Combine learning the martial art of Thai boxing with the sights and sounds of Thailand's third largest island, Koh Samui. Relax on the beach, train, and refuel with delicious Thai food
With a fascination for the "Land of Smiles" and its national sport of Thai boxing, I took my courage in both hands one English late winter day and travelled to the island of Koh Samui for a month's training at the World Muay Thai Council training camp.
After 14 hours of flying, a taxi dropped me off at Lamai Beach in the south eastern part of the island, and I had a glimpse of the WMC camp before crossing the road to my bungalow to sleep off the jet lag.
That evening I stood and watched as the camp came alive for the 5pm training session. Many people were training and there seemed to be a kind of organised chaos with some practising techniques in pairs, others sparring in the boxing ring and one or two hardened fighters working the bags.
At 7am the next day I turned up for the morning's training session surprised to find only a handful of students. Unfortunately for me I had arrived in time for the morning's run so I set off up the hill behind a line of tall, muscular men, and only lasted about 10 minutes! I decided to start my training properly at the afternoon session and returned to my bungalow to recover.
At the more popular 5pm session the camp was full of people of all abilities. I had attended a few Thai boxing lessons back in England three years previously so had an idea of what to expect, although I had misgivings about my level of fitness. I copied everyone else and grabbed a skipping rope from a pile slung over a railing for a ten minute warm up. Then it was time to shadow box in front of mirrors. I tentatively punched and kicked trying to remember what I could and trying to copy those around me. Everyone was too busy training to notice me and the Thai trainers were encouraging and friendly, correcting the students when they punched, kicked, kneed or elbowed with bad technique. Next we were paired up and shown various moves and counter moves which we practised lightly on each other, ending with some light sparring which was great fun. The other students were all different nationalities - Finnish, Korean, English, German, just to mention a few. Then it was time for clinch training in the ring (the aim is to knee your opponent in the body and try to throw them onto the floor). The beginners were taught in a separate ring as the trainer demonstrated a clinching technique and then let us practise on ourselves. I was paired up with a small but very strong Thai girl who managed to slam me onto the canvas several times but by the end of the session I was learning to do the same. Afterwards everyone practised on the different sized and shaped punch bags dotted around the training area while the trainers invited people into the ring for one to one sessions on the Thai pads. They push you to punch, kick, knee and elbow as hard as you can for three rounds, and it is exhausting, but as a 39-year-old I had no problems. At the end of the session I had drunk several litres of water, was drenched in sweat, and filled with that sense of wellbeing that comes from intense physical exercise.
I spent my Thai holiday training six days a week and by the end of it I was sparring confidently, and despite stuffing myself with Thai food, had managed to lose half a stone!
Thai boxing (known as "Muay Thai" in Thailand) is carried out bare foot and the camp can supply boxing gloves and shin guards, although these can be the worse for wear. New equipment can be bought at the camp shop and you will need to buy your own hand wraps and mouth guard.
The camp has its own accommodation on site, and training and accommodation packages are available with prices depending on the type of accommodation and the season. It is only five minutes' walk away from Lamai's palm tree lined beach.
A twin/double air-conditioned room with private bathroom, plus training, costs per person: 650 -750 baht daily, 4000 - 4500 baht weekly and 12000 - 15000 baht monthly. Non - resident training prices are 150 baht daily, 700 baht weekly and 1500 baht monthly. An hour long private lesson costs between 500 and 800 baht. Full information is available by contacting the camp at firstname.lastname@example.org; the camp website is www.wmcmuaythaicamp.com. There is also a fully equipped gym with a small charge for use. See www.lamaifitness.com for details.
The Lamai Beach area has plenty of bars and restaurants, and a Thai boxing stadium where experienced fighters from the camp regularly fight. There are many trips which can be taken around the island, and also a trip to the monthly all-night full moon party on nearby Koh Phangan Island.
I stayed at Amadeus Bungalows (129 Moo 3, Maret; no website). It is situated across the road from the training camp and offers friendly accommodation from 300 - 1000 baht and a restaurant serving excellent food.
The Orchid Suites Resort is also nearby (129/11 Moo 3, Maret). It offers three star accommodation in traditional thatched cottages. There is also a large open air swimming pool. Prices range from 1100 - 2300 baht.
It is essential that you take out specialist travel insurance which covers Thai boxing. Useful websites for UK residents include: www.essentialtravel.co.uk; www.dogtag.co.uk and www.sportscoverdirect.com.
You will get more out of your training if you try and get into shape before you travel. It also helps to have an idea of Muay Thai techniques and what to expect. Check out YouTube to see what Thai boxing is all about. Muay Thai Basics by Christophe Delp is a useful introductory book and useful websites include www.muaythaiboxing.ws and www.muaythai.me.