Refilling my water bottle mid Muay Thai class at Warrior I saw a poster on the wall for a group trip to a camp in Phuket. In that split second I decided that I should go train in Thailand, and dedicated that night to finding out where. Although Phuket is famous for its Muay Thai gyms, I’ve been there a few times & wanted somewhere a little smaller, but still where I could also do a days diving. Facebook pointed me to Krabi, then Girls That Scuba led me to Bull Muay Thai.
After watching an inter-club fight I decided I wanted to fight one day, even if it was just the once. I started reading about Muay Thai online; as well as training techniques I looked up other basic things.. like how you actually win a fight! I started going twice a week (I would have gone more if it wasn’t for the cost) and spoke to a friend getting tips, and started adding in Muay Thai beneficial drills & exercises to my runs & weight sessions as well. Then, on my birthday eve, feeling physically shattered, only having just recovered from an illness, I had the thought ‘maybe my body needs to rest’ but it was quickly counteracted by the usually correct response of ‘…but you always feel great after going…’
For the 1:1 pad-work I was put with the only female trainer, giving my exhausted self that extra bit of energetic inspiration I needed to give it my all. I kicked the pad, as usual, went to put my foot down, as usual, but as I made contact with the floor it felt as it a huge rubber band inside my calf stretched out & snapped back. There was no pain, but it was the most horrible sensation I’ve ever experienced, & when I looked down I expected to see my leg in a mess of blood with muscles seeping out from inside. But there was nothing. The trainer was confused, but I said I had to sit down and she brought me some ice. There was no way my body was going to let me get away with whatever had just happened. And within 10 minutes I could no longer walk. Not one step. My waving to the trainers to help get me across the gym was returned with big smiles & waves back. Ha ha. Eventually someone realised I was utterly immobile & helped hobble me across the gym. After 30 minutes of trying to get a cab (it’s usually a 3 minute run to/from training) I was at home, trying to ward of thoughts of never being able to do anything ever again.
I’m a very active person. I walk as much I can, I love making my body move & lift things. I don’t do these things to be ‘good’ or because I ‘should’ but because I want to, and get huge amount of enjoyment out of doing so. I genuinely concerned how I’d handle this; my mood drops hugely when I have to stay still, endorphins keep me relatively sane. I spent most of my birthday trying not to think, wanting to just hide away, sadly the shitness of my situation being emphasised by genuine well wishes of friends saying they hoped I was having the best birthday! On a normal day I have no problem saying ‘today’s just a crap day, its cool, it will pass’ but on your birthday you feel you need to put up some happy facade. This was definitely a day for the memory bin.
The highlight of the day was my Dad calling saying he managed to get me an emergency appointment with our old neighbour, who happened to be a physio at the Rugby 7s. Celeb Doctor. Ha! I put this good fortune down to my Mum giving away my brother’s body board (without this knowledge) to his kids years before. I think I cried. And when he told me it seemed like a grade 1 injury, and the main recovery process would only take a few months, I think I also cried. And felt utterly elated. I decided to see if I could capture it in a photo…
I hobbled around with a fancy cane for the next week, (which I grew quite attached to,) and gradually managed to start weight training, then work on strengthening my weak calf on a cross trainer. Being able to walk up stairs again was a slow, but interesting process. I live on the 3rd floor, always walking up and down no problem. But initially I couldn’t even manage one step without having to use all my arm strength to pull myself up. Making it all the way to my studio felt like a huge achievement. There’s nothing like being injured to remind you how unbelievably amazing bodies are. How much weight my calves normally happily cart around, up and down, without thought or seemingly without effort. How, without consciously thinking my body adapted its movements, so I could walk, slightly differently to usual (and initially pretty comically – the crab shuffle was my favourite,) but it would get me to where I needed to go. I felt very pleased with right calf; stepping up to the extra challenge; overcompensating and helping out its weak leftie sister. I tried to ignore my Krabi trip and the lingering thought I’d not have recovered enough to make it worthwhile, I’d just have to see in time.
