This year we spent 3 months in Thailand, where we checked out many muay thai and muay boran schools. The main purpose of our trip was to tape video instructions for flashmavi.com, but of course we also had time to practice muay thai. So if you plan to learn muay thai in Thailand, maybe this will help you making a decision on where to go. In case you are looking for the videos, we will upload them :) Check out the muay thai video section. The muay boran section is in work.
Thailand was gr8, people were very friendly, muay thai was awesome and we were surprised how clean everything was. Our favorite parts of Thailand were definitely Krabi, Koh Phi Phi and Chiang Mai.
We went to Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai and had a very close look at many different training camps and schools. We didn't just look for places to train and party at. We were here for the videos and "some" training. Before we arrived to Thailand, we actually contacted over 20 schools from all over the country. Some of them responded immediately, others didn't get back to us at all. But most of them basically just said; "Come now or make a reservation online". Most of them didn't even ask what exactly we wanted to do. Tiger Muay Thai kinda stood out, because they told us we could tape Krabi and Muay Boran techniques. Anyway, after looking them up on the internet, we went straight to Chiang Mai, where I expected things to be a bit more traditional and quiet.
A friend of mine introduced me to Chaiya Muay Thai, which looked very friendly/interesting at the beginning. But after having a closer look, it was just this one guy from Spain who almost convinced us to work with them. The owner of the gym seemed a bit unfriendly and looked unmotivated. Anyway. If you are in Chiang Mai, and only speak spanish, Chaiya Muay Thai is probably the right place for you.
Another option would have been Lanna Muay Thai. But we contacted them twice and they didn't answer or show any interest. We talked to a few foreigners who trained there and everybody said that the equipment is very old and the owner has his dogs all over the place. Again, doesn't mean that it's a bad place, but it was not for us. Lanna is the most commercial and biggest gym in Chiang Mai. They are not popular for good technique.
And then there was Lex Muay Thai and a few other schools, which I really didn't make that much research on, because I found Muay Thai Santai.
Muay Thai Santai is one of two places we would like to recommend in the Chiang Mai area. They are located in Sankamphaeng, about 20 km from the Chiang Mai city center. So if you rent a scooter, you can go there in 20 minutes. If you take a bus, half an hour. What I liked about them is that they didn't represent themselves with a price list and a manager who doesn't do any muay thai himself. I hate talking to managers who are just in for the money. A lot of gyms will not waste a breath on you if you are not talking money from the very first moment. I don't want to take advantage of anybody, but if somebody says yes to everything without even asking you about the details, that's not a good sign. At Muay Thai Santai they showed us around, asked a lot of question before we got started and everybody was very helpful, friendly and professional. You feel welcome and training there is like working out in a family environment. Non of the fighters there is trying to impress with bad manners and while I was there, they won all their fights in Chiang Mai (including fights against Lanna, Lex and Chaiya). So I shot my basic Muay Thai videos with Kru Phon and Kru Do from Muay Thai Santai and they did an amazing good job. One more thing about Muay Thai Santai - They are also the cheapest gym in the area, because they are not located in the center of Chiang Mai.
Then my brother came over to Thailand and we made a little vacation. We went to Koh Phi Phi, Krabi and Phuket, and after he left we planned to start working with Tiger Muay Thai. They are the guys who said I could tape muay boran and krabi krabong videos with them.
All in all we were really disappointed by the Tiger. Arriving there, a manager guy, I think his name was Phil, received us. When you arrive at Tiger Muay Thai, you always walk into their office first. I think they didn't show us around because they have their virtual tour on their youtube channel. So I guess you can just check out that and go there to get rid of your money. It felt like the first thing he wants you to do is to sign up for a few weeks without asking what exactly you want to do. After all, they offer everything. Well, and then you are supposed to buy new training equipment, because the gym doesn't share gloves like other gyms in Thailand. Oh yea :) That's because of the bacteria problem they have down there. We already had an apartment for one month in Karon Beach, so we didn't need any of their rooms. But what i really didn't like was that all the manager's questions were money related. The whole conversation was very un-personal. Long story, but at the end he said he would email us his "price" for taping our videos with his Muay Boran / Krabi Krabong Guy. He never came back to us and even after we reminded him, he didn't show any interest. BTW, Tiger Muay Thai is in the Chalong Area, which is the only place in Phuket without a nice beach. The next nice sand beach is 15 minutes south, in Rawai, or at the other side of the hills, in Patong. Also, there are no Thai fighters at Tiger Muay Thai. At least i didn't see any. It's a business for foreign tourist fighters and free-fighters only. The only thing I liked about Tiger was that you can get protein shakes in the gym and I guess I would have liked their Krabi Krabong instructor, but I was never able to meet him. They fly in boxing instructors from and brazilian jujitsu instructors from the U.S. but it feels like they are only there for the phuket-climate.
