Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to Bangkok and the PkGen Asia show at the Queen's Imperial Park Hotel

After another long (but during daylight, and pretty picturesque) ferry ride back to the mainland, we took an overnight bus (a lot less enjoyable) back to Bangkok to get back in time for a day of adjusting and light training before getting ready for the PkGen Asia debut show.

Coming back to Bangkok after so much time in the south of Thailand was a bit of a culture shock but it was also a very welcome relief to get back to training on a regular basis.  Of course the first place we went to was Saphan Taksin, where we showed Dan Edwardes around (who had just arrived from snowy London, and was soon sweating like a one of those funny-hatted guards in red in summertime).  Dan had come to Thailand to help Stephane with the official launch of PkGen Asia.  This also happened to coincide with a PkGen performance at a rooftop party at the Queen’s Imperial Park Hotel in the heart of the city.  Aparently this party was one of a monthly series of parties that were pretty popular on the Bangkok party scene.  While the initial estimates of 1,500 people sounded pretty outrageous to me when they were outlining the game-plan I was also pretty nervous, especially since this was to be my first official parkour “performance”.

A publicity photo of the hotel as seen from the nearby park.
We arrived a day early at the hotel to check it out and to get things set up for the show, mainly the choreography.  Of course the scaffolding that we were supposed to be performing on wasn’t ready when it was supposed to be, which gave us a much smaller window to practice things in and to figure out our respective routes for the show.  Despite that, we managed to get in enough runs the evening before, and the morning of the event, and I gorged myself into a semi-food coma at the buffet brunch in the morning (it was probably one of 3 meals that I had during my month in Thailand that left me “full”).

A bit of an upgrade from the bungalows of Ton Sai...

Enjoying having my "own room" for the first time in a while.

The set-up.  Photo courtesy of Julie Angel.

Hanging out underneath the scaf to take shelter from the midday sun.  Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.

Julie figuring out angles for video and grabbing a few still shots.  Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.

The starting line-up at the top of the roof, preparing to make the descent to the scaf.  Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral . 

Dan making the drop to the scaf.  Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.
After a power-nap and few last runs on the scaffolding before the reporters started arriving we got ready for the show.  The first (of three) show was actually held right after a press-counference in which Steph announced the launch of PkGen Asia and described a bit about the company and its goals.  The video below was made by Julie Angel and shows a bit of Steph speaking as well as the full show.

After that performance we had a few hours before the next one where we could watch the party start and hang out with the guests.  It was pretty interesting to watch the party begin to unfold and to see the Bangkok "party scene" come to life.  By the time we did the second performance, things were starting to get pretty wild.  The second show went off smoothly and I found that I actually really enjoyed the “performing thing”, especially when it’s doing something that I know well and am comfortable and relaxed doing.  By that time the party was well underway and by the time we did the last performance about a half hour before the party was due to be closed the audience was pretty excited.  Despite some improvised flair elements that threw off some of the timing a bit, the third performance went well.  After a rather prolonged photo-shoot afterwards we headed back to our rooms to take quick showers and change before heading out to join some of the other team members for celebratory smoothies and drinks at a local bar.

The performance team and PkGen Asia staff.  Photo courtesy of PkGen Asia.

A day at the beach

Since it wouldn't be fair to talk about Koh Tau without some shots of the beaches, I thought it would be appropriate to include some of the great shots that Violetta (V) got of us one of the few times that we actually went to "hang out" on the beach.

Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.

Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.

Photo courtesy of Violetta Beral.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An abandoned resort and other adventures on Koh Tau

The overnight night ferry ride to Koh Tau was a very enjoyable one, despite the fact that we all woke up at some point or other in the middle of the night to feel the boat pitching and rolling underneath us in what seemed like monstrous swells.

Tight sleeping quarters but surprising comfortable (minus the pitching of the boat).  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.  

Walking off the boat at 5am.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.
We arrived unscathed in Koh Tau at 5am and managed to dodge the swarm of blood-sucking taxi drivers that awaited the bleary-eyed tourists coming off the boat.  After hanging around on a corner to figure out a gameplan, we started by finding a great little place that offered good, cheap food, with free wifi (this place became a regular dining option for us).  We then found a great place to stay at a really low rate, and even managed to rent scooters before lunch (we had become hooked on the range and flexibility that scooters offered us.  All-in-all a productiveness that was tough to match for the rest of our time on the island).

Making friends at our favorite restaurant.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Stopping to enjoy the view.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
We spent much of our time on Koh Tau speeding up and down the small country roads along with the rest of the small army of scooter-mounted tourists (mostly divers) that inhabited the island.  Although we did some bouldering, the weather or the environment conspired against us on most days so we ended up doing a lot more exploring than anything else.

