From the moment you turn off the highway it’s an uphill climb to Kem Muaythai Gym. The road is paved, but barely wide enough for cars to squeeze by one another if there happens to be someone on the way down at the same time. And it strikes me as we navigate the narrow path that it seems a single heavy rain could wash away the road all together, although that clearly hasn’t happened. My first thought is, “what an awesome run this would be.”
One of the western men training at the gym confirms my attraction to the run, saying it’s about 4 km straight up and he ran it during his first week at the camp and hasn’t fully recovered yet. I’m not sure that there’s a lot of running around the gym that isn’t a mountain slope, but certainly there are other options. The location and feeling of remoteness of the gym is romantic, like an old Shaolin training sequence or a Van Damme montage in the jungle. Standing at the canteen at the top of the stairs that overlook the gym, you can see out over a seemingly endless valley – it’s only mountains in the distance which let you know where the limits are. Claire, an Australian woman who has been training and fighting out of the gym on and off for a long time now, tells me, “the lightning storms from here are incredible.”
Kem is the famed Kem Sitsongpeenong. He started at the renowned Sor. Pleonjit gym, winning the 122 lb belt of Thailand, and the 130 lb Rajadamnern belt in 2007. He then became a Fairtex Pattaya fighter in 2008, and came to represent Sitsongpeenong until 2014. You can read more about Kem’s career and the gym here.
Visit the Kem Muaythai Gym website here for lots of photos.
In what follows I’ve added a lot of video, mostly so if you are seriously considering the gym you have enough material to wade through. Video shows what a space is like, and its good to look all around the frame.
Video Walk Through of Kem’s Gym
above, here’s a quick shot on arrival, during my first visit, gives a good feel of walking up on the gym space
above, this is my video walk through of the gym and the area, filmed in my first visit
Apart from the romantic location and ambiance of this gym, or maybe in addition to it, the training illustrates a real “fighter’s gym.” In my two visits I saw only a couple westerners, a few Thai boys and Thai fighters and everyone trains very hard and there are some big name fighters (holy shit, it’s Yodwicha!) in the stable as well. The facilities are modern, nice matted floors and quality bags and pads. Today I walk across a series of bridges over a fish-pond to reach the communal restroom to change into my shorts. There’s a couple toilets and a shower but the building is clearly not used very often. Everyone seems to live in dorms above the ring (I didn’t see those, they were occupied – photos of rooms can be seen here) so the communal area I was in doesn’t see a lot of souls. The fighters living right above the gym means it’s a pretty close group and they all eat up at the canteen at the top of the hill as well. That elevated area is surrounded by a few nice bungalows, which are a “resort” for per diem visitors, so if you want a different option for your living quarters you could stay in one of those instead of the fighter dorms (I believe these are the same price as Single rooms, and have King Size bed so well suited for couples). It’s a true fighter’s gym in the middle of a mountain jungle but it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re “roughing it” or camping. You can bust your ass training in the gym with fighters rather than claim your authenticity because of no running water and 10 guys sleeping on the floor or whatever. And seeing Kem hop into the ring with some of his fighters doing their padwork and watch from the corner, then step in to demonstrate a move he wants them to practice, it’s unmistakable how beautiful his Muay Thai is. And he has an eagle on on his fighters. I could see some similarities between what Kem does and what Yodwicha does, although their bodies and styles are so different that they don’t look like taught “moves.” That’s exciting to me. Everyone having the same “moves” isn’t how gyms work, but seeing how that same tactic fits on so many different bodies, levels, and personalities of fighters is awesome. It’s variations on a theme, rather than uniformity. This is a living fighters gym.
above are 3 rounds of padwork I did at Kem’s Gym on my first visit
I did some rounds of padwork with one of the trainers (above) who I’d witnessed absolutely smash it with one of the young Thai fighters. I’m sure he had no idea what to expect from me, but when I messed around with him and went off-script he was very agreeable and played right back, which is a sign of a good fighterly padholder. I got put on the ground way more than I would have if I’d just kicked when he asked me to kick, that’s a good thing. After mentioning to him that I’m a knee fighter, he did his best to drain my gas tank dry and then make fun of me for it, saying Muay Khao can’t get tired. Again, a great sign of a holder who is thinking about me as a particular fighter. It was fun and he offered a lot of variation in what he was calling for. Definitely not a same-5-combos type of padholding.
I’ve had a lot of padholders, mostly due to traveling around for my private sessions for Nak Muay Nation. I’m not really interested in comparing trainers, as it doesn’t mean anything out of context, but I do look for a few particular qualities in what I deem, for myself, to be good padwork. First is how fight-oriented the patterns are. If a trainer is just going through the motions and they’re not connected to meaningful body positions and pressures that will be presented in an actual opponent, then you’re just exercising. Linked to that is a trainer who can turn up the pressure and make adjustments throughout the rounds to make sure that you’re challenged, but also with a sensitivity to that pressure being for a purpose, rather than just being a pissing contest that a student can never win. This padwork gets a gold star on both criteria. It was fun, there was correction, it was hard and it forced me to make decisions and suffer the consequences (lightly).
above are a few rounds of clinching I got in on my first visit to the camp
I was incredibly lucky in being able to clinch with Yodwicha’s younger brother, and even superstar Yodwicha (check out about 6:10 in the video), for a good chunk of time. Not every gym offers a lot of clinch – some gyms just aren’t clinching gyms – but at Kem’s gym there are some world-class, top clinch fighters: Yodwicha, one of the best clinch fighters and co-Fighter of the Year (with Sangmanee), and Kem himself. Kem is an unreal clincher! At Kem’s gym they clinch both in the morning and evening sessions, which is pretty uncommon as far as I’ve seen. You can see in the video for some it’s just getting in the water and learning to swim in terms of learning how to clinch, but there’s also a head trainer overlooking everything.
