a Guest Post by Honey Badger MG
I had traveled 22 hours and spent a week traveling the country with my fiancé. We explored the cities, visited the wats, and bathed elephants in a river surrounded by the mountains of Chiang Mai. I finally stepped foot in a gym for the first time in Thailand on Koh Lanta, it was a small place with friendly trainers who gave me a lot of personal attention. I trained once a day and got used to the heat, prepping myself for what I anticipated to be intense “authentic” twice a day training in the following week. I had done a lot of research before choosing a gym, I agonized over it, knowing this may be my one and only chance in my lifetime to train in Thailand. I talked to friends who train back home, read endless gym reviews online and even asked Sylvie for her opinion. I made my final choice for a gym in Phuket (the final destination I was visiting with my fiancé) based on their reputation for having excellent training, being very female friendly, and having “some of the best female fighters in the world”. I paid in advance and booked myself in to their accommodations for a week.
My fiancé and I parted ways on a Friday afternoon in Phuket Town, he went to the airport and I took a taxi directly to the gym, luggage and all, so that I could make it in time for the afternoon session. I didn’t want to miss one minute of training. I felt right away something was off about this place, but chalked it up to the first day feeling out experience and told myself to stick it out. I went back for two more sessions the next day but it was more of the same, but worse. I was reprimanded for improvising during pads and when I asked about sparring was told I could maybe spar after I’d been there for two weeks. I had a fight scheduled two weeks after my return to Canada, this was bullshit. I was angry, but also devastated. I had made the trip literally around the world, trained for so long, saved to make my dream a reality and it was a total disappointment. My gym in Canada is a tight knit family; everyone had been excitedly following my journey and I just kept thinking about what I would tell everyone about my training when they inevitably asked on my return.
When we originally landed in Phuket I sent out a tweet, something to the effect of Patong having no charm and being too chaotic for me. Sylvie responded to me that I was welcome to go train with her in Pattaya if I got tired of it. After the Saturday session I made the decision, I was leaving Phuket and going to train with Sylvie. I had nothing to lose by going, other than the money I had spent on my overpriced accommodations and training package in Phuket. From the minute I landed in Thailand I was always conscious of the fact that I may never be able to return and that I had to take advantage of every opportunity and adventure that came my way. Luckily domestic travel is relatively affordable in Thailand so I hopped on a plane and headed to Pattaya. Sylvie and Kevin were incredibly kind and booked me a unit in their apartment building. Sylvie was training when I arrived, I was given a warm welcome by Kevin and Jai Dee and he showed me to my room. When Sylvie knocked on my door a short while later the first thing I thought was, “man, she is TINY!” Trying to keep up the façade that I am a polite respectable person I didn’t say it out loud, since it’s generally considered rude to remark on someone’s size or appearance before you even got to “hello”. The three of us had a lovely dinner where I began asking questions that didn’t stop until they dropped me off at Suvarnabhumi airport 4 days later.
Earlier in our correspondence Sylvie asked me how much Muay Thai I wanted while I was there, I responded “all of it”… little did I know. Training started the next day at 7am. When Sylvie says she trains A LOT, she is not kidding. Her schedule is no joke. The days I trained with her went like this: 10km run in the morning (full disclosure, Sylvie did 10km; we split up halfway when I returned to the apartment for breakfast and she carried on). Head to Petchrungruang for session one – shadow, pads, bag work, conditioning. These were my favourite (heads up, I am going to say every session was my favourite). In the mornings we were the only people at the gym. Petchrungruang is down a soi off one of the main highways in Pattaya. There are two rings (one for kids), about 5 heavy bags, a separate room with weights and mirrors, and a shop in the front. It’s underneath a building, there is NO breeze here. Sylvie accurately described it as “training in a tin can”.
Kru Nu held for me that first day and I finally had that out of breath want to die feeling I’d been looking for. On the surface it doesn’t look like anything different, but he maintains a steady pace from the beginning, and the flow is so smooth, you don’t notice him picking it up and pushing you even further. The first time I heard Sylvie hit pads I was shadow boxing in the other room, I stopped in my tracks and said “holy fuck”. Everything was a bit surreal, so I spent a lot of time standing around staring like a weirdo, taking it all in. Petchrungruang couldn’t be more different than the gym in Phuket. There are no group classes, no structured drills you’re guided through, and it’s not filled with 100% farang students.
