No one's judging if you want to spend your entire Thailand vacation sunbathing, shopping, and drinking Singha. But if you're the type of traveler who likes to return from a trip with a deeper understanding of the places you've been, Thailand offers that in the form of (affordable) classes in various Thai disciplines. Here are a few of our favorites.
Famed for its gargantuan gold statue of a reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is also considered the spiritual home of traditional Thai massage, an invigorating form that involves a lot of stretching and deep pressing. The temple was home to Thailand's first public university, where medicine and science were taught, and within the temple there are many tablets inscribed with instructions for practicing Thai massage, all placed by order of King Rama III in the mid 18th century.
In 1955, a massage school opened at Wat Pho and, although it has recently outgrown the temple and had to move across the street, the school continues to offer a variety of short- and long-term accredited courses in massage, all conducted in English. A five-day course in foot massage costs $213, while five days learning Thai massage will cost you $270. After completing the basic Thai massage course, you are then eligible to take the 10-day advanced course in Thai medical massage therapy ($398), to learn more in-depth techniques. If, on the other hand, you would rather be on the receiving end, Thai massage is available in the temple for as little as $7 for 30 minutes.
The central Gulf coast island of Koh Samui invites lazy days of sunning, island hopping, and eating. It is also home to two big Muay Thai stadiums, and -- if you fancy trying your hand (and elbows and knees) at the sport -- one of Thailand's most renowned and accessible training camps.
Superpro Samui, located a short walk from the major tourist area of Chaweng Beach, is home to several veteran Thai fighters, many of whom have fought internationally, and offers facilities that are comfortable for foreign visitors. The camp consists of two rings, a gym, and a hotel with rooms to rent by the day, week, or month. When staying at the hotel, training classes are included in rates, which begin at $17 per night for a room with a fan (no A/C) and shared bathroom. If you are not staying at the hotel, the cost of one two-hour group Muay Thai class begins at $11, or $28 for a two-hour private session. Other classes on offer include MMA, yoga, and crossfit. Trainers speak at least a little English and attendees tend to be a good mix of inexperienced enthusiasts and those with several years' training under their belt, so you don't have to worry about not fitting in.
The Golden Triangle is the name given to the very northern reaches of Thailand where the country meets Laos and Myanmar along the winding Mekong River. The area's best-known hotels are the luxurious Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and Four Seasons but there is also a lesser-known boutique hotel nearby offering a lower-key -- and hands-on -- experience.
Made up of 14 wooden bungalows spread out across hills and rice paddies and surrounded by trees bearing guava, lychee, tamarind, and more, Rai Saeng Arun is set on a working organic farm, which guests can help cultivate. By joining the hotel's seasonal Agriculture Project, guests can learn to plant and harvest organic vegetables and rice in a traditional way and then enjoy the fruits of their labor later at the dinner table. Almost all produce served is grown on site and any excess is donated to local schools and temples. Rates begin at $77 per night.