For some reason that now completely escapes me, I decided to spend my first four weeks of travel training in a Muay Thai gym in Thailand.
At the time of making that decision I was training four or five times a week and relatively fit. However, the two months before I departed the UK were a whirlwind of meals out, cocktails and weekends away so by the time my leaving date actually came around all of my previous good progress had been lost. So imagine my terror when, a few days before I was due to leave for Thailand, I decided to look up the training plan, only to be faced with this:
Up to 10 kilometre run
Mon, Wed, Fri: pad work
Tue, Thur, Sat: Technical sparring
Conditioning and circuits
4 kilometre warm up run
30 minutes skipping
Padwork with trainer
Unfortunately, by this point I had told pretty much everyone I knew that I was going to spend a month training in a Muay Thai gym so I had no choice but to go through with it, to save face if nothing else. So, less than 24 hours after landing in Thailand I found myself arriving at Kiatphontip.
There are so many gyms to choose from in Thailand that its difficult to know where to start. I wanted to go somewhere a little less touristy because I’d heard bad things about some of the bigger, more commercial gyms. Kiatphontip was recommended to me by people I trained with at my gym in London so I settled on that. Kiatphontip is located in Salaya, about 20km outside of Bangkok. Its owned by Rob Cox, a Londoner, and his Thai wife, Miss Tah and has a mixture of Thai fighters and Westerners living and training there. Most of the Westerners are fighters in their own country and come to Thailand to train for months at a time. I had trained for over a year in London but sporadically and only ever at beginner level so to say that I had jumped in at the deep end is a bit of an understatement. However, before I arrived Rob had assured me that the trainers cater for all ability levels so I would be completely fine.
There’s not much in Salaya except for Mahidol University and a long strip of street food stalls and restaurants, imaginatively named ‘the Strip’. The gym itself is tucked away down a dusty road in a little corner of Salaya and very difficult to find. It took a lot of stopping for directions and an extortionate taxi fare on my part to get me there.
The taxi pulled up just after afternoon training had finished and I was greeted by some very curious looks from the trainers who were just finishing up. I had no idea what to expect and was so nervous I barely dared get out of the taxi. When I did, one of the trainers grabbed my very heavy backpack, slung it over one shoulder and showed me to my room. As I expected, it was basic. Very basic. I had a small room with a wardrobe, a fan and a bed but that was all I really needed. The shower and toilet block were outside and played home to a whole host of wildlife including ants, spiders, huge millipedes, mice, and occasionally snakes (although I was lucky enough never to encounter one). The gym itself has a really lovely relaxed feel about it and although I quite quickly felt at home, I was already doubting my ability to last a month.
On my first day I rose at 6.30am for my pre-training run. It was still dark and I was questioning what moment of insanity had driven me to do this. I started jogging along the route recommended to me by one of the girls at the gym, trying to adjust to the crazy heat and humidity of Thailand. The start of the run was actually really enjoyable; the Thais start early so as I was running people were setting up stalls, street vendors were selling breakfast and monks were setting out on their alms walk.
But as I crossed the river, I had my first of many encounters with the stray dogs living in the area. I’d read about the dogs before arriving at the gym but was still not fully prepared for the reality of having two angry snarling dogs run straight for me and start snapping at my ankles. I immediately turned around and began to run in the other direction thinking it might be a little safer. However, five minutes later I turned another corner and ran straight into another pack of dogs, this time at least 5 of them and even more vicious and scary than the last. Terrified of being eaten alive by dogs, I decided enough was enough for one day and headed back to the gym, limbs still in tact.
However, after arriving back at the gym and starting my first training session I decided that perhaps being eaten alive by dogs wasn’t so bad after all. It was surely less painful than continuing with the training which was intense to say the least. About 10 minutes in I had one of those awful realisation moments that I usually get at the gym when I look at the clock and realise only 10 minutes has gone and there is another 50 minutes to go. Except this time, I was 10 minutes in and had another 4 weeks to go.
There were two sessions a day, each one ranging somewhere between 90 minutes to two hours (excluding the warm up). Each session started with shadow boxing followed by 5 x 5 minute rounds on the bags and then 5 x 5 minute rounds on pads with a trainer. After this, there was more padwork, sparring or conditioning before ending the session with 200 knees on bags, 100 push kicks and 200 sit-ups. Within my first half an hour on the bags I had managed to injure both shins by doing two very amateur kicks on a bag that felt as though it was made of concrete. I looked down at my legs and saw what could only be described as ‘bubbles’ on each shin where something appeared to have popped underneath my skin. Over the next couple of days these spread into the hugest bruises I have ever seen.
Nothing can adequately describe how tough that first week of training was. The trainers were relentless – demanding seemingly endless kicks and knees. At times I felt as though I may actually collapse / throw up / cry / all three and they continued to push me to do more until I could barely even lift my arms to punch. Not only had I never done such intense training in my life but I had never exercised in anything close to that kind of heat. By Day Two I was bruised, sore and exhausted and gave very serious consideration to leaving. However, I was determined to stick it out and by the end of the first week was actually starting to enjoy it (kind of).
There was a nice little routine to the days and I started to adjust to life there. After morning training we would have just enough time for a quick (cold) shower before the trainers started coming round to call everyone for breakfast, shouting “kin khao” (meaning “to eat”). We all ate together around a big table, although conversation was often pretty subdued as we were all sat there in a daze, downing electrolyte drinks and eating as much as we could. Every single meal consisted of some kind of Thai curry and rice and that was absolutely fine with me. Afterwards, a group of us would go to the local market for fresh fruit, go swimming in one of the nearby pools or just chill out and sleep (my main activity in the first week). Then I would somehow drag myself to afternoon training after which we would eat dinner, go to ‘the Strip’ for a smoothie and then just sleep, ready for another day of training.