Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok

Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok

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If you’ve been to one of Bangkok’s famous muay Thai (Thai boxing) stadiums, you know how brutally effective this so-called “art of eight-limbs” can be: fallen combatants are regularly removed from the ring by stretcher. An increasing number of travellers to Bangkok aren’t content to merely watch the sport -- they want to get their hands dirty and experience or train muay Thai.

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Until a few years ago, this usually meant heading up country and putting in a month or more at a muay Thai camp intended mostly for Thai athletes. Language barriers, training regimes and the vast gulf in skill between foreign beginners and local boxers made this a daunting prospect, to say the least. Fortunately, several gyms have now opened in Bangkok that cater mostly to foreigners and well-heeled Thais looking to get some exercise.

Time to work up a sweat.
Time to work up a sweat.

The best-equipped and most serious place to study muay Thai in Bangkok is Fighting Spirit Gym, or FSG, which is run by Australian Dan Lyons, a former pro fighter. Located a short walk from Chong Nonsi BTS Station on the Silom Line, FSG has everything you need to get a serious workout, with a full machine/weight gym, a separate gym for cardio workouts with treadmills and stationary bikes, a workout area with a variety of punching and kicking bags, a boxing ring and a pro shop. You don’t need to bring anything but shorts and a T-shirt (a changing room, bathroom and showers are available). Hand wraps, boxing gloves, jump ropes and leg pads are all there for your use and in excellent condition.

FSG has a staff of five Thai trainers, one full-time Brazilian jujitsu/MMA trainer, and Dan himself, who offers private lessons for advanced or particularly keen students. All the Thai trainers are former pros with an average of 65 bouts under their belts. They all speak enough English to put you through one of the most intense workouts you’re likely to experience anywhere.

The standard group lesson starts with five minutes of jumping rope (sounds easy until you try it in the Bangkok heat and humidity), with a break, and then five 4-minute rounds working one-on-one with the trainers, following their commands to hit, kick, knee or elbow their pads (with the odd break in between for coaching on technique and so on). Unless you’re already in superb shape and have some experience with this sort of high-intensity training, you’re likely to find yourself looking at the clock and wishing it would speed up.

About 40% of the people who train at FSG are travellers or short-term residents of Bangkok, and about 40% of the members are women, and these include people of all ages, from children to those approaching 70 years of age.

It is as hard as it looks.
It is as hard as it looks.

First timers are often surprised by just how hard the workouts are. Dan says, “The most important thing is to leave your ego at the door. Don’t think you’re Superman. Don’t damage your body. It takes a while to get used to the heat, humidity and pollution in Bangkok.”

For those with some martial arts training and even pro muay Thai and MMA fighters, FSG is the ideal place to polish your skills or keep sharp while on vacation. The Thai trainers are willing (and more than able) to slow things down to your level or go as hard as you want to go. Dan will even set up sparring sessions for those who want to go beyond pad work. “I don’t usually have guests spar with the Thai trainers, because they’re just too good and you can lose your confidence. Instead, I try to pair people up with members of the same skill level.” The gym also has regular “fight nights” for members who really want to put their skills to the test.

Stanley Phan, the gym’s American-born Brazilian jujitsu/MMA trainer with six professional bouts under his belt, says, “For travellers, I’d recommend coming here and doing two or three classes of muay Thai and MMA, to learn what it’s like fighting on the ground and fighting standing up.” With the increasing popularity of MMA on pay-per-view and the internet, more and more people are following his advice.

If you’re staying down on or near Khao San Road and just want to get a taste of muay Thai without making the trek downtown, the Sor Vorapin Gym, located a short walk from Khao San Road (at the wat end of the street) is a good choice. They hold twice-daily lessons in the morning and afternoon in a simple gym located behind the Hakesher Tourist Centre & Restaurant (you can cut through the restaurant to get to the gym).

If you find the level of intensity too much at FSG and want to work out downtown, Legend Thai Boxing is a new fully indoor facility that caters mostly to wealthy locals and expats in the Silom/Sathorn area. It’s got everything you need to work out, right down to an attached massage facility, where you can get all the kinks worked out after a session.

Lastly, if you're keen to try something a tad different, an ancient form of muay Thai -- muay Chaiya -- is taught at Baan Chang Thai arts and muay Chai school. Muay Chaiya emphasises control, concentration and patience, and aims to take advantage of an opponent’s energy by re-directing it at the right moment. We've covered this interesting place before here.

Fighting Spirit Gym (FSG)
T: (085) 966 7898
Open Mon-Sat 07:00-09:00, 15:00-19:00, Sun 15:00-19:00
Private lessons daily 09:00-15:00
Group lessons 300 baht per session or 4,000 baht per month for one daily session
Brazilian jujitsu and MMA available, along with accommodation.
Transport: Five minutes’ walk from Chong Nonsi BTS, off Silom Road

Sor Vorapin Gym
T: (02) 282 3551
Open daily 07:30-9:30am, 15:00-17:00
500 baht per two-hour group session.
Transport: Five minutes’ walk from Khao San Road, 10 minutes walk from Phra Athit pier

Legend Thai Boxing (LTB)
T: (02) 632 1881
Open daily 09:00-22:00
Day pass 500 baht, 10 group classes 4,500 baht, one-month unlimited 5,000 baht Transport: 15 minutes’ walk from Chong Nonsi BTS or Lumpini MRT

Baan Chang Thai Arts and Muay Chaiya
T: (023) 913 807 ; (081) 812 8087 ; (089) 204 0843
Group muay Chaiya lessons are 800 baht for four two-hour lessons held Fri-Sun, private lessons by appointment at 10,000 baht for 12 two-hour lessons.
Transport: 20 minutes' walk from Ekkamai BTS

Reviewed by

Chris Rowthorn is a travel writer who has lived in Asia since 1992. He's written for a wide variety of publications and presently works as the Bangkok correspondent for China Travel Trends. His favorite activity is trekking in the Himalayas and his favorite travel writer is Eric Newby.

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