A big debate people often have before coming to Thailand to train is deciding on where. Often the first phase in this decision making process is deciding between the north and the south. Each has it’s pluses and minuses and let me spell some of them out for briefly.
Let’s start with a definition of what I mean by the South – pretty much anything that is located on that small strip of land between Bangkok and Malaysia and the islands along side it.
Lot’s of beaches and a huge variety of Muay Thai camps to train at. This is where the overwhelming portion of Muay Thai students end up going to, to train when in Thailand.
The pluses of the South are that there are a lot of camp to choose from, not only Muay Thai but also MMA, which makes this place appealing to people from countries where MMA is not that big yet, or where there are not a lot of resources and places to train. In Phuket along, there are easily about a dozen or Muay Thai camps that cater to foreigners and growing every year. When I came to Thailand for the first time in 2006 there maybe 2 camps that were catering to and marketing to foreigners.
The level of the students in the South is generally better because there are more camps and a bigger fight scene. More camps obviously means that there is a higher number of students training and then of course a higher number of students who are the advanced level. The best foreigners ratio wise would probably be in the gritty camps of Bangkok, the ones away from all the easy living and paradise beaches. But relative to the north the quality of the students in general is higher.
Better camps. the quality of the camps in the south is greater than in north of Bangkok. Other than a select few, such as Fairtex not many places come close to the standard of equipment and facilities at places like Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket Top Team and Super Pro Samui.
And of course the final plus and a big one, is beaches. For many coming from cold climates or sterile boring suburbs, the temptation of some of the worlds most beautiful beaches alongside world class training is too much to pass up. The choices are endless and the majority of Muay Thai camps are within a 15 minute ride to the beach or less.
However, there is also a downside to all this. For one in the South, you are a human being, hell you are not even a tourist, you are a walking talking pay day. Prices are jacked up beyond belief for foreigners and in some places you are constantly being hassled to buy something or go somewhere. It’s all behind a big smile which makes it even more annoying cuz it’s quite obvious they just want your cash.
Things are also much more commercialized down south, in some places you may actually have to do some searching to find an afforable Thai style restaurant and not a place selling “authentic” thai cuisine for triple the street price. Side note, any place that has “authentic” regarding Thai food, is most definitely quite the opposite.Camps too are more commercialized in the south, with proper offices with cash registers and credit card machines ready to take your money, they definitely don’t have the Thai camp feel that you will encounter more up north.
And although people are generally nicer in Thailand than other places in the world, if you compare northern Thais to southern Thais, northern Thais win out on the hospitality factor in my personal experience. They are much more interested in you as a person when you walk in their store or restaurant than they are in the South. Often times it seems that the overload of tourists has jaded some Thais and it’s something I can understand, so it’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the culturally insensitive loud mouthed farang who thinks the entire country is their playground, no questions asked.
Finally, you also have to deal with looking at a lot of fat gross old men with college age Thai girls. Some people may see this as situation of live and let live, but its hard to stomach at times and some of these old guys have been coming to Thailand for years and have certain attitudes towards other foreigners as if they “get it” and others don’t.
Now on to the north. Mountains, hill tribes, culture and a very relaxed atmosphere are what set this place apart. This will be a bit shorter as many things are simply the opposite of what you’ll find in the south. For example, the number of camps is much lower than you will find in the south, not to mention the quality and level of the people coming to train is generally lower. You will find a higher ratio of people lighting up cigarettes after training then you ever would in the south, a larger number of people just passing through and doing some Muay Thai and having a fight as opposed to the people in the south who come to Thailand specifically to train with plans to fight.
However, the camps in the north are far more authentic to the rural camps where most Thais start out. The trainers will often be die hard cock fighters and will be training their prize roosters before and/or after training the foriegners. There wont be as much of a focus on aesthetic appearence of the camp and equipment and things will defintiely look more run down, which is a turn off for many but is defintely more indicative of the rural camps.
The people in the North as I said before, in my experience are kinder and more hospitable in the south, and things are much cheaper. What would cost you 40-60 baht down south will cost you 25-35 generally. The food in the north is also better (in my opinion) with a greater variety of food for a cheaper price.
There is also a lot more culture, while the south bases it’s tourism on red light districts, big fancy malls and beaches, the north is more about traditional Thai culture, hill tribe culture, nature and handicrafts.
However, one annoying thing you will have to deal with – hippies. A lot more self righteous hippies dressed in fisherman pants with no idea that no one in Thailand actually wears them, not even fisherman. On the flip side, the students at the camps will often be more cultured than down south with a greater appreciation for Thai culture and will spend a greater effort trying to learn Thai than down south where students will often simply speak louder and slower and in that weird Thai English hybrid.
So there it is, my summary of what makes the south different than the north. If you have any ideas or comments, by all means leave them down at the bottom!