Both Yodwicha and his brother are significantly bigger than I am, so it bears mentioning how controlled and generous they are in being able to work with me. I find that in new environments I can either get kid gloved to the point that the work is frustrating and pointless, because the bigger boys/men don’t want to “hurt” a woman, or it can go to the other end of the scale where they don’t want to clinch with a female so they just beat the shit out of me. I prefer the latter to the former, but that’s also not very good. You can see that Yodwicha’s brother tones it down to adjust for our size and skill discrepancy and, as such, I’m able to get some good angles and moves that in a 100% power situation wouldn’t be possible due to our sizes. But he’s also not “allowing” me to do anything; I have to work for it and I get moderate punishment for it as well.
Clinching for Tall Fighters
One of the particularities of this gym is that it would be a nice gym for clinch for tall fighters, in fact I’ve recommended it to several tall western fighters who have asked me. With Yodwicha there you can have access to one of the best tall clinch fighters in Thailand, and it’s a gym that would understand the requirements and tactics of a taller fighters. It’s hard to get solid, rigorous clinch training in Thailand, and if you are taller maybe even more so, because angles matter.
Yodwicha – Resident Superstar
He’s got to be one of the nicest people I’ve met in Thailand. It’s almost a cliche how nice Thai Muay Thai fighters can be, but Yodwicha may be the poster boy of that, the one who’s picture is in the dictionary. I’ve shot two private sessions with him for coming Patreon Only content – and he just was amazing. Patient, kind, instructive…and freaking skilled. Training in a gym with him can only be a good thing. He’s maybe 20 and now his fight career seems focused on International fights, so he’s in the process of expanding his fight style from the absolutely dominant clinch monster he was at Lumpinee as a late teen. Below are a few interesting training videos I shot showing some of his work, one using two padholders. (I’ve borrowed from this after seeing it, using two bags to practice getting shots off quickly in two directions.)
Yodwicha working body punches, above
Yodwicha with two padmen, above
Clinching With Yodwicha
video with commentary, me clinching with Yodwicha
above is about 5 minutes of me clinching with Yodwicha, watchable if only for the humor of our size differences. We were there to film a clinch technique session for my Patreon Only Supporter’s content, and we shot 30 minutes of technique after this. And we returned two months later to shoot another session, the first was so good. Both sessions with commentary will be available to Patreon supporters for a minimum pledge $1 a month, to help keep this website going. Pledge here.
The video below is of us doing pushups together at the end of training. This really isn’t my sort of thing, I’m mostly a work on my own person, but it does show that even though there can be a wide range of skill levels in the gym there is a sense that everyone is training together.
Recommendations – Who is this gym best for?
It’s not easy recommending gyms for people. I get this question all the time and there are so many different variables. I don’t even recommend my own gym, which is the best gym I’ve ever been in, widely, because it’s best for me, and what’s best for me isn’t what’s best for everyone. I’m adding Kem’s Gym to my short list of long term recommended gyms (Sitmonchai is the other one) because I’ve heard good things from people who have stayed there over time, and in visiting I can see what it is all about. It is a serious fighter’s gym, big time. From what I understand there are lots of fighting opportunities in local Isaan cards, which is really nice. Isaan fighting is some of the best venue fighting in all of Thailand. They also book their western fighters at MAX in Pattaya as well. There are Thais training at a very high level there, and even some Thai kids training too, which is always a sign of life and family in a gym. It also is an absolute gorgeous location gym. It’s high atop a mountain with lush valley all around. It’s not beach and bars vacation, it’s “fuck, I’m in the middle of Thailand! vacation”. And the gym itself has a very comforting, and has Thai style resort feel to it (Thai resort style feels solid, relaxed, open aired, a little like an American ranch). Kem Muaythai Gym is like the best of a grungy Bangkok fighter’s gym with none of the grunge, in fact it’s picture postcard all around. But if you aren’t there to work and bust your butt you’ll probably be bored and not be getting all you can out of it. You have to dive right in.
On my first visit, when Kem was away for a card, I dealt almost exclusively with his wife Mo who had a little English (though we spoke Thai so I’m not sure how much). She is very, very nice, and runs the gym as a tight ship.
So I recommend for these people:
- long term stays – at least 2 weeks, probably a month min. is best
- clinch fighters – including taller fighters
- intermediate to advanced fighters who want to fight a lot
- only very adventurous and independent beginners
- not a lot of English spoken, must be open to that
You can contact Kem Muay Thai Gym through their Facebook Page here.
There is wifi at the gym, reportedly strong enough for watching video
All prices include breakfast and dinner, and training twice a day.
Single room – 1,400 baht/night.
For 1 month (30 days) = 39,000 baht (save 100 baht a/night)
Twin share room 1,200 baht/night.
For 1 month (30 days) = 30,000 bath (save 200 baht/night)
The gym can arrange to pick up you from airport, they charge 2,400 baht for transport from/to the airport – this is for both arrival and departure after your trip – just show your ticket to the gym when you arrive.
Google Map of Kem’s Muaythai Location
If driving on your own you are going to need this Google Map location. As the gym can arrange for travel to and from the airport in Bangkok they can probably help with other transportation.