Return to Koh Tao our island of salvation from the seas
The next weekend was holiday time so we got all the new volunteers and made plans to go to Koh Tao. The night before we were celebrating something, i cant remember what it was but im sure it was important, important enough to try and stay up all night and catch our 5 o clock ferry in the morning (why do we do these things?). Well it was a good night, maybe a little too good, i dont think anyone managed to stay up all night and there were some grumpy green grimaces in the morning when it was time to go. One guy was hilarious, he had these mozzie bites that were freaking him out so he wrapped both legs from ankle to shin in bandages and passed out on the tile in the reception area face down. That was a strange thing to see in the morning. It was a rough ride across to Koh Tao but everyone kind of passed out at various absurd angles across the boat and we were there before we knew it. We managed to find a place on the beach for about 380Baht for the whole weekend which is hilariously cheap. I spent the rest of the morning lying on a carpet against a layback chair on a wooden deck looking out over the beach eating a bacon sandwhich in the company of 7 lovely ladies. God its a hard life.
The rest of that day we alternated between the hard choices of swimming, eating, sleeping and shopping. We ate dinner at this strange restaurant that was kind of like a giant tree house, the top level was all peices of old dark wood with a low railing and pillows for seats. The massaman curry was almost too good. After dinner we were all so tired that we kind of stretched out and fell asleep on the pillows, the poor waiter didnt know what to do when our whole table of about 10 people fell asleep taking up most of the space on the top level. I woke up and had a freshly made fried icecream (why is this not common at home? Its so damn good). It was then time to go see a Muay Thai match.
The match had a kind of fight club underground flavour to it and we had to ask a few times where to go. We eventually found the place and went through the steel doors into a kind of open air ring with a couple sets of bleachers and chairs around it. All the fans and fighters were kind of milling around sharing beers and hanging out. There were a few big units walking round and there was cheese techno bumping in the background. We grab seats and the expat commentator gets down to welcoming people. This guy is one of those classic kids you see everywhere in thailand who have made a niche for themselves and are just chilling on island time. After some witty banter by the expat and a little more cheese techno it was time to fight.
I always knew that Muay Thai was pretty hectic but i've never seen a human being knocked out before. Something really shocking about the early fights on this night was how young some of the fighters were. The first two fights had kids who looked about 12 slugging it out, not really using a lot of technique but just belting each other. After that though the serious fighters came out and I got to see the oddly beautiful often brutal movements of a real Muay Thai fighter. The little thai men walk to either side of the ring and enter, traditional head piece sitting proudly up and incongruous flowers around the neck. One corner is red, one blue. Morpheus sues for copyright. The men then do a traditional dance that pays respect to their ancestors, their family and their trainer as they walk around the edge of the ring, holding onto the rope, stamping and posturing like ancient warriors. The crowd grows wholly silent. The fighters walk to the middle and touch gloves and then noise makes a comeback on all levels.
The most cerebral thing about the fight was the grating snake charmer like music that was belted out during each round from tinny war time speakers. It was a masterpiece of composition as it evoked the brutal grating nature of Muay Thai but had a subtle delightful melody to it, as did the movements of the fighters. The crowd pitched its noise to the total, leaning into the ring and slapping the canvas, yelling and shouting in tongues, overcome by the raw primal display of power. I looked off to the side of the ring and saw a small Thai boy throwing a chain of snap kicks into a back three times the size of him, undaunted in his goliath effort. Inbetween round the commentator would ramble inchoherently in fight lingo as the fighters breathed heavily and struggled to regain control of their breathing apparatus. The worst knockout of the night then came. Two fighters were doing as they do, fighting, and suddenly red caught blue in a headlock behind the neck and began to throw a savage collection of knees into the ribs of blue. The crowd seemed to empower each knee as they yelled OOOOHH!!! OOOOHHHH!!! as the collection got faster. Blue dropped to his knees and red stepped back and flung a missile snap kick into blues head. Red won.
5 round of 3 minute hell in the ring as the whining thai flute plays, as brutal and raw as the match it accompanies, soaring and dropping to grating notes. Inbetween rounds techno and technofightbabble fills the air. Fans throw punch combinations in the air and give useful tips to the fighters like 'hit him! or 'kick him!' just incase he had forgotten. That raw unforgettable sound comes when fist meets face or foot meets face in a collision of epic proportions causing a cosmic facial muscle skin bone slap that resounds throughout the ages as slow motion the face of the hit fighters absorbs the shockwave defiantly and he stands strong, a warrior in his own right.
There were two international fights, both a bit ridiculous. One had a canadian guy who was just like three times bigger than the Thai guy and basically just boxed him into submission. The other was this giant of a spanish thug who had a need for destruction written all over his face. His opponent was a small Thai man, much smaller but these guys are built of only fight muscle, literally packed full of lean snapping power. Everyone could see this spanish guy was a bad egg thug so most of the cheers were for the thai power packet. The matches are usually fought in a strange kind of camraderie that ends in a solid hug and respect at the end regardless of the outcome. The Thais are very serious about respect (just look at the journalist in jail for slagging the king offhand). Anyway the mini thai wonder took down the goliath spanish in a truly biblical display of snap kick prowess and the sullen spaniard giant sat on the ground and refused to touch gloves, a big dishonour. He got booed out of the arena and a couple of chang beers cans grew wings and attacked.
The best fighter of the night was the last. Blue, a most epic warrior. He was a force to be reckoned with and at this stage of the night the technical skill and grace of the fighters was clear. They engaged in a gracefully deadly dance as they sized up kicks and knees and punches, darting in and fading back until the moment was right. But blue was cobra fast and he snapped a head kick faster than i could follow right into red and then before you knew it he was dancing back. He had a serious command of counter punching and everytime red made a move blue just punched, perfectly timed, a counter that would stop reds movement. Blue did get hit. He got kicked in the face, enough to take my own poor head right off. But sketchily he stood still, barely moved, and in place of a grimace of pain, a grin of adrenaline arose. This happened a few times but the thai terminator of the ring was unstoppable and ground his opponent into submission with blistering speed and skill.
All in all a very strange, cerebral, brutal, beautiful night of biblical battles between battling thai warriors and surly spanish giants, oversized canadians ey and babbling commentators all taking place in this oddly underground fight arena under the crisp moon of a thai island night.