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On the Road: Playing with fire in Koh Samet, Thailand

Image courtesy: Jyothy Karat

Playing with fire

Juggling flaming sticks and hoops is all in a day’s work for Koh Samet’s fire dancers

AS Jyothy, the photographer, and I ambled along the shore, I became aware  of a young Filipino chap approaching us. He was lean, sinewy and with more than  a cheerful glint in his eye, and  the brown skin on his exposed arms glistened in the fading light. “Hello ladies. We having fun  in Thailand?” he asked in a surprisingly crisp British accent,  his small eyes narrowing to slits. “Yes,” we chorused nervously, weary of the ‘hospitality’ some  oily-skinned locals had offered  us earlier. “Come have a bite  and stay for the fire show. I’m in it,” he winked. Despite myself, I asked him curiously, “Really? You’re  a fire dancer?”

Mr Tee, as he calls himself,  has been a professional fire dancer  for the last six years. Did he undergo years of training under  a master to learn this death-defying dance form? “Nah, I used YouTube,” he said. Mr Tee spent hours watching clips on the video-sharing website, learning the tricks of the trade and practising with unlit  sticks at home. Many hours  of video-watching and a couple  of books on fire dancing later,  he was ready to try out the real deal. Using flaming sticks and hoops, he began to practise. Needless to say, he burned himself. Many times. But he forged ahead, slathering himself with cream to avoid the burns (that explains the glistening skin), and soon, he was throwing fiery sticks and hoops about his body like a pro.

Mr Tee and his A-team of 12 dancers perform at the Ploy Bar  on Sai Kaew, Koh Samet, every night to a whooping, cheering audience. He also used to perform  at the wildly popular Full Moon Party on Thailand’s crescent-shaped Koh Pha Ngan island.  “But the crowds overwhelmed me, so I moved to Koh Samet. It only gets crowded here in the busy season and on weekends. That’s not so bad. I get to meet a lot of new people, many from the UK,“  he said, which explains the accent.

Rings of light swirl through the inky black sky as the dancers twirl whatever it is they’ve chosen  to set alight – balls of fire attached to chains, flaming rods or hula-hoops. Their antics are met  with squeals of delight, especially when the youngest dancer  comes out. Barely older than 10, he struts his stuff, while his fellow dancers spit flames around him. They lap up the attention. Who wouldn’t? Women giggle when  they walk past and men look at them with awe. For those 20 minutes every night, they’re rock stars, and they know it.

LPMI’s Features Writer Sharmeen Hussain was in Thailand  on assignment  and fell instantly in love with  the country.