Fast forward to Christmas and I ran (potato plodded forward awkwardly) 3km in Kensington Gardens, London. It was cold, drizzling & I smiled the whole time. A few weeks later I headed back to Warrior, to try a boxing technique class. It wasn’t Muay Thai, but I could punch and hopefully improve my general techniques. It was marvellous. I WAS BACK! I went to a few of these, and then tried a Muay Thai Fitness class. My left leg felt so lame & limp, lightly tapping the pad, but it felt so great to just be back there, and knowing I was making good recovery progress.
A few weeks before I was due to go to Krabi I emailed Bull Muay Thai and told them what had happened, that I was recovering, and still wanted to come… what did they think? I received a very simple and warm reply – ‘Do not worry! We will look after you!’ So that was it, I was going. I confirmed my scuba dive day and started to apprehensively look forward to the trip.
Sat on the plane to Krabi I knew my pre-trip anxiety was a little stronger than usual. Everyone around me was really irritating me. I knew, mainly, it wasn’t them, but my nerves getting the better of me. I was genuinely very excited; Muay Thai & diving. Sunshine, swimming & Thai food. Thai people! Why wouldn’t I be excited? But… as a solo female, fairly new to Muay Thai, who couldn’t even just ‘give it her all’ for risk of re-injury, the thought of arriving at the gym the next day was a pretty intimidating.
After a 30min (500THB) ride from the airport I was greeted at Ao Nang Bamboo Resort by incredibly friendly staff, & settled into my super cute bamboo hut, going for a quick swim before attempting to find some dinner. I headed for a vegan friendly Thai restaurant, about 20 mins away – half of it walking down a very dimly lit path. I wasn’t sure if this was safe or stupid, but on I went. I needed to walk. But, alas, it was shut. So I headed to the vegan friendly Italian I’d read about. Also shut.
I decided to give up and walked back to the villas, stopping off to pick up random crap (crisps, soy yogurt – wooo! & oreos of course) from Family Mart. But, seeing a restaurant selling mango sticky rice right by the villas, I decided to cheer myself up with my favourite desert, eating it whilst children ran around me shrieking & screaming, bashing into my chair.. Ho hum!
Unsurprisingly, I slept badly. An active mind was not helped by mosquitoes biting my face. I eventually turned the fan up as high as it would go, took the heavy blanket out of its plastic casing and snuggled up and slept a few hours.
After a breakfast mush of weetabix & almond milk powder in my plastic kiddies Barbapapa bowl, sat on my bamboo terrace, I apprehensively made my way to the gym, about 25 mins walk. Originally Bull Muay Thai used to be located at the villas, and part of me was a little disappointed it had moved to the side of the main road, heading down towards Ao Nang beach. In retrospect, I enjoyed my forced walks, actually loved the location (just added that extra grit), and could see from their point of view it just made sense to be more easily accessible.
Turning up at 8am I spoke to one of the trainers, nervously (but trying to fake calmness & confidence) spewing out a mess of words along the lines of wanting to train, being injured; not sure what to do, and just HELP ME! I paid up 500THB (£12) for two sessions that day & was told to grab a rope and skip. I knew the warm up was 10 mins but I wasn’t sure I could even handle 1 min of skipping. But I tried. And I seemed to do okay, managing a minute or so, then breaking for a minute, and so on. Green Day & other 90s alternative music blaring from the speakers helped me relax a little.
Over the next 90 minutes I was guided through bag work, 1:1 trainer work, technique & choreographed sparring (using shin guards for the first time) and finishing off with the usual 100 knees, 100 push kicks & some strength & conditioning. There weren’t many beginners there that morning, so, for that, and the subsequent session later that day, I pretty much had a private trainer. He was awesome. I was very cautious at first, not wanting to put much power into anything. But as I got more comfortable & confident I got back into my groove and aside from left leg kicks, gave everything I had. And I could see the joy & enthusiasm on the trainer’s face as I levelled up. For me, it was priceless. Being told, by a trainer, through a massive grin, that I was ‘very strong, you should stay one month, make you fighter’ was one of my proudest achievements.
