Picture this: a group of enthusiastic students skipping and stretching, their energy palpable as they prepare for their session at Yak Yai Muay Thai gym, nestled in the vibrant tambon Chalong of Phuket’s bustling Muang district. It’s January 16, and their vigor is as clear as the snapshot captured that day (credit to photographer Achadthaya Chuenniran).
It’s not just the students who are buzzing with excitement. Muay Thai gym proprietors across the sun-kissed streets of Phuket and the urban sprawl of Bangkok are throwing their arms open wide to welcome a revolutionary new offering from the government. The 90-day special visa is a game-changer, inviting international Muay Thai aficionados to travel to Thailand and immerse themselves in the ancient art of the eight limbs.
Phuket, with its allure of health tourism, is leading the charge. Take Soi Ta-iad, for example; this little street in tambon Chalong has become a Mecca for Muay Thai enthusiasts, peppered as it is with gyms and stores brimming with glistening boxing gear.
Janjira Charoenvitthanadet of Apollo Gym, a buzzing fitness hub that’s only three months young, has seen a steady climb in patronage. Her classes have swelled from a mere trio of trainees to a bustling group of ten or more per session. With a cocktail of Muay Thai, western boxing, strength and conditioning, and kickboxing classes from Monday through Saturday, her gym is a hive of activity. Attendees can kick, punch, and jab their way to fitness for 3,000 baht a week, or commit to a monthly regimen for 11,000 baht.
Apollo Gym doesn’t just stop at pugilistic pursuits though; they’ve added a luxurious twist with a hotel, pool, and sauna to soothe those aching muscles post-training. Janjira believes the visa speaks volumes for branding Muay Thai as a cultural ambassador, capable of propelling Thai tourism into the stratosphere.
Jet over to Yak Yai Muay Thai, and you’ll meet Henry Lee, an American trainer whose passion for the sport is infectious. More than a year into its operation, the gym attracts a global crowd, from the United States across to Germany, and from the spicy salsas of Chile and Spain to the faraway lands of South Africa and the ancient cultures of Peru, Japan, and China. For him, a visa that nudges the length of stay upwards—to six months or a year—would be a slice of heaven.
But it’s not all smooth sailing in Bangkok. According to Sathana Songprasert of Jitti Gym, 90 days is but a fleeting moment for professional boxers. These warriors of the ring require a finer chisel for their craft than what a three-month spell provides. “Muay Thai is a dance of dedication; mastery takes moons,” she says. “If we can extend the visa, it would be a boon not just for the pros, but for every zealous pupil of the sport,” enthuses Sathana.
It’s not just about fighting fit for Jitti’s staff—they’re also curating express exercise experiences for tourists wishing to dip their gloves into Muay Thai for a taste of the action. Their clientele spans continents, from the sands of the Middle East to the Nordic chill, all bound by a common pursuit of harnessing the spirit of Muay Thai.
Let’s chat with Alice, a 37-year-old Australian with a heart for non-profits, whose love for Muay Thai has spanned a decade, flickering on and off like a dance with shadows. “Muay Thai whispers strength into my soul and confidence into my stance,” she reveals with a grin.
Osher from Israel is another soul smitten by the Muay Thai bug. After two years of trading blows in the ring, he still thrives on the power and aggression that the sport demands—a fascination ignited by the movie ‘Ong Bak’ when he was just a fledgling 13-year-old.
For Alice, a longer visa, perhaps six months, with renewability, would allow her and others to weave Muay Thai more deeply into the fabric of their lives. And while she recognizes the challenges of assessing progress in the sport, she suggests that gym check-ins could validate active learning and maintain the integrity of a lengthier Muay Thai visa.
And so, with every punch thrown and every kick landed, these international students are not just learning a sport—they’re embracing a lifestyle. A lifestyle that hinges now, more than ever, on the flexibility of a visa that understands the rhythm of Muay Thai’s ancient dance.