It was tough trying to decide on where to train next after after spending 4 months at 301 Muay Thai and MMA gym in Sam Roi Yot. I didn’t regret my experience at that camp but I didn’t love it and really didn’t want to end up somewhere I wasn’t really happy again, but there are so many Muay Thai gyms to choose from in Thailand that the selection process can get tiresome.
In the end Santai Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai won out, and I am VERY glad I made that choice. I had a great time.
My first thought was to head to Phuket to some of the big name gyms like Top Team or Tiger Muay Thai but after several people told me what type of trainees frequent Phuket I decided to head North instead. What I’m about to say is a massive generalization but after having heard this from so many people it did play a part in my decision to go North rather than further south. I heard that more of the young, arrogant, “I’m all that,” “look at me and my sexy body” types frequent the Phuket gyms. You know the types that are into obnoxious partying and bragging about all the Thai girls they slept with. I also heard that the quality of training is better in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.
I don’t know how true these generalizations are, maybe it was just a coincidence, but I did meet people who seemed to have more depth at Santai than my first camp. Not to say these guys didn’t party, but they were just more mature about it and were able to also hold conversations beyond small talk on other topics. Basically I didn’t feel like it was just a bro’s club at Santai.
The Thai kids that train at Santai also help to make the atmosphere what is. With the kids there you appreciate Muay Thai even more because you train in the company of people who do this to help better there station in life, it’s not just a holiday or a hobby for them. To witness first hand the duality between the kids training and fighting hard in between school and chores but also see that light hearted child like side of them where they are horsing around, teasing, and playing is really an amazing, touching and humbling thing.
Nick, the owner of Santai helped make my decision by giving me excellent customer service. He answered all of my millions of questions right away, he showed me videos of successful fighters who had trained at his gym, he directed me to the website to see the credentials of his trainers (some of them legends check it out here). I also received good references from a couple of people I randomly messaged on FB asking for their opinion of the gym, after I’d seen their names tagged in pictures on the Santai FB page. What sealed the deal was a good word put in about the gym from professional Muay Thai fighter Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu, who although never trained at Santai had heard good things about it from others who had.
For 300 baht I was picked up by head trainer Phon at Chiang Mai bus station and driven to the gym located in San Kamphaeng, one of 25 districts of Chiang Mai Province about 20km from Chiang Mai city.
I’m going to be honest here, based on the pictures and what was written on the Santai website about the location I thought I was going to the countryside, but that wasn’t the case at all. Sure if you take some of the side roads near the gym you are beside rice fields but I don’t think it’s very accurate to call San Kamphaeng a “village” as it does on the Santai website. It’s more like a developing suburb of Chiang Mai to me.
The gym is in a space that is enclosed on 2 sides, with a tin roof. It got pretty stuffy in there on really hot days despite the mounted fans running on full blast. The gym has 3 rings, plenty of heavy bags a little multi station exercise apparatus which I’d rather see replaced with a bench and a nice set of weights but hey I can’t have it all, a pull up bar a climbing rope some olympic rings and a little shop where you could buy your Muay Thai essentials: gloves, shin pads, t-shirts, Muay Thai shorts, towels, liniment, and even training pads.
The open side of the gym was facing a small parking lot where team building BBQ’s were often held. New two story blocks of rooms were available for rent on the other side of the parking lot about 20 meters away with older blocks of rooms to the right of the parking lot that were attached to the gym, and the Santai temple was just across the road to the left.
I chose a 6000 baht a month single room with aircon located offsite but just a short walk from the gym.
The room was definitely adequate and the main things were clean, like the bathroom and the sheets and floors. But…the walls were filthy with some insect and a trail of it’s guts smeared on the wall, hand prints, and other unidentified stains. The headboard of the bed had a little shelf built into it and it was caked with dirt. The smell was a little musty which intensified when I turned on the aircon.
But, I wanted to make due. I wanted to stop being a diva always throwing away money on upgrades. I thought I’d clean what wasn’t up to snuff for me and just stick it out. It really wasn’t THAT bad, just needed a little more deep down clean. My plans to stick with the room lasted for about a week. It wasn’t the lack of cleanliness that made me change my mind it was the audible music and karaoke that came from the bar that was attached to the rooms and kept me awake all night. Even after the music stopped I could still hear the clanking of cutlery and dishes and tables and chairs being dragged across the floors as the staff cleaned up for the night.
So I moved to one of the new rooms right across from the gym, This room was 8000 baht a month but for total comfort (and a fridge which the other room lacked) it was well worth it for me. The only noises here were the sounds of dogs barking in the distance and the roosters.
For my last month I switched to the apartments called 102 Residence. It was a little further away but they had bicycles for rent at the residence so it would only take me a few minutes to get to the gym. I switched because 3500 baht a month (plus cost of electricity) for a brand new room, a pool and a restaurant just couldn’t be beat. Also the owners Sandy and Apple are just so friendly and hospitable that it was a joy to stay there.
