Muay Thai, Buckets, and Lady Boys – What Thailand Thaught me About Life and Building a Better Body

thailand tripIt was March, 2010.

I was couped up in a lab, finishing up my last semester of a ridiculously long five year Engineering program.

I honestly couldn’t tell which was more numb: my ass or my brain.

I was ready to move on.

And, while most of my friends were thinking about careers, cliche Euro trips, and fancy toys, I was craving something different.

Two buddies from class were thinking of going to Thailand to train Muay Thai and explore the beautiful islands of Southeast Asia. And they were looking for a third to join them.

The idea of training with Muay Thai champions and exploring a culture that was vastly different from anything I’d ever experienced made me almost drown in excitement.

There was absolutely no way I could resist.

And, as it turned out, the trip taught me more about life than I could have ever imagined.

This is my story of Muay Thai champions, buckets, and lady boys.

Let’s begin.

The Departure

Two days after I finished my last ever exams and burned all my textbooks (just kidding…just some of them), I packed up my bags, grabbed my mouth-guard and I was off to explore a side of the world I had only ever dreamed of seeing.

Keep in mind that this was all happening during the political turmoil that the country was experiencing. Red shirts, yellow shirts, and a bunch of other colored shirts I didn’t really care for, but everyone thought we were kind of crazy for going during such a ‘dangerous’ time.

It didn’t matter.

There was no way we could pass up on this opportunity.

Our trip was to last 6 weeks. The plan was to spend 2-3 weeks in Chiang Mai training Muay Thai in a local camp (where one of my buddies had connections), then heading down south to train in another camp and spend whatever time was left exploring the southern islands.

We did a pretty good job of completely abandoning that plan.

Muay Thai in Chiang Mai

We arrived in Chiang Mai (northern part of Thailand) after a brutally long 32 hour flight. Connections, waits, delays – we experienced it all. It seemed never-ending, but we arrived.

And oh mannnn it was beautiful!

Chiang Mai Thailand


Stepping out of the airplane was equivalent to stepping into a sauna. The heat and humidity hit us like a sack of moist bricks. It was overwhelming but also very welcoming for three dudes coming from a blistering cold Canadian climate.

We picked the least suspicious looking taxi driver, threw our stuff in the trunk and headed to the Muay Thai camp, what we were to call home for the next few weeks.

This camp was no 5 star hotel. Far from. The room was small and dirty. The AC was broken. There was one squeaky bed in the corner, a tiny TV with no channels, a half-working shower, a few cockroaches on the balcony to keep you company, and a mirror on the wall to check out all the bad ass bruises you’ve compiled.

But it cost us $70 for three weeks worth of accommodations, or roughly $3 per night.

I guess you get what you pay for.

But, we were there to train, not lounge around in jacuzzis and sleep on king size mattresses.

lanna muay thai camp

The training wasn’t much more expensive, thanks to the connections we had. It ended up costing us about 400 Baht (or roughly $13) for one week of training.

Muay Thai camps are all over Thailand. They’re everywhere. The ridiculous rise in popularity of mixed martial arts (and UFC) in North America has caused some of these camps to become ‘westernized’. But we really wanted that raw training experience and so we chose a camp that’s owned and operated by Thai fighters: Lanna Muay Thai Boxing Camp.

These trainers were cool dudes. They were short, spoke very little English, drank lots of Thai beer, and could take down a bamboo tree with one swift kick.

First day of training, we had no idea what to expect.

But we were told to be in the ‘gym’ at 6am.

So we did.

There were a bunch of us. A few guys (and some brave girls) from Ireland, France, England, US, and some places I’ve never even heard of. We were all standing there waiting for the trainer.

When the trainer finally shows up, he quickly starts up his pick up truck and tells all of us to ‘jump in’.

I figured it was routine since everyone quickly piled into the back. Even his dog.

He took off, whizzing down tiny streets, forcing us to literally hold on. The brisk cool air (that you only get this early in the morning in Thailand) felt so good on my face.

riding in the pick-up

15 minutes later we arrived at the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen.

Our options were limited:

  • Run around the lake (5km).
  • Run back to the camp (10km).

The majority of us picked the former.

A few ‘been-there-for-a-while’ kind of guys (including two 13 year old Thai kids) chose the long way back. I was impressed. And inspired.

I had something to work towards.

Note: There were a few young Thai kids at the camp. These kids were beyond good. From what I was told, in Thailand, they are given the option at a young age to either go to school or train Muay Thai. I’m not sure what the split is, but these guys usually have over 300 fights under their belt by the end of their careers.

We ran around the lake, took in the scenery, and zipped back to the camp in the back of the pick-up.

That was the warm-up.

The training that was to follow that day was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was beyond grueling. Even painful at times.

But it was a challenge.

And you know I live for those.

Here’s what a typical training day looked like…

  • Wake up 6 am;
  • Pile up in a pick-up truck and drive down to the lake;
  • 5-10km run to ‘warm up’;
  • Get back to the camp;
  • 30 minutes of skipping;
  • 30 minutes of shadow boxing;
  • 30 minutes of bag work;
  • 3-4 rounds of pad work with a  trainer inside the ring;
  • Break for a few hours (eat some Thai food and probably pass out in an air-conditioned internet cafe);
  • Another 5-10km run (optional…kind of);
  • More skipping;
  • More shadow boxing;
  • More bag work;
  • Sparring (where I got my nose busted so much I wasn’t allowed to participate anymore lol);
  • Eat and sleep (you could eat for $3/day).

Six days a week. Three weeks total.

muay thai kick

Looking back, I’d have to say those three weeks were the most gratifying and challenging weeks of my life.

