I realize that for a lot of gay touri the allure of The Big Mango is sex. For many it’s its sole reason for existence. But as enticing as a regime of eat, drink, have sex, repeat as necessary may be, sooner or later your batteries need to recharge. At some point during your holiday you need to take a break from sex. Even if doing so is with your latest conquest. Sure there’s always shopping, but with all that Bangkok has to offer, there are a lot of other things to do and places to see.
For the newbie, I’ve been outlining what I consider to be the best in my Top Ten Bangkok Experiences series of posts. It’s possible that some of those suggestions may even be new for repeat visitors. But there’s more. And so much more I can’t include everything in that series; running yourself ragged is not the best use of holiday time. Besides if you wear yourself out trying to see and do everything you possibly can, you won’t have enough energy left to enjoy what draws many gay touri to Thailand in the first place: sex. Sounds like a vicious circle, huh?
So I’m starting a new category, a series of posts about less well known daytime activities available to visitors to Bangkok, called Sex Breaks. They are quick trips you can easily fit in between the time you spend between the sheets. I can’t promise they will be as memorable as that hottie you offed last night, but hope these will at least serve as a comma in your regime of sex, sex, sex.
First up, because me being me even a sex break still allows room for some hot male flesh, is Baan Chang Thai. In one of my yet to be posted Top Ten Bangkok Experiences articles I will suggest going to see a muay thai fight. Everyone I’ve ever taken to see some muay thai action at Lumpini has greatly enjoyed the spectacle. And it’s one of those things you can do again and again and still enjoy. But even with its opening cultural rituals, what you see at the stadiums today is modern muay thai. Old school is different and not something you run across much these days. At Baan Chang Thai you can see how real men practice the sport known as the art of eight limbs. But if the sight of near naked men beating each other bloody makes you squeamish, you can learn about the art of puppet making, or take classes in traditional Thai painting there too.
Baan Chang Thai (House of Thai Artisans) opened nine years ago with an official visit by HRH Princess Sirindhorn. Founded by Kru Lek, its approach, unlike a museum where ancient objects are preserved and displayed is to preserve the essence of the traditional knowledge in Thai arts through a seamless blending of expressive art and mindful boxing. Aside from producing fine art works, Baan Chang Thai provides classes to pass on knowledge and skills to a new generation, classes that include Muay Thai Chaiya, one of the last surviving forms of traditional muay thai. And the school is highly regarded for its excellence and devotion to keeping these aspects of traditional Thai culture alive.
Painting, kickboxing and puppets may not seem to go together, but Kru Lek does not believe that art and boxing are necessarily two different things. He says that they are two sides of the same coin. “To be successful, both require similar faculties: focus, patience, mindfulness, and the willingness to dig so deeply into oneself that “oneself” is forgotten in the process,” he says. Muay Chaiya, which emphasizes control, concentration and patience, and aims to take advantage of an opponent’s energy by tactfully redirecting it at the right instant, is considered not just a fighting technique but also a sort of performing art, and Kru Lek occasionally partakes in performances that showcase Muay Chaiya more as a dance than a fight. But his hands are as adept at holding a paint brush, or making intricate puppets and miniature Khon masks as they are a forming a fist.
A native of Thonburi, Kru Lek comes from a family with a long tradition of artists, craftsmen, painters and sculptors. The skills he learned as a child from his elders form the basis for instruction at Baan Chang Thai (though he does not pass on the talents of his ancestor who served as a Royal Executioner). He has continued with the arts throughout his life, and today teaches Thai-style painting and drawing regularly to people of all ages. His traditional Thai style murals are displayed on the walls of several Buddhist temples alongside ancient works of art. Whether a beginner or skilled artist yourself, you can learn Lek’s techniques at Baan Chang Thai. Three-hour long Thai painting and drawing classes are held on Saturdays and Sundays.
In Baan Chang Thai’s reception room, showcases display classical Khon puppets made by the master, each adorned with intricate headgear and beautifully embroidered clothing. The foot and a half tall puppets take about a month and a half to complete. Basics are taught during weekend classes, or you can sign up for a twelve-class program and continue lessons on subsequent visits to Bangkok. Many of the works of art are for sale and can also be made to order, for visitors who’d like to take distinctly Thai souvenirs home with them. But the school’s main focus is on the art of the warrior.
Tucked away down a leafy alleyway on one of Thonglor’s side streets, this Thai arts and kickboxing school looks like any other middle class home in Bangkok. But it is no ordinary house. It’s ground zero for Muay Chaiya in Bangkok, one of the last surviving forms of ancient Thai boxing. Out in the garden in an open shed that serves as a gym, locals and visitors practice this ancient form of Thai boxing that looks more like tai chi than muay thai. But that’s part of its appeal and is why classes comprise students of all ages and levels of experience. Many people like to practice Muay Thai Chaiya as a way to keep in shape.
Muay Chaiya was created by a warrior-turned-Buddhist monk in the southern Thai town of Chaiya several hundred years ago and has passed through a direct lineage of masters to Kru Lek. One of the schools of muay boran, it emphasizes control, calm, concentration, humbleness, and patience. Kru Lek says that a stable mentality, modesty, a careful and mindful nature, honesty, and gratefulness, are prerequisites for training in Muay Chaiya.
All instruction, which is given in English, begins with ten basic exercises pieced together to provide a safe and challenging workout. Drilling of techniques then takes the majority of the session, which run two hours long, providing an excellent workout both physically and mentally. Under Kru Lek’s tutelage, you don’t learn kicking and punching by kicking and punching. You learn the steps and movements from which all advanced techniques flow.
Originating from warfare, Muay Thai Chaiya is a very effective form of self protection, and it is for this purpose that the majority of students at the school attended classes. This form of muay thai stresses short, practical movements which are used to attack or defend on all levels and from a variety of angles. It uses the body’s weight to gain power at close range, so you don’t need to be big to gain power over your opponent. And unlike learning modern muay thai, there are no rules as Muay Thai Chaiya is taught as a form of self defense. So attacking the eyes, throat, groin, joints, and pressure points are all techniques taught because they enable the user to finish a confrontation as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of personal injury.
The interest in ancient muay thai styles like Muay Thai Chaiya swelled after the release of Tony Jaa’s first movie, Ong Bak. But Master Lek says the fancy moves that captivated audiences are all for show. He teaches only the efficient, practical style as it was passed on to him by his teachers and has resisted the urge to beautify and weaken the style with fanciful techniques and techniques from other martial arts, which has plagued the current state of Muay Chaiya and other styles of muay boran.
You can drop by Baan Chang Thai to view the artwork or watch students practicing muay thai during weekend afternoons or weekday nights between 5 and 8 pm. Classes run fro 300 baht for an introductory lesson to 2,400 baht for twelve sessions. The school is located at 38 Ekamai Soi 10. Take the BTS to the Ekamai station, and then a 20 baht motorcycle taxi to the school, or a canal boat to Ekamai Pier and a motorcycle taxi for the short hop to Baan Chang Thai’s doorstep. If you are interested in taking classes in Muay Thai Chaiya, painting, or puppet making and costs are a concern, check the Bangkok’s Groupon website, Baan Chang Thai usually has a special offer listed for introductory classes.
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