Coconut tree + long bamboo pole = Blake trying (unsuccessfully) to knock a coconut down.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

V taking advantage of good weather and a temporary lack of mosquitoes.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Kiell at work.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
The abandoned hotel pictured below was one of the best adventures of the trip and was something that we essentially stumbled upon after someone had mentioned it briefly in passing.  Although it has only been out of operation for a few years (it was actually owned by the woman who owned the place we were staying in on the other side of the island) nature was gradually reclaiming the area, especially the only road through the hills to the resort.

The perfect place to spend an afternoon.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.

A welcome view after 45 minutes hiking on a path through the jungle.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day
There were also some great rocks right next to the resort so of course we couldn’t resist the chance to climb and jump around on them.

Scouting out a jump for Kiell to shoot, and pondering the rather large drop below.   Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
Eyeing the jump.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

The jump.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.

Hanging out afterwards in one of the abandoned bungalows.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
Of course, being on an island, we also spent some time hanging out on the beach (both in and out of the illusion of training).

After nearly a week on Koh Tau, it was time to head back to Bangkok to meet up with the rest of the PkGen crew the official launch of PkGen Asia at the Queen’s Imperial Hotel...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Krabi and the Tiger Temple

En route to Koh Tau, we spent a night in Krabi on a tip from some good friends in London.  After finding a great bargain on a place to spend the night we decided to check out the city on scooters that we rented at a nearby store (no experience or license needed, just a passport and cold hard cash).  The scooters turned out to be one of the best decisions we could have made, as it afforded us a great deal more flexibility and range in our explorations- and we a ton of fun.  We spent the rest of the evening roaming around the city and getting used to the bikes (I’ll admit that I started off driving like a grandmother, especially since the all similarities to jet skiing stop with the difference between pavement and water).

The next morning we set off early to explore the Tiger Temple, another tip from our Thailand experts back in London (thanks Shirley and Blane!)  The drive there was pretty enjoyable and it was nice to be on the road and not packed into a crowded bus that was either roasting hot or blasting sub-arctic air conditioning.  One we got there we encountered the 1,237 steps that led to the temple at the top of the “mountain”.  (Note: these stairs were much higher and narrower than in the “standard” Western staircase, perhaps because the monks like the challenge, or perhaps because they didn’t want to lug the extra cement up to build them).  The climb was a different sort of fun and although it didn’t take that long, we were all sweating pretty profusely by the time we reached the top.  The views en route and at the top definitely made up for any discomfort and we spent a while taking photos, doing handstands, and watching the troupe of monkeys that acted like they owned the place.

Slightly intimidating for some... a mere morning jaunt for us.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

The view from halfway up.

The view from the top.

Enjoying the view from the top, and scaring the crap out of the tourists watching below.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.  

The local inhabitants of the temple and very effective at hustling tourists for food.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Shameless brand placement?  Yeah, maybe.
Hunger and menacing clouds on the horizon finally drove us back down the stairs, where we found little food of and substantial quantity and even more aggressive monkeys.  Despite that, we had to drag Annty away from the wildlife (she has an intense urge to watch, film, and photograph most of nature’ creations, be they insect, mammal, or unidentified moving objects).  Fortunately she enjoyed whizzing around on the scooter even more than watching wildlife so it wasn’t too hard.

The PkGen biker gang.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

As we had a few hours left on the bike rental (we took the 1-day rental pretty literally) we decided to use up the last of our gas and freedom to explore a bit before grabbing our bags and heading to the bus station.  We came across an abandoned boat in our wanderings, with a rickety ladder conveniently set up by the bow that afforded us to this “time capsule playground”.  While I struggled to quell my American instinct of “it’s not my abandoned boat and the owner of said abandoned boat may be angry that I am exploring it- and said owner may be armed”, Annty, V, and Kiell were already well ahead of me and scrambling up onto the deck.  However, once I was on deck and started looking around I was able to put my doubts aside and enjoy our find.  The boat was a pretty awesome place for pictures so of course Kiell and V got some good ones.

The "entrance" to our new playground.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.  More photos can been seen at his site and Tumblr page.

Feeling a bit more at ease with the whole "trespassing" thing after looking around a bit.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.

V scouting out some shots.

The trademark pose of the trip.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.

Kiell in action.

So tempting...  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day

I couldn't resist.  Photo by Andy "Kiell" Day.

After stretching our time on the boat to the last possible minute we whizzed back to the city to give back our bikes, grab a bite to eat at the local market, and board yet another bus to go the dock for the night-ferry to Koh Tau.

For more of Kiell's pictures from the trip, and some amazing shots from other journeys, check out his website or his Tumblr page.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ton Sai

After a week in Bangkok, I headed south with some of the other Parkour Generations family members who were also interested in exploring southern Thailand a bit and taking advantage of having flown halfway around the world to someplace with far more agreeable winter weather than our respective homelands.

