I’ve lately been getting the same question a lot recently from people who want my advice on which Muay Thai camp they should train at in Thailand. For instance one man asked me for my “top three,” with the qualifier of where I learned the most and then I’ve gotten a few that just want to know “what’s the best gym?”
I can’t answer most of these questions – I actually haven’t trained at very many camps in Thailand. I’m not a traveler. In the case of the “top three,” I would be excluding one camp out of all the camps I’ve ever trained at here in Thailand in order to make that list. I’ve spent nearly two years at Lanna Muay Thai in Chiang Mai, about one month at Sasiprapa Gym in Bangkapi, Bangkok (about four years ago), and a total of 3-4 weeks at WKO and Petchrungruang gyms here in Pattaya. It’s hard to gauge where I “learned the most” because my time spent at each is not equal – did I learn more in two years than I did in a month? Probably. Did I get more devoted instruction and attention at WKO and Petchrungruang, where I came specifically to train almost with a tutor with Sakmongkol (WKO) and then as sometimes the only person at the gym in the morning at Petchrungraung? Well, yes – it’s an entirely different experience.
On top of this, I don’t know what you are looking for in a gym. Everyone is different. As a female fighter and at 100 lbs, what I find most valuable and the experiences I can have at a gym are very, very different from what a 150-200 lbs man might want from a gym. For example, Petchrungruang has been an incredibly valuable experience for me because it’s full of kids. As a 100 lbs woman, I have training partners for clinch that are near my size – and since they’re kids they have to train with me, whereas the older teens at Lanna are more autonomous -, which I don’t often have at other gyms. So the value for me is high, whereas a man who outsizes everyone at the gym is not going to be getting the practice and training that he wants/needs at a gym full of kids.
I feel like Sakmongkol has been “downloading” technique and information in our training with how much I’ve grown in a short time, but the attention and focus that I’m getting from him is based upon my relationship with him, having trained with him before and what he sees in me as a dedicated fighter. I don’t know what someone else’s experience with him would be. Further, I don’t know that I would be able to learn as much as I am right now at Petchrungruang and WKO if it weren’t for my two years already, growing steadily with training and fight experience at Lanna, not even counting the aid of having learned enough Thai to converse during training with my trainers which makes a big difference on several levels. My experience and place at Lanna for the past two years has also been hugely influenced by the fact that I train the way I do and fight, on average, every 10 days. Nobody else does that, so the relationship I’ve had with my trainers, with the Thai boys, with the owner, with the gym and the other people training there, even with the local stadia… all of it is influenced by the way I train, my work ethic and the frequency of fights. If you’re coming to Thailand to train as a beginner, for a shorter time, with different goals, a different gender, a different size, with a more reasonable pace of training and fighting – all of those things make what’s good for you and what your experiences might be different from what I’ve experienced; from what I’ve built.
I don’t mean to sound dismissive though. On the contrary, I wish I could just tell people where the best gym is, where they should live, etc. But I can’t advise so blindly. I also train full time, pretty much to the point of exhaustion, so having long discussions to find out what your situation is sometimes just isn’t possible. Even writing this blog frequently is a difficult task – though I try to stay in touch online as much as I can because I feel it is my responsibility to help share my perspective. The reason I chose Lanna was because I’d been there before and had a good experience, and the reason I’d been there before was because there was another small woman, a Canadian also named Sylvie (Charbonneau), who had spent five years there and accomplished 50 fights – so I knew it was possible to succeed there. But my experience – also from North America, also the same size, also named Sylvie – at the exact same camp has been very different from that Sylvie. There are simply too many variables, and camps change pretty quickly going through phases. So my answer is generally that you should start narrowing down your factors. Where do you want to be? What’s your budget? What kind of experience are you after? In short it’s most expensive on the islands and in Bangkok with living expenses getting less the farther north you go. There are more gym options down south and in Bangkok, more fight opportunities for average-to-large western bodies (on average Thais just simply don’t get as big as westerners do, so both men and women over 60 kg have more options in Bangkok and Phuket), but because big stadia don’t permit women to fight in them in Bangkok women might find more frequent fight opportunities outside of Bangkok (of this I’m not even sure). And all of this, everything, changes if you don’t intend to fight. Your place and value at a gym is determined by either being an asset as a fighter, in which your gym will be making an investment over a long period, or you’re a paying gym-member and your value is in the dues you’re paying on a monthly basis. That’s a different experience and one that is perhaps more common.
I recommend you take some time to do research for yourself on where you might like to be – based on lifestyle, budget, personal preferences, etc – in the country and take a look at reviews of gyms in that area. Some good resources are Muay Thai Camp in Thailand and Muay Thai Land. If you are a woman I recommend you join the group Female Muay Thai on Facebook – News, Archive and Rumours and try to find women who have trained at the gym that interests you and get advice from those who have personal experience (or who at least perhaps know someone who has trained there). You may also find my article Why Your Muay Thai Dreams Might Not Come True of importance, because commitment is maybe the biggest factor in determining the quality of your experience.
I understand that if you have never been to Thailand it’s a big deal. It is very hard to find dependable detailed information, and it feels almost like you are throwing a dart at a dart board. You want an “authentic” experience, you want to learn technique, you may want comforts, or not want comforts at all. For women in particular it can be difficult to choose. If you are a woman especially I’d be glad to help answer your questions if you can think about where you are at in your training, and get concrete about your expectations and needs, but also know that I’ve only experienced a few gyms, and that most of my experiences have been colored by my unique efforts and relationships in them, and others may not have the same experience or opportunities. But this can be true for you too, you can make a unique experience for yourself, short or long term. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org , tweet me at @_ittu or message my Facebook Page.