This was no cake-walk. This shit was real intense. And I was fully committed. While others were taking extra days off and staying up late to see the city, I was working. I was on a mission.

I went to every training session.

I was in bed by 9pm and up at 6am. Without an alarm clock.

I was in the zone. Fully immersed. Fully committed.

I had a goal of completing that 10km ‘warm up’ and not only did I achieve it, I upped it.

On my last day of training, I ran 8km. Up a mountain. 

Those three weeks taught me what it takes to truly achieve something. To really set your mind on something. To focus.

If you take a day off, you fall out of routine. You hold yourself back.

You hit obstacles. But you go past them.

It comes down to doing whatever it takes to succeed.

The lessons I learned within those three weeks will last me a lifetime. I now apply that same focus and consistency to everything I do. It’s an all or nothing mentality.

You just need to put your heart and sweat into something and you’ll be surprised at what you (and your body) is capable of.

Regardless, at the end of three weeks I was ready for something different.

And just like that we were headed to the Southern islands.

The Southern Islands of Thailand

The second part of the trip was the most beautiful and eventful experience of my life.

We jumped around from island to island, making stops at Phuket, Kho Phi Phi , Kho Samui, and and a bunch of other Kho’s I can’t fully recall right now.

We chilled out on the most beautiful beaches and went snorkeling through some of the clearest waters we’ve ever seen.

snorkeling in thailand

We ate a variety of local foods that can’t be described in words (OK, I’ll try…picture an enormous plate of wild, freshly prepared jumbo shrimp that had delicious juices oozing out of it…oh yesss!).

The Thai people were amazing. The parties were insane. The culture itself in Thailand was beyond anything I could have imagined.

And we were fortunate enough to meet some incredible people there from all over the world.

We got a chance to see some things that we’ll remember forever.

We attended the world-famous full moon party where over 5,000+ people from all over the world dressed in bright shorts and tank tops crammed onto a small strip of beach and partied from sundown to sunset as the moon shone brightly in the sky. We jumped through hoops of fire, drank vodka mixes out of sand buckets (simply called ‘buckets’ – one of these will destroy you), and danced with random groups of people from places we didn’t even know existed.

full moon party thailand

[source: off the path travel]

We had some rough nights too.

Once, on our way back home in the middle of the night, we almost got attacked by a gang of lady-boys. All that Muay Thai training paid off as we were able to sprint the full 2km home.

Lady boy: picture a former Muay Thai fighter with boobs and broad shoulders wearing a wig and a tight dress coming after you.

It doesn’t happen often, but I guess we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We also met a local self-made millionaires who took us around to see the intricate details of the culture. We got to make friends with the chefs at hotels and the cleaning crews that kept our rooms looking spectacular.

making my own pad thai

These locals were incredibly poor people. But they were also the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met.

It seemed their happiness wasn’t measured by material possessions or the size of their bank accounts.

They were just happy to be alive.

And you could see it on their faces.

They loved life.

And I decided to bring this passion for love of life with me back home.



After six long and exciting weeks in Thailand, we finally made our way back home.

And, although it sounds a bit cliche to say this, the trip was truly an experience I’ll never forget.

One day I hope to go back and re-visit some of the places that changed my perspective on the world that we live in.

I hope to see those friendly faces again. To snorkel through clear waters. To spar with Muay Thai fighters. And to jump through some hoops of fire.

Only next time I think I might ease up on those buckets!

Srdjan Popovic

18 thoughts on “Muay Thai, Buckets, and Lady Boys – What Thailand Thaught me About Life and Building a Better Body”

  1. I Washington in Thailand in the sumer of 2011. Not a hard training but can say I miss people smiling all the time.

    When our plane landed back in Europe we could say we already missed that amazing culture.

    Nice story Srdjan!

  2. love the story.

    i must have been there about the same time as you. a girl friend and i back packed the country for about 5 weeks. so many memorable experiences, some similar to your memories.

  3. sheesh. and now i see your travel date …. my trip was a few years earlier. there was a coup the week before our flight. we flew from halifax to boston to new york to anchorage to taipei to bangkok. what a bloody stupid carbon footprint that was, but the price was right!

    i’ll stop commenting now, sorry.

  4. Oh. Wow.
    I like reading this story of your Muay Thai camp experience, it makes me realize that if you can survive all those hard training and obstacles, why can’t I overcame my fear of not reaching my goals!

    Those scenery pictures are gorgeous and funny thing, my country is neighbouring Thailand and I’ve never been to that country yet!

    1. It’s all mental Fathin. It just takes a few shifts in your mindset before you finally realize what you’re truly capable of.

      Which country are you from?

  5. Srdjan,

    This truly sounds like a trip of a lifetime. That training must have been really intense, but it’s really cool to push your body to the max sometimes and more often than not, it will rise to the challenge. I’d love to make it out to Thailand someday!


  6. Thailand rocks! I lived in Japan for 3yrs. During winter break I went to Phuket on my first visit to Thailand. (Only 6-1/2 hrs from Tokyo.) The second winter I visited Koh Samui. People are incredibly nice and polite. Two hour Thai massages are something everyone should experience. I would go back in a heartbeat!

  7. Inspiring story. You only live once, so live your life to the max. But also take care because you only have one life.

  8. This is a post you shouldn’t skim read.

    The first things that stood out was the title
    “Lady Boys – What [they] Thaught me About Life “, next thing my eye went to was the following line “I honestly couldn’t tell which was more numb: my ass or my brain”

    I said wait a minute…… I got to go back and read this thing from the top, word for word. After I did that, the story made sense and was well written.

    Great post Srdj.

    Keep up the good work!

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