Sangtiennoi Gym – Tough Traditional Muay Thai with a Legend
Sangtiennoi is a Golden Age fighter who fought the best of the best, himself included in that group of course (give him a Google). I’ve seen a number of his fights and he’s an awesome Muay Khao and clinch fighter, but it wasn’t until actually meeting him in person and seeing his movements now, as an ex-fighter who can never shake those smooth transitions, that I really understood what an wonderful fighter he was – I’ll be posting the long form training video we did together for my Patreon supporters. There’s something in meeting these legends long after they’ve left the ring to focus on training students – their fantastic styles get distilled somehow, like a stew that’s been cooking for days rather than a can of soup; these techniques just get paired down to their most potent elements. It’s incredible.
Sangtiennoi is the conductor of his gym. He walks around with a long stick in his hand to whip the legs of students who are standing too far away from their opponents or are too slow to retaliate a strike against them – Old School, no doubt very much like how he learned as a boy. He is absolutely the king of this castle, so to speak, although the 200 kg hog named Gigi makes a strong argument that she’s running that ship (above). She goes wherever she wants, as do the countless little chicks and teenager chickens running between the feet of nakmuay kicking pads. The entire gym is an expression of Sangtiennoi: his interests, his upbringing, his ethic. The gym is almost like a collector’s museum, feeling like those old houses with hundreds of years of history told through the art, furniture, and knick-knacks all over the place. Santiennoi’s gym is just like that, but told through both accumulated things as well as the living beings that move through every space of the gym. The place is alive. Below is a live feed video my husband took while I was warming up, it communicates something of how the space feels:
above, some of my live stream feed when visiting
It’s a little difficult to find the gym on your own, but now that we have a pin on the map it should be easier (at bottom). The road down to the gym/house is not far from a large temple and market, which is where Santiennoi’s head trainer, Pi Dam, met me on his motorcycle to let me follow him the rest of the way. The driveway to the gym is long but once you hit the end it’s just an old wooden house with a few rings and hanging bags under it, an enormous and impressive spirit house, and fields on either side which keeps it cool. The fighters live upstairs in some small dorms, very simple style rooms (see video below). Downstairs behind the kitchen are the showers/toilets, which are communal and very Thai style. The women of the house were holding fort in the kitchen when I walked through, cooking some delicious smelling dishes for that evening’s meal. Sangtiennoi goes by the standard Thai style gym package of training, room and two meals per day, cooked right there behind the practice rings. It’s an old style, or at least traditional style gym. Rugged and charming all at once.
Women Training in the Gym
I’ve heard positive feedback from western female fighters who have trained at this gym. Reviews from women who have spent time in a gym are an important thing to look for as a woman. Some of the more traditional spaces of Muay Thai can be very difficult to navigate for a female, partly because “traditional” as a quality is not often accepting or inclusive of women. Additionally, gyms that haven’t had previous experience with women will struggle with the presence of women, so precedent is also a big factor for women seeking a gym. I can’t vouch for all experiences there, this is something to always watch, but from what I’ve heard there have been positive experiences from women at this gym, without complications. There are always considerations to weigh when choosing to step into a gym atmosphere that is isolated like Sangtiennoi’s gym is, but on a positive side this is the legend’s home and in his family there is a female presence that is also stable and authoritative in the space – which is very good.
Little “Game” learning a block and counter from Kru Dam, above
Game is a little girl who trains at the gym. A girl this young doesn’t fully count as presence of women at a gym, but it is awesome to see little girls training in Muay Thai.
Muay Khao Fighting
Sangtiennoi instructing a mid-clinch counter, above
One of the best things about the gym is that because Sangtiennoi was a Muay Khao fighter, there is plenty of focus on clinch and knee attacks, something that is much less known and taught in the west. This is a fundamental part of Thai Muay Thai, and here you are learning from one of the best.
Santiennoi does speak English fairly well, so despite the rustic surroundings you are not going to be isolated in your language as you might be in a traditional camp. And as an instructor he is really on-point, teaching techniques and nuances of his wonderful style.
The gym with lodging and two meals a day is 1,000 baht per day, with no discounts for longer stays. Below is my video walk through of the gym, an interview with one of the longer term western fighters that was there, and a quick look at the living quarters:
Video Walk Through of the Gym
above, my video walk through of the gym
What It is Like to Train and Live There as a Fighter
Jared had been at the gym for a good stint, sharing a room with another western fighter. As a relative beginner he had two fights at Max down in Pattaya and his roommate (in the clinch video, above) was gearing up for a fight against Pakorn (who he ended up beating) on MX Muay Thai (with MMA gloves).
above, my short interview with Jared Taback
A Quick Look At the Living Quarters
above, a video look at one of the fighter’s quarters – there is air-con and wifi.
Map of Sangtiennoi’s Gym – How to Get There
Sangtiennoi’s gym is about an hour North of Bangkok and the easiest way to get there is to hire a taxi which will run around 200-300 baht. Contact Sangtiennoi on Facebook and he’ll give you a phone number. You can go to the pin on Google maps here. You can find more about the gym on the website sangtiennoi.com but the map location on the site did seem inaccurate when we followed it. The one below is the pin I made myself.
And a little of the boss hog: Gigi. She is eating here, but she literally goes anywhere she wants in the gym, and weighs 4x times what I do! Loves scratches around the ears I hear and because she’s so enormous you have to pet her hard. She absolutely loves Sangtiennoi.
A Note on the “Authentic” Muay Thai Gym Experience
A lot of folks dream of coming to Thailand for a stint of training, looking for an “authentic” Muay Thai camp experience. Often in the mind these are a composite mix between Kung Fu movie training sequences of being isolated in the jungle with some sadistic martial arts master dedicating his attention to you and only you, with the expectation that your comfort levels not be too hindered by cultural differences like language barriers or squat toilets. I’ve received countless messages from men looking for a gym where they will be one of only a few (if any other) westerners, surrounded by Bangkok stadia fighters, but still be shown a lot of technique – preferably in English – be walked through a rigorous training schedule, not have to spend a lot of money, and have the gym invested in them as a fighter or student (regardless of their actual experience level walking into the gym). I understand these desires and specifications, I do, but having spent years training in Thailand I have to say this list reads like the unrealistic laundry list describing the Prince Charming of gyms that does not take into account realty. If your gym accepts westerners, you will likely not be the only one, but if you are one of only a very few, your gym’s motivations are not going to be aligned with yours: i.e. their investment is in young Thai fighters who they can train up and bet large sums of money on, not western students/fighters, who at most can occasionally earn a modest purse on televised shows like Max or Super Muaythai but aren’t going to pull what a long-term Thai fighter can. Even if you are a good fighter, you are not in the Thai fighter economy. Add to this issues of language, styles of teaching (East vs. West are very different), and if you’re a woman the gender issues will be countless and vary from gym to gym. All of this being said, I’m not sure I have encountered another gym in Thailand that is closer to the “authentic” gym experience – both what is real to authentic Muay Thai for Thais and these dreamy expectations from westerners – than Sangtiennoi’s gym. Maybe it’s because he’s had many years of experience with westerners but refused to alter the fundamental practices of his gym, which remains his home; but here the serious western student/fighter seems closely woven into the local community and fighters of the gym itself, without the gym being “for” westerners. In my short visit there and speaking with some of the western folks who have trained there, it never felt like it was oriented towards the westerners, but also they did not feel left out. That combination is difficult to accomplish and very rare to come by.