If you find yourself falling out of shape, either slowly and steadily or surprisingly fast during your time in Thailand, this article will help you get back on the right track by covering the best options for getting fit and staying in shape in Bangkok.
Lots of foreign expats call Bangkok their home, and many travellers and those living the digital nomad lifestyle choose to stop off in this mega-metropolis for a few weeks or months. Setting up a base in Thailand’s capital city has many advantages such as the excellent (mostly) overland travel links to the rest of the country as well as the numerous destinations in the region, and the world at large, that can be flown to from the two international airports in Bangkok.
Combine that with the low cost of living, the easy way of life and the plethora of western comforts never more than a stone’s throw away from traditional Thai living, and you can see why people of all walks of life choose to come and live in the City of Angels AKA Bangkok.
The Downsides of Living in Bangkok
The negative consequences of living in Bangkok tend to often be caused by some of the reasons people choose to live here in the first place. The modern buildings and amenities mean that it’s been months since I walked up a flight of stairs. Lifts and escalators are almost everywhere and getting that free workout that comes from walking up a flight of stairs isn’t something you are going to get out here, at least not on a regular basis.
The almost constant sunshine is one of the key attractions of moving to Thailand, but it also means it can be uncomfortably hot at times. Coupled with the high levels of humidity, the outdoors activities that you might have enjoyed back home now seem out of the question. Even a walk to the shops can be a major chore.
Thanks to the seemingly never ending supply of taxis in Bangkok and their amazingly cheap rates, walking anywhere just isn’t done here. Why walk out in the heat and humidity when an air-conditioned Toyota can take you where you want to go for less than the price of an iced drink?
Thai food is some of the best in the world and in Thailand it is often very inexpensive, as is most other food from around the world. Those new in town tend to go to town on the delicious food that is so cheap that you can try out many dishes per meal, when if were being honest, one dish would’ve been enough.
The abundance of nightlife and relatively cheap cost of drinking until all hours can often be the final nail in the coffin that heralds the passing of your once impressive levels of fitness and the early onset of the dreaded middle aged spread.
So with all that in mind, it’s probably time you started thinking about maintaining your pre-Bangkok levels of fitness and weight before it’s too late, or if you’ve been here a while, making an effort to reverse the downward trend!
The Best Options for Keeping Fit in Bangkok
When looking for somewhere to live or stay for a while, choosing a condo with its own gym or swimming pool is a good way to increase your chances of staying lean and healthy. However most condo gyms aren’t the best and they often get overcrowded at times. A gym on your doorstep can’t be beaten for convenience but if it doesn’t have what you need or is too busy to use then it’s not going to be of much use.
Join a Gym
The next best option is to sign up with one of the commercial gym chains in the city. California WOW was once the biggest chain but after going bust a few months ago, Fitness First and True Fitness are the other two main options. Gym membership isn’t cheap however, with a standard Fitness First membership starting from 2,500 baht (£55 / $85) a month and with True Fitness being even more.
This is probably more than you would pay back home and when you consider the low cost of living in Thailand, these prices can be more than you might have be expecting to have to pay. Lots of hotels also allow non-guests to use their gyms of a monthly fee so it is worth exploring the local hotels in your area.
The Thai government seems to put a lot of emphasis on keeping fit into their social policies and at around 6pm each evening, in car parks (usually Tesco) across the country, an instructor and a large sound system will turn up to lead large crowds in complicated dance routines for an hour set to thumping Eurotrance.
These outdoor aerobics sessions have to be seen to be believed and even if you don’t join in its worth visiting for the spectacle. Lumpini Park has the biggest service running each day with large crowds taking over the centre area of the park. If you are wondering how everybody knows all the moves while you have no idea, you can buy DVDs of the popular routines to practice at home before showing your moves off out in the wild.
Speaking of Lumpini Park, there are outdoors exercise stations scattered around the park ranking from rudimentary parallel bars to cardio machines and resistance gear to a fully-fledged free weights area, all out in the open. There is also an indoors gym in the park but it requires membership.
Learn Thai Boxing
While in the home of Muay Thai, why not take advantage of the large number of ex-professional Thai boxers who have turned their hands to teaching locals and foreigners this effective style of combat? There are Thai boxing gyms scattered all over the city ranging from foreign owned ones to more local Thai managed gyms. Some are indoors and some are outside.
Just look for one near to you and start taking part in these physically demanding workouts. Lots of Thai boxing gyms offer others classes too ranging from other forms of combat to circuit training and fitness based workouts. This is a cheap way to immerse yourself in the local culture and get fit and toned at the same time.
Cycling in the City
While a cycling tour of Bangkok is a great way to see the city, it probably won’t help much with your fitness. But if cycling is your thing, even in the extreme heat, then joining a cycling club is an excellent way to get fit and stay healthy, providing you respect the road traffic! The Peloton De Bangkok meet up each Sunday for a 90km+ ride so it could be a good choice for intermediate cyclists and beyond.
There is also a Bangkok Hash House Harriers Biker group that meets once a month and who can also arrange for bike hire for those wishing to give cycling in and around Bangkok a try before investing in a bike. These are also, so I’m told, great ways to meet new people due to the social and beer fuelled activities.
CrossFit in Bangkok
If you are a disciple of the church of CrossFit you will be relived to know there are at least two options available for getting your fix in Bangkok. Both are relatively new ventures and the gyms look well kitted out with the classes well attended. Prices aren’t cheap here, but if you love this type of training then you don’t have much choice but to stump up the cash to get your daily dose of WODs, ATGs and AMRAPs. Crossfit Bangkok and Crossfit Fast are the two main gyms that I know of in the city. The Lab also offers similar types of training for those that prefer the class format of exercising.
Pounding the Pavement
One low cost option is running. While it might seem like dicing with death, taking to the streets in Bangkok doesn’t always mean you are dodging feral Soi Dogs and avoiding pavement riding motorbikes. Lots of runners use the loop at Lumpini Park for relatively obstacle-free running. There are also quite a few Hash House Harriers that run throughout the week, in and around Bangkok, if that is your thing, some of them even permit women to run with them!
Why it Pays to Stay Fit in Thailand
Hopefully you’ve now been inspired to start taking care of your fitness levels. Living in Thailand can give you the sense of being on holiday 24/7 making it even easier to allow yourself to indulge in everything that is on offer here. But keeping fit does have its benefits. It makes getting around in the heat easier. With less body fat to carry things don’t seem so hard and it also helps save money on air-con bills. If you do a lot of strenuous activities outside, such as running or cycling, your body will acclimatise to the heat quicker which will also help make living here in the tropical climate more comfortable.
There are many advantages to keeping fit in Thailand such as meeting new people, staving off bad health, improving your tolerance to the heat and picking up new skills such as Thai boxing, street aerobics or just becoming better at lifting heavy objects. So what are you waiting for?