Travel

Spar in a Full-Size Muay Thai Ring at a Luxury Bangkok Hotel

Test yourself with Thai boxing in the nation's capital.

Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok

A professionally trained Muay Thai fighter who goes by the moniker “Boy” is screaming at me. “Kick! Double kick! Knee! Knee again! Lean back! Kick! Use your hips! Double kick!” I gasp for air, struggling to keep up with Boy’s demands. A burst of early confidence (courtesy of a background in high school boxing) has eroded into exhaustion, and I’ve started to get my wires crossed as Boy calls for a knee after a kick, an elbow after a jab, in quick succession.

“Elbow!” he shouts. I punch. He giggles, delighted by the mistake, but in such an inoffensive and jovial manner that I feel he’s laughing with me and at me all at once. “Hehehe,” he crows. “Elbow! Elbow!” And so goes my private Muay Thai training session at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River-not a triumph, maybe, but certainly an unforgettable experience.

Photo by Jake Emen
Photo by Jake Emen
Photo by Jake Emen

Most hotels don’t house a full-size Muay Thai ring, but most hotels aren’t the Four Seasons Bangkok. It was through general manager Lubosh Barta’s insistence and connections that the hotel came to have the ring, which is located in the property’s two-story Urban Wellness Center. The reason? “Muay Thai is at the heart and soul of many fitness, lifestyle and cultural fundamentals all across Thailand,” explains the hotel’s spa director Ben Carter, “from the smallest of countryside villages, to the fast paced environment of the capital Bangkok.”According to Carter, the Muay Thai ring itself “was a custom build by a Thai family in Chiang Mai.” That same family’s operation has grown to produce rings for a multitude of professional competitions, and counts Barta, who’s spent his career working at luxury hotels in the region, as an early supporter. “They wanted to say thank you to him for supporting them well over 10 years ago when they were just a small local company starting out,” says Carter. Thanks in part to Barta, he says, “they have grown to be one of the leading ring manufacturers in Asia and around the world.”

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok

Group Muay Thai classes are available on a complimentary basis throughout the week, and guests can also enroll in private sessions, as I did. If you opt for the latter, you may come back to your room the night before your early morning engagement and find that the hotel has provided a monogrammed pair of Muay Thai training trunks for the occasion. There’s no backing out now, is there? The trunks will help you look and feel the part (important!), but they won’t prevent you from flailing helplessly around the ring (ask me how I know).

The training is designed for people from all walks of life and experience levels, and attracts a wide range of hotel guests. “These sessions are designed to match each guest’s abilities, so everyone gets something different from each session, each time,” Carter says. Most enrollees are new to the sport and eager to test themselves-both physically and mentally-while enjoying a new experience.

Photo by Jake Emen
Photo by Jake Emen
Photo by Jake Emen

Muay Thai classes and training sessions begin with tutorials about stances and how to throw the full assortment of punches, elbows and kicks. After that, you climb through the ropes and enter the ring for a few rounds with Boy, 2-minute intervals that will leave you pondering how so much physical suffering could possibly be contained within 120 seconds of an activity for which you willingly signed up.

On the bright side, I reflect as I nurse my aches and pains over breakfast pizza and congee from the buffet after my session, getting my ass kicked first thing in the morning means there’s nowhere to go today but up.

Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok

For those who crave some recovery time post-Muay Thai, relief is nearby. You could limp or roll yourself downstairs and into the spa, or head to the sultry pool deck, where the 9-acre property’s rear terrace abuts the river with its constant flow of ferries and long-tail boats. The peaceful, tree-lined space dotted with serviced daybeds feels a world removed the clamour of Bangkok, let alone the perils of that Muay Thai ring.

After all, “Thai boxing is about balance; it’s fitness, not fighting,” Boy says. “You feel it in your heart.” And what better way to balance your exertions than to relax by the pool?

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Jake Emen is a freelance travel, food, and drinks journalist, and a contributor for Thrillist. Follow his latest adventures @ManTalkFood.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.