In the mood to destroy yourself? Well some Muay Thai training in Thailand will do the job. To be honest I didn’t plan to do any training, I went to visit a friend who had signed up to a 1 month course, but I decided to tag along for some lessons and got quite into it.

First of all it’s a great way for a fitness regime. Gyms always bored the shit out of me, but with Muay Thai you’re learning self-defence and traditional culture as well.

The first lessons I went to were in a gym in the south of Thailand in Khao Lak. I was reasonably in shape when going as I do a lot of walking/hiking but I was in for a shock. Muay Thai is fucking intense!

Muay Thai lessons in Thailand will generally last for around 2 hours and are pretty much non-stop, just the occasional 30 second break every 3 – 5 minutes for some water. The first 10 minutes normally involves a 10 minute run around the gym or 10 minutes of skip rope(the worst). That’s followed by several minutes of stretches.

In the first lesson you will normally learn a standard punch and jab move as well as a kick, elbow and knee. This way during the 2nd lesson after the stretches you will do 3, 3 minute sets of shadow boxing practising the moves you have learned and being corrected by the instructor. After that is 3, 3 minute sets of bag work doing the same practices but against a bag.

Next the instructors will put on protective gear and get you to practice the moves on them, again in 3, 3 minute sets. You can finish after this but the good gyms will let you get a few more rounds of bag work or some short sparring against another student on your level if you want

After all that you do several minutes of stretching again and you’re done. Oh and in-between every 3 minute set they will get you to do 10 push ups. Lovely…

The first few lessons I must admit I had trouble walking and lifting shit up, I was shattered! But as you progress you naturally get fitter and get into the rhythm. As you receptively practice the moves you have learned you will get better and then move on to other moves.

The gym in the south was fun on and off for the time there but after a month it was good to move on and travel a bit.

Eventually a few weeks later I ended up in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand where there was the best gym I have been to. It had lots of space and instructors and a full size boxing ring. Each lesson coast around $15. The name of this gym is Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym set in the old city.

Myself in the middle at the Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai.

I spent around 3 weeks here going almost everyday. There was an average of several students per lesson and 3-4 instructors so it was almost like having a private instructor at times. With this much time given to you by them I managed to improve my technique a lot and got much fitter.

They will teach you within the level you’re at so you could have a class of 7 of you with different levels of experience but will teach you differently. You won’t end up sparring with someone more advanced than you there!

The instructors are all local ex Muay Thai fighters and will push you hard but are a lot of fun after the lessons are done. A few of them took me out to local Muay Thai fights from time to time.

Sadly after 3 weeks I moved on but feeling so much stronger. In all of this time I lost over 10 kilos and felt so much better in myself physically. I had also stopped drinking alcohol during this time and ate only fish as a meat. Turning 40 years old I figured I needed to be looking after my body more.

The problem is after leaving and having a travelling lifestyle is finding Muay Thai training gyms where I go to keep the practice up. In each new place I check to see if there is any gym teaching lessons and I have been to some but none are no-where near as good as that one in Chiang Mai.

The Thai Muay Thai trainers are tough as hell by the way… they harden some of the punch bags and kick them like crazy. Being a beginner I wasn’t prepared for that and as of the time of writing this a few months after leaving Thailand I still have some numbness in one of my feet from when I hit the bag the wrong way a few times. The doctor said that yes it’s most likely from the May Thai practice.

Some of the fighters I met talked about the traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoos. These are spiritual – magical tattoos that local people get for protection and other things. any Muay Thai fighters will get them.

Getting a Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai

As I love tattoos I decided to go and get one. Now I don’t believe in the special powers involved but I love and respect very much the Thai culture and understood how deep the meaning behind it is. In fact out of my tattoos it is the most deepest meaning one to me.

I got taken out to a temple 30 minutes drive from Chiang Mai where the monk shows you pictures of the different ones you can get and the meaning behind each. I decided to go for the one that many people get as it represents in the 5 lines different protective and good powers.

They use the traditional method of a stick with a metal spike on the end and tap it into you. I’m used to the modern tattoo gun and figured I knew what it feels like to get a tattoo so no problem… fuck that! The traditional method hurt more but not only that I got it on my chest and near my nipple area. Now the nipple area on a man may not be as sensitive as a woman, but is still a very sensitive area.

Fuck it was one of the most painful things I have ever felt but luckily only lasted 15 minutes as the monk was very skilled. It felt great at the end having this traditional feeling of Thailand to take with me.

Thailand is a very touristed country and I do get jaded sometimes with the thought of that as i often like off-beat places. But you can still find peace there and it’s touristed for a reason – the people are friendly, the food is amazing, and it’s cheap to travel. I have spent almost a year over the past 20 years in Thailand and will always be happy to return.

When I do again I will be back in Chiang Mai and learning more Muay Thai!

So if you’re looking for a great way to get fit, learn self defence, and learn about a great culture and tradition then Muay Thai is a great way to go.


Jonny Duncan is a freelance blogger and photographer. He specialises in budget travel and outdoor adventures with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 and has helped many travelers plan their travels since.

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