Chiang Mai
Business Traveller India|December 2017

Founded in 1226, this is one of Thailand’s older cities. Netra Venkateshwaran explores the traditional experiences that this mountainous destination has to offer

Netra Venkateshwaran

Our rickshaw pulled up in a narrow lane, just outside an old shed with an open front, in Chiang Mai’s Nonh Hoi area. It was still too early in the morning to hear any sounds other than that of birds chirping and grunting from boxers practising in a shed. We were at Chay Yai Gym (muaythaicampsthailand.com), a boxing ring and training workshop, to learn the basics of Thai boxing.

About 30 years ago, this establishment opened its doors in Chiang Mai as Soonkila Watket Camp. In the ‘90s, it was renamed to honour the studio’s successful fighter Chay Yai Sittehpitak who won two championship titles at Lumpinee stadium, a sporting arena in Bangkok.

Don’t expect anything more than a rustic experience at Chay Yai Gym. We walked into the partially open shed with a striking red boxing ring where two fighters were in the midst of a heated match. They didn’t have much of an audience apart from the coach, and a couple of other students on a break from a training session. Adjacent to the ring, there is a row of punching bags where people practise their technique. On the far end is an old wooden cabinet where we later placed our belongings.

I felt extremely intimidated by the loud grunting and aggression between the fighters in the ring, until a young beaming face welcomed us to our session. He handed us gloves and safety pads before sharing a little about the history of Thai boxing. Colloquially known as Muay Thai, it is the country’s national sport. It is believed to have originated sometime during the 16th century, by the famous fighter Thai Nai Khanomtom. This combat sport stems from the concept of using the entire body as a weapon of self defence that deploys the knees, elbows, shins and hands to deliver powerful strikes.

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