancient Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and the tranquil forest temple of Wat U-Mong.

The city of Chiang Mai was founded by King Mengrai in 1296, and a tribute to the great king can be seen in the Three Kings Monument. Both the informative Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Center and the nearby Chiang Saen National Museum are good places to discover more of the area’s interesting history and you can take a course or use the facilities at Chiang Mai University.

Often referred to as the ‘Rose of the North’, Chiang Mai is a great place to lose yourself for a week or two. The Old City is a great place to explore, where surprises wait around every corner, or why not go on a cycling tour with the Chiang Mai Cycle Club.

With prices often markedly less than in Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to go shopping. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is world famous and definitely should not be missed. The quaint umbrella village of Bo Sang makes a great place for a day trip and Talat Warorot is a good place to buy local produce, with prices to match.

Chiang Mai is a good place for self improvement and there are numerous courses and classes available. This is a great place to cook up a storm in a cookery class, and meditation courses always prove popular, whilst the sporty can learn a new skill at the Muay Thai Boxing Camp.

The stunning local scenery also provides a good backdrop for a range of sports such as Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, and both Chiang Mai Flying Club and Oriental Balloon Flights provide a new perspective on the area.

Muay Thai on Khao San Road!


Muay Thai on Khao San Road
muay_thai_on_khao_san_road_2
Muay Thai on Khao San Road
Muay Thai on Khao San Road
Muay Thai on Khao San Road
Muay Thai on Khao San Road
Muay Thai on Khao San Road
Thai boxing on Khao San Road

Want to learn how to kick arse and show your respect for thai culture at the same time? Not far from Khao San Road, down a small alley, is hidden the Sor. Vorapin boxer training center. You have likely walked past and been mystified at the shouts of “ess!” followed by the rather painful sounds of passionate pummeling. Yes, this is Muay Thai, Thailand’s national sport, and you too can get in on the action!

Sor. Vorapin started around 30 years ago with only three people, and was initially a thai-only training center. This was back in the days when there were no banana pancakes on Khao San Road- no dreadlocked hippies, no VW bus bars – in fact, there wasn’t much there at all at the time! The location was chosen simply because of its proximity to Sanam Luang, where the trainees would be able to run around the park if they so desired, as part of their training. Eventually the area started to become the foreigner circus it is today, and farangs started traipsing past the gym and being distracted by the grunting and sweating. Simultaneously, the trainees had grown into champion fighters, and started thinking about training others. In around 1984, a french lad named Frederic became the first foreign student of Sor. Vorapin. He was also the first foreign champion.

Nowadays, people (both men and women) come from all over the world to study muay thai at Sor. Vorapin. There are an average of five trainers on hand daily, who can give personal attention to anyone from a wide-eyed beginner to a (hood-eyed) experienced fighter. Each trainer has many years of fighting and many champion titles under their belt

We stopped by during an evening class to get the scoop. Dodging high kicks and flying sweat, we found a safe corner in which to gawk. The gym has a boxing ring, several hanging punch bags, lots of weights, space in which one can practice making evil faces in the mirror along with perfecting that move with their knee. The many students were each paired with a trainer of similar size, who prompted them to hit as hard as they could on the rubber pads they had slipped onto their hands. A tiny thai girl screeched loudly as she wailed on her startled victim in merciless succession. A well sculpted irish girl casually jumped rope. Several Japanese boys practiced combos on mats.

We cornered a group of trainers once they got a break and fired up the old pencil. A young man named ‘Us’ was most happy to oblige our interrogation. He, like many professional boxers, came from the area of Buriram, and has been with the gym for about 15 years. When asked why in the world he would ever choose fighting as his profession, he interrupted defensively- “it’s not so much fighting as it is an art”. Sure, he gets a lot of aggression out in the ring, but the reasons for his chosen life are more complex. Muay Thai teaches discipline, he says, and helps you realize your strength, both inner and outer. It also keeps you healthy, in shape, and away from vices like alcohol and drugs. It helps you defend yourself, and in the case of thais, is a way of showing patriotism to their country. The other trainers nodded in agreement, and a garrulous ‘Singh’ piped in that the money and international travel opportunities were good motivators as well. How much money do you make as a fighter? “It depends,” says Singh, “in my village when I was a little kid I made 50 baht for winning my first fight. Nowadays I make an average of 6000 baht per win, and much more in international championship fights”. Us nods, adding that he is headed to Indonesia in a couple of weeks for a fight and is excited to add that to the list of countries he has been to. “It’s good to give exposure to Muay Thai to other countries. It’s not like any other martial art- it requires you to be much harder and there’s a lot of different technique involved”. When asked how he will prepare for this upcoming fight he sighs- “It’s a lot of relaxing. Meditating, cleaning out your body, staying away from alcohol, getting sleep”. My Thai companion leans over and whispers in his ear and he blushes and says sheepishly “it’s true, you can not ejaculate for 2 weeks prior to a fight. It builds up tension which you can use to your advantage against your opponent”. I muse that it’s rather like joining the monkhood and they nod. “It’s a spiritual practice in much the same way. It’s been around for hundreds of years [in fact, it is first on record in the year 1767] and every thai child grows up with a certain reverence for it. It’s very ceremonial- before each fight we perform the wai-kru, which is a sort of traditional dance. It’s a way for us to please our families, please the king, and please ourselves with our bravery and stamina. This takes a lot of self discipline.”

A very large thai man emerges from the gym with his arm slung around the neck of a lily white dutch student, and I recognize the man from the many pictures pasted up on the walls as being Mr. Tanomsak. He is one of the most well respected trainers in Thailand, and now spends part of his time teaching in Switzerland. I am lucky to catch him. I ask him why he thinks people should come to his gym and he smiles. “We have so much experience, we’re all champions here. We’ve worked with foreigners for years, and we have a good understanding of just how far we can or can’t push someone. Each trainer has their own special techniques for bringing out the best in people, and we welcome anyone who is interested in observing or joining up”. I ask him if one should be worried about pain or injury and he laughs. “It happens occasionally, and certainly the first couple of times might be a bit painful. But you learn to feed off the pain and it eventually becomes welcome”. He adds that they take every precaution as to the safety of bones and muscles. I ask him how long it takes to become a champion and he muses, “It’s probably easier for a thai, as we grow up with muay thai and many boys start learning at a very young age. But if a person is careful, has a good trainer, and learns step by step- starting with building up strength in the body and progressing to having the strength in the mind, they can be ready to fight after just a couple of weeks of training”. Do they turn out farang champions? He nods vigorously, saying many backpackers come for just an introductory class and end up changing their tickets home so that they can stay longer and do more intensive study. “We have champions in Holland, France, Switzerland, Japan…. you name it. We have girl champions too!”- he scrambles for a photo of a very large swiss girl with arms like tree trunks and I shudder in awe.

Mr. Tanomsak urges anyone who is interested in having a look to stop by around 3pm. To get to the center you cross the main street (Jakapong) at the Khao San police station and walk left until you see the sign at an alley on the right. Training occurs from 8:00am-10:00am and again from 3:00pm -6:00pm. An introductory class sets you back a mere 400 baht, and they have special deals for packages of classes. Everything you need is on hand, just dress comfortably and bring an open mind. They guarantee you won’t leave without learning a thing or two, and you might even have some fun!

Nicole Furi lives in New York. She is a gradutate of the University of Colorado, Boulder (Psychology major) and a Human Factors expert working in the web industry where she designs and tests Graphical User Interfaces. She is also a writer. Currently in Thailand, Nicole is spening a bit of time writing for KhaoSanRoad.com. Are you interested in booking a Thai Boxing course? Use the form below to make an enquiry…