Last but not least, we have my current and new favorite place in Thailand to train. Honestly, I don’t know if I would recommend Chiang Mai as the destination for first-timers to Thailand. I’m sure you’ll still have a good time here, but white sand beaches and nice tropical islands are a huge part of Thailand that isn’t up in Chiang Mai. The reason why I can enjoy it so much here is because I got all of that out of my system first. There’s still plenty to do in Chiang Mai: you can ride a bicycle everywhere, go on 1-3 day hikes in the beautiful mountains and enjoy lunch on a bamboo hut right on top of the lake. There’s also a river that runs though the city and really nice swimming pools to lounge by and top up your tan. My favorite part of Chiang Mai, however, is the people. There is zero bullshit here, everyone is friendly and no one tries to rip you off. In Phuket and Koh Samui everyone is rude and over charges for things like taxi cabs. In Bangkok people will try to scam you.
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But in Chiang Mai, people are friendly and whatever price they quote you for a taxi ride is usually correct and, at most, it’ll only be 50 baht ($1.66US) too high. In Phuket the cost of a Taxi from the airport to the road where Tiger Muay Thai and Phuket Top Team are at, the taxi drivers will try to charge you up to 1,300 baht ($43.33US) – you have to haggle and argue to get it down to 600 baht ($20US); however, in Chiang Mai you won’t even have to negotiate – the price will be 150 baht ($5US). Right from the moment you step off the plane you will be paying a lot less money and, more importantly, not stressing out as much either. Even taking taxis around town are a pleasant experience with most shared rides being only 20 baht (Less than $1) and having a private taxi take you 30 minutes away for 150 baht ($5). Rooms and accommodation are also cheaper in Chiang Mai: you can get a basic fan room for as little as 2,500 baht per month ($83US) and for 6,000 baht ($200US) you can live in the city center in a nice place with a swimming pool, air conditioning, wifi, fridge, TV, cleaning service, elevator and security.
I’m currently paying 4,000 baht ($133US) including utilities, wifi, and linen service. One a week I get freshly laundered bath towels, sheets and pillowcases for free. I can also drop off my own laundry next door for 30 baht a kilo ($1US for 2.2lbs of laundry). My room in Chiang Mai is by far the nicest room I’ve stayed at anywhere in Thailand and also the cheapest. In Phuket I’d have to share a bathroom and have a smaller place for the same price. There are a few really good gyms in Chiang Mai. If you want to do MMA your choices are Team Quest and the new Tiger Muay Thai in Chiang Mai. TMT Chiang Mai is huge – literally a sports campus on 7 acres of land (which is 28,328 sq. meters) in the Mae Rim area. It’s a 40-60 minute drive from the actual city of Chiang Mai which makes it fantastic for dedicated training. There are currently 34 budget rooms being built and expected to be 68 in total when they finish. I think TMT coming to Chiang Mai will be a good thing for the gym’s reputation.
It’s the opposite of a party town, especially being so far north of the city, so people will actually train and not just get drunk and chase girls every weekend. I would recommend Tiger Muay Thai Chiang Mai for those who are coming to Thailand and want to dedicate to training and nothing else. If you get bored you can always split a taxi or ride your motorbike into town on weekends and get a hostel for 120 baht a night ($4US). Edit: Tiger Muay Thai Chiang Mai has closed due to a land dispute with the Thai owners. For more information you can read about it on my blog at www.MyFightCamp.com Team Quest is the first MMA gym in Chiang Mai and is in an ideal location of the city, opposite Central Airport Plaza mall (where the cinema, shopping and food courts are located), and is a quick, 5-10 minute drive from the city center. If you want to do MMA but want to be in the city itself, I would recommend Team Quest. As for Muay Thai only gyms, there are a few good ones to choose from in Chiang Mai. I’m currently at KC Muay Thai and am really happy here. It’s a 20 minute drive from the city center, in the very quite countryside town of Mae-Hia.
Within walking distance I have a Big C Supermarket (think SuperWalmart) and a bunch of small Thai restaurants – including one opposite the new Urbana 2 condos – with a Thai lady who speaks really good English, making it the choice of most guys at the gym. Typical dishes there are 35-40 baht but you can ask for super-sized, double meat dishes with two eggs for around 80 baht. ($2.66US ) The head trainer, Chon, is a world class fighter and coach, a genuine, good, honest person and is the reason why I love KC Muay Thai so much. However, one other main reason is because it doesn’t have a website and very few people come here – it’s only through word of mouth. Unfortunately, if KC starts getting really busy, I’m afraid it won’t be as good. The gym normally has around 5-10 people training at any given time and can support up to 15.
Anything more than that and I feel the training could suffer, especially since there is only room for one boxing ring. Burklerk Gym, an indoor gym, is in the heart of the city situated on the second floor of the night market – which is a bit too busy of an area. Burklerk Pinsinchai is well known as a world class trainer that speaks good English and has excellent technique. As a result of the gym’s location, it caters mostly to random tourists that come in for a day or two and Burklerk isn’t often there. If you really want to train with him, email email@example.com ahead of time to ask about his schedule. He is often at his other gym in Lampang, 4 hours away from Chiang Mai. I would only train there if I was already in peak cardio conditioning, already had ton of fights under my belt, and wanted to take some 1-on-1 private lessons with Burklerk himself to learn some new techniques. For 1-on-1 private lessons Burlerk would be your best choice followed by Chon at KC, or one of the Thai trainers that you get along with at the other gyms. Lanna and Chay Yai Gym area both close to the city center (and popular), but a bit too crowded for my taste.
I’ve heard mixed reviews for both gyms. So your experience could be good but it’s not my top choice. Sangha Muay Thai is 20 minutes out of the city but is more of a meditation, spirituality and traditional martial arts gym. I’d say it’s better than learning Kung Fu or Karate but, honestly, it’s not my thing and do not recommend it. I’d rather train the basic foundation and how to fight at a normal Muay Thai gym. Santai Muay Thai is also a bit outside of the city, around 30-40 minute drive away, but is located in very nice, peaceful countryside. They have a good Fairtex ring and equipment and a decent good sized gym. What I respect most about Santai is, even though the gym can get busy, they pride themselves on quality of training over profits, and actively turn away students once they reach their capacity of 30. What I also like is that everyone eats together Thai-style and there seems to be a very good social life at the gym. Overall, I would pick Santai as the best Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai for most people.