Training at Santai like most Muay Thai gyms is twice a day 6 days a week. Morning training ran from 6am to 8am starting with an 8km self managed run. Afternoon training is from 4pm-7pm with runs at Doi Suthep on Saturday if there was enough people who wanted to join.
What I loved about Santai especially in comparison to the gym I was at before was that they were constantly pushing me to do better, they were constantly correcting my form. We practiced the basics EVERYDAY. There were no lazy trainers.
I loved that we warmed up together every day and that we ended our sessions with abs together everyday. I loved that they stayed on schedule for training. It started at 4pm and by 4:30pm the trainers were yelling at us to start the group warm up that was usually led by one of the students.
They also do clinching everyday. Even though I really didn’t participate in that as much as I should have. Clinching is just one of those things I do want to get good at but hate practicing. It also didn’t help that I had an injured foot and that every time I did clinch someone would end up stepping on my foot. Then it my foot would hurt for the next couple of days. But the injured foot is just a side excuse, I just don’t like going into the ring and just trying to take someone down without any formal instruction. Sometimes the clinch session looked more like wrestlemania. But I learned from Muay Thai Scholar that that is just the Thai way of training the clinch, you learn by doing (like everything else) but I prefer more verbal instruction and then having something to practice, so I guess it just turned me off. But to be honest if Nick was watching and saw you really didn’t have a clue he would get into the ring and give you great pointers, also if you ask the trainers will give you verbal instructions.
I felt the location of Santai gym was great. Muay Thai Scholar didn’t give high ratings to Santai for location but maybe we just have different standards or the area was a lot less developed when he was there because I thought the area provided more than enough to satisfy me during down time.
Inexpensive restaurants nearby, my favourite being Watchareya’s. A little restaurant run by a beautiful young woman named Toon. This woman is not only an excellent cook but a hustler who takes care of her younger sister on her own while running the restaurant during the week and teaching English on the weekends. What I like about her place is she can also custom make dishes for you if it’s possible.
There are also several trendy coffee shops with wi-fi and really great coffee all within walking distance of the gym. My favourite one was Macho Coffee Shop just a couple hundred meters from the gym, they had wi-fi, great coffee, cozy atmosphere and Dodo the Pug was the adorable Coffee shop mascot. Right across from Macho is an old lady offering laundry service at just 30 baht per kg of dirty clothes with same day service if you bring it in early enough.
There were a couple of bars with big screen TV’s within walking distance of the gym where you can catch football games (that’s soccer for all my non European friends).
You could get your daily dose of fresh vitamins and minerals from one of two fresh juice stands on the main road less than a 10 minute walk from the gym. Beet, carrot and orange was my favourite concoction.
For just a couple of hundred baht you could get a kick ass massage at a nearby temple. You also have your TESCO express (like a mini Wal Mart) and a couple of 7 Elevens nearby.
In addition to the many restaurants that line the main road you also have food carts that come out every evening around 4:30-5:00pm selling even more food; spring rolls, fried chicken, grilled chicken, sausages, satays, vegetables, soups. Plenty of evil treats that threaten the progress you make at the gym for being so damned delicious and irresistible like roti’s; a piece of dough rolled out really thinly like a crepe, fried in oil and butter and filled with your choice of either banana, egg, chocolate, nutella or any combination of those items. I heard later on that he’d even put in your favourite chocolate bar if you gave it to him (but I didn’t get the opportunity to try that before leaving) and topped with a sweet coconut glaze. Amazing! There was also stalls selling freshly popped popcorn or mango and sticky rice (one of my favourite Thai sweet dishes). And if that wasn’t enough every Saturday the main street was closed off to traffic for several blocks and turned into a big market selling everything from clothing to handy crafts, knick knacks, herbs, healing remedies and even more FOOD.
But yes, boredom is bound to set in eventually so for a mere 15 baht you can take a Songtaew (Thai bus) into Chiang Mai city.
All in all I was very happy with the quality of training at Santai. I saw massive improvement in all aspects of my training, but especially my kicking (although it’s still pretty bad, but hey it’s better than it was and Santai only had me for 2.5 months and for some of that time I was sick). I wanted to try and get in one more fight before I went home but the decision was not only up to me. The main trainer Phon told me that I was not ready to fight because I had not been running during my stay at Santai. I know that running is a big part of Muay Thai training and I am FINALLY getting back to it now after a couple of months of not being able to due to knee and foot injury. I actually really respected him for making that call because it showed me that the gym actually has standards for who they let fight under their name and that they care about their students.
I would definitely go back to and recommend training at Santai. I really felt comfortable in San Kamphaeng and love the proximity to Chiang Mai city, loved the trainees, the kids and the trainers. What more could I ask for!