Beginning Muay Thai & Sumalee Boxing Gym, Phuket, Thailand
Sawadee ka! Last year I went on a little mission. I started learning Muay Thai. I’ve always been a slight martial arts nut but I’ve never had the time/money to really invest and inevitably it has taken a back seat. Not last year though. Finally. Last year was my year! At the beginning of the year, on an impulse, I booked myself on a 2 week training camp in Thailand for October. Woohoo! Exciting right? Except I hadn’t actually started training and didn’t really know what I was getting into. Ah.
After some searching I found a training camp I really liked the sound of. Sumalee Boxing Gym. Run by a Brit but taught by top notch Thai fighters with 5 star reviews from anyone who had been. It was both training camp and health conscious/yoga camp so it seemed like a good place for a newb like me to ‘ease’ my way in. I say ‘ease’ because Muay Thai is tough. No way around it. And training was going to be a different breed over there regardless and I didn’t want to completely suck from the get go.
I booked myself on with the beginners package. This included accommodation, breakfast, dinner, 2x group training sessions a day, 3x private sessions a week and 2x yoga sessions a week, with use of all facilities. It also included a pair of gloves, oil, gum shield and Sumalee shorts and top. Beginners train along with everyone else so the only difference with this package is that you get fewer 121’s. That is all. You still train in mixed ability groups. In hindsight I would have stumped up a bit more for daily 121’s as you learn a lot of technique in these!
Once I booked, the fear set it. My lungs hated me as did the rest of me for just being awake most days. My little heart crying out after climbing a flight of stairs. How was I going to survive 4 hours of training a day?! What had I done? I love the gym but had been out of training for some time and no hiit circuit in the world I have ever done would quite prepare me for the level of training Muay Thai takes.
So with panic and a deadline, I quick-sharp joined Gymbox in March and enrolled in my very first ever Muay Thai class in April. It. Killed. Me. Gymbox is a group of gyms around central London and they have a really regular schedule of MT classes so you are more than likely to be able to find one to fit your schedule most days. It’s not cheap. It’s London. But I was on a mission and this was an investment to not die abroad, mid session, being beasted in the open air gym in Thai heat by my soon to be instructors.
Little did I know, being beasted in London in an air conditioned gym would be hard enough. The first session was overwhelming. I panicked and questioned all my life choices that had lead me to doing such a stupid thing like exercise this hard and book myself onto a camp with no get out of jail free card. Why fool, whyyyy?!
In that first session I had no idea what to do. I was uncoordinated, didn’t know how to hold the pads and mostly my lungs wanted to explode. But my partner was lovely and patient and so I went back. And again. Then something clicked and I fell in love…nay, in obsession. After the initial shock to the system, you start to adapt. MT training is always hard but you start to hit harder and kick quicker. Technique sharpens and you start to focus on what your body is capable of over what it looks like. You start to feel stronger and before you know it, you can’t get enough. By the time I went to Thailand I was training 5 days a week and sometimes twice a day. I was dreaming MT and twitching kicks and punches as I fell asleep (unluckily for my boyfriend).
When I departed I felt I had a good base but was still nervous. My training up until that point had been 1 hour sessions and I had only just dipped my toe in sparring which was going to be a daily occurrence in Thailand. But with excitement and trepidation I set off. My boyfriend was to meet me in Thailand after my training to do the proper holiday relaxation/sightseeing bits – slacker.
All my concerns were needless. Sumalee is an absolute gem of a place. It is a little community. Everyone is made to feel welcome. It becomes like a little family. That is down to both the employees and the guests but let’s go through the fundamentals first.
Sumalee is located about 30 minutes from Phuket airport the opposite side of the island in Thalang. The area is much more local and there isn’t much to do in walking distance. Now this can be a be a positive or a negative depending on your viewpoint. For me it was a positive. It gave me a chance to focus and disconnect. Although off a main road it felt quiet and secluded. I was there to train and that was made much easier by not having bars and holiday makers around the corner. I think it also adds to the feeling of camaraderie among the guests. There is a Tesco, 7/11, cash points and a very decent steak restaurant a ten minute walk away. There’s a small shop across the street for basics like water and detergent and some really tasty street food stalls in stumbling distance too. Everything else is a moped or taxi ride away. I had everything I needed. It may be too quiet for some if they don’t have the option of transport but you an always ‘halo’ a cab if needed. I was too busy napping most days to do much wondering. Had I been there for longer I may have needed to get out more.
I opted for a twin room to share. It was the cheapest package price. In hindsight I would get a private room for a little more. Sleep was a necessity after all that training and a roommate, as lovely as they were, just interrupted it at times. The rooms are basic but clean. There is a fan and air con. you have a certain amount of electricity you can use per day before they charge you and most people use their air con just fine without going over but I just stuck to the fan. It was hot but I was training in an open air gym with no air con so may as well get used to the heat right? The room holds a TV, a mini fridge, a kettle and has en-suite bathroom. My only word of caution is that you may make some nighttime friends. The front door wasn’t a flush close on the ground so we did have a few visitors in the shape of a couple of cockroaches (which I named Jim and Jeffery) and a gecko (who I named Alfred). These are very common in Thailand and have nothing to do with cleanliness of the place just maybe don’t wonder around barefoot to the bathroom at night with the lights off.
