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Guide to Planning & Training in Thailand – Part 2: Preparing for Thailand

This is the second out of a three-part series of the ULTIMATE guide to planning of, before going, and during your stay in Thailand. You can find  “Part 1: Preparing for Your Trip” here.

*There are special tidbits in this series for women, as women can and will have different experiences training Muay Thai in Thailand compared to men*

In Part 1, we covered the initial steps of planning your trip. In Part 2, we will cover preparation prior to arriving to Thailand, from your suitcase to yourself. This is the part that many people don’t have any knowledge about, especially if they’ve never trained in Thailand. Being proactive will offset, or even avoid, a lot of issues that can come up during your trip.

Part 2: Preparing for Thailand

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What To Expect

In order to know how to prepare your body for training in Thailand, you first must know how the training structure looks like. Any gym in Thailand that calls themselves a Muay Thai camp will include training sessions twice a day, six days a week. These sessions are in a “group” style, alongside other foreigners and the camp’s roster Thai fighters. Training sessions typically last 1.5-2 hours each. You will be expected to run before at least one of the sessions (usually morning, but many gyms run before both sessions. The morning run will be longer than the afternoon one). There is a “rest period” of 5-7 hours  to recover between the end of the first session and the start of the second session.

So what does that mean for most people? Compared to how much most train back home, the volume of training will have at least doubled, or even tripled! The same goes for the amount of roadwork everyone will be expected to do.

Image from Jared Rice
Image from Jared Rice

With a high volume of training that most aren’t used to, you can expect your body to be very sore and tight. And, if you don’t already know, Thailand is extremely hot and humid. This means you will be sweating BUCKETS during each sessions. Sweating this much can lead to cramps and dehydration. This in turn can lead to you feeling run down and sick. This will be on top of you feeling sore due to the increased volume of training plus the roadwork and numbers of kicks you’re expected to do. Yikes.

People can also eventually feel “trapped” at the gym, seeing and doing the same things every single day. Most gyms are not situated in the middle of the city where there is lots to do and see. Serious gyms tend to pick quiet locations away from distractions – this is to prevent people, including their own roster fighters, from straying off to do things they shouldn’t be while in fight camp.

The good news is that you can offset, prevent, and avoid a lot of these issues from happening by being proactive.

 

Image from Unsplash
Image from Unsplash

Fitness

If you want to make the most out of your trip, do not show up out of shape. It already takes about a week just to get your lungs used to the humidity, and it will take much longer to do that AND get your fitness levels up to par with training if you haven’t been putting in some type of work back home prior to leaving. In other words, unnecessary time spent trying to catch your breath or taking time off of training because your muscles are insanely sore, all due to being out of shape, is time you could potentially be using to get all you can out of training and better your Muay Thai skills. If you show up less than your best self (or as close to that version you can be), then you will pay the price for it in wasted time. If you can start learning from your first day rather than your second (or third) week, why wouldn’t you?

If you can’t get in decent shape before your trip due to life responsibilities, it’s not the end of the world. But, you should still try your best to get in better shape. Every little bit counts (and helps when you’re over there). Your future self will thank you.

The best way to get in good shape for training in Thailand, aside from training more, is to run. A higher volume of training means you will need better aerobic capacity. Building better aerobic capacity will help you on other fronts of your fitness when it comes to Muay Thai. One of the easiest and fastest ways to do this is to lace up your shoes and get in some road work. If you can’t get to the gym, find a way to run for 30 minutes to an hour. If you don’t like to run, you still need to do it. A lot of trainers won’t take you seriously if you don’t run before training, and some will go as far as refusing to hold pads for you if you don’t run. Love it or hate it, there’s no disputing its results and effectiveness in upping your cardio. You will also be using your legs a lot  as Thai style training includes a lot of kicks. The running will help with your legs’ muscular endurance.

Sprinting and short high intensity workouts help with increasing your explosiveness and intensity levels, but aren’t as effective when it comes to helping you get used to the sheer volume of training in Thailand. If you can do both types of workouts, great. If not, stick to the long distance runs.

