Every week I get emails from people around the world asking me the same question: “What is the best Muay Thai gym in Thailand?”
If you ask 10 different people to name their favorite gym in Thailand, you will probably get 10 different answers.
A seasoned fighter with a lot of experience will have a different perspective than someone who is training Muay Thai for the first time. If you have only been to one gym your whole life, you won’t have anything to compare your training experiences too.
Finding a Muay Thai camp is like choosing what University you want to attend. Everyone has a different set of criteria for picking their school. Factors like classroom sizes, school reputation, student faculty, teacher quality, location, and programs are going to determine your ideal school.
The same is true for Muay Thai. Someone who is training in Thailand for 2 weeks on their yearly holiday, will be looking for something different than an 18-year-old kid aspiring to be a world champion.
Part of the fun of training in Thailand is deciding what Muay Thai gym to train at. With so many gyms to choose from, it can be overwhelming sorting through the different gyms.
Consider Pollution (Season Matters)
Most people don’t consider air quality when they are booking a trip to Thailand, but pollution can be extremely bad in the months of December-April in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai. In fact, in the months of February-April, Chiang Mai is one of the most polluted cities in the world. During the bad days, there is low visibility and heavy burning smell in the air for weeks due to the fires burning across Southeast Asia.
The Southern destinations like Koh Samui and Phuket have the least amount of Pollution year round. So if you want to avoid pollution and are visiting during the Dec-April months, I suggest you train in the south of Thailand on one of the islands. The downside of training on the islands during this time is that it is high season, so the gyms are typically packed.
If you plan on training in Chiang Mai, Bangkok or Pattaya, the best time of the year is between May-October during the rainy season. The pollution is not nearly has bad as the winter months and the training is much better.
To make your search a little bit easier, here are some things that you should consider when looking for the right gym:
#1 – The Location
The first thing you need to decide when you choosing a Muay Thai camp is your location. The most popular training destinations in Thailand are Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui area. Each location has its pros and cons, but it is really up to you to decide what place suits your needs.
Are you in Thailand for strictly Muay Thai or do you want to be a tourist as well?
Thailand has many features that make it the perfect holiday destination outside of Muay Thai. From the beautiful beaches, amazing shopping, delicious food, to the crazy nightlife, there is a little bit of something for everyone.
Think about what kind of stuff do you want to do when you aren’t training. Are you the type of person that likes exploring your surroundings or do you plan on sleeping in between training sessions? If you plan on staying somewhere for a long period of time, the place you choose is going to matter.
Every location has Muay Thai gyms that are scattered around the city. You might train at a gym that is located in the heart of Bangkok or you could train at a gym on the outskirts without all the city distractions. Just because you are training at a Bangkok gym, doesn’t mean you will be near any tourist attractions.
Here are a few factors to consider
- How easy is it to find accommodation outside of the gym? (Some gyms are isolated)
- How far are the nearest attractions and activities? (Is it within walking distance?)
- Access to Western Food (Not everyone can eat Thai food 7 days a week)
- Is the gym in a tourist location or local area
- How far are the nearest shopping centers
#2 – The Trainers
The trainers at a Muay Thai gym make the camp. If you have a bad trainer it will completely ruin your experience at a gym.
There is a whole range of Muay Thai trainers out there. Some trainers are lazy and do the bare minimum to get paid, while others are willing to go above and beyond to help out students.
Even though a gym might have really good trainers, it doesn’t mean you will connect with them. Every student has a different relationship with each trainer. If you are the type of person who doesn’t listen and goes 100% in sparring, don’t be surprised if trainers at the gym don’t like you
While everyone wants equal treatment, the reality is people are treated based on how they act, their skill level and their experience.
Most people have this idea that someone who is an ex Lumpinee champion means he is a good trainer. This is not true. A fighter’s past history in the ring has nothing to do with how well they are as a trainer.
Ex champion trainers often make very good sparring and clinching partners, but it doesn’t mean they are good at holding pads. Some of my favorite trainers are guys who were never highly rated in their fighting career and a few of my worst pad holders were Thailand champions.
Everyone has different criteria for what they think is a good trainer. Some people want a trainer that will push them to the brink, while others like trainers that focus more on technique. Every trainer has their own style, personality, and rhythm.
At the end of the day, you have to try out different trainers and find someone you like. Just because you hear about a good trainer, doesn’t mean he is the best one for you.
#3 – The Students
Another factor that will determine how much you like a training camp is the other students and fighters at the gym. If you are a fighter you will probably want to train at a gym with other fighters who are your level. Conversely, if you are a beginner it might be intimidating if everyone around you is too good to spar with.
It is always better to surround yourself with better people at a gym. You don’t want to be the best guy at a gym or you will not improve as much if there are good people around you. This being said, it is also important to have training partners who are around the same level as you to train with to help you get better.
If you go to a fighter gym, you can bet most of the students are going to be focused on upcoming fights and won’t have time to hang out. Gyms that have a lot of long term people often stick together. If you are only staying at a gym for a week, it is a lot easier to build bonds with other short-term students who are in the same situation as you.
Some gyms are heavily crowded with students from the same country. While it shouldn’t matter where the other people come from, if you train at a gym that is 80% French or Italian, you might have a difficult time integrating with people at the gym.
