Up and down Thailand, from the congested streets of Bangkok to the lush outset reaches of her remotest villages that are still yet unscathed by tourism, there are people who live to fight. Their lives are a series of organised fights, broken up with training regimes and conditioning. They live Muay Thai, the national sport of Thailand and one of the most brutal forms of stand-up fighting in the world. Formally known as ‘The Art of Eight Limbs’, it was first used centuries ago by Thai soldiers as a way of defending their borders from invaders. They would condition their bodies to become weapons of combat.

Their hands became the daggers, their legs and knees became the axe and pikes and their solid shins and forearms became the armour with which to defend themselves. In modern day Thailand, however, on less dramatic terms, warriors still fight it out in rings around the country.

Muay Thai tourists

With the rise in popularity for this sport amongst western tourists in recent years, a lot of gyms around Thailand now cater for the Muay Thai tourist. Many gyms operate cheap live-in packages that provide accommodation and food as well as unhindered use of the gym. Not all gyms are the same though, some are designed specifically for this trend explosion with sausage factory style training programmes that cater specifically to tourists.

Others remain more traditional, frequented by Thai fighters and foreign fighters alike. I recently spent some time living and training in one such gym.

I was in Koh Phangan, living in a gym 20 minutes away from Haadrin beach, site of the hedonistic Full Moon Party. Each day began with either a few laps of the neighbouring lake or a few rounds of the skipping ropes to ease those stiff joints back into a new day's training.

I always opted for the laps, running past pungent racks of fish drying in the morning sun, friendly local dogs and the leering canopies of the jungle. The warm up lead to a few rounds of shadowboxing followed by bag practise and sparring, the whole time under the scrutinising but ever-helpful eyes of the trainers. Each trainer has a lifetime of knowledge and as well as training other fighters, they still regularly fight their own battles.

Fight nights run every other night on Koh Phangan and an ample array of fighters roll through the bouts from every corner of the globe ready for the ultimate test.

Something for everyone

With two sessions a day, six days a week, it is tough. Knotted muscles and aching limbs are a given but for pocket change, you can get a Thai massage, leaving you feeling limber and relaxed. Some people prefer to experience the training at their own pace and there are plenty of other things to get involved with on Koh Phangan so that your trip doesn’t have to be dominated by Muay Thai, like exploring the alluring beaches, going to yoga retreats or crawling the party strips and frequenting the moon parties.

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, one of the most enchanting countries on the planet.

It captures people’s hearts and pulls them back time and time again, each trip feeling like it wasn't enough. But the experience of living, training and eating alongside the locals is as authentic as it gets and assures you'll go back home more satisfied and much fitter than when you left. Taking the sport seriously is not for everyone but an experience can also be just that, an experience; just show up with a smile on your face and a willingness to try and you won’t go far wrong.