Within a few days of arriving at Sitmonchai Gym, I was out of commission. If you’re interested in reading about it, you can do so here. Otherwise, to keep it brief, a wonky mattress + an old injury + allergies to the meds for the old injury and wonky mattress combo = no training. Too sick to return to Buriram, but cognizant enough to hang out at Sitmonchai for two weeks and pay attention to all it is that makes Sitmonchai a family style gym. If you’re looking for a review on training, unfortunately, this isn’t the post. I’m not going to write on that which I couldn’t fully get into. If you’re looking for all that surrounds your training, for that which is meant to nurture it, then please do read on.
There are a number of attached rooms that surround the ring. One section of attached rooms are secured for the house Thai fighters. The other and larger section of attached rooms are rented out to Foreigners, with some trainers housed in the odd room. Shared accommodations and private are available.
Sitmonchai renovated within the last year plus and it shows in the accommodations. For those of you who have been out here in Thailand before, they’re reminiscent of the average 500 baht a night hotel in Bangkok. For those of you who haven’t, you’ll get a double bed, linens, aircon, fluorescent lighting and new furniture which includes a wardrobe for your belongings. Wardrobes have drawers that lock. Each room has its own bathroom which includes a shower. Showers are cold / no hot water. WiFi, laundry service and motorbike use are included. Your room will be clean when you walk into it.
I was in a private room. The mattress on my bed dipped, which led to my situation. Please note, I had a pretty serious back injury years prior to hitting Sitmonchai. If this reflects your situation, I suggest informing the gym prior to your arrival. They were more than accommodating once we realized the situation (it took me three days to figure out it was the bed that was causing my insomnia and later my back pain). The promoter of the gym replaced my mattress with his (Thank you. Thank you.) and a trainer gave me a mat he used regularly to sleep on the floor (Thank you too). The mat was better for my condition (I like sleeping on the floor). For those of you who have come out here to train before, my mattress was fairly typical of a Thai gym, from my understanding (i.e. a great deal of mattresses out here dip in the middle. It’s just the way it is).
For those of you hoping to bring whoever-it-is-you-picked-up-for-the-night back to your room at the gym, this isn’t the spot to do it. There’s a ‘love’ hotel a few buildings away where you can.
For longer stays, apartments are available in Thamaka, starting at 1,500 baht / month.
The Immediate Neighborhood
Sitmonchai is situated on a long stretch of road, one side housing some residential homes, a school, the love hotel, and a few live/work buildings (i.e. live on second floor, conduct business on the first). The facing side is predominately covered in fields of sugar cane. The air is clean. There is consistent but sparse traffic on the streets. Everything is incredibly quiet by 10:00 pm.
Within walking distance:
1. a 7-Eleven, a pharmacy and a Tesco Lotus (grocery store)
2. a barber shop and a salon
I’m incredibly picky when it comes to who will touch my hair in Thailand. Note, you don’t need a certificate of any kind to open a salon, you just need to be able to pay your rent. After walking into a salon in Buriram with beautiful but outgrown hair and leaving with a 1980s scumbag toupee, it took me a year and a half to allow a stranger to cut my hair again. The salon, situated approximately one block away from the Tesco is one of two salons in the country I would recommend based on experience (face Tesco as though you are walking into its front doors and go left, same side of the street).
3. food stalls and a night market
The night market is available Tuesdays and Thursdays and is situated beside the Tesco Lotus. It’s fairly small, meaning you can walk the entire thing slowly easily in 20 minutes, but it’s packed with fruit, snacks, clothes, electronics and a ton of other things. Good spot to kill some time and feast on roti.
