Maybe you’ve been away for a while and haven’t exercised in months. Or perhaps you’re an active backpacker who’s climbed all the mountains, trekked all the trails and is looking for a new fitness craze to try. Or maybe you want to escape to sunnier climes but don’t want your health to fall by the wayside. Whatever your reason, it’s time to head to Thailand and sign up for a Muay Thai training camp. Great for the mind, body and beer belly. Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that combines punches, kicks, knees and elbows with some intense HIIT style training to give you a workout that is worth going all the way to Asia for. If you still need convincing, keep reading and you will be packing your backpack in no time at all.
It makes you feel healthy again
After five months of sitting on various beaches, beer in hand, consuming my body weight in rice and noodles, the travelling lifestyle was beginning to take its toll. I was permanently dehydrated, a bit sluggish and climbing more than ten stairs in a row was a struggle. My body was crying out for some exercise and I figured a Muay Thai Camp was exactly what I needed to get going again. Combining skipping, pad work, bag combos, millions and millions of push ups and the odd 8k run, Muay Thai training got my heart pumping. By the end of my time at camp I was powering through all 4 hours of the daily training, and I even had a bit of energy left for a beer at the end of the day. It wasn’t just the fitness benefits I noticed. Sleeping well in a dorm room can be hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, I love dorm life, but with people coming in and out constantly, stumbling in at 3am and rattling the bunk bed as they get up to go to the loo for the 4th time in the night you can fall way behind on your beauty sleep. During training I was so exhausted that by the end of the day that I was finally getting my 8 hours in. I was sleeping like a baby, right through the nightly disruptions that are akin to 12 bed life, and I had bags more energy in the day because of it.
It blasts you out of your comfort zone
Going into training, I wasn’t entirely convinced I would be able to do it. I’d done a few Muay Thai training sessions before and they’d completely wiped me out, so that first day was a bit scary. Easing myself in with two hour sessions in the first few days, I could barely drag myself out of my post-lunch, post-nap hammock sesh to do the obligatory stretching. You really have to push yourself to keep going and it’s so rewarding when you start to see progress. After a few early rises, about a thousand litres of sweat and several million calories’ worth of carbs, you’ll be sailing through those 4 hours a day. You start to see the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone and the fear melts away. Smashing out 200 push ups a day paves the way for newfound confidence to carry across into other travelling pursuits that you may previously have shied away from. Driving a moped for the first time? Why not. Swimming with sharks? Easy. Throwing yourself out of a plane at 20,000 feet? No worries.
It’s a great way to meet like-minded travel pals
You really get to know people in the gym. Whether it’s the person you accidentally whip with your skipping rope during your first warm-up, or the person who whacks the sh*t out of your abs with a pad. At the end of the day, I can guarantee that any social barriers will have been broken down by the time you’ve completed a couple of sessions. Going to training camp is a great way to expand your travelling social circles and the people you meet make a great addition to your hostel buddies. You bond over punches rather than bunk beds and you might even have more in common with your training pals than the people you’re sharing a bathroom with. While most Muay Thai camps offer accommodation packages, I stayed in a hostel throughout my time at camp which was great because it kept training and chilling separate. Even though I still found myself having to make new friends every other day in the dorm, I was able to go to training and see familiar faces every day which took the edge off the transience of travelling friendships.
It boosts your exercise confidence
In most training sessions they mix beginner and intermediate levels. Whilst this means that sometimes you’re training alongside some guys and gals who really know what they’re doing, more often than not everyone is at the same level as you, once you get the hang of the basics. Everybody trains at the same pace, spending the same amount of time on each section and working on the same combos. You get out what you put in and support is there across the board from everyone in the gym. You won’t find any mirror-flexin’ insta-posing as there’s no time for it when you’re all trying to struggle through a 2 minute plank. There’s absolutely no room for ego in a Muay Thai training gym, and once people leave that at the door, what’s left is a comfortable space of respect and encouragement. Realising you can do as many high kicks in a row as the beefy guy in a vest next to you is a huge confidence boost and I’ll you can take your newfound gym confidence with you to wherever you choose to train next.
It gives you a glimpse of the real Thailand
Instead of spending your time in Thailand covered in UV paint drinking bucket cocktails, you get to engage with something that’s integral to the cultural fabric of the country. You learn from trainers who have lived and breathed the sport from the minute they could walk. They go above and beyond to make sure you know not only what you’re doing but why you’re doing it. They take so much pride in what they do and I was honoured to be taught by them. The trainers are meticulous with every little detail – from the way they teach you to wrap your hands, to the aftercare advice they give you for your cuts and bruises (of which there will be many, just fyi). They make you work so hard you can barely stand up and painstakingly make you do things again and again until they’re satisfied you’re doing it right. And if you’re still not doing it right, maybe a friendly little whack with a bamboo stick from the head trainer will kick you into gear!
While there were days when all I wanted to do was stay in bed, and times when I thought I was very near actual exercise-induced death, I loved every minute of Muay Thai training. I’m fully hooked (if you’ll pardon the pun) and I urge anyone reading this to pack your gym kit into a backpack and head on over to Thailand ASAP. If you need some tips on where to start your search for the best place to train, have a look at our list below. See you in the ring!
Best Muay Thai gyms in Thailand:
Charnchai Muay Thai – Pai
Where I spent most of my training time and a gym that will always have a piece of my heart. Charnchai is in the backpackers’ paradise of Pai, in Mae Hong Son. Not only will you be put through your paces by some of the best trainers in the country, you’ll also be surrounded by beautiful mountains with loads of stuff to do in your downtime. Pai is also one of the cheapest places you can train, with single 2hr sessions starting at just 300 THB (£7.20). They also offer weekly, monthly, food and accommodation packages – catering to every type of traveller!
Bull Muay Thai – Krabi
Bull Muay Thai is a much smaller gym near Ao Nang beach in Krabi. It’s a great gym to go to if you can handle the heat and the smaller class sizes ensure you get a lot of attention from the trainers. Prices down here are a bit more expensive but when you’re right by the beach, who cares?
Tiger Muay Thai – Phuket
Tiger is world-renowned for its training and is one of the most popular gyms in Thailand. Not only do they teach Muay Thai, but they offer a wide range of classes – fitness, yoga, MMA & BJJ, strength & conditioning, beach bootcamps and much more. It’s a great one to pick if you want to mix it up, and you’re sure to find something that suits no matter what you’re looking for.
Banchamek Gym – Bangkok
If city life Is what you’re after, Banchamek Gym is known as the best gym in Bangkok and is the home gym of Thailand’s most famous fighter, Buakaw. There are some really high level athletes training at Banchamek, and as such it attracts people who want intense Muay Thai camps to prepare for a real match.
About the author
Abbi is a freelance writer, peanut butter enthusiast and travel lover. At the moment she’s haphazardly finding her way around the Southern Hemisphere with a full faced snorkel and 4 unnecessary pairs of shoes in tow. She is the author of The Ten Pound Traveller, a budget travel blog on what you can get around the globe for a tenner. You can find her on Instagram @abbiconnor.