#4 – The Atmosphere
Every gym has a different vibe. Some gyms are serious and breed top level fighters and other gyms are more laid back and focus on technique (Sabai, Sabai). Most people who train in Thailand are not fighters and never will be fighters. I would guesstimate that less than 5% of people who train in Thailand are fighters – with an even smaller percent being high-level fighters.
This is one of the reasons why the touristy locations like Phuket and Koh Samui are popular training destinations for the vast majority of people. Not everyone wants to go to a hardcore gym in Bangkok, most people who aren’t fighters prefer to combine Muay Thai with a bit of a vacation.
If you want to train for 6 hours a day and only focus on Muay Thai, going to a tourist gym might distract you and take away from your focus. When you are surrounded by people who are training hard every day, it is more motivating to train hard yourself. The atmosphere at a gym can really set the tone for training.
#5 – The Gym Facilities
Gym cleanliness is an issue that you have to consider. You want to make sure you are training at a gym that is well maintained and have people cleaning the equipment. Since you are training in a tropical country, there can be a lot of bacteria that builds up on the surfaces of the gym.
Here are some factors that you will consider
- Is the gym well maintained and cleaned regularly?
- Does the camp have on-site accommodation available?
- Is the gym overcrowded with students? In the high season, some gyms are packed to the brink
- Does the camp have any weights that are available to use?
- Are there any other activities the gym offers besides Muay Thai?
#6 – Other Factors to Consider
Class Sizes – If you train at a small gym with only a few people, you might get more attention from the trainers, but you won’t have a lot of sparring/clinching partners. Conversely, larger gyms don’t give as much personal attention, but they have more people to spar with. In the high season, you might find that some gyms are overcrowded with too many students.
Training Camps – In the past few years there have been some gyms that organize a training camp for people who are visiting for 2-4 week periods. The benefit of a training camp is that you have everything taken care of without having to worry about the minor details. Training camps are not meant for everyone and are usually ideal for people who have never been to Thailand and want to train in a group atmosphere. Expect to pay over double for your training expense if you plan on attending a training camp in Thailand.
Sponsorship Opportunities – As a general rule of thumb, foreign owned gyms are much more likely to offer a sponsorship to fighters than Thai owned gyms. Most of the sponsorship opportunities only give you free training, so don’t expect to be fed and clothed while you are in Thailand. If you can afford to pay for your own training, do it.
Gym Connections – Every gym has specific connections they have with promoters who are tied to different stadiums. People who want to fight in Lumpinee or Rajadamnern don’t necessarily have to be good, they simply have to train at a gym that is connected with a Lumpinee or Raja promoter. If you train at the right gym you can have a fight on Max Muay Thai or other “big” promotions that people see on TV.
Female Friendly – Women who are looking to find a training camp should consider choosing a camp that has other girls training there. Usually, this indicates the camps are friendly towards women and they won’t be harassed sexually at the gym (no guarantees). I’ve been to a number of gyms where the trainers readily put the moves on the foreign women, making the training awkward for some of the women who don’t want these type of advances (especially if you come alone).
Local Fight Scene – If you train in an isolated location it can be difficult to get good matchups or you might have to travel a few hours whenever you want to fight. The more foreigners training in a location, the better chance you have of fighting someone who is at your level.
Gym Fees – Avoid training at gyms that overcharge for training. There are a lot of options out there and you should never overpay for training. There are general rates that are standard in Thailand, so you shouldn’t pay any higher than the going rate. Also, beware of gyms that try and get you to pay up front for your training, you never know what could happen between now and when you arrive at the gym.
The Gym Owners – Some gyms are owned by some shady individuals who are known to mistreat fighters and employees. As a short term tourist, you won’t encounter any of these problems, however, if you plan on staying long term this is something that might affect you.
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Do Your Research
Once you have chosen the location of your Muay Thai gym, the next step is to look up the different gyms in that location. Muaythaitrainingcamps.com has a full list of different gyms that are available in each area of Thailand. Once you have found a list of gyms you are interested in, you should visit their websites to find more information.
Look up the location of the gym on Google maps and see where the gym is located. A lot of gyms say they are close to the ocean, without mentioning the 20-minute motorbike ride it takes to get there.
A lot of online forums have people who discuss different gyms, but it is important to keep in mind a lot of forums are either full of trolls or marketers. If you can sort through all the bull shit you can find some honest opinions from real people. Always look for reviews that provide a balanced opinion.
Don’t Lock Yourself In
Never pre-book your training at a gym if you haven’t been there before. Gyms that are owned by foreigners are usually pretty good at marketing their gyms, but it doesn’t make them any better or worse than poorly marketed gyms.
If you are only in Thailand for a few weeks, you are better off staying at one gym rather than bouncing around and getting a little bit of training at different places.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the trainers. If you find a trainer that you click with, it doesn’t matter where you are training, you will have a great experience in Thailand.
Keep in mind that you are a paying customer. You have the luxury of not being owned by the gym. If you don’t like a gym, try another one.
The gyms in Thailand often change like the seasons of a year. One year a gym might be really good and the next year they can completely change for the better or worse.
What is Your Favorite Gym in Thailand?
Post a comment below and let me know your favorite gym in Thailand? Why did you choose it and what were your favorite trainers that you had?
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