It’s an incredibly hard question to answer because a good answer depends on so many factors. There are “the best gyms in the country” and then there are the “best gym’s in the country” for you. The same principle goes for the city your gym is in as well and a lot of people don’t realize that. This is a question I’ve been getting asked a lot since I came to Chiang Mai 6 months ago so here are a few things to take into consideration before you pay to train in Thailand.
The first thing you need to consider is your goals for being in Thailand and how much time you plan to spend in Thailand, and you need to be realistic about how likely you’ll be able to accomplish those goals in that time frame. I’ve met a lot of people who have come to Thailand to train hard and soak up all the knowledge they can to try and improve their skill’s but they’re only in-country for two weeks. Realistically there’s not enough time in two weeks for a trainer to mold you into a better fighter. This also goes for people who want to drastically improve their skills and are in-country for a month or two but go to a new gym every other week. Your trainer needs time to mold you into a better fighter and two weeks just isn’t enough time. If you are planning to come to Thailand for only a couple weeks or a month I would suggest traveling around actually and maybe the focus of your trip could be more about learning about the culture of Muay Thai and Thailand. I think what I would do is go take personal lessons with legends of the sport which you can do very easily and very cheap.
Let’s say you want to stay a little longer term. Maybe your planning on three months or more but your budget is a little tight. If that’s the case, you weed out some options quick. In general, Phuket is going to be the most expensive city in the country. Food, training costs, accommodations are all significantly higher in Phuket due to all the tourism in the area. Pattaya and Bangkok are going to be slightly less expensive, but by far the cheapest city to live in is Chiang Mai. If stretching your money out is a concern, then this is the place to be. I’ve had apartments that were less than $100/month and training cost’s that were half of what I’d pay in Phuket. I can eat three meals a day for around $3-4/day.
For those of you who coming to train in Thailand, to fight and to level up your Muay Thai. This means you’re going to need to consider some other factors and weigh them against the cost of living in different cities, and the personal appeal those cities have for you. Firstly, you need to ask yourself honestly where your skill level is, and how often you want to fight. In any city in the country, you should be able to fight once a month in the local/smaller stadiums. However, some cities like Hua Hin or Koh Samui only have one stadium and that might make it difficult to have more than one fight a month. In Phuket, Chaing Mai, and Pattaya there are multiple stadiums each holding 3-4 shows a week, and enough festival style fights are surrounding Bangkok for you to fight this often as well.
Fighting often is crucial to your growth as a Nak Muay but the quality of those fights matters as well. This where it is important, to be honest about where you think your skill level is but also for many westerners, this will also be a time where we need to consider what weight we fight at. If you’re at or above 77kg/170lbs the competition in some cities won’t be that great. The reason being is that there are just not that many Thais at that weight so by virtue of statistics there’s not that much talent either. This is a problem I’ve faced here in Chiang Mai myself. All my opponents were talented, but some were just not in good shape, and one even told me that he doesn’t train anymore and just needed the money. Say I was in Phuket however, there would be a lot of great foreigners all the time to be matched up with all the time. Or say I weighed 65kg instead; then I could find competition closer to my level in Chiang Mai. For me, staying in Thailand as long as possible was a priority, so living in Chaing Mai fighting often and trying to get bigger fights in Bangkok and Pattaya became my plan. My recommendation for you depends on your budget, skill level, and weight. If you’re a lightweight you can probably pick a city of your choice, but if you’re a welterweight or above and you only have 3-6 months, and you’re an experienced amateur, or just starting a professional career, you might want to stick to Phuket. If you’ve had a few professional fights at lightweight or less already I’d say go ahead and go to Bangkok, provided your budget allows it.
When comes down to deciding on the gym you want to train in Thailand in the city you have decided on here’s a few things to consider. You may want to pick a gym that has a lot of good Thai fighters to clinch and spar with and generally I’d say that’s a good idea. But again, if you’re above lightweight and you go to a very small traditional gym you may end up with no sparing or clinching partners, so maybe instead look for a gym with a few really good foreign fighters. On the flip side of this if you pick a gym that has dozens of really good foreign fighters it may be hard to get bigger fights than just the local stadiums due to the amount of competition. My recommendation would be to find a somewhat smaller gym with two or three really good foreign fighters.
Hope these tips were helpful for those who wants to train in Thailand. If you’re not coming to Thailand to fight long term than you shouldn’t worry too much about what gym or city you go to. Your best opportunity to learn as much as possible would probably be to take personal lessons from top trainers. For those of you who are coming to increase your skill level and experience and have other questions for me you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org