Photos by Lindsey Newhall
My first impression when I step through the doors of Sitsongpeenong Gym in Bangkok is that it is nice. I don’t mean frilly or soft, meant only for foreign tourists on training holidays; after all, Sitsongpeenong is known for its elite Thai fighters and hard training. But unlike many other Bangkok gyms that focus on Thai fighters, Sitsongpeenong is, in fact, nice. The roomy, self-contained complex, complete with a pool table, is polished and clean. A quick walk through the facility makes it clear the interior designers put some thought into this place.
Foreign students, like the gym’s Thai fighters, are able to live on-site. The population of foreign fighters fluctuates throughout the year, but rarely creeps above 15. “We’ve got 10 rooms, and once it’s full, it’s full,” says Sitsongpeenong owner Tim. And that’s how he wants to keep it, to maintain the quality of training.
In the eight short years since it was founded in 2008, Sitsongpeenong (which means “students of two brothers,” a reference to Tim’s two sons) has garnered a solid name, both domestically and abroad, through the success of its Thai fighters. The gym is also the setting for Irish author Paul Garrigan’s memoir Muay Thai Fighter.
Foreign students have a definite presence at the gym, but few stay longer than a couple weeks or months. These non-Thai fighters do indeed bolster the gym’s income, but unlike gyms that make the bulk of their money off foreign students (say, many gyms in Phuket), Sitsongpeenong is kept alive and well by the purses commanded of its Thais, huge names like Sittichai and Kem Sitsongpeenong, who fight regularly, now more often in matches overseas than domestically.
Kem, who owns a gym in the Khao Yai mountains together with his wife and her family, has been ….View full article