I’m intrigued. I open the email to find that the invite comes from Muay Thai Holidays, who would like me to come on one of their trips to see if Muay Thai Boxing represents a good alternative to more traditional means of exercise – with a little bit of pain and suffering thrown in for good measure.
A few calls to the organizer later and I’m sold. After being assured my shins would still be intact when I return I decide to commit to the experience. All in the name of journalism, of course. After hopping on an early morning train down to Heathrow, I arrive to meet my colleagues for the next 12 days, Anuj Bhari, owner of Muay Thai Holidays, Saj Imran, ISKA Southern Area Champion, and Jay Hanson, kickboxer and journalist.
“Your holiday starts with Thai airways” is the airline’s proud boast and they more than live up to their promise, treating us royally on their luxurious A380 Airbus. Before we know it we’re on the ground and on our way to our first stop, the Pathumwan Princess in Bangkok.
For a first insight into just how popular Muay Thai is, we head to the MBK Arena, where participants from over 50 countries come to take part in the Martial Arts games. It’s an overwhelming experience as we watch fighters of all ages from across the world come together for this annual event. After seeing them at close quarters I feel more than ready for my first session the following day.
My introduction to Muay Thai comes at the aforementioned Pathumwan Princess, where trainers and fighters from the Petchyindee gym take us through a morning training session. With heart rate monitors attached, we’re put through a vigorous cardio session, which includes a beep test. While the local fighters take it in their stride, we soon learn we’re playing catch-up. It’s a valuable first lesson. In Muay Thai, there is no room for passengers.
While the advanced fighters in our team do pad work with the trainers and fighters, the beginners, (i.e. me), get my first straps and gloves fitted before being shown the basic moves and footing.
Thanks to the trainers, I end the session with my technique enhanced.
Petchyindee is inextricably linked with Muay Thai and as soon you step in to the training arena you get a sense of the discipline and determination that makes these fighters so special. The guys soon embark on sparing and grappling practice, while I’m handed a thick skipping rope to practice my footing. The fact I’m in bare feet gives me every incentive to master the skills because, trust me, when that rope hits you at speed, it hurts. A lot. Add to this the routine of bouncing on tyre walls and it’s no surprise that my calf muscles are feeling the pain. A bit more pad and bag work and the sweat is dripping as the sun goes down.
Petchyindee is one of the gyms you can choose for your stay, with accommodation, meals and training on offer. It’s a real melting pot, with large numbers of both men and women from across the world choosing it as their base for their Muay Thai training.
The next day I take advantage of the hotel’s 25m saltwater pool and enormous 9,000sqm gym facility. It’s a far cry from the traditional hotel brochures that promise you a state-of-the-art gym, only to present you with a running machine from Argos.
Entertainingly, I attract a fair amount of attention walking to and from training, with passers-by asking if I’m preparing for a forthcoming fight. In the end I find it easier to say ‘yes’, which leads to a large number of selfies with newly acquired fans!
We spend the next day at the Wai Kru ceremony at Auythaya, another eye opening experience, as 4,000 global Muay Thai fans and fighters embark on an annual ceremony to pay their respects to their masters. Steeped in tradition, there are fights, dances and mongkhom blessings before a night of meals and entertainment. With our time in Bangkok at an end, we transfer to Phuket and a stay at Thanyapuura.
On arrival we’re given a full itinerary of activities and our own personal plan, which again has been prepared according to our goals. Saj, our resident boxer, is itching to train, so we head straight to the ring for some pad work and sparing. I’m given a training session by Anuj, which consists mostly of kicking a bag. Again, it’s a tough experience because these bags are hard and hurt your shins. For fighters, though, it’s a necessity to condition the bones.
With that done, it’s on to dinner and a drinks menu full of every healthy juice combo you can imagine, coupled with protein delights and detoxers. The menu alone shows that these guys mean business. The next day we have the chance to fully explore the facilities, which include Olympics pools, tennis courts, an athletics track, sports pitches, cycling facilities, gyms, boxing and studio classes. If you love sport and training, it’s heaven.
Our first booked activity of the day is ‘Project Extreme’ which we soon learn is an outside obstacle course… it’s 30 degrees and rising outside already.
In the afternoon I join the Muay Thai Fit cardio lesson, which is made up of many first timers here to learn like myself. I take this one in my stride and wait for my next lesson in Muay Thai Chaiya, a different style that incorporates more defensive moves. It’s a great session with a good friendly vibe that illustrates how you can come to one of these holidays as a beginner and learn at your own pace. I take the advantage of my slightly conditioned shins and brave some more bag work.
As a bit of light relief we’re handed a cheeky day off, which we spend on a boat trip incorporating the Phi Phi Islands made famous by Leonardo Di Caprio and co. in The Beach .
It’s an enjoyable reminder that these Muay Thai holidays aren’t just about training; they’re also about sampling this phenomenal country.
The following day we head south to the luxurious Vijjit hotel, but before I get the chance to even imagine the five-star surroundings I’m reminded of my 6am alarm. I have a yoga class at the infamous Tiger Gym.
The class is packed with people from across the world, again many of them females, dispelling my initial thought that the camp would be dominated by men.
After yoga, I quickly retreat back to the hotel for a full breakfast and a lounge by the pool. I feel slightly guilty given that Tiger is situated on a street that boasts more gyms, health food and supplement shops, juice bars, massages than even the healthiest streets around the world.
The guilt is short-lived. The afternoon session arrives fast and is followed swiftly by a strength and conditioning class; another full house of dedicated people, all sweating, panting, lifting and jumping.
With the trip coming to end, there’s just one last stop – our final gym, AKA, the one our fighter, Saj, is looking forward to the most. This was his fight camp last year and he’s fighting at the 02 on his return to the UK. He’s given a warm welcome, then swiftly put through his paces.
And me? I’m greeted by a trainer who has me doing flying kicks straight away. It’s another demonstration of just how well setup these camps are. If you want to train Muay Thai, these fight camps are perfect. You can’t help but be focused and train hard. Again, the AKA facilities offer fresh healthy food and drinks alongside a variety of classes and training rooms. I have my last session in the gym before summoning up my last drop of energy for a hill sprint up to my new room at the View Rawada.
Getting my breath back and hitting the infinity pool I consider my experience. Would I do it again? Without a doubt, yes. If I came with my family I could also get the best of both worlds by staying in one of the hotels and training with their facilities, while if I was coming to achieve fitness goals and was only focused on training, the training camps are both perfect and addictive.
So will I continue my Muay Thai training at home? I think so. I’ve got the basics, my shins are over the worst and it’s a brilliant workout. All of I have to do now is find a gym. Not in Thailand but in my hometown of Leeds.
Tiger Muay Thai – All-inclusive Package All classes included Accommodation near the camp All Meals included at the Tiger Grill Return flights with Thai Airways to Phuket Prices from: £779pp (one week)–£1,320pp (month)
AKA THAILAND – All Training Classes All classes, breakfasts included 4-star accommodation Return flights with Thai Airways Prices from: £730pp (one week)–£1,450pp (month)
Thanyapura Sports Hotel – Sports Package (Running/Swimming/Triathlon/Tennis) 5-star accommodation Breakfast included Return flights with Thai Airways One-week package: £1,200pp
Petchyindee Muay Thai Academy – Muay Thai Twice Daily Private accommodation Breakfast included Return flights with Thai Airways Prices from: £740pp (one week)–£1,270pp (month)
Call Trayvale Travel on 02075802928