Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand has been a goal of mine since I first picked up the sport in 2008.
I fell in love with the sport for the hard physical and mental training and the strong culture of respect. I have been training on and off for quite some time, taking a couple of trips to train Muay Thai in Thailand.
However, something that I’d always wanted to tick off the bucket list was an authentic fight in a Thai stadium.
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
Where to train?
There are thousands of gyms scattered throughout Thailand, each offering unique opportunities and styles. I chose to spend my time training at Rawai Muay Thai in Khao Lak, which I had been recommended to by a friend.
Rawai Muay Thai
Khao Lak is an excellent destination with plenty of things to do and see. This includes beaches, waterfalls, temples, and some awesome bars.
Rawai Muay Thai offers training to people of all ages, sizes, and cultures. There are classes for beginners who have never strapped a pair of gloves, intermediates who would like to learn a little more about the sport, and professional fighters.
There are also several local Thai fighters who live and train at the camp. This means that if you are looking to prepare for a fight or take it to the next level, you will be training with the best.
Rawai Muay Thai gym also has excellent facilities; 4 rings, 20 boxing bags, excellent state-of-the-art pads and equipment, weights and cardio room, and clean showers. Rawai also has rooms available, with a pool, restaurant, and outdoor massage.
It is therefore quite popular to prepare for fighting Muay Thai in Thailand and for a fitness-camp style holiday.
After you have spoken to the owner Tuk and he has arranged a fight for you, you will be immediately taken out of the general classes and thrown in to train with the Thais. During my time at the camp I was the only Westerner fighting at one point. This allowed me to gain extra attention from the already very dedicated and attentive trainers.
The lifestyle of a Thai boxer is all about repetition and dedication. The training is broken up into 2 sessions daily, 6 days a week from Monday to Saturday with a rest on Sunday. As a fighter, you are representing the gym and are expected to run up to 6km before each session, twice a day. This means early morning wake-ups at around 6.30 am to meet the Thai fighters outside their houses and run together as a team.
A Typical Muay Thai Training Session
After your morning run, if you were lucky enough to avoid any dog bites and subsequent cocktail of needles at the emergency clinic, you will get back to the gym and begin skipping whilst the trainers prepare.
Bag Rounds or Pad Rounds
You will either begin with 5x 5 minute rounds on the bag or on pads with the pad holders. During bag rounds, you are expected to stay busy and work the bag with heavy punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. If you slack off, the Trainers will let you know about it.
After the bag rounds, you will be rotated to pads. This is one on one training with the trainers where they will teach you technique, power, speed, defense, and heart. Each pad round goes for the same length as the bag rounds prior but will usually end each round with up to 30 kicks on each side.
Clinching or Sparring
Once you are dripping with sweat and covered in bruises from your knee to your toes, you will either be clinching with the Thais or
Clinching is grappling, where you are able to throw knees (using the inside of your thigh in training) and sweep or throw the opponent to the ground. This required tremendous upper body and core strength. The trainers will also work one on one with you to teach you the sneaky sweeps and little tricks to get your opponent onto the ground.
On days when you are not clinching, you will be sparring. If you have an upcoming fight, you will be training with the other Thai fighters. This means donning large 12-14 ounce gloves, a mouth-guard, and shin pads in order to simulate a fight. The pace is usually quite fast however you are expected to hold off on power to avoid injuring your partner. The Thais love letting you know that it’s their sport and will often give you a hard rib kick to show you why. Sparring sessions are also typically 5x 5-minute rounds.
Technique training is a little slower paced, where you are shown combos, sweeps or footwork to improve on your ability. This is often practiced on off days between clinching and sparring to allow your body to recover from the bruised ribs and black eyes. Similarly to clinching, this usually means partnering with one of the other fighters and swapping partners every few minutes with no rest.
It’s not over yet
After each session, the fighters have to grab a bag and do 300
The Lifestyle of a Muay Thai Fighter
Due to the intense training and the hot and humid Thai climate, the lifestyle outside of training usually involves sleeping or eating and then repeating. Your body will be sore but it is important to stay focused on training. It seems to be harder mentally than physically.
Especially after waking up after the morning session and doing it all over again in the afternoon.
This repetition and dedication are what makes Thai fighters some of the strongest-willed people on the planet. I was doing this as an experience, not a decade-long lifestyle like the Thais do. To think that this is their everyday life since the age of seven or eight, they have given their lives to the sport.
The concept of over-training is to them as foreign as my blonde hair and blue eyes. The skill, speed, and strength of these Thai fighters is unmatched; born with gloves on their hands and a Mongkong resting on their brow.
