I've been to Thailand for training 4 times now over the last 8 years for periods lasting between 5 weeks and 12 weeks and until my last visit I spent all of that time living and training in Bangkok. I chose Bangkok because that is where the majority of the best fighters in the world are based, where the two most prestigious venues for Muay Thai, Rajadamnerm & Lumpinee stadium, are. And where the most serious and intense fight training happens. I had never considered training anywhere else because I've always seeked to avoid 'tourist' gyms. My ideal gym in Thailand was one where there were a maximum of 3 other foreigners training there and the less the better. I always wanted to submerse myself fully into the culture of being a professional Thai fighter in Thailand and felt this would not be possible in a gym full of foreigners.
It wasn't until my third stay in Thailand when after a fight I visit Koh Phangan, an island in the South of Thailand, that I decided I wanted to try a gym in Koh Samui. It was the beauty of this tropical paradise that changed my mind. I wanted to stay there forever and thought how amazing it would be to train in a place as wonderful and picturesque as this.
So my next trip I visited Taling Ngam gym In Koh Samui where i stayed for 5 weeks fighting once at Chaweng stadium.
The differences were many both in training and outside of training. For one, I was staying in a beautiful spacious apartment for relatively cheap. Then there was also the beautiful beaches to relax on in between training. And the general peacefulness of the sparsely populated area I stayed in. All of these things when compared to Bangkok were a massive improvement. In regards to the actual training there were a few differences. The first being the length. Training sessions in Bangkok were always 3 to 4 hours each, whereas here they were roughly 2 hours. The gym itself was a lot cleaner and better equipped than any gym I've trained at in Bangkok. The training regiment was slightly less demanding also. Morning sessions would consist of a non compulsory 5 - 10km jog followed by a little bag work and either technical sparring or padwork or both. It was very much up to you how hard you wanted to train and what you wanted to do in the morning sessions. The afternoon sessions began with another optional 5km jog followed by 30 mins skipping then shadow boxing, bag work, pad work and finished off with 30 mins to an hour of clinch work. The only negative was the lack of high level active fighters who are great to watch, train with and learn from and also inspire you to work harder.
My experiences of staying in Bangkok are quite different. The 1st time I went, 8 years ago, I was only 19 and it was a complete culture shock. I had never been outside of Europe so to suddenly find myself in the middle of Bangkok was quite a lot to take in. I stayed in a pretty crappy apartment with a friend who had travelled with me and we would walk back and forth to Chuwattana gym which was 30 mins away. Bangkok to me is not a great place to stay, at the time I loved it but the romance has since died. If you like cities though then you'll probably love it. The gym was very basic at the time, there was a concrete floor, 5 rock hard bags and a ring. It was pretty dirty, full of cockroaches and rats. The training however was amazing. Chuwattana, at that time, was home to a whole bunch of champions. Two of the biggest names there were Jomthong and Lamsongkram, but there were also loads of others. Pretty much every fighter there was top top level so even just watching them train was a pleasure and would blow my mind. The training regiment here was fairly similar except the sessions were around 3 hours and there was no jog in the afternoon due to the surrounding area being very busy. Training next to world champions was so inspiring and being able to spar with them was a dream come true. Outside of training however was not as great, there are no beautiful beaches to relax on and leaving the gym or the apartment was always an energy consuming task with the vast crowds in this densely populated area. The home cooked food at the gym however was amazing particularly the Masaman which the madam knew was my favourite dish and would make for me often. I visited Chuwattana gym twice and felt I improved greatly both times.
The third time I visited Thailand was almost 6 years later and I felt like I wanted a fresh start, so after trying sessions in a few gyms I'd heard of I found Meenayothin Gym in Bangkok. This gym was awesome. Very spacious, great fighters and also lovely food. The training here was gruelling. Running was 15km in the morning and about 8km in the afternoon. Pad work was compulsary twice a day and if you were tired and tried to slack off or miss a session they would send one of the fighters to drag you out of bed lol. I loved the training at this gym. Life outside of training was not so great though. Its in an awkward area so finding your own accomodation is not too convenient. I stayed in an apartment behind the gym. I was on the 9th floor of a big tower block. A friend of mine stayed there with me for a couple weeks and said it was worse than prison! I have to take her word for it. The main thing that bothered me was the lack of wifi which made me feel somewhat isolated. There wasn't anything to do in the immediate area and the training being very challenging meant I spent all of my time in my room resting. I suffered from insomnia badly whilst staying there, I would only sleep in the afternoon after the morning session was done for about 3 hours and at night I'd lie there awake which sucked. The fighters, trainers and owner of this gym were the most welcoming and friendly people I've come across in Thailand and made me feel like a part of the family. Everyone there would constantly offer their advice and stop what they were doing to help correct or teach a technique.
It's a hard choice for me to say which is better between training in Bangkok and training in Koh Samui all things considered. I think if I'm honest with myself I improved more each time I stayed in Bangkok than I did in Koh Samui, I believe that was partly because I pushed myself harder to keep up with the numerous champions who were my training parters. But the quality of life in Koh Samui is 1000 times better. I also enjoyed the training in Koh Samui because it was a more fun, less serious, less pressured atmosphere and if I was feeling run down and wanted to take it easy that was fine. I'm in two minds as to where I want to go next time I visit Thailand. The fighter in me wants to stay in Bangkok but the rest of me is longing for paradise and the friends I made whilst I was there. Or maybe it's time to try somewhere new again. I've heard great things about gyms in areas like Isaan where most of the fighters on the Bangkok circuit learnt their skills before being sold to the bigger Bangkok gyms. In truth there are so many great gyms in Thailand and I'd love to visit them all but for my next trip I need to make up my mind as to where I will call home.
I'd love to hear your experiences of different gyms and areas in Thailand. Feel free to share some info or advise in the comments section.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post or found it useful in some way.