In early June 2010, I was in the UAE staying with some friends who were like family. It was a great chance to take a deep breath in a home atmosphere. I had flown over 385,000 miles since the start of the year. I was constantly on the road between Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The constant travel was affecting not only my concentration but also my figure. All those hotel meals and meetings over drinks had me ballooning to the heaviest I’d ever been.

My friend’s then almost 4-year old son taught me to play all types of Wii games—but the best one was the boxing. Being the impulsive person that I am and looking for a way to shed the weight I had gained from months on the road, I Googled boxing lessons and boxing camp. That was the very first time I heard of Muay Thai. There seemed to be endless camps and class all over the place with tons of videos of grueling training. I was beginning to rethink this idea, as the people on the forums and on the camp websites looked a little too hard-core. I picked a place in Samui whose site was not daunting—the tone of the content didn’t make you think you had to be a pro to come train there.

My first full day in Thailand, July 8, 2010 saw me riding a moped for the first time in over a decade. The hotel/gym manager made me promise to wear a helmet and not to go over 40km per hour.  Then I watched the evening class, my eyes bugged out as I watched 45 men and women of all shapes, levels, and ages kick, punch, knee, and elbow in unison. I got a little scared and opted to just try the treadmill and bike. One of the class members noticed me and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. Whenever I ran into him, he was always ready with a genuine smile and words that made me want to keep trying despite what seemed like a total lack of coordination.

After completing my first full 50-minute lesson he told me to stand in front of him put my feet together place my palms facing each other in the center of my chest and say kop-khun-kha.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to work on my general fitness level as running around the globe, working 18 hours a day, and never staying in one place for more than 5 weeks had left me in terrible physical and mental shape. To get ready for a group class, it was suggested I take private classes. They gave me a different trainer each class so that I could see who could best explain these foreign moves to my left and right challenged brain.

During this time I met Jackie he would make me smile with a silly joke and words of encouragement even though we both knew I was not very good. I also took a class with Nuch who didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he had to physically move my arms back into position after each move. I also had a class with Charoon whose slightly scary booming voice bounced up the stair as he counted off the sets every morning and evening. He shed is task master mannerism in my private lessons. He spoke softly and when I didn’t get it one way he would keep coming up with different ways to explain how to do it until I could not only understand but I could do it.

In my last private lesson with Charoon, I told him I thought I was ready to try group classes. He took me out of the ring and over to the heavy bags—where he taught me how to safely hit and kick them.  After completing that, my very first full 50-minute lesson, he told me to: stand in front of him; put my feet together place my palms facing each other in the center of my chest; and say kop-khun-kha. The next day I did my first-morning class.

He taught me a series of different 15-minute exercises which could be performed anywhere from the bush to a five-star hotel room.

The first class was a beast. I was paired on a sandbag with a woman who had an inviting face and accented English I recognized all too well. She was a Brazilian. Married to an Australian a coach at a Sydney boxing gym, she, Peter, and their 8-month-old daughter were there with several of the people who Peter trained in Sydney. Simply having someone with whom I could talk and who could slowly re-explain moves to me, made the class not just bearable but fun.

Peter looked like a Marine drill sergeant but turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met. I spoke at length with him about wanting to get better at Muay Tahi, but that my real goal was to shed the weight. Peter, who was training for a K1 fight and trying to get his people ready for their first “pro” fights, marked out time for me. He wrote out and explain how to do a series of different 15-minute exercises that could be performed anywhere from the bush to a five-star hotel room. He looked at what I was eating and rearranged the times to optimize weigh-loss. A staunch believer in the cheat day, he reminded me to always take off a day to splurge.

Following Peter’s instructions and starting to get the rhythm of class, the weight began falling off. It felt great as my pants required a belt to style up, but I still could not kick properly. It was really upsetting me. I decided to take a few lesson from Beau because every time he would demonstrate a combination on the heavy bag one could see each muscle in his leg move and hear the thud as it came powerfully into contact with the leather. He sorted me right out in his own special way. He would grunt when I was wrong and crack a half-smile as I started to get the hang of it.

Over the years, I have found myself drifting back to Thailand for Muay Thai during moments of uncertainty or when I feel my stress level is about to explode.

It quickly became easy—I couldn’t believe it. I was doing two Muay Thai classes six days a week and following Peter’s 15-minute workouts in the afternoons before class. Time flew by and it was already September. I had finally spent more than 5 weeks in one place. My mind at ease, my body was feeling healthier and I was starting to fully enjoy my simple life in Samui. I woke up early and went to bed early. I was actually sleeping more than 4 hours a night.

I went to see my first profession Muay Thai fight. Frankie a young Peruvian fighter who lived and trained at the gym. In that small world way, it turned out he worked at my gym back in Miraflores. Around this time, I also met a retired fighter cum trainer from the Netherlands via Curaçao. It loved having Frankie and Wendell around as it forced me to speak Spanish—something I hadn’t been doing much of since moving to the Middle East.

He would ask me about what I’d been eating to make sure I was not starving myself.

Time continued to fly, people came and went. A local German expat and MMA fighter who looked a little intimidating, Makut,  would stop by to check up on me in the weights area. He wanted to make sure I was doing the exercises correctly. He would ask me about what I’d been eating to make sure I was not starving myself. Having been to several gyms across the country, I will say this is not unusual behavior, you meet people who seem truly interested in the well-being of virtual strangers.

The kilos continued to drop to the point where I could no longer wear any of the clothes in my suitcase. I gave them away to one the ladies on the housekeeping staff. She then went clothing shopping with me on Chaweng Beach Road after work one day so I could the Thai price. To keep my meal cost down, I would ask the women at the front desk to write down my meal request in Thai so I could have it made at one of the local spots instead of having to go to an expensive Western-themed restaurant. Now, I am capable of ordering my favorite meals in Thai requesting no sugar and no MSG.

Four months had passed, it was the end of my Thai journey and I am proud to say I dropped 32 kilos (70lbs). Male or female, young or old, the picture of fitness or trying to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle—if you have the time I suggest trying it for at least two weeks. The man in the header photo is a 65-year old retired New York cop and I have met plenty of people in their 50s at the various camps. Over the years, I have found myself drifting back to Thailand and Muay Thai during moments of uncertainty or high stress. While the first few weeks of my trip to Thailand were vacation, after my mind and body settled into the routine I began to work remotely.  All in, I have spent over two and half years in the country. These days I don’t go back to the gym in Samui, I enjoy extended stints at Rawai Muay Thai in Khaolak where I am far from the street noise and the bombardment of sex tourism.