Muay Thai adventure days 16-23: I’m in Thailand!

A lot’s happened since I last posted.

For one thing, I’m now writing to most of you from the other side of the world! Second, and more important, I just finished my first week training at an authentic muay Thai camp.

Before I get into it, I just want to say that I still do “write” every day, so I haven’t broken my promise. Mostly in my notebook so I remember things to mention. But actually taking the time to write this post was harder than I thought it would be, because my days fall into the pattern of train-eat-sleep-train-eat-sleep. I’m writing this now because I woke up in the middle of the night.

I touched down in Bangkok Tuesday afternoon. The owner of Kiatphontip Gym, Rob Cox, picked me up at the airport and drove me to the camp. The views of the city from the expressways were amazing, though I was too disoriented from 19 hours of flying to really take them in. I enjoyed speaking with Rob, though. He’s a Brit, but he’s lived in Thailand for around a decade, and he speaks fluent Thai. I can’t imagine it’s an easy language to learn as a native English speaker. I had a lot of questions for him.

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Views.

“Am I going to shed a ton of weight over the next two weeks?” I asked. Believe it or not, I was actually kind of worried about that.

“You might not. You’re going to be doing so much training your body might go into a state of shock and you won’t lose much weight.”

Oh. That’s reassuring.

But yeah, he really wasn’t kidding about the grueling nature of the training. Rob encouraged me to attend the session later that day, about a half-an-hour after I settled into my room. I wish I had known this when I was planning, but April is the hottest month in Thailand. And when I say hot, I mean like pushing 40 degrees, tropical hot.

Now, imagine that heat. Still with me? Okay, now I think you’ve probably done a workout at some point in your life so brutal you just thought you weren’t going to make it. Now imagine doing that workout, twice in the same day, in that heat. But wait, there’s more: imagine that workout involves hitting hard objects with all of your limbs repeatedly. Now imagine that while you’re drowning in your own sweat, gasping from exhaustion, the skin is slowly falling off of your knuckles, your frustrated Thai instructor is demanding you throw “more harder”. Four hours a day, every day.

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What I look like most of the time.

I love it. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s what I came for, what I came to try and understand, even if for only two weeks.

I get why Kiatphontip has such a great reputation among farang and Thais alike. The trainers care, and they push you. The language barrier doesn’t mean much, and though all of my techniques are far from perfect, they’re improving very quickly.

Meals are twice a day about an hour after training. They’re amazing, and I’m never hungry in spite of the number of calories I imagine I’m burning. Weird stuff happens to your body that way when you take on a completely different type of life.

I did get sick from some street food on Friday. I took a walk down to the nearby temple and prayed to the Buddha to bring Nirvana to my digestive tract.

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It worked.

The farang eat together in the kitchen. My plans to be the class clown/comic relief haven’t been all that successful. There’s some conversation, but with the mix of languages it can be tough to get a good one going without making people feel left out. I hate doing that to others, so I mostly keep quiet.

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Om nom nom.

When I first got here, the farang consisted of myself, the lone Canadian, three brits, two Frenchmen and one Brazilian. The two guys from France left yesterday. I’ll miss them because they were great training partners.

On Thursday night I decided to go see the fights at Rajadamnern Stadium in downtown Bangkok. Like watching the Blue Jays in my youth, I wanted to see if I could learn from the professionals by watching. I bought a second class ticket for 1600 baht (about $65), which is very pricey for Thailand. But it was worth it. So, so worth it. Part of the reason I bought a second class ticket was to sit with the locals, and I kind of did, but even in second class there’s a designated section for foreigners. The pictures I’ve posted give the impression that the place was empty. It looks like it because for whatever reason no one was sitting in the section facing me across the ring. Behind me, though, thousands of Thais bet on fights, screamed “KNEE” every time a knee landed, and roared at knockdowns. I’ve never felt anything quite like it.

A fight is five rounds, three minutes each with a two minute break in between rounds. Before each fight, the fighters perform a dance for good luck and to honour their instructors. Live music is played throughout, which has an interesting effect on the pace and feel. I’m having trouble describing it.

There was this one fight where a fighter pulled back his right arm, swung his hand in a circle, and delivered an uppercut that sent his opponent out of the ring in a stretcher. It was like a special move in Street Fighter. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Through seven or eight fights there were three knockouts.

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KO.

Saturday night’s excursion was the opposite. I went to Khaosan Road and danced the night away. I expected Thai women to be kind of shy with foreign men, but that’s not the case. Anyway it was a fun night. But now it’s another morning, the rooster is crowing outside my door, and that means another training session. Bye for now!