Finding a Passion for Muay Thai at Charn Chai (My Trip Advisor Review)

This is version of a review I put on Trip Advisor of Charn Chai Muay Thai in Pai, Thailand which for me is one year and counting.

Nestled in the hills of Northern Thailand in the town of Pai you will find Charn Chai Muay Thai, one of the best places to go to learn Muay Thai in the north (you can check out there facebook page here). I came to the gym more than a year ago never having trained in any form of martial arts. I didn’t know what to expect but thought Pai would be a good place because it was close to Chiang Mai but not too close.

The gym is located a few hundred meters outside the Pai Hospital, the gym has one ring, mats, 9 bags, 2 exercise bikes, free weights, lots of skipping ropes and a few weight machines. I have to admit I was very intimidated when I first got there, so much that when I got there I turned right around and got breakfast before going back in the afternoon to start training.

There are 2 sessions a day, one from 8-10 am and another from 3-5pm. These classes have a mix of people mostly foreigners from all around the world. Each session starts with a warm up that consists of skipping, for 10 minutes to loosen you up. After that there is 10 minutes of stretching led by one of the trainers. After that everyone gets their hands wrapped and the beginners start learning all the moves. The people who have done muay thai for a while start learning and practicing technique with a partner. While this is being done people start to get pad work with the trainers.

All the trainers have a wealth of experience and their own individual styles for doing pads. You do around four rounds of pads and after that you do kicking exercises on the bags or rejoin those people doing technique. After this they do clinching in the afternoon, some days they do a tire run then more bag exercises then an ab session and a final stretch. One of the benefits of having many trainers is that they all bring something slightly different to the table which you learn as you work with several of them.

Their command of English is basic but serviceable in most situations, it isn’t always perfect but it gets the job done and doesn’t take long to get used to. While there are many tourists that come for a short time there are a lot of us that have stayed for a few months or longer. Several of the trainers here still fight occasionally or more often, in Chiang Mai, in Bangkok or at Max Muay Thai in Pattaya or elsewhere.

There are usually several thai fighters at the gym although this varies depending on the time of year. They are great people to train with because of their skills having trained for years. Seeing them kick is as inspirational as anything I’ve seen because it makes you want to push it that much more to improve. I’ve seen a lot of people prepare to fight, this is not something that they ask you unless you show the dedication and focus over time. This is something that you have to tell them and once you do they will push you more and more to prep you for your fight.

In most cases you will fight at the Karlaw Night Bazar Boxing Stadium in Chiang Mai that is just southeast of Tha Phae gate. Fights usually occur on Friday night against thai and foreign fighters from gyms from around the city. Training for fighting is another level from doing 2 sessions a day, it involved running daily for 10km, more pad work and more sparring. Another option is to do some private sessions so you get to know your trainers and they can work on the details that may be missed in a normal class.

You do a run from the gym to the White Buddha which can be seen in the distance from Pai on a hill, it is about 3 km for a total of 6 km or so back and forth. Once you get to the White Buddha you run up to the steps where you are treated to a great view of much of the valley. After you get back to the gym you can either spar or do pad work. Sparring is not for everyone but it really helps to improve your skill by learning to recognize openings and also understanding your own weaknesses. As with anything the more you put into your training the more they will invest in you and push you to help you achieve your goals be it just to improve, to get into the ring or lose a few pounds.

Classes are 300 baht a session 500 a day, 2200 a week and 8000 a month as of 2015. They offer food at the end of every session for 70 baht as of this writing and fruit shakes or protein shakes can be bought there to quench your thirst after a grueling session. Private one on one training is available with a trainer of your choice for 500 baht for an hour. They will also help you find accommodation if you are in need, they have relationships with all the hostels and resorts around the gym which also means more often than not many of your neighbours will be people you train with. The accommodations range from basic to comfortable but the prices are competitive and there is enough variety for most to find what works for their budgets and personal tastes.

The gym has a great atmosphere, it has a tropic charm that can’t be denied. There are a few dogs around the gym that are very cute and make the gym feel lived in (it just wouldn’t be the same without them). Sometimes you can have a bad session but seeing these one of these dogs and giving one a pet or a belly rub is enough to put a smile on all but the most cynical of folks. It feels like more than just a business, whether you train at Charn Chai Muay Thai for a day, week or more you are joining a large and diverse extended family that includes trainers, fighters and people of all ages from around the world.

One of the benefits to being in Pai is that it is laid back, there are always new people coming and going and it lacks the noise and sheer number of distractions as you would find in Chiang Mai but it is close enough so if you want you can go down to Chiang Mai for a weekend for a change of pace. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen many people come and go and then come back a few months later to train again sometimes I’ve seen this happen multiple times by the same people. That is a testament to the quality of the training, the trainers at the gym and the atmosphere they’ve created.

I’ve never been an athlete, never done any sort of martial arts but coming here I committed myself to seeing how far I could push it and I have never been more for fit in my life. No matter what happens be it I end of fighting or not I know that I want to continue to purse muay thai in some shape or form and that is due to the passion that I have acquired from this gym. Bee is one of the nicest people you will meet although he likes his sticks a bit too much (you’ll understand if you come here) and you won’t regret spending a session getting your ass handed to you (but in the best way possible).