Modt Ek called me out for pads that afternoon. I really liked his style, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy holding pads for me. He would be my pad holder for the rest of my time at the gym. Even though both Kru Nu and Modt Ek speak English they said very little to me during our sessions, instead relying on the natural flow of the movements, making it even more of a beautiful experience. Afternoon sessions start again with shadow boxing and bag work, but we would then make our way in to clinching and sparring, plus more conditioning. I’m 5’9” and walk at 170lbs when I’m not training, this is on the ginormous end for a female fighter, even more so in Thailand, so I was a bit concerned about finding clinching partners my size. Kru Nu was kind enough to arrange for me to clinch with Lotus, a 16 year old fighter at the gym, who is active and a champion at both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums, and also quite large compared to a typical 16 year old Thai boy. I’m well aware of all that comes along with women training and especially clinching with the opposite sex in Thailand, and I didn’t need to speak Thai to understand the side conversations and chuckles directed at Lotus were directly related to the intensity with which he cranked on my neck. There was definitely a lot of what we refer to as “chirping” back home. [For non-Canadians, this is like “razzing” or “joshing.”] Nonetheless, I took it for the amazing opportunity that it was and soldiered through, even though it resulted in me being barely able to move my head for the rest of the trip. And besides, Kru Nu has this way of looking at you and just motioning for you to clinch that comes across very clearly as not being optional. The afternoon sessions are much busier, with lots of little kids running around, training and playing, and the rest of the fighters and a few farang putting their work in.
After session 2 at Petchrungruang we hopped on our motorbikes and headed to O. Meekhun, riding the wrong way on the sidewalk and cutting across the highway with the pack of riders all headed across town. O. Meekhun is the home of now famous Phet Jee Jaa. Is it weird to say I was nervous to meet a kid? When we got there she sized me up and said something in Thai, Sylvie translated it to “I can take her”. I would tend to agree. Here we did more pad work, and Sylvie would clinch with the kids while I enjoyed watching. I didn’t take any pictures here, which I really regret. Sangweean has the most infectious laugh and radiant smile. I’ll never forget doing sit ups while he sat across my legs, saying I could be a champion at 60kg (ha! maybe if I get a tapeworm). O. Meekhun is totally open with a field and a beautiful view of Pattaya across from it. If I do ever make it back to Thailand I will definitely spend more time training there, as to me that place just felt like love.
On the third day, near the end of the second session, the reality of where I was and what I was doing finally sunk in and hit me. I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of these people who were strangers just a few days ago, by being able to live out my dream in a way even better than I had imagined, plus I was absolutely exhausted, and I found myself on the brink of tears (wouldn’t be the first time I’ve cried after training, but I held it together this time). It was eye opening for me to see for myself just how hard Sylvie trains. She not only does a high amount of training, but she does it with an intensity that never dies. I think you have to see it to really understand it. I don’t think this woman knows how to do anything half assed. Being able to train like that, to have a singular focus and push myself, brought me back to that place where Muay Thai is again something personal for me, something that helps balance and centre me, and connects my body and mind. It’s also made me a spoiled asshole who only wants to hit pads every day, but hey. I will be eternally grateful to Sylvie and Kevin for all they did for me, and to Kru Nu, Modt Ek, everyone who trained with me at Petchrungruang and the whole O. Meekhun family for saving my trip and sharing their world with me.
From my experience I can tell you that even if you do your homework you still might not get the experience you’re looking for in Thailand. Running a gym is a business, and sometimes that can override the quality of training offered. Talk to as many people as you can who’ve trained there before. Unfortunately for me the gym I had chosen seems to have changed in the last few years. Having realistic expectations and being open to changing your plans will go a long way. I’ve always been the type of person to take risks and go after things I want, I learned even more how that can pay off on this trip. I took with me more than I could ever write in one blog post, so the best thing to do would be to go for yourself! If you live and breathe Muay Thai, it’s a must. Hop on a plane, train your ass off, take every opportunity that comes your way, and have some iced coffees and watermelon shakes while you’re there.
If you enjoyed this post you may like this one, showing my typical training day: