Adrian Khongsittha's First Impressions of Bangkok
Adrian Khongsittha is our first photographer intern who will be documenting what Khongsittha is doing in the Muay Thai world and his own journey as a fresh college graduate looking to train and fight for three months in Bangkok with us.
Prior to this trip, I’d never really left the United States. A 6th grade trip to Ottawa, Canada and a cruise to the Caribbean at age ten were the extent of my international travels. A lifelong love of Muay Thai and some good luck landed me an internship at Khongsittha, so I bought a plane ticket, got a visa, and took off, first on a 15 hour flight from Newark to Beijing, where there was an hour-long delay, and then on a 6 hour flight from Beijing to Bangkok. 27 hours after arriving at Newark, I was in Thailand. I picked up my luggage, exchanged some cash, and immediately realized that my data wasn’t working. Undaunted, I proceeded to the taxi rank, where I used my mastery of the Thai language (consisting of the phrases for ”hello” and “thank you”) to point a taxi driver in the general direction of the gym.
Perhaps the thing that struck me first about Bangkok was its scale. New York, the major city I’m most familiar with, is huge but dense. It’s difficult to get a sense of New York’s size while traveling through it. Bangkok, on the other hand, is huge, dense, and sprawling. The billboards along the Chon Buri toll road are the largest that I’ve ever seen. The 3 a.m. taxi ride from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Khongsittha immediately debunked a bunch of assumptions about what Bangkok would be like. It’s not small. It’s not old. The roads are bigger and cleaner than anywhere else I’ve been. Bangkok in 2018 is more Neo Tokyo than Kickboxer; a bustling metropolis full of bright lights and billboards, far removed from the gritty urban setting of Ong Bak. It’s obvious in many ways that Bangkok is the center of a rapidly developing economy. The traffic is crazy at peak times, but after a few days of observation, one can see the method in the madness. A trip to Bangkok is incomplete without at least one ride on the back of a bike taxi. Weaving in and out of traffic and splitting lanes is perhaps the best advertisement for owning a scooter possible, and despite driving literally inches from cars, you never quite feel like you’re in danger.
Khongsittha Muay Thai is located in the Lat Phrao neighborhood, a gentrifying area to the Northeast of the city center. The gym has provided me with a bunch of opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had, including backstage access to MX Muay Xtreme, shows and tickets to Rajadamnern and Thai Fight Bangkok, where we met Saenchai. Hanging out with the trainers, and the gym’s location in the middle of an area where “ordinary” people live has allowed me an insight to the lives of normal Thais that your average tourist might not get. The gym is located in what I’d like to think of as the “real” Bangkok; not yet fully cultivated by developers, there are adorable stray dogs, restaurants with no English on the menu, and markets every few miles.
My favorite thing about Bangkok so far is the amount of options you’re presented with: food stalls offer delicious meals for less than the price of a bottle of water at home; down the street, upscale bars offer gourmet plates that can cost more than your rent. This dichotomy can be jarring; the taxes on luxury cars are steep enough that the purchase of a mid-sized German sedan probably costs more in Thailand than feeding a family for the next 10 years, but the sheer number of options available to a moderately well-off farang can be overwhelming. There are plenty of activities available; indoor surfing, night markets, temples, and Muay Thai bouts are available every day of the week. Thailand’s burgeoning mall culture means that rather than the dying relics of the late 80’s we have in the United States, malls are a trendy meeting and hangout spot for millenials, and the numerous high-quality food courts they contain are a force to be reckoned with. A trip through Soi Cowboy, one of Bangkok’s three major red light districts provided just a quick glimpse of Bangkok’s formidable nightlife. The food is beyond plentiful and almost always delicious. You can get anything from a burger to Tom Yum soup; there’s a Chinatown, a Japantown, a Koreatown, and Soi Arab, where one can get all sorts of food and goods from the Middle East. Taxis are cheap, Grab and Uber are available, and the public transit is cheap, clean and efficient.
Bangkok is very much a modern city steeped in a rich history. It is shiny, new, and growing. Western influence is undeniable, from brands to pop music, to fast-food restaurants. Its people are friendly, even to bumbling farangs with a very loose grasp on the language. The signs are inscrutable, and the weather is tropical. Add these factors together, and you’ve got an intimidating, alluring mixture of new and old, foreign and familiar. I’ve been here three weeks, and I would live here. Anyone looking for adventure, vacation, or a place wholly unlike anywhere they’ve ever been should definitely take a look at Bangkok.