Still, these killing machines, raised for the single purpose to fight, and inflicting pain on another person, were the most respectful, kind, and courteous people I have ever met. There really is beauty in authenticity.
No matter how fit or strong you believe yourself to be, the shock to the body and the mind is hard to overcome.
As a Westerner not accustomed to the daily mental and physical abuse, it is fair to say that the first few weeks are a struggle. No matter how fit or strong you believe yourself to be, the shock to the body and the mind is hard to overcome. However, with military-like repetition and discipline, you learn to adapt and accept the reality that is before you.
It’s a form of meditation. When your body is hurting, your lungs are gasping, and you have absolutely nothing left in the tank, that is when you find the relentless peace that I’ve learned to love. After a few weeks, although my body was at breaking point, my mind was completely blank, not looking for an escape, just pushing through the pain with mindless precision.
The Costs of Training and Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand
If you really weren’t discouraged by the above and you are still interested in fighting Muay Thai in Thailand, then you may be interested in knowing the costs involved. You can expect to spend roughly $600 US a month if you are looking to train and stay at Rawai. Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand doesn’t make you a lot of money. Fighters in the big stadiums can certainly make enough to survive but don’t expect to straight away.
Although training costs will vary greatly from gym to gym, you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $400 US Dollars per month for training costs. If you are planning on spending less than a month training and fighting Muay Thai in Thailand, it works out to be roughly $15 if you would like to pay for daily training. Keep in mind that this involves two 2.5-hour sessions per day, 6 days a week.
Depending on the gym, you can either sleep in a shared dormitory-style room or you can pay a little extra for a fan or air-con room. The price for accommodation in a typical Muay Thai gym that caters to foreigners is roughly $200 to $350 US per month.
However, if you are looking to spend a little less money and have a place to yourself, there are always small apartments in Thailand that you can rent for anywhere from $180 – $250 per month, usually with your own kitchenette to cook with too. However, you will most likely need to find one once you arrive.
Training for 6-8 hours a day means that you need to fuel your body. Food is relatively inexpensive and absolutely delicious in Thailand. You can either eat at local eateries, pick up a pad thai on the street or stock up on fresh produce at the market.
If Bangkok is the destination, you can easily find some hardcore gyms that offer very basic accommodation, two authentic Thai meals a day, and the very best, world-class training for around $500 per month. These urban or suburban gyms are a little more basic and raw, however, they are cheaper. Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand is very common in Bangkok, with several other Westerners on the circuit.
Having spent a few trips in Bangkok, I chose to train in South Thailand during this trip, simply for the luxury of beaches to swim at and jungle to explore. Both destinations offer a great and authentic experience for both training and fighting Muay Thai in Thailand, however, the style and vibe differ slightly.
Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand is a truly raw and authentic experience. Living with Thai Boxers and stepping in the ring in the birthplace of Muay Thai was a dream of mine since I first strapped on a pair of gloves.
Khao Lak Stadium
Khao Lak stadium was everything that I imagined a small local boxing stadium to be – and more. Sketchy scaffolding with rotten wooden planks was assembled to form a grandstand surrounding a dimly lit boxing ring. Upon entering the gates, I spotted stray dogs scavenging for food scraps on the dirt floor. The ring itself was torn and the corner padding in tatters from the thousands of boxers who had jumped into the ring before me.
The preparation room, a corridor leading behind the stadium smelt of sweat, urine, and Thai boxing liniment. All of the boxers for the night’s event were crammed into a small concrete room, stretching and wrapping their hands in preparation for their bouts. All of us shared a single toilet to help with our pre-fight nerves. This was nothing more than a hole in the corner with a bucket of algae-covered water for wiping.
Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand
Muay Thai bouts in Thailand are generally a much more lively and enjoyable spectacle in comparison to kickboxing events in the West. Fighters are more respectful and enjoy a more skillful and relaxed starting pace. It seems to be more of a display of who can be the most composed and relaxed whilst receiving kicks, elbows, and knees to the head.
There are several different types of spectators. Loud, hopeful gamblers surround the ringside, baht in hand and shouting out their chosen bets. There are families, groups of teenagers, ex-fighters, and the occasional tourist, all collectively enjoying the power that only a Muay Thai stadium can harness.
Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand is usually much easier than training and preparation. The hours of training and running do well to prepare you for the 5x 3-minute rounds in the ring. The respect you feel for the art, the Thai culture, and yourself after stepping inside the square ring is hard to trump, and an experience that I’ll certainly never forget.
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