Thinking back to my first boxercise classes years and years ago, still smoking, my lungs hurting, and wanting to puke after doing the shortest of cross gym sprints, or back to the days I was skinny and so weak; doing no exercise, then the cycle of weight gain, weight loss, weight gain.. but all the time just carrying on regardless with trying to get fitter & stronger. People’s warped views of my fitness always being that skinnier me was fitter me, which has never been the case. No rigorous structured exercise plans or PT sessions, just consistently exercising & trying to learn from the net, from others & importantly enjoy what I was doing. All that got me here, now, kneeing the fuck out of some pads, and absolutely loving it, feeling the power and the intensity, embracing shouts of encouragement, and buzzing off some high level endorphins. This was the absolute best.
One of the trainers dropped me off on the back of his motorbike to a cafe that I believed served vegan pancakes. It did not. Instead I had a pretty pricey açai bowl, having no idea what açai actually was, but seeing it mentioned on my instagram feed a lot I decided to order it. If I liked and checked in at the cafe, I got a free coffee. So I pimped myself out, and put up a post that I never normally would have, and starting getting (for me) a lot of likes and comments. Ha ha. I didn’t even enjoy the bowl that much. Too sweet. Not enough sustenance, and expensive 😂 but… free coffee eh? And overall, was a great location to people watch & bask in my exhausted happiness.
I caught a tuk tuk back to the villas, and made a mental note in future to save my baht (only £4, but it all counts) and despite how tired I was, walk to and from town.
A couple of hours by and in the pool was enough to re-energise me for session number two. This was even more intense, powerful & fun than the morning, though I hadn’t thought it possible. On the way there I stopped at a little fruit stall to buy one banana. The lady refused to take any money for it; the smallest things really do fill my heart.
The structure of the sessions were great, covering all different aspects of Muay Thai, and the muscles and skills you need to improve! Learning different blocks, and practicing choreographed sparring was insanely fun, and rewarding. Turns out, I love KNEES. Something about the actual move itself and the power you can put behind them; so exhilarating. One fight I saw at the bar was a KO by a flying knee move. Incredible. I asked to be taught that, but not sure my suggestion was taken seriously…I was getting hit, even a couple of times in the face (sorry Mum… got to work on my full face blocks), even felt nauseous and goosebumpy at times, but I could not stop smiling. I even started to feel myself get lost in shadow boxing, something I really didn’t expect.
I think it was the first time I’d been asked my weight & it didn’t feel intrusive, but more generally I love that I now don’t care when telling people what it is anymore. Having had so many different body shapes, even at the same weight – I just am what I am. My fitness, health, muscles, excess body fat; I do care about these – but you can see them anyway. A number? Meh, whatever, have it & make of it what you will!
Heading back to the villas beaming (and sending a few ecstatic voice messages to friends) I finished a perfect day with some Vegan Pad Kee Mao (spicy noodles) at Sweet Monkey, and a lime-soda at the bar watching Muay Thai fights.
On Sunday there is only a morning session, and I was paired up with a Dutch lady, Esther, ex-army, who now runs her own boot camp in the Netherlands, but had never done Muay Thai before. She was a great partner and we had a lot of fun, both learning so much, and I was really feeling myself and my knowledge improve. I also asked her advice on push up technique too!
Exhausted, I headed off for coffee and toast, before going for a full body massage… and then more food in the form of a vegan green curry at Mama’s Kitchen. Life was good, with the afternoon spent in & by the pool, reading, chatting to other guests & Michael the resident Iguana, who over the next few days I often found sat on my steps, guarding my little bamboo villa. I ended the night with a pizza at the bar, watching Muay Thai fights. Heaven.
Monday I’d booked to go diving, and the nerves started to rise again. Annoyed at myself, wondering why had I booked a deep wreck dive for my first one in 6 months?! Hey ho, I’d just make the most of it. I’d expected a good boat and crew (from speaking to the manager and looking at reviews online) but even so, I was really impressed with Kon-Tiki Krabi.
