A Very Merry Thai Christmas

We have spent the last 2 weeks in beautiful (and slightly insane) Phuket, Thailand at the Thailand Camp (formerly Promthep Muay Thai and perhaps also known as Phuket Fit) on Rawai Beach. I’ll be honest, I had zero interest in ever visiting Phuket – though beautiful, I had heard it was absurdly touristy and at times a bit dangerous – and considering Thailand’s plethora of beach options, why visit this one? But we had 2ish weeks to kill and it was a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur, so why not? Tyler really wanted to learn Muay Thai (thai boxing) and both of us were feeling very unfit and doughy after our 9.5 months of traveling and eating and lack of gym time. I initially looked into detox/yoga programs in the area, but they were crazy expensive. Initial internet research had led us to want to live in Rawai, supposedly the least touristy area of Phuket, and we initially planned on attending a different Muay Thai gym. It was very difficult to find a place to stay even remotely in the budget though because it’s high season, and we settled on what turned out to be a room in this very strange Australian man’s house (thanks to AirBNB).

He was a nice man, but socially awkward and I think extremely lonely, but he was good for 2 very important memories. The first, there was an Australian family staying at his house already and they had made plans for the night we arrived (their last night) to go to Bangla Road in Patong Beach. We hopped in the cab with them and experienced the most Hangover-esque night out. The first bar we visited was a ladyboy show. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a ladyboy is a transgendered or transsexual male. Generally speaking, they are accepted in Thai society significantly more openly than in Western (or Indian) cultures, and though they face social and legal challenges, many Thais view them as a sort of 3rd gender created by the person’s karmic past. They typically work in predominately female occupations – beauty salons, restaurants, bars, entertainment, and prostitution. Most have gone through a plethora of plastic surgeries (very common and cheap in Thailand), so fake breasts, vaginas, face/eyelid lifts, and butt implants are common and make it difficult to discern who may be a boy, genetically. Perhaps because these parts aren’t “real” or maybe because of the culture or maybe because making money inspires all sorts of behavior, they will show you all of their parts in public as they dance on tables or even just walk down the street. The second bar we visited was a pingpong show. I can’t figure out how to describe what we saw in a way that isn’t vulgar and absurd (because there is no hiding the fact that it was both), but we’re still glad we had the chance to experience it. I will say that I never knew all the things a vagina was capable of, and I have both a new fear and respect of it. If you’re curious, google/youtube it. Or if you’re lucky, someday we’ll tell you about the experience in person.

The second thing our strange Australian host was good for is that he introduced us to the Thailand Camp, for which I’ll forever be grateful. We ditched his pad and moved into a bungalow on camp and bought the meal plan (tasty and healthy thai-inspired options – like using rice milk instead of coconut milk in the curries – and no oil) and were ready to physically transform (or at least be less jiggly) in 2 weeks.

The theoretical schedule for Monday-Saturday was 7:30-9:30am Muay Thai, 11am-noon Yoga, 1-2pm Fitness, and 4-6 Muay Thai. We were lucky if we did 2 sessions a day, though sometimes we’d throw in a weight-training or regular cardio session. It’s exhausting to work out regularly after being away from it for so long! Plus, it’s all outdoor, and the 90 degree/90% humidity really gets to you. We learned the basics of Muay Thai and really loved it, even me. My shins and ankles are black and blue from kicking the bags, but the pain was well worth the results. The 2 hour workouts flew by because you’re so engaged and engrossed in what you’re doing. Unlike a long run or bike session where your mind can wander endlessly (especially to thoughts of “I hate running” or “what am I going to eat after this horribly boring workout”), while boxing, you are focused on your technique, aim, power, and listening to your coach. Our Thai trainers are all really nice guys who genuinely want you to love their favorite sport and to improve your skills in whatever amount of time you’re at the camp. I was constantly told “MORE POWER” cause I kick worse than a girl, but once I yelled back “NO HAVE MORE POWER”, they started laughing and just helped me with technique.