Image from Alora Griffiths
Image from Alora Griffiths

Weightlifting is also not completely out of the question, but keep in mind that what you’re doing should transition over to Muay Thai in terms of function. There are some programs that just don’t help at all for Muay Thai, such as bodybuilding type of programs. While there is nothing wrong with bodybuilding, it is designed purely for the aesthetics, and this does NOT carry over into what you need your muscles to do for Muay Thai. This is especially true if you plan on dedicating a few weeks or months just for Muay Thai while in Thailand. Prior to your trip, it’s highly recommended that you stop your bodybuilding type of lifts (meaning, stop doing bicep curls). If you want to continue lifting, focus on compound lifts that increase your muscular endurance, strength, and power. There are plenty of strength and conditioning regimens that carry over into Muay Thai extremely well; the explosion of Muay Thai and other fighting arts has given us a plethora of information on this via the Internet.

While on the topic of lifting, a lot of people worry about “losing gains” (usually meaning muscle mass) while training Muay Thai. All that needs to be said is this: if you want to go do Muay Thai in Thailand, go in 100% and not just with one foot in the door. Your other non-Muay Thai related activities will still be there for you when you get home.

In addition to you getting in better (or your best) shape prior to arriving in Thailand, start adding in stretches and mobility work, if you haven’t already. Stretches and mobility work will help you avoid injury and allow your body to move better. It’s highly recommended you do not neglect this as part of your daily routine.

 

Image by Anete Lūsiņa
Image by Anete Lūsiņa

What To Pack

The time between now and your trip to Thailand is slowly getting closer, and you need to figure out what to put in your suitcase. A lot of people tend to over-pack, and end up having little to no space to bring things back. They think they need to bring all their Thai shorts and all their gear because they’ll be training everyday, but forget that they want to buy things to bring back home.

The best thing to do is pack light. Bring only what you need and things that are difficult or expensive to get in Thailand, and buy the rest when you arrive. There are only a few things that are difficult/impossible/expensive to get in Thailand, and you should pack those things if you use them. Here’s a list of what I recommend you should pack and why:

