In 2017, I went on a solo venture around Thailand and Cambodia over the Christmas time for six weeks. I was super into my Jiu-Jitsu and prepping for the IBJJF European championships in January. So couldn’t just take the six weeks off, and wouldn’t of wanted too anyway. This article is about my experiences of first proper taste of solo travelling and training around Asia.
The purpose of my trip was not intentionally to train full time, but it certainly ended up that way. My trip was intended to be a chance for me to recoup, recover and think for change. Before I travelled to America for the summer (which is covered in my American BJJ Dream blog post), then moved to Bristol & started my masters degree.
Traditionally when people think of Thailand, and martial arts, they think of Muay Thai Boxing. However the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene is booming, and there is now an academy in most major cities in Thailand. I trained in Bangkok, Chaing Mai, and Phuket. As well as going on a yoga retreat in Koh Phangan.
I spent my first week figuring out solo travel and recharging myself on a detox yoga retreat. I didn’t have any hotels booked, only my first one in Bangkok and then my retreat in Koh Phangan. After that I was winging it, with a rough idea of the places I wanted to visit. I figured I could just sort accommodation when I got there. My first challenge was getting from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. I was on a tight budget, so I decided to go via bus and boat. It took 16 hours in total, on a cramped bus to a rickety boat, the travel was a experience in itself. But when I made it there it was all worth it. I stayed for a week at the Ananda yoga retreat, then ended up doing a 4 day detox of no food to flush out any toxins in my body. Whilst attending two yoga sessions per day, my body felt great and I would go back in a heart beat. Koh phangan isn’t just about the full moon party, it’s a beautiful island, especially up north. I rented a moped for $1 a day and explored everyday. Even though some of the roads are really dangerous, and I barely knew how to ride! I visited some amazing beaches and being alone for the majority of the time in the first week gave me chance to think about my next steps, and create a plan for when I got back home. Although I did make some really nice travelling friends while I was out there. On the last day on Koh Phangan I went to the full moon party! But I didn’t drink any alcohol or eat much food as I just stopped my detox, but it was great, the atmosphere was electric! With fire dancers and live music on the beach! I had a fantastic time until I needed to leave at 3am to catch a ferry off the island, and I had a problem. All the taxis to the ferry were booked or full. In the end a man on a moped took me to the port, with my huge travel bag on my back. It was the scariest ride of my life. I was hanging on to the bike for dear life as we wound around the roads and up and down hills but I made it!
And onto the ferry and bus as I headed all the way up north journey to Chaing Mai. I stayed at Team Quest Thailand BJJ Academy. I contacted them ahead of time as I had a friend living and training out there. I managed to get a cheap place to stay just around the corner from the gym. This was my first real taste of training in such heat. The academy was in a very open building with no doors or windows. It was a little out of the town and at night you could hear the frogs and the nature come to life. On the mats it was sweaty but it made you work harder and increase your cardio. I trained twice a day with the team there. As well visiting a weights gym down the road for $1 a day. I didn’t rent a moped here because the roads were a lot bigger and busier. So I didn’t trust my driving skills that much. Instead I stuck with the team and we walked or rode to a local shopping mall for food each day after training. The food hall there was great! With a huge selection of food to choice from for a very low cost.
After a week I took another long bus ride back down to Bangkok to stay for Christmas and New Years. I stayed and trained at the Executive Martial Arts Centre (EMAC). The people here were super friendly and accommodating. With training all threw the holidays, even Christmas Eve! Then on Christmas Day a group of us from the academy went to Erawan Falls, it was around 2 hours away but it was beautiful, with crystal blue waterfalls and rock pools. With seven different ones to visit all the way up the hill. Then on the way back to Bangkok we stopped at a very traditional Thai restaurant, where I couldn’t read the menu at all. So the others ordered for the group. We ended up with deep fried frogs legs! The spiciest octopus soup I’ve ever had! and more! It was a different Christmas dinner for sure!
After New Years I needed to head out of Thailand because I had been there 30 days and my visa was going to run out. To renew this I took another bus journey out to Vietnam. Where I visited Angkor wat and alot of other temples. I didn’t train whilst in Vietnam as I was only there for a few days and I completely ran out of money! But luckily I made friends with a Finnish couple on a day trip who took me out for dinner that evening, and we ended up on a pub crawl with another group! Although this was my last day in Vietnam, in the morning I needed to catch a bus back to Thailand as I was heading Phuket. But I was feeling rather groggy! and it was really difficult in Thailand to figure out where the bus stops were, but I made it and onto another long journey across the border, back through border control to get another 30 day visa in Thailand, and onto Phuket.
In Phuket I went straight to the road with all the BJJ academies on, like Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket Top Team and Dragon Muay Thai. As well as a weightlifting gym. This was the place to be for a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Not the dirty, party side of Phuket. I found a hotel just around the corner from it and was able to rent another moped to get about. I decided to train at Phuket Top Team because it was slightly cheaper and less commercial than Tiger Muay Thai down the road. I met some great people here who I still keep in touch with today. The atmosphere of training in Phuket was amazing, everyone is there to train hard, most people are on holiday or full time athletes. So afterwards you can all go get food together. I loved it and would definitely go back. In between training a few others who had been there longer than me showed me some cool spots around Phuket and one evening we went to a night market. Although it tipped it down with rain making the ride home very sketchy!
On my last day I headed back to Bangkok for my flight home feeling very content and like I didn’t want to leave! I would highly recommend, travel and training in Thailand, whether you go do it solo or go with someone the experience is great and the people who live there are very friendly. Just a few tips for you if you are going solo:
- Go with the flow – for any solo travel you may meet people out there who change your course of direction and go with that, as sometimes other travellers have the best ideas of where to go next. This means don’t book all your hotels and transport before you go out there, book just your first few days or week. Then book on the go on your phone as you move to the next place. This gives you the flexibility you need and most places have free wifi you can use.
- Contact the academies 1 day before when you know you are visiting the city you are in so that you know that they teach classes in English and that you are able to join in their class.
- When in Thailand if you would like cheap travel, use 12go.asia to find bus, train and plane travel.
- Last of all – Don’t be nervous – Do it! I don’t know anyone who has gone travelling and come back because they hated it! It could be the best thing for you.
Let me know about your travelling and training experiences in the comments below.