Wanderlust: Muay kind of holiday


"No-one will hit you in the head," promises Jason Friedman, the general manager of The Siam, a retro-glamorous inn that opened last year along Bangkok's Chao Praya River, when I write to inquire about their Muay Thai boxing weekend, the world's only swanky camp for this ancient sport.

One of the first guests to check in last July, I was already intimately familiar with his hotel's photogenic Art Deco villas under soaring ceilings, each with a private plunge pool and rooftop river-facing deck. All memorable stuff but my inquiring eyes couldn't help notice areas still cordoned off, like the old-fashioned tearoom and a private cinema with vintage Parisian theatre seats, as well as activities like the Thai boxing, listed on the website but not yet available. Such coming attractions are a fact of life for the travel writer whose deadlines mean visits in advance of even the most ahead-of-the-pack vacationer, and which often leave me lusting after the fully fledged guest experience.

So I return this year to preview The Siam's multi-day Muay Thai boxing immersion programme, which incorporates punching protocols, protein rich menus, targeted spa treatments, visits to a local training camp and ringside seats to prize fights. A seemingly strange choice perhaps for someone whose travel souvenirs include more championship suntans than contact bruises, however my travel priorities are shifting from self-indulgence to active immersion in the experiential.

In the weeks leading up to my Thailand trip, I come up with a variety of subtle ways to double-check on the safety of the potentially gruesome Muay Thai boxing. Ever the consummate host, Friedman listens patiently, even as I arrive at his sublime riverside inn. His team at The Siam has been well trained to anticipate this anxiety. I'm coddled with my favourite mango and kaffir lime smoothies, distracted by a set of shiny boxing shorts and sleek gloves, both embroidered with my name, and promised an array of spa treatments designed to ensure that my rarely used muscles don't ache from the impending folly.

In the shiny new gym, Khun Bee, the hotel's Muay Thai master, begins by telling me that 'one thousand years ago, Thai people believed Muay Thai could cure anything', which appeals to my holistic inclinations – but then he adds that they used it mainly to fight the Khmer and Burmese, which is not on my agenda. I'm none too thrilled to begin with a weigh-in but Bee promises this will allow us to see how effectively Thai boxing burns off weight and body fat.

Warmed and gloved up, I enter the boxing ring as the master introduces my 'four weapons'. I've previously only thought of these as body parts – namely my elbows, fists, knees and shins. He places my legs in a sort of perpetual dancing stance and directs me to move my arms in front of my face, slightly angled 'like a Thai temple'. From the first punch, I'm hooked.

Punching, kicking and jabbing ensue for the next 90 minutes. Friedman's promises of protecting my head prove true as Khun Bee speaks constantly of safety in the ring and I find everything about The Siam's programme geared towards expanding my horizons without the slightest endangerment. Trust is turning into a very effective travel technique. At the end of my first training session, I've dropped half a kilo and picked up a new passion.

The Siam 3/2 Thanon Khao, Vachirapayabal, Dusit, Bangkok, 2206 6999; thesiamhotel.com.

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