I just want to say from the outset that this post is not about the best gyms in Thailand for Muay Thai classes or anything like that ( although I will highly recommend one gym).
This is about Muay Thai classes in Thailand for beginners, specifically Muay Thai in Chiang Mai.
Because that’s exactly what I did.
First a quick bit of background on how I got into Muay Thai and my history of martial arts and fitness.
I was 40 years old when I started Muay Thai training in Thailand (still am at the time of writing) and apart from hiking I did almost no other fitness regime before I started, and I had never done any other martial art before.
So if you are looking for Muay Thai lessons and are a complete beginner don’t worry, so was I and I survived.
I had always liked Muay Thai but it was thanks to a friend who signed up to a one month Muay Thai camp in Thailand that got me into it.
I was with her and she suggested coming along to a lesson. I have never liked gyms and was very sceptical about it and was worried about my fitness level.
After all Muay Thai is one of the most intense cardio workouts you can do.
I’ll admit it – I was totally destroyed after the first lesson. I had messed my big toe up from kicking wrong and the exercise level was insane (for me).
Yet a few days later I found myself going back for more.
I’ll cut a longer story short for now and say that after a few lessons I wanted to continue.
Leaving my friend in Bangkok a few weeks later I headed to Chiang Mai in the north. There I found a Muay Thai training gym and started classes almost every day over a several week period.
For me it wasn’t about fighting primarily but getting in shape. Let’s be real I’m 40 and no way in hell I could do any serious fighting. But if your in your teens or twenties you could seriously get into it.
My fitness levels improved dramatically, I was enjoying it. I liked the history and culture behind it all as well. At the same time I had quit drinking alcohol and stopped eating meat.
Muay Thai has helped transform my lifestyle and I’m feeling a lot better for it. It can help you as well if that’s what you’re looking for.
I felt the best I had in a long time.
I left Thailand for a few months but came back and have spent more time training at the same gym in Chiang Mai and will continue for longer.
Before I get into the training regime and what it’s like, and my recommendations for how to get into it yourself, I will give you some quick history behind Muay Thai.
If you know all this or don’t care so much then skip to the next section.
The Tradition of Muay Thai
Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is known as the “art of eight limbs” due to using the shins, knees, fists, and elbows (eight points of contact). It’s a serious fighting force, and one of the main striking techniques used in modern day mixed martial arts.
The Muay Thai we know goes back to the 18th century with the wars between the Burmese and Siam (Thailand).
A fighter called Nai Khanomtom was captured and was an expert in hand-to-hand combat and was allowed to fight Bumese professional fighters for his freedom.
He won all the fights and was greeted as a hero upon his release and return to Siam.
His fighting style was adopted by the Siamese and became known as Siamese-Style boxing. This later turned into Muay Thai.
As well as being used in war the fighting style became popular as a sport to watch.
During the time of peace that followed these wars Muay Thai was continued for physical fitness and self-defence by regular Thai’s.
Fast forward to the 20th century and Muay Thai fighters defeated many known practitioners of other martial arts, cementing its place worldwide as one of the best martial arts you can do.
Learning Muay Thai as a Beginner in Chiang Mai
Ok, that picture above is not near the level I got to!
But if you train hard enough that’s what you will be able to do.
The gym I went to in the south of Thailand wasn’t that great. It was run by a foreigner, had only foreign students there, and was small.
By comparison when I got to Chiang Mai I realised this was the place I wanted to train in.
The main reasons it was the best gym for me?
The gym is very modern and huge.
It’s run by local people.
Although it is mostly foreign students (when I’ve been there) there are some locals that come as well.
The trainers are all ex-Muay Thai fighters from Thailand and speak a reasonable level of English.
The classes are never to big (average of 5 students from my experience) and there are 2 trainers per class.
It’s very beginner friendly as they will take you aside from any advanced students to train you by yourself or with other beginners.
The trainers will push you hard but are fun with it.
The gym in question is very simply called the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym and is conveniently located in the old city (link to their website at the bottom of the post with other recommendations for Muay Thai stuff).
What it’s Like Training in Muay Thai in Thailand
I’ve done a few Muay Thai lessons outside of Thailand and to be frank the experience was very different.
Instead of a large modern gym and many Thai trainers like the Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai, I found most of the time to be in a small gym with many students and just one instructor.
If you’re in Thailand and want to learn some Muay Thai then do it while you’re there and have the opportunity.
This is what you will do in an average 2 hour Muay Thai lesson in the Chiang Mai gym.
The first 10 minutes they will have you running around the full size fighting ring. This is followed by several minutes of warm up stretching.
Then 3 times 3 minutes of shadow boxing facing the mirror with one minute breaks in-between. An instructor will observe and correct you if you’re doing something wrong. If you’re a total beginner they will be just showing you some basic techniques, no shadow boxing.
I should just say now that all of the things you do will be 3 minutes of training 3 times with 1 minute breaks in-between, then you switch what you are doing.
They mix things up next depending on the size of the class. You will either be put on bag training, punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing the bag. Otherwise one of the instructors will have you practicing techniques against him. He uses punching pads for you to do this.
Next you will switch to doing the opposite of whatever you did before. So if you did bag training last you will switch to practising against the instructor and vice versa.
Then you will put shin guards on and practice leg work more.
If you are a beginner you should be feeling the pain by now. Even if you are fit it is a serious workout and you will be around one hour and fifteen minutes into the lesson.
The final ending is the real fun part. If you can keep up.
This is where you get to spar against another student of a similar skill level. Or if you’re the only one in the class (happened to me a few times) then you will go up against the instructor. I was wiped out the first time I tried that.
After that it’s several minutes of stretching and then over.
You will feel exhausted but it’s the best workout I’ve ever done. I didn’t feel pain the next day, but after another lesson my muscles were feeling it.
That got easier over time as I trained more. Plus in Thailand a Thai massage only costs around $8 so you can always soothe your muscles that way.
The Best Place to See Muay Thai Fighting in Chiang Mai
When you’re in Chiang Mai there are a lot of options on where to see a Muay Thai fight and advertisements everywhere for it.
There has been problems before with staged fights and you seem to never know if you’re going to get the real thing or not.
The best is to ask the staff at the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym and see if they know where the best fights are.
The ones I went to were at the main Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium. It is mostly tourists that go there (mostly the same everywhere) but is a lot of fun and normally good fights.
Buy the cheap seat tickets as you get exactly the same view as the more expensive VIP ones.
Learn Muay Thai
If you are interested in learning Muay Thai or just trying out a lesson then the gym in Chiang Mai is perfect on all counts.
There are many gyms and camps all around Thailand but this gym is all you need. It caters for all experience levels and Chiang Mai itself is a nice relaxed city to stay in, and it’s cheap enough.
It costs 390 Thai baht per lesson, but if you buy 5 – 10 lessons up front you will get a discount.
The gym has several lessons a day. One at eight in the morning (never 😛 ) then on the hour between 2pm and 6pm. You don’t need to reserve, you can just show up 10 minutes before the lesson starts and join in.
Also if you’re interested in mixed martial arts there is a a ju-jitsu (a common grappling technique used in mixed martial arts) gym in Chiang Mai.
Go to Chiang Mai and learn Muay Thai and enjoy the culture that comes along with it.
If you want to get pumped up for a Muay Thai fight or training then watch what in my opinion is the best Muay Thai movie – Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior
This is the facebook page of the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym.
You can find loads of good things to do in Chiang Mai while there:
Read this post on what to pack for travelling to Southeast-Asia to give you an idea on what to take with you.
If you’re going backpacking in Thailand then be sure to read this guide.
And if you’re looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai then take a look at this post.
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