Whenever a newbie is visiting Thailand, you can guarantee that, at some point, they will come out with something like “This isn’t what I expected training in Thailand to be like at all”, or words to that effect. The media, elaborate martial arts movies and muay Thai camp websites/social media profiles are largely to blame for this. Everyone who comes to Thailand for the first time seems to think they are Jean-Claude Van Damme in the movie “Kickboxer”, and that they are going to be kicking down trees to train up for their fight with Tong Po.
I remember one of the misconceptions that I had when I first came to Thailand was that all of the beaches would look just like they did in the brochure; white sand, clear blue ocean with not a single person in sight…but, oh wait, there’s actually people on them in real life…a lot of people!
Gym websites often paint a warped image of training in Thailand to encourage tourists to train in their gym by telling people that they will be training in paradise on a tropical island and such. It’s not an out and out lie, Phuket is classed as a tropical island, but I would hardly call training in a built-up tourist spot on a main road “paradise”.
Travel brochures and the media will have you believe that Thailand is the “land of smiles” and that you, as a foreign visitor, will be welcomed with open arms and no-strings-attached politeness and helpfulness by the Thai people.
Anyone who actually been to Thailand knows that this isn’t the case. In reality, training in Thailand is very different. I’m going to dispel a few myths here and give everyone a few things that they can look forward to which aren’t too unrealistic.
What you won’t be doing while training in Thailand
Kicking down trees
Let’s nip this one in the bud straight away. Despite what people will tell you (people that probably haven’t been to Thailand), Thais don’t kick trees to toughen up their shins. It’s another muay Thai myth.
In fact, they don’t use any of those crazy methods that you see circulating the internet. I know it would have made a great Facebook profile photo but it’s just not going to happen! Sorry.
The only thing that Thais do to condition their shins is kick bags and pads. That’s it. You’ll get enough of that in your daily training routine so you won’t have to worry about making extra time for smashing your bones to pieces with bottles or rolling bamboo up and down your shins.
Getting one-on-one training with your “master” in the middle of the jungle
A lot of people have the idea that they will be the only foreigner training at the muay Thai camp and that it’s going to be situated in some far away place hundreds of meters high in the mountains or in the jungle. The thing is, they booked their place at the gym online…via the gym website…the same way everyone else did. Chances are, there will be numerous other foreigners training at the camp too.
OK, I’ve been to a couple of gyms where I was the only foreigner there. But those gyms don’t have fancy websites or social media profiles. You have to do a bit of leg work to find them. The gyms I am talking about are the gyms with no website and no social media presence, and you have just enough information to find the place. Get an address, jump on the back of a motorbike taxi and go find it!
Living in a wooden shed
It’s a myth that you have to live in sub-standard accommodation while training in Thailand. I mean, you can if you want to. I have done it on more than one occasion, but that’s mainly because I didn’t have any money! Of course, if I had the cash, I would have been living it up in a mansion like Hugh Hefner with girls and champagne on tap. But seriously, most people come to Thailand with the intention of “roughing” it and living in the muay Thai gym with the Thais. Maybe because they want a story to tell their grand kids or something? I don’t know. But as soon as they get here, all they want to do is run away to their air-conditioned hotels to get a good night’s sleep.
Thailand has awesome accommodation options for visitors, and at a much cheaper price than you’re probably used to back home. Most types of accommodation are available, whatever part of Thailand you choose to train in. From budget fan rooms in hostels and guesthouses, all the way up to five star hotels on the beach front, it’s all there. Just decide on your acceptable comfort level and budget to decide what option suits you most.
If you want to try and live like a Thai, then give it a go. If not, then go another route. Don’t think that it’s something you have to do while training in Thailand.
Getting drunk, dancing like a douche bag and starting a bar brawl
Well, actually, there’s a good chance you’ll do this one. Everyone has to let their hair down once in a while when training in Thailand, right? Obviously, the scene with Van Damme in the bar is slightly exaggerated, even I couldn’t dance that badly and still pick up two hot chicks.
Honestly though, getting aggressive while you’re out and about in Thailand is not a good idea. It may be more accepted in the tourist spots such as Phuket or Pattaya but if its happening in a more authentic part of Thailand, they won’t put up with any of your crap and you’ll probably find a head kick coming your way before long…or worse. Don’t follow Van Damme’s example and try to beat up a load of Thais in a bar…. Never have a street-fight with a Thai in Thailand.
What you will be doing while training in Thailand
Training harder than ever
This is a great opportunity to really push yourself physically and develop a very steep learning curve. If you put in the hours and work hard, you’ll learn a hell of a lot in a short space of time.
The training in Thailand may be a big step up for a lot of people in terms of training intensity and volume. That, coupled with the timezone difference and the fact that you haven’t acclimatised yet will make for an extremely challenging first couple of weeks. If you have a long stay ahead of you, you don’t need to worry about missing the odd session during these early stages of your stay. However, if your time is limited – try to stick with it. Don’t make the mistake of coming to Thailand but hardly training because you were tired. Learn as much as you possibly can, even if you just do technique work to give your body a rest.
Limit the possibility of failing to turn up to sessions by working as hard as you can while you’re at home before you make the trip to Thailand.
Training with top class muay Thai fighters and trainers
Thailand gyms have some of the best fighters and trainers in the world, Thai and foreign. As soon as the myths about training in Thailand are cleared from your mind, the sooner you can knuckle down and take advantage of the top class training that is (hopefully) on offer. After all, the training is the reason you came here, right? Does it really matter if anything else didn’t meet your expectations?
In my opinion, the thing that matters most is the training. It’s nice to have all the characteristics of the best muay Thai camps in Thailand, but I would choose good training partners and trainers over any of the other characteristics any day of the week.
It’s good to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Just travelling to Thailand in the first place will achieve this. Personally, every time I step in the ring, I am waaaay out of my comfort zone…and I love it. Fighting is the perfect way to test your muay Thai skills, if that is what you want to do. However, just training in Thailand and sticking to the rigorous routine their should do the trick too.
Oh, and if you’re thinking about fighting, you might want to read this post I wrote on why you should definitely NOT have a muay Thai fight!
Experiencing a new culture
Travelling broadens the mind in so many ways and training in Thailand is a great opportunity to do that. Thailand’s culture is very different from the Western ways; you’ll meet new people, eat amazing food, learn a new language, create some great memories. On top of that, you’ll be learning new muay Thai skills and improving the skills you already have to no end. Let’s be honest, nobody goes to their grave wishing they had traveled less.
So, there you have it. A few myths about training in Thailand have been busted and a few reality checks have been prescribed. The only thing left to do now is to get out there and experience it for yourself!Follow MuayThaiScholar