Dragon Muay Thai is just a few meters from Tiger Muay Thai. They are a little smaller and less popular, but they are pretty much the same.
This is a training camp I didn't even contact, because it's for foreigners only and I heard they don't have traditional muay thai trainers.
This gym looked a lot nicer, because it's in the south of Phuket, close to the elephant camp. The beaches around Sinbi Muay Thai are very nice and quiet. The gym is smaller than Tiger Muay Thai, but much bigger then most of the of the other gyms in Phuket. At Sinbi they have weights and two rings.
Kata Beach is one of the nicer places in Phuket and Chang Gym is a very friendly place. It's is very small and most foreigners who train there just visit them because their family or friends stay in Kata. I didn't stay there long enough to tell how good they are, but they gave me a lot of good and honest information about the other gyms in the area. They were actually the ones who sent me to J.PraPa Muay Thai at Kata Beach, which was a Jackpot.
This Gym was exactly what I was looking for. It was very friendly, one of their coaches was a famous fighter and the owner of the gym knew Muay Boran. Muay Boran is what we were looking for, because we already finished the Muay Thai videos. The only thing some people will not like about this gym is that it's kinda in between a few bars and restaurants on Kata beach. But if you don't care about a few tourists walking by, it's a nice place: Unfortunately I wasn't able to work with PraPa, because the owner was on vacation until the end of my try.
If you rent a scooter and go on a ride in Phuket, you will find a few more muay thai gym. But the ones I mentioned here are probably the most famous ones.
Since our trip to Phuket only consisted of runs on the beach and 3 pad thais a day, I contacted the Rangsit Muay Thai institute near Bangkok. It's one of the biggest Muay Thai schools in Thailand and many coaches and fighters from all over the world come there. It's not some touristy place like most gyms in Phuket. I knew about them from the beginning, but I also knew that they didn't have muay boran. Anyway, I contacted them to see if they could introduce me to somebody for muay boran, because they must know everybody. I didn't have to wait long for a reply. They said we should check out the National Stadium near the Hua Lam pong Railways Station in Bangkok.
When we arrived there, we found ourselves in front of a huge government owned stadium (not like a normal soccer stadium) with offices for different Thai sports associations. I thought; "No way they are going to help us with our videos :) That's probably just going to be an office where the organize stuff". However, we can always ask. So the guard showed us the way to the Muay Thai office and I walked in. It was a small place all decorated with government papers and certificates. This was actually the "Muay Thai Conservation Center of Thailand", so they had the top Muay Boran Coach "Suphan Chabairam" there, everybody who learns Muay Boran in Thailand these days, basically learns from him. They also had a ring, a small training area and Muay Boran fotos all over the place. Foreigners also come there from time to time, It's not a place for tourists, but I think everybody can ask coach suphan to learn muay boran from him. Most foreigners just go to Phuket where they will find the worst and most unfriendly places, but enough beer and prostitutes. The next day we started taping some videos and they turned out amazing - BTW, We will upload them ASAP. Next time I will definitely stay in Bangkok a bit longer and only emphasize on Muay Boran. We got like 40 muay Boran instructions this time, but I could have invested a bit more time.
There are probably a hundred muay thai gyms in Bangkok. Bangkok is definitely the best place to learn muay thai. The only reason why "NOT" to go there is the smog. And if you decide to stay in Bangkok for Muay thai only, go to Rangsit or the National Stadium. Yes, foreigners can train there. But contact them before you go there. Just make sure you stay always from the tourist places. If there are no thai students in a gym, that's a very bad sign.
Here are all the muay thai gym I recommend: