Every cloud has a silver lining goes the saying, just as every road has a traffic jam in Bangkok, yet a hard task it is to scratch the former from the latter. An ocean of red lights twinkling as if a burning moon has rippled the surface of a world stood still turns our silver promise to blazing crimson. Our last night in Bangkok, our last night in Thailand so fittingly spent in traffic, searching for food on the way to another night of Muay Thai; three everyday obsessions of this booming city coalesce into one delicious moment of pure Bangkok. A red light twinkles off, then another; a cascade like a falling house of cards ripples our burnt moon surface as we steal a giddy few metres forward. The rush of movement uncovers our sought after silver in that fleeting wink of eclipsed fire. We’ve found the only other major city on the world with worse public transport than Sydney, the sterling collar of patriotism glints the reddened cloud.Bangkok stifles and strangles, through heat and impossible transport an invisible bubble locks you to a world of convenience, attempts to at least. Through this bubble though we have soared to the heights of Vertigo restaurant and trawled the lows of gutter bars in a city that offers everything to everyone more literally than figuratively. A capital should represent its domain and in its layered diversity the themes of Thailand are captured so well in its capital that is more than what it seems; a one trick pony when viewed from the outside only.
In Chiang Mai our trip to the Muay Thai called the riches of an ancient culture from centuries past to collide with the heartbeat of a modern people with all their dignity, grace, ferocity and resolve. The captured heartbeat of a nation that was Thaphae stadium in Chiang Mai showed us an elegant collage of what this country is; stepping into the clamour of Lumpinee stadium in Bangkok that heartbeat just had the volume turned up. Gone is the uneven concrete floor, bare iron roof and dusty lights from an age ago; bright lights pump down on a stadium banked high on all sides to the roaring gesticulation of a frenzied public.Gone is the dim moody aura of a bar brawl setting which hosts a lesson in cultural respect and generosity, Lumpinee stadium is the big time, money and prestige are commodities that now top the list of what these temporary gods rage for. In this brightly lit world of money, power and status exists a rare treasure that so often struggles when facing those bold lights, so far from it’s favoured human habitat so full of smells, tones, shades and beating hearts. Integrity. Fighting off a hostile world so incompatible, the rare treasure still exists in congratulating a foes success, thanking an opponents corner and paying homage to your coach, the king and the crowd through the solemn dance of a ram muay. As the lights, money and fame cannot blunt the heartbeat that is Muay Thai, nor can the cheap tourism, the trashy bars and overrun beaches dent the heartbeat of a nation full of so much more resolve and depth than so many give it credit for.
A confession to myself now made aloud to the world, I knew of Thailand little more than great food, a sex industry and that beach where they made that movie: The Beach. From Ayuthaya, a great civilisation of the world to a liberated sexuality that showed to us none of the sad decline of human resignation that we expected, we have been bestowed a gift. We have been shown a glance behind the serene politeness mistaken for passivity only by the crude, shown what happens when culture and integrity can stare at the bright lights of corruption and stand their ground and own the centre of the ring.We see young men, boys and ladies fight; fire and steel dancing in padded gloves of red and blue. These living weapons exist only in the ring, the small statured people we see all around us emerge from within the ropes, warrior gods disappear in a moments grace where aggression is halted at those four impassable ropes. Such sweet welcoming faces, we’ve mused that we possibly bought coffee from this timid little boy or asked for a bill from that sweet young girl. In the centre of that ring, like the heartbeat of their people that will not run, hide or falter; the Muay Thai fighters represent their people as their capital represents their country. See the sweet face on your side of the ropes if you will but don’t be fooled, pity ye who thinks to trample that which lies beyond which you choose to see.