Why you should care

Because your next vacation could be kick-ass.

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Say you’re looking for a vacation. One where you come back looking healthier, not hungover. How about a holiday where you learn to land a kao tone (knee attack) on the next person who grabs your ass on the subway? Well, follow me to Thailand. Follow me into the ring.

Ian Cartwright, co-owner of Team Quest Thailand, is sitting in a bamboo gazebo about to dive into a steak lunch when I walk into his mostly open-air gym’s compound in a suburb on the edge of the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Verdant flora is sneaking in anyplace it can, through cracks in the pavement, and it’s totally overtaken the lot next door. It’s quiet here — the trainers are on break and cats lounge about.

The first of the twice-daily training sessions starts at 8 a.m., Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, you are free.

“This is the only place you’re going to get legitimate muay thai,” Cartwright says. He’s speaking of Thailand. And he’s talking about the combat fighting style — Thailand’s national sport — also known as “the art of eight limbs.” His gym is the first Thailand franchise of the Team Quest mixed martial arts training facility. The original gym is in Portland, Oregon, and is well-known in the MMA community — where muay thai is often utilized — boasting to have placed more than a dozen fighters into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

But the training here isn’t only for those wanting to compete. It’s also for those wanting to get in shape, learn a few fighting moves along the way and revel in the slow pace of Thailand’s mountainous north. “We get everybody. Everything you can think of has come through the gym before,” Cartwright says. The eight local Thai trainers keep to a classic muay thai schedule: The first of the twice-daily training sessions starts at 8 a.m., Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, you are free — maybe you’ll hike up the Doi Suthep mountain that towers over the city and visit an ethnic Hmong village to sip locally grown coffee.

Thailand is stacked with muay thai gyms — it’s an increasingly popular form of exercise among locals. But you run the risk of joining a glorified Zumba class with one guy in front yelling “punch, kick,” etc., to the group. At Team Quest Thailand, Cartwright explains, they take training seriously. “It’s got a more real team feeling. It’s quite hard to shake,” says professional fighter Jason Lau, 25, from the U.K., who has been coming to this gym consistently for three years.

Monthly fees are $300. Which is an investment considering you can grab a decent apartment for $200 a month in the city and pig out on delicious northern Thai dishes starting at a couple dollars a meal. But including the cost of a plane ticket, overall it’s not a bad deal for a monthlong holiday. Especially one that kicks your ass into being better at kicking ass.

When I leave the gym, I grab an Uber to the other side of the city, where I’m staying. That night I stuff my face with barbecued meat on a stick that costs around 30 cents apiece. A perfect, cheap post-workout dinner — if I’d been working out.

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