To Bring

Details

Passport & visa
This is an obvious must when traveling out of the country. Make sure your passport isn’t going to expire within the next six months and has blank usable pages. And if you need a visa, take the necessary steps to get it.
Underwear
If you had to bring a lot of anything, it would be underwear. You will through at least 2 pairs a day from training and sweating outside of training. The last thing you want to do is run out of underwear to wear! This is recommended you pack and not buy because you might end up accidentally buying underwear that’s uncomfortable or of cheap quality.
Sports bras & compression shorts*
Similar to what was said about underwear, training twice a day means you’ll need to change your sports bra and compression shorts much more often. Well-fitting sports bras that are comfortable are not an easy task to find in general, so if you already have them, bring them. Your sports bras should be suitable for “high impact” activities as these are the only suitable ones to go through running, kicking, sparring, and clinching.
*In Thai culture, women are expected to be modest, so it’s best to wear compression shorts under your Thai shorts. In reality, everyone should wear them as nobody wants to see your underwear or bits, whether you’re a man or a woman.
Shirts This is something you don’t need to bring a lot of, as you can buy shirts from almost anywhere once you arrive in Thailand. However, you should have a few readily on hand. In public places, even parks, you must have a shirt on. Yes, it can get hot on your walk back from the convenience store. Yes, you want to take your shirt off. No, you shouldn’t if you want to be respectful to those around you.
Socks
If you’re running at least once a day, you will need to bring good sport socks to avoid chaffing.
Mouthpiece Chances are, you already have one, so bring it. If you plan on sparring, it’s highly recommended you bring your mouthpiece. If you plan on fighting, you definitely need to bring it.
Running shoes
Invest in a pair of high quality running shoes. Many high quality brands in Thailand are more expensive as they’re imported. A good pair of running shoes will also save your joints a lot of pain, helping you avoid injury and unnecessary aches.
Stick deodorant
Stick deodorant a must-bring if it’s the type of deodorant you prefer, as it’s near impossible to find in Thailand. You will be able to find roller and spray deodorants quite easily, though.
Sunscreen
A lot of sunscreen is imported, so the price tags are fairly high. Others are marketed with “whitening”, which will actually change your skin color to a lighter shade! If you want to protect yourself from the sun (you might be in it a lot!) and not lose all the pigmentation in your skin, bring sunscreen from where you are.
Menstrual products
Pads are extremely easy and cheap to get anywhere. Tampons and menstrual cups, however, are not. While many places now will sell at least one type of tampon, your options will be fairly limited…and per tampon, they are usually more expensive than what you would pay elsewhere. Menstrual cups are near impossible to find in-store.
Protein powder
Protein powder is not necessary if you eat enough calories through a balanced diet while in Thailand. But if you want to have it just in case, bring it from where you’re coming from. Protein powders are usually imported from the US or Australia and tend to be crazy expensive. Whey protein is the most readily available form while alternatives are not as easy to find.
Other supplements
If you have any other supplements you regularly take, bring those. Every pharmacy has a generic vitamin section, but not everything is high quality, and you may not get the specific type that you want. Not to mention, a lot of these supplements are imported so they can be pricey.
Phone
A phone with service is always good to have, just in case you’re lost or in case of emergencies. Make sure your phone isn’t locked by your carrier (contact your service provider for further information) so you can get a SIM card upon arriving in Thailand. With a working SIM card, you will be able to order taxis, find your way around and get back to the camp, and use translation apps.
Accommodation details & pen
You will need to fill in an arrival card with your basic information along with the address of where you’re staying. Have this information ready on a piece of paper or on your phone, so you’re not scrambling to find WiFi at the airport. Having a pen handy will also avoid you the trouble of having to look for one.
Cash
It’s always to have cash on you*. Having cash upon landing will also allow you to exchange some money at the airport so you can use it for your ride to the camp (and buying things such as soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste at a nearby convenience store). You can also use this cash to buy things during your layover (if applicable), such as food. You don’t have to bring a lot if you plan on withdrawing money from a debit card. If you don’t have a debit card that doesn’t charge international withdrawal fees, bring enough cash for your whole stay, plus some extra in case of emergencies.
Debit card
Having a debit card that doesn’t charge exorbitant fees for using it in a foreign country is extremely useful. With a debit card, you can take out just what you need and not have to worry about carrying excess money on you. You will have piece of mind when you don’t have to worry about accidentally losing cash or someone stealing it from you. Don’t forget to notify the card company that you’re traveling so that your card will work.
Long pants
Not a necessity, but strongly suggested. Long plane rides can get pretty cold, and wearing long pants will help you feel more comfortable when it does. Having a pair of long pants is also useful for going to the temples (most have strict dress codes, especially for women) and when going to nicer places to eat or party.
Old gear
Not a necessity, but if you have a pair of gloves and/or shinguards that you don’t mind leaving behind, bring them. You can use them before you are able to make a trip to a gear shop. A lot of gyms can also use the extra gear, even if they’re old, so they don’t have to buy it themselves. Many gyms also have an on-site gear shop, but prices are usually much higher than if you went to an off-site shop.
Things For Your Own Needs/Preferences/Hobbies
Photography is your hobby? Bring your camera. Have a chronic condition? Bring necessary medicine and equipment. Need to sleep with your favorite pillow? Bring it. Picky about lotion? Bring your favorite brand. Take all your strong preferences, needs, allergies, and hobbies into account here.
Things For Your Surroundings If you’re staying on an island and want to go to the beach, bring your own bathing suit. If you’re staying near the mountains and want to go hiking, bring appropriate attire and shoes. You get the idea.
International Driver’s License Some places, such as Phuket, are much easier (and cheaper) to get around if you rent your own vehicle. While you won’t be stopped every time you drive a car or ride a motorcycle, you need to have one to avoid getting fined or harassed by the local police. Make sure your license is appropriate for the vehicle(s) you will be using.

*Note that you should ALWAYS budget for emergencies – sickness, injury, trips to the hospital, surgeries, losing your debit card, etc. You never know what life is going to throw at you.

If you plan on taking only what you need with you and bringing back a lot of gear, gifts, of clothes, put your packed suitcase inside a bigger empty suitcase. Your non-training and non-clothing necessities should go in your carry-on (this includes your passport and phone). This way, you will have one checked bag, and it will make your trip to Thailand easier without having to carry a lot. Another option is to forego bringing any check-in luggage at all, and just buy them when you get to Thailand.

If you have a long flight, consider bringing a neck pillow with you onto the flight. This can allow you to rest more comfortably and make your trip more bearable.


On the next part of this three-part series, we will discuss training in Thailand. This will include gym etiquette, Thai culture, and fighting. Stay tuned!

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Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC. instagram.com/angelasitan

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