One of the ways in which I have found fulfilment in life is martial arts. Almost a decade ago, I decided to take my training further and travel to the homeland of my favourite sport. Here is the story of my first ever trip:
I first journeyed to Thailand prior to the establishment of Muay Thai camps as a popular tourist destination. A time before the development of luxury ‘training’ resorts and organised fitness tours.
I was fresh to Muay Thai. Even though I had an extensive Western Kickboxing background, I knew only of Muay Thai and Thailand through the stories of my coaches. This was the first of numerous pilgrimages to the homeland of the fighting art. I’ll pause here and cue to the theme song from kickboxer, as you imagine Kurt Sloane cruising down the Chao Praya river…
I had no idea what to expect from a training camp in Thailand, However, I wasn’t crazy enough to travel alone. Picture two petite, 18 year old girls, excited, a little naive, but with all the guts in the world, bravely entering the mouth of the dragon to face battles and challenges and such. An adventure worthy of writing home about.
During our plane ride, we held true to the Aussie spirt and sought out as much alcohol as we could. Thankfully, our giddiness better prepared us for what was to come. We were greeted warmly by a caretaker who proceeded to communicate with us through an improvised sign language. We were then shown our humble living quarters. The image presented was far different from the pristine pictures we found on the website. In fact, a nightmarish backpacker room would have been a little more inviting. In saying that, we did have a bed. A rickety, horror movie looking double bed with a bath towel as a blanket and no pillows, but still a bed at least. At this point we erupted in giggles and by the time we opened the bathroom door we were hysterical with laughter. The scene before us resembled true living quarters of a South East Asian ghetto combined with a few random attempts of decoration. Admittedly, I would have found no mirth if I was alone on this journey. What did put a stop to our laughter was a knock at the door. The caretaker, knowing we would be tired and hungry from our journey sourced two bowls of ramen noodles and couple of withered oranges. This simple kindness from a stranger who could not speak our language had us almost in tears.
Our first days in training were tough, sweaty and exhilarating. Running in the morning, followed by skipping, pad work, sparring and clinch fighting rounds. Quick breakfast, nap, lunch and then prepare for another three hour training session in the afternoon. Some time during this later workout, our trainers would hose us down to prevent the bite of the afternoon heat. After dinner, we would hand wash our training clothes (serviced laundry was a luxury we couldn’t afford), bandage up our injuries, apply heat cream on sore muscles (usually all of them) and fall into an exhausted slumber. By the third night, an infestation of creepy crawlies had us making our bed in the ring. We were finally living up to the stories out coaches would fondly recount of the ‘tough days’ where fighters would sleep in the ring at night and train during the heat of the day. If it wasn’t for the numerous mosquito bites I would wake up to, it wouldn’t have been so bad, really.
We did have trouble adjusting to the blisters and torn feet from working on the concrete floors. Our shins were a mass of bruises, our knuckles bled through our wraps and the aches and pains would add up to the point where our joints would lock and our muscles would spasm uncontrollably.
Rather than whining or giving in, my friend and I decided to soak in all the culture and enjoy the full experience of our ‘warrior path’. We chose to live as the locals. We passed up nice restaurants to dine on cup noodles and lychee jelly purchased at a 711 store. We avoided the big shopping malls and strolled through simple markets and festivals and we visited local bars instead of the tourist focused night clubs.
During our month long journey, we forged friendships and experiences moments that would have been missed if we had chosen to stay at a resort or opted for the ‘holiday’ lifestyle. We arrived with only the absolute necessities, bought very little, yet had the most fulfilling adventures of our lives.
These days, Muay Thai camps offered to foreign visitors are very different. There are now huge facilities that cater to the needs of tourists. You can opt to stay in luxury accommodation on site and train in a state of the art environment. All the equipment is clean, maintained to perfection and every need is taken care of. Many foreigners treat these destinations as a ‘weight loss camp’ and will not participate in Muay Thai, but take up one of the many new fitness classes on offer.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the rugged, yet genuine training we received. Many of these traditional practices have now been abolished for foreign targeted facilities as the harsh treatment is not the best for attracting the majority of holiday goers. Although, it can be easily argued that without pain, one can not appreciate pleasure.
Those of us who are privileged enough to experience a Western lifestyle tend to rely on our luxuries as necessities. By embracing our discomfort, we unraveled unique adventures and a different form of happiness that can never be store bought.