*Edit,This gym has since changed it’s name to Santai Muay Thai*. Sankampaeng, a town situated approximately 10km east of Chiang Mai proper elicits a pretty mixed set of emotions for me. It’s the place where I came close to inhaling my last breath a few years back. It was here, in 2007 where I was t-boned by an illegal ten year old kamikaze from Myanmar on his way to work at a local factory. It was a little messy. He was on a motorbike, I was on cheap bicycle. We were in a residential area, amongst rice fields, one eyed dogs, and freaked out locals. It’s along this same stretch that Siam No. 1 is located.
Currently, I’ve been in Thailand, this round, for six months and decided skip to Mae Sai for my mandatory visa run. Chiang Mai is along the route from Bangkok to the border, so I decided to pause and hunt down old friends. This included the crew over at Siam No. 1. I arrived with my gear, but rather than train, all I was motivated to do was hang and chase chickens with my camera.
The following is a breakdown of what I gathered from this visit and what I experienced in my six month stay with them in 2007. From what I witnessed that day and what was confirmed by speaking with the promoter and the Farang that I met, other than physical improvements to the facilities, I believe little else has changed.
There are a number of guesthouses within walking distance to the gym. Some enroute to the rice fields laying south, and one specifically within about a five minute walk in the opposite direction, which lies just off the main drag. In most cases, for approximately 2,500 baht a month you get clean, spacious, fully furnished rooms with a fan, cold water, a Western toilet and nightly silence. If you sleep closer to the gym, expect to wake up to swaggering roosters, merry cows and the deep bass of chanting monks. Siam No. 1 is located beside a wat.
If you want to cut additional costs, there are cheaper guesthouses in the area. I can’t remember the exact price, but I believe you can cut approximately 1,000 baht a month to live like the migrant workers. However, from what I’ve seen, expect less than Western standards of cleanliness, a Thai toilet and possibly no other furniture than a mattress on the floor. In some cases, your washroom may be a separate building in the backyard, but on the plus side, you may have your own private yard.
Siam No. 1 is a large, beautiful, outdoor gym with a handful of young Thai and Hilltribe nak muays and more often than not, less Farang. There are two rings, a pull-up bar, a nautilus machine, free weights, tires to jump on and more than enough bags of varying weights and densities. The air is clean. And yes ladies, you are allowed in the ring. Both of them.
For approximately 6,000 baht a month you get afternoon training sessions, six times a week. Sparring is on Saturdays. The Thais train twice daily, the morning 10 km run through the fields and onto the highway begins at 5 am. There is another in the afternoon. Watch out for the local thugs – aka mangy canine running in packs backed up by suburban fluffies. I arrived in 2007 with a deep rooted fear of dogs, which quickly morphed into a new found appreciation for the cultures that eat them, and eventually, after literally being hunted and attacked by a crew of them, learned to coexist with them. It’s cheaper than therapy.
Farang can run with the gym and use the facilities in the morning, however, you’ll only get your five rounds with a trainer in the afternoon.
I didn’t realize it until this year, but both trainers are ex-Chuwattana boys. They’re technical, they’re patient and they’ll take the time to hand hold beginners. I can’t stress this enough, if you’re new to muay thai and like the idea of training in the Chiang Mai area, I suggest checking this gym out to determine if it’s a good fit. This isn’t a heavy paced gym that you may get lost in. They will take the time to teach you proper technique outside your pad sessions. They’ll correct you on the bags. They’ll laugh at you and assist you the best way they can. I believe they enjoy what they’re doing; they’ve been doing it for a long time. Unlike a lot of gyms that will have you train with newbies, the two krus at Siam No. 1 are veterans. They know how to work with Foreigners.
If you’re a more experienced fighter, Siam No. 1 is a great stop to hit enroute to wherever, if you’re looking to increase your conditioning and adapt to climate changes before going full force. That being said, I’m not implying that experienced fighters shouldn’t check it out as a place to reside. I’ve known a number of fighters who prefer Siam No. 1 because of the amount of attention they receive and the proficiency of the trainers. Both of them, who I believe stopped fighting in the 80s are still in incredible physical shape. I’ve seen them hold free style on the pads and spar with experienced Farang that couldn’t touch them.