The camps facilities are good. It’s not top of the range and brand spanking new but it all works and works very well. Wifi is free and accesses all parts of the camp with no dead zones. Swimming pool is clean and a great place to cool down. The gym is basic and to be honest I didn’t use it once. Mostly just the hard core fighters did. The training sessions were enough for me. Everything ached everyday. I didn’t need to add weights to that. The washing machines were the big american style ones. Easy to use and cleaned well and reception housed the equipment shop where you could buy gloves, shorts etc. if needed. Not the cheapest but a fair bit cheaper than England.
I’ll be writing a separate blog on eating out in Thailand, an ode to Thai food if you will, because let’s be honest…delish! But here I want to give a special mention to Sumalee’s ringside restaurant. I was a BIG fan. The only negative for me was that the food could take a long time to prepare. That’s because there were only 2 people in the kitchen cooking. We aren’t talking mass production in a large scale restaurant here. It’s a modest homestyle kitchen and you can see the fresh preparation of food for every meal. each dish made one at a time, from scratch. And when everyone is famished after a training session and sits down to eat together, that can mean a wait. But for that food I’m willing to wait.
There are several different menu options to choose from. Fighters menu, international menu and Thai menu. Some packages include breakfast and dinner which works out best. They are all variations of health conscious dishes but considering the amount of energy you output in a training session they aren’t afraid of fueling you up. You will need it. I’m talking protein banana pancakes, almond butter and banana on brown toast or chicken, beans and chips and chilli beef stir fry with steamed white rice. Are you salivating yet?
They also have a much more weight loss conscious range which they have introduced since. However personally I think you can eat the normal menu and still loose weight. The workouts are that intense. But I’m no nutritionist. My goal was to make it through the entire menu in my time there. I almost did. Just another reason to go back and finish what I started! The prices are reasonable. They aren’t street food prices and may be considered a little pricey in Thai terms but at around £5 or less a dish, I’m not complaining.
Finally the training and teachers:
I am really glad I did the prep prior to going to Sumalee. It is by no means a prerequisite to train there but it definitely helped me get more out of the training. And I still died in every session. The people at the camp were there for all different reasons and of different ages and abilities too. Everyone was welcome and nobody was an odd one out. There were people there for weight loss who had never done MT before ever. People who had been training a little and wanted to sharpen their skills. There were people who hadn’t trained in years and wanted to dip back into it and then there were fighters. They lived and trained there and fought regularly. Then there were local people who would drop in and join classes as and when they could. Ages in a class ranged from 15 to 50 and there was an almost 50/50 split between men and women most days. The fighters were generous with their knowledge and helped those that had never trained before so all fears of some sort of better than thou attitudes was needless.
The instructors hold a special place in my heart. They made this place amazing. Everything else up to this could easily fall flat if the teachers weren’t as fun and knowledgable as they were. Their English isn’t amazing. I didn’t expect it to be and it didn’t matter. They show you what you need to know. They will push you, and their focus on technique is at another level. They will drill you over and over again. Which I loved. They want you to get it right. They will take you to your limit and expect you to push but they know when and how to have a laugh with it too. They want you to try. That is the most important thing but they want to have fun too. I looked forward to training with them. I always laughed each and every time and came out with a smile on my face regardless of how many bruises I was sporting.
Group sessions would generally follow this pattern:
10 minutes skipping or jogging
10 pushups, 30 sit ups
10 minutes of skipping or joggin
10 pushups and 30 sit ups
Wrap your hands and 5 minutes shadow boxing
Class splits. Half go on the heavy bags and half partner up with instructors for 3 rounds. 3 mins work 1 min rest.
Class swaps over for another 3 rounds. 3 mins work 1 min rest
Sparring (Afternoon class only)
20 minutes conditioning exercises
Every session had guaranteed pad time with an instructor which was a luxury you don’t get in England and it speeds up learning so much!
121 sessions were much more technique focused and you could spend 1 whole session perfecting 1 or 2 moves.
The hardest thing is training in the heat. My god it’s tough and that’s the one thing I couldn’t prepare for. The instructors were always laughing at my feeble attempts to breathe in the humidity. It was a running joke in my sessions.
I would go back in a heartbeat. The unfortunate thing is now I’ve had such a great training experience it has slightly ruined it for me here in England. As great as the teachers are here you just won’t get the 121 trainer pad work in a group class here and have to pay through the nose for 121’s in London. For some reason now I struggle to workout without someone yelling at me or coming at me with some sort of pads. I enjoy being beasted and it feels like a poor workout if I don’t keel over at least once now.
Now I’ve barely mentioned the yoga part of this camp as to be honest I only went to one session. I wasn’t there for that so I’m not in a position to recommend but I do think it’s more of a secondary focus which I think they are trying to grow. Muay Thai is their speciality.
Last thing to note is that if you really want to, you can sign up to fight for Sumalee at Bangla stadium in Patong. If you don’t want to it’s still a great night out to go and support Sumalee’s fighters. It’s not the cheapest thing to do but I’d recommend going at least once. A Muay Thai holiday wouldn’t be complete without it after all.
Kop khun Kha!