Crazy Cabs and Frightening Fights
Sometimes traveling is a constant stream of you getting shit on. Whether it’s stepping into a cab and the driver telling you, “Na, I don’t want to go there." Or the driver turning off the meter and saying, “that’ll be 800 times the normal price because I hate you.” I’m paraphrasing here. I don’t speak Thai but I'm pretty sure that's what he said. Sometimes it’s classic scams like a shoeshiner dropping something out of his kit. Thanking you for picking it up. They forcing you to get a shoeshine to repay your kindness. All this Inevitably ending in him making me pay for it. When you pull out your wallet, he reaches into it and grabs $100. Then you have to start yelling at the guy with a lot of mixed feelings. Mainly because he just finished telling you a sob story about his dying family that is likely 1000% bullshit!
Long story short. It’s a tough world out there sometimes.
In Bangkok, my friend Josh and I were planning on going to our first Muay Thai fight. For a little background on the situation: Josh spent the last week leading up to this fight training full-time at a very intensive Muay Thai gym. One of the fighters that we were going to see was a three-time title belt holder and has over 500 wins to his record. The reason we knew that was because he trains out of the same gym that Josh had been attending. Josh idolized this fighter and, needless to say, we were both excited for the fight.The fight started at 2:30, or so we thought, and when we had started discussing leaving it was already about 1:15. We started to get stressed because the train ride was an hour long and that didn’t include walking time. With that information, a cab ride sounded pretty good. The only problem with that was that taking cabs was always hit or miss in Bangkok. Countless times we would show the driver a map and get answers like, “I don’t know where that is.” Then we would go on a stressful journey of pointing and hoping that we’d get to the correct place. It never mattered before because there was nothing that we really wanted to see. This time was different. We had to see this fight.
Still, the prospect of taking a cab was looking good. After all, if we got a good cab driver then we’d be there in 25 minutes. We’d have plenty of time to spare. Nearing the train station we had to make a decision. The train was reliable but slow and cabs were unreliable and fast.
We decided to go with unreliable and fast.
We hailed a cab and could not have chosen more wrong. Of course, language barriers were always something that we knew was a factor. But we always overcame that and this guy spoke a reasonable amount of English so that wasn’t the problem. We showed him where we were going on a map and we showed him the name of the place and street written in Thai. My point here is that we could not have been more clear. It was far, sure, but it was so easy to get to that I even knew where it was and I had only been there for two weeks.
He started driving and our little adventure began. Having asked to hold onto my phone so he could see the map. I thought we were off to a good start. Then I looked at him maneuvering on my phone and noticed that he had scrolled to the destination and wasn’t using the map at all. He was just constantly reaffirming to himself that we are in-fact going to a place. I tried to reach up and re-center it but each time I did he batted my had away and assured us that he had it handled. In my head I was wondering, Is this guy just trying to think harder about the destination? Like saying the places name over and over will make you magically appear there. Was this the Wizard of Oz and I didn't know?
But I trusted him. He does this as a job! He has to know what he’s doing, right? Wrong. It turns out that, sometimes, people are shitty at their jobs and cab drivers are no exception.
Following the navigation on his phone, Josh looked at me and told me that we were definitely not going the right way. I grabbed my phone and told the guy to get on the highway. He got on the highway and I told him what exit he should take. Again, he waved me off and told me that he had it handled. I had backed down again only to find that he had indeed taken the wrong exit and added a full 40 min on top of our 25 min trip.
We told him to turn around and get back on the highway and he told us, “no highway.” Confused, we sat in the back of the cab wondering if we were going to see the fight or not. Josh was keeping cool about the situation but I was becoming more frustrated by this point. I was frustrated for a couple of reasons. Having been traveling for a while by now, I felt stupid for having trusted a cab driver multiple times. Rookie move. I knew that I should have guided him. And aside from that, I knew how much Josh wanted to see this fight and really wanted to get him there on time.