The yoga instructor is an American girl who has lived in Phuket with her boyfriend for 4 months. She’s an awesome person and fantastic teacher, and for the first time in my life, I actually really enjoyed yoga. It’s easy to clear my mind and concentrate on my breathing technique when I have pretty much no daily stress, but even more than the mental benefits, I felt my core strengthen in just 2 weeks. Tyler gave it a go as well, despite his general hatred for all things flexibility/stretching related, and I think he actually almost enjoyed it too. I look forward to continuing my yoga practice in Chicago, though we’ll see if T joins me.

Our fitness instructor is a former British military guy and could motivate, frustrate, and kick your butt all in the same exact second. He combined kettle bells, free weights, running, and cardio power moves (burpees being his favorite) into an hour-long session of “I think my heart is going to leap out of my chest” everyday. We loved it in a sort of masochistic sort of way. Combining the fitness, yoga, and Muay Thai sessions really worked every single muscle in our bodies, and since we have been eating extremely healthy, both of us have more definition and tone than we have in years.

The best part of our 2 weeks though has been meeting our fellow camp-mates and becoming fast friends. This trip has been about the people since day 1 in Belize, and Phuket is certainly no different. Each of us came to the camp for different reasons – to get fit, to learn Muay Thai, to detox, to lose a significant amount of weight, to improve our boxing skills, to take control of our lives – and together, we’ve formed a community of supportive, entertaining, and fun-loving misfits. I think there’s something to be said for bonding together in pain, and after 2 hours of getting sweaty and beaten up, you really can’t help but look to the guy next to you and smile while the sweat flows into your eyes and say “that was awesome – see you again tomorrow?” We feel so fortunate to have met and befriended each of our new friends, and I am honestly quite sad to be leaving our Phuket family tomorrow.

This was an easy place to spend Christmas because of our new friends. T&I anticipated being homesick, as we were during Thanksgiving and our birthdays, but we were determined to make the best of our Thai Christmas. Fortunately, the number of expats and tourists in the area means that many restaurants/resorts have created Christmas celebration dinners. We organized a group of 15 to go to the buffet dinner on Christmas Eve at Friendship Beach Resort, also in Rawai. The chef is American, and the menu included all of the normal holiday fare like turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and mashed potatoes, and included shrimp cocktail, chicken liver pate, ceviche, and a variety of other dishes. The food was fantastic, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed stuffing our faces at our “cheat” meal. The Resort has a gorgeous pool and beachfront location, and a few people enjoyed going for a dip after swimming. After eating enough to make the buffet “worth it”, we decided to head to the local nightclub, Laguna, for some more drinks and dancing. Nothing says Christmas like ladyboy bartenders dressed in Santa/Reindeer hats serving you Singha beer as you watch the Victoria’s Secret holiday special on TV and listen to Gangnam Style for the millionth time this year. Atypical, yes, but an absolutely enjoyable and merry Christmas eve.

Despite going to bed quite late, we were able to wake up in time on Christmas morning to spend a couple hours skyping with the Brombergers and Mastersons as each celebrated Christmas Eve. It was wonderful to “see” everyone and wish them all a happy holiday despite being 13 hours ahead on another continent. My love and respect for technology has multiplied exponentially this year, but especially after hour-long video chats with our entire families. After our phone calls, we ate breakfast with our campmates and headed to beautiful Nai Harn beach for some fun in the sun – not a bad way to spend Christmas. We all ate dinner together at a Thai restaurant across the street from our camp, but unfortunately, in keeping up with mine and Tyler’s unfortunate Christmas tradition, we got food poisoning and have been sick the past 1.5 days. The worst part is that we leave the camp tomorrow, and we really wanted to do as many sessions as possible before leaving. Oh well, let that be a lesson that we will never eat Asian food again on Christmas day – fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice (or 4 times…), shame on us!

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