World-wide, people are lining up at Muay Thai gyms and paying a pretty penny to kick, punch and sweat their way to new fitness levels with this ancient martial art. Although Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing as it’s sometimes called, originated in Thailand and has been practiced there for centuries, Muay Thai tourism is exploding. And it's making Thailand the perfect destination for a fitness-inspired vacation. Here’s a guide to getting your Muay Thai fix.
Immerse Yourself at a Muay Thai Camp
A Muay Thai camp is essentially like an all-inclusive resort, where your accommodation and meals are included, together with the classes and training fees. There are endless camp options available across Thailand.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT CAMP FOR YOU
When doing your research, contact the camp with any questions and read the reviews. Camps can vary widely with respect to class size and the seriousness of attendees, some with less focus on training and more of a party atmosphere.
If you’re interested in keeping the focus on fitness, choose a camp like KYN Muay Thai camp on Koh Yao Noi Island in southwest Thailand. It's a half hour boat ride from Phuket or Krabi, through the crystal blue water of the Andaman Sea, and past dramatic karst cliffs (limestone formations rising out of the water).
At KYN, the personable owner, 10-time superstar Muay Thai champion, Hlukhin Wassantasit, and his staff work with whatever your goals are, whether it’s weight loss, getting in shape, or if you want to go all the way to fight competitions. Be sure to register ahead as this camp keeps its classes small to be able to give personal attention to each student.
Train at an Affordable Luxury Hotel
137 Pillars Bangkok
If a camp sounds too hard-core, opt for affordable luxury at an upscale hotel. Most offer Muay Thai training options in their gyms and private classes are about a third of the cost of Canadian classes.
For example, 137 Pillars Bangkok offers a Muay Thai package for approximately $542 USD. It includes a two-night stay for two, boxing classes with professional trainers, a set of gloves, massage and other perks - on top of your accommodation in a luxury suite.
An option like this offers you plenty of time to hop aboard a tuk-tuk and roam Bangkok. Get your fill of markets and famous temples like the Grand Palace or Wat Pho, where the 46-metre-long Reclining Buddha lies. There are limitless numbers of restaurants to choose from and Thai food, with its emphasis on fruits and veggies, is naturally healthy so you can stick to your fitness regime.
Watch the Pros
To see how the experts do it, visit Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok where you will likely be one of the few foreigners watching Thai boxers duke it out.
Operating since 1945, Rajadamnern is the oldest boxing stadium in Thailand. It was also the setting for boxing scenes in the 1974 James Bond movie, Man with the Golden Gun. This film was the first exposure many Westerners had to Muay Thai.
Wearing a special headdress (mongkon), fighters start off by performing wai kru, a ritualistic dance which symbolizes respect and a request for protection from their masters and Buddha. At the same time, it demonstrates fighters' prowess to the audience, many of whom are placing their bets via frantic hand gestures with the on-site bookies.
As the fight progresses, the live trance-like music (a two-headed drum and a Javanese flute) gets progressively faster as the fighters quicken their strikes and punches. The crowd is worked into a cheering, screaming frenzy.
For 2,500 Thai bhat (about $100 CAD) you can book a ring-side seat. You'll be so close to the action that you’ll almost have to dodge flying sweat droplets.
Join the Festivities
Time it right (the spring) and catch the annual Wai Kru Muay Thai Festival held in historical Ayutthaya, just 80 kilometres north of Bangkok. At this day-long event, international fighters compete in the ring (there’s betting here as well), and in between matches you can browse booths selling boxing equipment, advertising training courses, or displaying ancient weapons.
There’s even a booth where you can get a Sak Yant tattoo, the traditional Thai tattoo done by hand. At the official ceremony at the end of the day, Muay Thai boxers from all over the world line-up to take part in the rituals to show respect for their teachers and past masters.
This previous Siamese capital of Thailand has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage property, and is peppered with prangs (spire-like shrines), temples and other historical finds and is well worth a look-see.
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