4. an internet cafe
2. massage and faux (man-made) hot springs
3. herbal sauna
4. sak yant (sacred temple tattoos)
5. City of Kanchanaburi
6. Saiyok and Erawan waterfalls
Sitmonchai Gym is family owned and operated and there’s no guessing that from the moment you arrive. From the owners to the trainers to the fighters, you feel welcomed. Sitmonchai is a gym that genuinely feels as though they enjoy Foreigners being present; we’re not an unfortunate necessity to ensure the gym’s livelihood in the form of commerce. The warmth I felt and witnessed during my two weeks there wasn’t forced. No one called me Farang. For me, this is fairly large. In Thailand Farang can mean Foreigner, simply as that, or it can be a word of objectification, Other, in a lesser sense (i.e. less than Thai) and it can outright be a racial slur, depending on context and how it is said. I was called by name the entire time. This also is indicative of their understanding of Western culture as a whole (if you had to view it that way) in my opinion. Quite often, many Thais don’t realize calling someone Farang instead of their name can be viewed as disrespectful (i.e. imagine calling a co-worker by their race instead of their name every day). Some people do, but they don’t care. The act of calling people by their name, rather than Farang, displayed to me, an understanding and a respect for Foreign culture, in addition to our general treatment at the gym. There were a number of us while I was present.
The promoter and some of the trainers can speak English fairly well. The gym manager / Foreigner liaison, Abigail McCullough lives on-site. She speaks both English and Thai.
Mama Lek, the gym matriarch overseas everything outside of training/fighting as though she’s taking care of her family. This was evident in the way she took care of me, during my sickness. She mothered me, from taking me to the hospital, to buying medications, to constantly getting on me to slather my body in the herbal medicine she gave me for my eczema. It was sincere worrying and care. I wasn’t the only one who received it. Hearing her scold one of the trainers as though he was her son, was pretty telling (and cute – he’s in his 30s). Also note, the sincere worrying and care….a lot of people at the gym, including Abigail went out of their way to make sure I was taken care of (Thank you too).
A lot of people don’t want to think of the negative that can happen when training in Thailand, be it serious injury or illness. Should this unfortunate event occur while at Sitmonchai, know you’ll be taken care of by kind, capable people.
The food at Sitmonchai is dangerous. If you’re there to cut weight, my best to you….Mama Lek loves to cook and derives pleasure from watching people enjoy her food. Each meal consists of a number of Thai dishes. You’ll hit all food groups in one sitting – the food is fresh and tastes amazing.
In addition, Sitmonchai is a gym that will respect your food choices / allergies. For example, I have a nasty MSG allergy and I wasn’t poisoned once while at Sitmonchai (Thais generally use MSG like many Westerners use salt). This is a huge selling point for me. Oftentimes in Thailand, for whatever reason, people don’t seem to take food allergies as seriously as I’m accustomed to in the West. For example, many people will just add a little bit of the allergen in your food, rather than as much as they usually would, even after you explain you have an allergy. Even after you explain eating any of it will land you in a hospital. For those of you with allergies out there, seriously take note. I spent approximately a year at a gym in Bangkok not understanding why my health was always out of sorts, until I realized the cook was lying to me and putting small amounts of MSG in my food (hence why now, I suspect, I’m extremely sensitive to it).
Ladies, Sitmonchai is a gym where you’re allowed full access. This means, you can train in any of the two rings you’d like, you can clinch and spar with the boys and you don’t have to crawl under the bottom ropes to get into the ring. Yeah, this may be typical of Foreigner based gyms, but it isn’t typical of most traditional Thai gyms (that I’m aware of). You may get a few, but you don’t always get all. Enjoy it.
In addition, no one was knocking on my door trying to get into my room after dark. Bonus points on this one.
Sitmonchai Gym is a family run, traditional Thai gym with an openness to other cultures. For those of you looking for Thai culture and coming to Thailand for the first time, Sitmonchai would be a wise choice for this reason. I suspect it may cut down on the culture shock, you will be respected, you will be safe and you’ll get a taste of traditional, family style muay thai culture in its homeland.
I hope to return to the gym, to get some heavy training in. Should I make it, expect an updated review to give you the full deal.
For more details, check Sitmonchai’s website here.