The boat, especially compared to what I’m used too, felt very luxurious! Made even more so as we were a small group that day due to last minute cancellations. Welcomed with electrolytes and bananas the crew were super friendly & I read in the sun, admiring the views as we headed over to Koh Phi Phi. I was a little nervous about strong currents & low visibility, but after airing these concerns I felt pretty reassured; more confident & excited to dive. I had a great day – saw a huge variety of marine life, including approx 10-20 black tip reef sharks in one dive!
The currents weren’t that strong & the wreck had an abundance of fish; so, so many huge porcupine fish, to me all looking like baby whale sharks. And despite super low vis and a foggy mask on dive three I managed to spot a seahorse… the crew, my buddies, the sites were all fab. But, even with all that I never stayed in the bliss zone for long, overthinking and my sinuses being blocked and sniffley making things a little more stressful, I had to really work at enjoying myself, and occasionally keeping calm through distraction & song. That’s diving though. It happens sometimes, and no part of me wishes I hadn’t gone.
That night I headed back to Sweet Monkey, and spoke a little with the owner, and chef, Lucky. Though an omni restaurant she was super keen to serve vegetarian and vegan food, explaining to me how she learnt about the differences through friends and was going to learn to make a vegan coconut cake. She’d only been open a few months but seemed well established and the food was so fresh, so tasty & her warmth & enthusiasm was infectious! (See pic below.) There was a Spanish couple looking at the menu and I heard the word ‘vegetariano’, so told them to come in and that Lucky would adapt the food. To top it off, I had kitten company. Honestly couldn’t recommend Sweet Monkey more.
Before retiring to bed blissfully full and happy, I watched a few more Muay Thai fights round the bar, lime soda in hand.
Tuesday, my last day, had two more Muay Thai sessions, swimming & another massage on the schedule. Morning class was busy but the trainers were just as attentive. Here it didn’t matter whether it was your first session, or a pro/amateur (from what I could tell, obviously I am neither) the enthusiasm & dedication to teaching you & giving you a great training session never altered. I was partnered with a super friendly, but focused lady (the best kind of partner) and again, I sweated & grunted & smiled my way through before lunch at the incredibly tasty Jungle Kitchen, who happily adapted their pretty extensive veggie items to vegan.
Walking to my final session my legs felt a little weak. Not the sensation of tiredness you can fight through, but this inner shakiness… I knew I’d need to take it easy. After a minute skipping I knew I’d need to take it really easy.. and after the first round on the bag I decided to bow out. Going from regular, (but less often than prior to injury) controlled, less intensive exercise to this in four days was a lot to ask of my body. And it had coped better than I ever dreamed. Feeling quite emotional, I told a couple of the trainers I’d been working with I was done, gave them huge thanks & hugs, unwrapped my smelly, smelly handwraps, applied my tiger balm cream, took a deep breathe, and said goodbye.
I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t escape the cheesiness, but with all my worries & fears I never expected this long weekend could have been anywhere near as incredible as it was. In such a short time I felt at home in the villas (shout out to Sunny, the giver of soda waters, almost frozen young coconuts, and my buddy to watch the fights with) and at the gym. I’d trained with such wonderful people, and almost everyone; locals & tourists had been so warm & friendly.
I ate fantastically, the scenery was gorgeous (the cliff faces of the Krabi hills – just wow!) & the weather was perfect; boiling! Punching my white bag overlooking the main road, having people watching you as they walk by, I thought to myself, years ago, I would have been down there – wanting to join, but too scared, and here I am, initially apprehensive, but now, generally not giving too much of a fuck, and instead giving my all.
Sat writing this on the plane home, bruised knees, shins, feet; I’m exhausted. I gave huge amounts physically and mentally, but oh man, it was worth it all. Sat here basking in gratitude, for the opportunities I made for myself (ignoring the fear..) and the generosity and smiles of the strangers I met along the way. I see on social media people bitching & meme-ing constantly about how awful people are, but armed with only a smile, I don’t see much of this, but instead I see kindness, laughter & people generally trying to make the best of it all, both at home(s) & abroad.
I also find it amusing that whilst I’m talking about human kindness I actually spent most of the weekend punching and being punched, and feeling joyful from it. Ahh life.