An American in Thailand: Sundays at Singpatong

Fightland Blog

By Lindsey Newhall

Most Muay Thai gyms in Thailand operate 6-days a week, with fighters training twice a day, usually two to three hours each session. Sundays are the only guaranteed days off. During one of my stays at Singpatong, a traditional gym on the island of Phuket, I was invited to spend a lazy Sunday kicking back with the Thai fighters.

Muay Thai gyms tend to be self-sustaining entities with their own kitchens and housing for the Thai fighters. Most gyms have a de facto staff for cooking, usually a woman in the owner's family, or a culinary-inclined trainer. Sometimes the kids get in on it too. Or they just pop in for whatever they can scrounge up as a midday snack.

Singpatong Gym houses all its Thai fighters (nearly 30 of them) on-site. The three oldest Thai fighters, all in their early twenties, at the camp share a room. Two of them, Pen-Tai and Pen-Ake, are multiple title-holders. Between them they have six belts representing Lumpinee, Channel 7, and Siam championships.

"Lumpinee's the best," Pen-Ake tells me while proudly displaying his belts. 

"What's this one?" I ask, pointing to the lone red-white-and-blue one.

"That's the Siam one. I guess it's okay too."

The co-manager of the gym is a Canadian woman named Michelle. Most of the Thai boys' families live far away in the provinces, so Michelle acts as a sort of surrogate mother for them. Each Sunday, she organizes communal games. The boys participate enthusiastically—perhaps unaware of Michelle's ulterior motive of teaching them English. On this particular Sunday night, Michelle brings out Bingo cards for them to practice pronouncing numbers. The prize for each round is 100 baht, about $3. Bonus rounds go for as much as 500 baht, which can be enough to buy you at least 10 plates of Pad Thai. As it gets closer and closer to a definite win, the boys start chanting in English for the numbers they want to appear.

Whenever I'm training full-time, I make it a little contest with myself to see exactly how little I can move on a Sunday. The boys here at Singpatong generally relax as well, though for many of them Sunday is the only day they can see their non-gym friends, play on each other's cell phones for hours at a time, or go on outings with the trainers or the camp mom, Michelle. They pile into her SUV, also known as her "Muay Thai Clown Car" and she takes them to the shopping malls to restock on toothbrushes, running shoes, bags of rice, or anything else needed to run a home for nearly 30 young Thai fighters.


Check out this related story:

An American in Thailand: The Purity of Training in Singpatong