If you’re interested in fighting, there are a few options in the area – bar fights, Kawilla stadium and my favourite, temple fights. I’ve traveled with this crew to places as far as Fang – it’s a completely different experience than fights in the city, and something, should you get the opportunity to fight in or just run around and eat meat on sticks at, do it.
Really chill, gentle people other than the promoter who is loud, aggressive and everything travel guides will tell you Thais aren’t. It’s a fun mix.
Siam No. 1 doesn’t provide food but there are number of options in the immediate area. In 2007 there were two restaurants that offered English language menus amongst the many that lined the main strip. If you’re sensitive to MSG or just don’t want to eat handfuls of poison, I suggest learning how to request that it not to be dumped into your food and to ask if it’s already tainted with it (i.e. at the market). Learn those sentences well. I’ve never been anywhere on the planet where it was used like five year old princesses use magic pixie dust. It’s everywhere.
There is a nearby market and a 7-Eleven. As much as I hate to write this, 7-Eleven, for me, has become a yardstick for urbanity in this country. If there isn’t one, you’re in the sticks. There are a number of internet cafes lining the main street.
As far as hanging out, Sankampaeng isn’t exactly diverse. There are however songtaos into Chiang Mai. You’ll have to give up 14 baht each way. Service stops at 8pm and a tuk tuk back may cost you approximately the same as a night in a guesthouse in the core of the city. Motorbikes are available for rent in Chiang Mai – I have no idea how much they’ll hit you up for. I bought a motorbike in 2007 and sold it before I left for Canada. I think for my six month stay, I lost no more than 6,000 baht going this route and that was more due to the fact that I bought the thing at a Farang price and sold it to a Thai. Do your research.
There are a number of options for massage in the area, my favourite, ever, and I really mean EVER and ANYWHERE, is the blind massage on the south side of the main street enroute to Bo Sang (leading towards Chiang Mai). Nothing is in English so you’ll have to ask the gym where it is. Be prepared to walk into someone’s dark living quarters that doubles as their place of work. No one speaks English and you may have to wait awhile. It’s worth it.
If you travel further west on the main road, towards the city, there is a lone wooden house surrounded by trees, on the south side that advertises massages in English and Thai. In 2007 I checked it out a few times on the recommendation of a friend. She had been a number of times, liked it and never had a sketchy moment. At the time, it was a lone guy working out of his home. Sometimes his female friends would come hang out. Massages were administered on a raised wooden deck, surrounded by cheerful little birds and the delicate scent of flowers growing all around. If you’re like my friend, it can be relaxing and beautiful, if you’re like me, he can try to give you a happy ending and really piss you off. Ladies, be warned. Unless you want that happy ending. He doesn’t charge extra for it.
The following is a small piece a Canadian filmmaker shot when I first hit Siam No. 1. in 2007. It’ll give you a peep at the facilities as well as what a few of us had to say about muay thai and the gym itself.
Has anyone else trained at Siam No. 1? Anyone been there more recently? Please update if you see any holes…
More about Laura
I’m a Canadian who decided to quit my job, sell most of what I own, pack a suitcase, and skip continents to pursue a martial art I’m not particularly efficient in. A minimalist. A modern nomad. A kid who just likes having a good time.
My attraction to muay thai is that it’s an art with no wasted motion. It has been the greatest vehicle for my continual education. It’s incredibly challenging to me – both the physical and the mental game. The latter probably more so than the former.
Currently I’m in Bangkok training muay thai fulltime. The plan is to be here for a few years, but realistically, I have no idea where this path is leading, or what the timeline is. I like change and pushing my comfort zone. A lot. Nevertheless, muay thai will be the constant among the variables.
Be prepared for updates, rambling, video content and anything I’ve learned that I think may of use to you.
This hasn’t been easy, but so far, its been a pretty sick ride.