In August 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai as part of my honeymoon travels. And of course, being a martial artist, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to train muay thai in Thailand, no matter how jammed packed my schedule was. In the several days I was there, I was able to get in one private session and two class training sessions, at two separate muay thai gyms in Chiang Mai.
While my personal experience may be limited, I have several friends that have also traveled to other cities in Thailand to train. And it seems that our experience is pretty similar.
I came over there to train for fun. I was not looking to join a camp over there or train on a permament basis. So I imagine that my experience will be different than the experience of someone who is looking to go to Thailand to find a gym to fight out of.
So if you are wondering about what it is like to train muay thai casually in Thailand, read on.
Structure of The Classes
The structure of the class varies little between the gyms. The classes are typically 2 hours, with some gyms running classes 3 hours. There is usually a morning session and then an afternoon session for most of the gyms. Most gyms will run from Monday through Saturday.
The classes consist of the following:
Warm ups consist of either jumping ropes or shadow boxing. This is done the first 10 to 15 minutes of class to get the muscles to loosen up.
Each gym will have a plethora of bags. If there are more students than bags, they will usually put two people per bag and let you alternate. The type of bag work done will vary between gyms. Some classes will have you do HIIT style bag work where you punch continuously for minutes before getting a break. Other classes may have you work on combos.
Each gym will have at least one head trainer and a multitude of other trainers. Sometimes, the trainers will outnumber the people in class. Pad work will usually consist of 4-6 rounds. I loved doing pad work in Thailand, they were some of the greatest pad holders I have ever worked with. The energy the trainers exude is also extremely contagious---it definitely allowed me to continue for a little bit after I thought I was going to faint.
Sparring in muay thai gyms in Thailand is controlled and light. This might be because they don't want to scare people away from the gym or it may be just the culture of sparring there.
Of course, the people who go there to train full time have hard sparring sessions but if you are there casually training, expect sparring to be on the lighter side. Again, the same rules do apply though---they will go as hard as you go. So if you want to go a little harder, they will oblige.
If you are new to muay thai, do not let sparring be the reason you don't want to train in Thailand. The trainers know that training muay thai in Thailand is as much of a tourist activity as it is a pursuit of martial greatness. So the are well aware that most people that come in do not have much experience. They will work with you, and adjust the pace to your comfort level. Additionally, sparring will most likely be optional.
Of course, every class has some element of stretching in in. Some classes will have two stretching sessions, one right after warmup and one right before the end of class. While other gyms will only have one stretching session right before the end of class.
Experience Level of Trainees
Honestly, the experience level of the people training in the classes caught me a little off guard. The first gym I went to (Hong Thong Muay Thai) had accommodations for people who wanted to have a room at the gym. So I was expecting really serious fighters. And while there were definitely serious fighters there, there were a fair amount of beginners too.
The second gym I went to, there were a couple of experienced people with fights under their belts, but there were also a lot of beginners.
I guess I was expecting a lot more seasoned people to be training in the classes. But I suppose it makes sense, people from all walks of life will want to try their hands at muay thai when they are in its birthplace.
Costs are really even across the board, and you should be able to find classes for around 300 to 400 bahts per day (apprx $10 to $13). Of course, if you sign up for a week's worth of classes, it will bring that rate down.
Now if you sign up for 1-on-1 training with the instructors, it will be more expensive. I did private training with a head instructor and it cost me 1500 bahts (apprx $50). But that is on the higher end of the range. I found that many gyms were offering 1-on-1 private lessons for around 800 to 900 baths (apprx $26 to $30). Some gyms also offer small group private training, which will bring the cost of private training down a bit.
But is private training worth it? I don't think so. I did private training because I wanted to write about the experience and see what it is like. But honestly, it is not much different from regular class. Because they have so many trainers there during class, you are already getting 1-on-1 training during class time that it makes private training kind of redundant.
Obviously, if you are a seasoned pro wanting to get some bits out of knowledge from a Lumpinee or Rajadamnern champion, you should definitely pay for private lessons. However, if you just want to do padwork, I would just pay for classes.
Here are two videos that I took of the facilities I trained at. The first one is Hong Thong Muay Thai, a cover outside gym. The second one is Sit Thaharnaek, a gym located inside, on the second floor of a building.
Besides those two gyms, I went around and looked at a few other gyms.
Every gym will have a plethora of bags, trainers, and at least one boxing ring. The smell in there? Yeah, it doesn't smell very good. Even if the gym is outdoors, it doesn't smell all that great. I'm not sure if they bleach their ring/mats after every training class but I'm guessing not.
As far as equipment goes, I brought my own equipment because I hate using other people's equipment. But if you don't have equipment of your own, they will have plenty for you to use.
Essentially, the gyms will have everything necessary for you to start. All you have to do is bring yourself.
There you have it. That was my experience training muay thai in Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai. If you are interested in martial arts, I definitely think this is something you have to do if you are in Thailand.