The direction we were going was impossibly gridlocked. To our right, the road going the opposite direction was wide open and lead back to the highway. The magical highway that could get us there in 10 minutes! After some more deliberation, we hopped out of the cab and threw our shitty cab driver the money. We crossed the street and grabbed a cab going the opposite direction. As we hurried into the car we shouted at the driver, “Channel 7 Stadium! Highway!” He/She (we really couldn't tell which) just nodded, cranked the frantic music on the radio and started to drive like a maniac. Perfect.
Weaving through traffic and back roads, she got us to the highway post haste. Soon enough she was dropping us off at the stadium as if she'd gotten us there by magic. We thanked her, tipped her and waved goodbye to her/his eclectically decorated cab and wild music.
Just shy of two hours and six hundred Baht later ($20) we had made it there by 2: 55. Regretting not taking the train, we found our way into the stadium hoping that we hadn’t missed much. The stadium was full but there were no fights going on when we entered. We were ushered by multiple people of whom we assumed worked for the venue but there was no real way of telling. Finally, they pointed us to a seated section full of tourists like us and demanded 400 Baht ($12) from each of us. Knowing that we wanted to stand in the free seats, we were a little confused. Assuming that no one is out to scam us, we obliged and handed the money over for our seats. They weren't bad seats and it wasn't a lot of money but it was definitely a scam. Tourist trap might be a better word. In any case, I didn't listen to my gut again and speak up and we got taken advantage of.
We weren’t complaining, though, because it turns out that we were wrong about the starting time. Finally some good fortune. We had arrived right as the fights were about to start. Relieved, we sat back and enjoyed.
The fight was one of the most intense events I’ve ever been to. Everyone (not the tourists, of course) threw up hand signs and yelled across their stands to place bets. When the fighters came out the energy soared along with the betting. Each fighter would waltz around the stage and give a ceremonial-esque dance. They wore a traditional headband and tassels that hung from high on their arms. Blessed by Buddhist monks, these accessories supplied the fighters with good luck.
The fighting commenced and all of the horrible cab rides and times that I’d ever been ripped off disappeared. Intense tribal drumming came on over the loudspeakers as the two people in the ring started going at it. Like a train leaving the station, the fight started off slow but soon it was thundering along at a steady pace. By round three of five, gambling in the audience was in full force. They would all scream, “Knee” every time a fighter successfully landed a knee into the other’s body which, by round three, was every two seconds. All the yells and screams started to add up and matched the rhythm of the drums.
Josh’s idol, Jon, stepped into the ring after three amazing fights. He was favored to win but the other fighter was hungry. The fight started off slowly just as each of the others had but soon ramped up. They traded kicks and elbows and knees but the opponent was landing more. Jon looked tired and wasn’t keeping up with the pace. After the first round, the betting in the audience was rampant again. As the fight carried on the yelling of the crowd overtook the drums on the loudspeakers. Frenetic energy filled the air and took us over. As if we were in a trance we were yelling and jumping out of our seat at every hit.
So invested in Jon, we felt like we were getting punched every time he was. And he was definitely getting punched… A lot. It was a brutal fight for him. His opponent had come out swinging and clearly took control early on. By the fourth round, Jon had gotten a few good hits in, but he wasn’t looking good. Nearing the end of the round, his opponent landed a jarring blow to his face. This was the beginning of the most brutal ends to a fight ever. Jon’s guard was lowered and, smelling blood, the other fighter moved in for the kill. He began to rain down elbows into his face. And when I say rained, I mean Rained. And when I say into, I mean Into. By the end of the beating, Jon had taken anywhere from twenty to thirty elbows. His face looked like a rearranged Mr. Potato head doll.
Josh was devastated.
We left the fights and went to a market nearby to decompress. It had been an emotional roller coaster of a day. We’d been lost, stressed, frantically carted around, scammed and let down. But in all reality, it was one of the most fun days we'd had the whole week because we laughed through it all. We felt like we learned plenty of little micro-lessons throughout the day.
Things like: a little bit of planning the day before an important event will take away a lot of stress. Go with your gut and don’t overthink things as simple as whether you should take a train or a cab. Don’t be a pushover when you’re dealing with cab drivers. When you know how something works, don’t be afraid to speak up to get what you want.
Thankful for the amazing fight and the wild day, it was time to head home. We looked up the directions home and I looked at Josh and asked, “Train?”