I made it back to Bangkok with no further close calls.
I made one last stop at the Bumrungrad International Hospital to get the third and final installment of my rabies vaccination. All said and done I spent probably about $250 on vaccines and healthcare in Thailand, all in top-notch facilities. I’d estimate that I would have paid at least 3-5 times that for the same services in the US in comparable facilities. So, if you need healthcare, go to Bangkok.
The following night I took an overnight bus to Chiang Mai. Talk about style. Individual tv’s, full recliners, food and water delivered to your seat. Despite my sincere intent to do some writing, I watched “Back to the Future” in Thai with English subtitles. Great Scott!
On the bus I sat next to Paee, who is from Chiang Mai but going to university in Bangkok. We became friends and would later meet up.
Chiang Mai, the former capital of Thailand, was awesome. My first day there I rented a motorbike. Having had some practice on Koh Larn with virtually no traffic, I was ready to operate on an actual road with real objects and vehicles. Despite the relative madness, it was not an issue. Once you get past driving on the wrong side and the local laws of the road – none – you’re good to go.
I smashed up the Doi Suithep mountain, west of and overlooking Chiang Mai. The ride up the beautiful winding mountain road, stopping at several waterfalls along the way, was gorgeous. This took me to Wat Prathat, one of the most famous temples and considered among the holiest places in Thailand.
Further up, after stopping to wait out a sudden rainstorm, I stopped at an authentic, albeit somewhat touristy Hmong village. Even though it really wasn’t far off the proverbial beaten track, it was still fascinating and somewhat blew me away.
I rode further for the summit, but apparently the track was blocked. I rode for at least another half-hour until the road first turned to single lane, then gravel, then dirt, mud and potholes, almost all the way to another much more remote Hmong village. I finally had to turn back as it was getting colder and starting to get dark. It was an hour ride back and got quite chilly, but I have to say it was nice to feel cold on my skin.
Lost my F%$#ING sunglasses again. The crappy croakies I bought in Malaysia came apart while riding at some point and they are now, presumably, never to be seen again. At least I didn’t leave them on a bus. That’s it, I’m going without.
The next day after returning my motorbike, Paee met up with me and took me around to five or six of the notable temples in Chiang Mai, as well as a couple of museums and other sites. We had a good time and, as usual, it was great having someone to show me around. We had a nice meal and a few street snacks that I would have never known about if not for him. Thanks BRO!
I could have easily stayed a couple of weeks in Chiang Mai. There are boat loads of activities from trekking, day hikes, waterfalls, adventure sports and other things to do.
My last night I went out to the Night Bazaar, which was fun. I had some dinner, met a few friends and had a good time.
Khao San Road
Back in Bangkok I met up with three out of four of my favorite Canadian gals who I had met in Australia months earlier. We partied on the world famous Khao San Road, the backpacker Mecca of Southeast Asia. I also met a professional breakdancer from Sierra Leone who lives in China visiting Thailand. I really connected with him and his posse and I stayed out with them until the late hours.
Muay Thai at Lumpinee Stadium
The next day Hiro came home from a business trip. For my last night in Thailand, Hiro, Akiko and I went out to a really nice Italian dinner and then went to a muay thai match at the famous Lumpinee Stadium.
The first fighters appeared to be about 12 years old, but they weren’t playing marbles. These kids were no joke, trading blows and fighting hard. We watched about eight fights which kept us there for at least three hours.
By chance, I also ran into Petch, my muay thai coach from the lessons I’d taken previously. I’d really hoped to go to at least one more class, but it just didn’t happen. But I did get to thank him and picked up an official PetchYinDee Muay Thai Academy polo.
Watching the one-on-one combat, I could not help but think about my high school wrestling days. During one fight I was suddenly taken back the section tournament of my senior year, to a moment that to this day has been one of the most profound in my life.
I remember it like the day it happened. On the second day of wrestling I’d reached the consolation bracket semi-finals, the match that I had to win to qualify for the California State Championships tournament – the goal of my high school wrestling career. Win or you’re done wrestling.
For months, years, my dream was to make it to State. I didn’t have the most traditional track through high school; while other roads might have led to different aspirations in wrestling, by the time I entered my senior year, that was the do-or-die goal.
My opponent was Brandon Morrison from Salinas High School. In our one previous match in a different tournament he’d beaten me 4-2. He was a big, buffed out kid with tattoos, and I remembered him being stronger than me in our previous meeting. He was also a senior, facing the last match of his life.
Something happened to me during that match. Singular focus and determination came over me. Everything I had ever worked for; everything I was worth; everything I ever believed in was at stake over the next five minutes. I was calm, and I knew that I was unbeatable, unstoppable, untouchable.
From whistle to whistle, my opponent was defeated in every sense. I actually don’t remember the final score, but it was something like 13-3.
At the final whistle my hand was raised in victory. I shook hands, walked straight back to my coach and leapt into his arms as tears streamed down my face. I had done it. But more than that; I knew that I could win matches with my heart. And I knew that later in life, that would translate into more than wrestling.
I will never forget that moment, and that was the last wrestling match I ever won (official match anyway, I beat the crap out of my brothers all the time). Vince Baza, Bobby Soto, all of my coaches and all of my teammates – especially Dan, Gil and Anthony, who constantly pounded me in practice – got me to that moment, and to this day I still owe them for that. Here’s to coaches and teammates, and to Fremont Wrestling.
Sitting there in Bangkok watching muay thai gladiators battle it out, I was overcome with emotion; chills ran through me and tears welled in my eyes as I remembered so clearly that moment in my life; it happens now again even as I write.
I started thinking, and I have been since. What would it take to reach another moment like that? What’s out there that could bring me that feeling? Can I get back to a moment like that? Can I feel like that again someday? If so, how?
There will be plenty of great moments to come in life I know; but that is a particular kind of great moment. One that took work, sweat, tears and blood to achieve. So, that’s on my mind.
The next day Hiro and Akiko took me around to various shops and stores to make sure I had everything I would need in India and shipped a few things back to the Home of the Brave. To the last day they showed me such incredible kindness and hospitality. It was a sad goodbye as they walked me downstairs (with Leo of course) to see me off, packing light, back to savage mode, ready for India.
Have you had a defining moment in your life that you’ll never forget?.