Koh Tao, Koh Phangnan and Koh Toa form an arpeggio of Islands off the East coast of Thailand. Koh Toa is the smallest, Northmost of these Islands. It is a strange mix of Thai and the West. It is many people's paridisiacal ideal. Regardless of whether I shared the view of paradise there was undeniably something incredible about a place where everyone is happy and doing what they want to do in a place that feels like a perpetual postcard.
I stayed with a girl called Caroline, (Shri Lankan born, grew up in Texas, lives in Carifornia but goes to university in Baltimore (yes she watches The Wire)). For our first 5 days she did her PADI Advanced Open Water and I did a set of training sessions at a Muay Thai gym. We spent our days apart, and our evenings together. This worked very well, although sometimes the flow of the evening resulted in a missed alarm (or dive) the next morning.
Koh Tao is really very small. Half an hour on a bike will take you the length of the one road on the Island. So it was not a problem that the Muay Thai gym was at the other end from where we were staying. The couple of times I went for the morning session the ride was gently rousing. Not many things would be open but at 7am the warmth was already in the day. The cool of morning would still be hanging in the air but the trees and the road and the blue sky would break you a sweat along the undulating hills of the island. I'd arrive awake and warm to training.
Muay Thai is a Thai form of Boxing that uses kicking as well as "clinching". For one week I went once a day. Sessions started at 8am in the morning or 4pm in the afternoon. Sessions started with 20 minutes skipping. Coordination, timing, fitness and strength are required to actually skip well for a long time. When you're sticky and hot from maybe 40 turns of playground jumping and you can hear the beating of the boxers ropes reverberating in the heat around you, you want to get better at skipping.
Warmed up, our hands were bound with long lengths of cotton wound to support the wrists, gloves given out, and rounds started. One on one with a coach, kicking, punching, elbowing and blocking (not to mention the variations lying therein) for maybe five or six minutes. Then a break of a minute. Then again for 7 minutes. Etc. (In truth these times are guesses. I always took off my watch because they couldn't strap my wrists with it on and when excercising, reading, painting or doing exams I find that my sense of time warps completely.) 100 front kicks on a bag, sit ups and stretching out closed the session. I'd ride home drenched and exhausted but with that happy post exercise feeling. Food, shower, and (if I'd done the afternoon session) a cold beer whilst catching up with Caroline about her day formed the post Muay Thai agenda.