Our first destination was Ton Sai Beach, located in the Krabi province.  Although it is technically part of the mainland, it is cut off from any roads or paths by a series of impressive limestone cliffs and peaks which surround some amazingly picturesque beaches.  These cliffs also happen to make for good climbing and the area has become a mecca of sorts for climbers from around the world looking for good climbing, a chill lifestyle with like-minded people, and an active nightlife.

The cliffs of Railay and Ton Sai beaches.

We traveled From Bangkok to the beach with a combination of a very enjoyable all-night train ride, a series of much less-enjoyable bus rides that extorted us in every way possible, and a brief but beautiful long-boat cruise from the main town to the beaches on the other side of the cliffs.

The veiw that awaited us as we arrived via the longboat.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

While the original plan for our stay in Ton Sai was to do a ton of climbing accompanied by our expert photographers (V and Kiell both happen to work as instructors at a climbing gym in London), we didn’t exactly follow the original game plan and spent much more time exploring the beaches and surrounding jungle.  And relaxing.

My "welcome" gift from the 16 mosquitoes that bit me within 10 minutes of arriving.   Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
Our living quarters for the week.  Picturesque but not exactly ideal (and horrible at keeping mosquitoes out).   Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
My primary method of training for much of the time in Ton Sai...  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Our adventure to the Railay Lagoon was one of the highlights of our time in Ton Sai for me.  While the lagoon itself was not actually much more than a big puddle (even at high tide), the 45 minute climb through a mud-coated “lost world” was pretty awesome and offered plenty of opportunity to clamber, climb, and slide up and down a "path" that have all sorts of warning signs posted at the beginning if it were located in the USA.

"The Lost World"...? Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
Bruno making his way down a particularly muddy descent.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.
The water was not nearly as inviting from up close...  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Despite the beautiful beaches and sunsets, we decided after a few days that we had exhausted all that Ton Sai had to offer and it was time to change location...

Goodbye Ton Sai.  Photo courtesy of Annty Marais.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Introducing: Team Farang

My time in Bangkok gave me the opportunity to meet and train with some of the members of Team Farang, who I've been hearing a lot about during my travels, especially when I was in Australia last year.  The group’s name, “farang” originates from the Thai term for a Western foreigner and is a fitting name for this group of non-Thai natives (with the exception of Anan, who is technically Thai, but not quite Thai- he’s got a pretty unique story) that are based out of Bangkok.

The Team Farang logo.
First, a bit of background on the team and some of its members as gleamed from conversations with them in Bangkok.  The team is made up of a number of guys (there doesn't seem to be a fixed number) and started as a loose group of guys that met up in Bangkok (at an event hosted by Anan Anwar) to train for a few days and to generally have a good time.  This group included a pretty diverse representation of guys, (of course with lots of Aussies, who, as a country, seem to like Thailand a lot as a tourist destination- kind of like Cancun for Americans).  One of the unique aspects of this group is that not only do have a very high skill level when it comes to moving, they also like to party and have fun.  While it is obvious that there was a lot of training going on at the event, there is also a lot of footage from the everyday goofing off that goes on within this group of guys.  This video from the event in 2010 shows a bit of the action from that trip, as well as the general atmosphere that seems to characterize the group:

With the release of their video “Team Farang Tour – The City” in December 2011 Team Farang brought both their media production and movement to a new level.  While the video keeps the same attitude and general atmosphere of previous videos, it put Bangkok on the map as a "parkour hotspot" with lots of great places to train.  It is also pretty evident that there was a lot of time and effort spent in the production and editing of the video, which really shows in the final product.

The next video released by the group, is the next installation in the "Team Farang Tour" series, called "The Temple”.  It was actually released while I was in Bangkok with the guys so I got to see them reacting in real time to the international attention that the video got (it racked up more than 100,000 views within a few days).  The video has a lot of great movement in it, although some might raise objections to the use of another culture's sacred space as a training location.

Since then, Team Farang has released two more videos that follow member Jason Paul’s travels in India and Germany (Jason is pretty well known in the parkour community and has also done a number of the “Red Bull – Art of Motion” events). They have also launched a new website which looks like it will be a rather unique addition to the plethora of parkour websites out there.  Not only will they be posting videos and photos, but it they will also be trying to get a deeper look at some of the aspects of the sport that don’t seem to get a lot of direct attention (I was particularly struck by this recent article about the Storm clothing line) and interviewing people that they meet and train with.  Having met and spent a fair amount of time with the guys in Thailand, I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come out with and where they take things.  For more information and to check out the site, go to: or go to the Team Farang YouTube channel.