Reflecting on fitness bootcamping in Chiang Mai: finding the adventurous spirit I left behind in Thailand

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In July this year, I escaped an unusually cold Perth winter and spent 10 magical days at the Fresh Start Thailand Fitness Bootcamp in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. With this being my first solo trip and my first time to Asia, I was very unsure of what to expect. In saying that I ended up putting out the best version of myself, working hard on my fitness and forming some incredible friendships with people from all over the world. And with that, I returned home feeling refreshed, inspired, stronger and with a revived sense of adventure.

However upon returning home, the truth is that I have struggled to keep this motivation up and my dream of “living big” and bringing more adventure into my everyday life has been a lot more difficult than I imagined. Two months have since passed and reflecting back, I’m now ready to get back that brave and adventurous spirit I had left behind in Thailand.

When the impossible is possible: Day 6 of bootcamp wasn’t treating us too kindly. Having just been smashed by a circuit around Huay Tung Tao Lake, which included a 200m stretch of burpees and push ups, our van dropped us off in a dusty car park below Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple. Literally below. The only way to get up there was to climb up a 1.5km track of rugged stone steps.

Huay Tung Tao Lake, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Misty morning at Huay Tung Tao Lake – the scene of many a burpee and push up.

 

Or so I naively thought. As we made our last stretch up those awful steps, we were faced with the actual staircase that takes you to the temple: the 300-step Naga Serpent staircase. I felt a little piece of my heart break. To think I had voluntarily paid for all this physical misery. And now, here was our challenge: 1 hour to complete 10 laps of the staircase.

Drenched in sweat, my legs shaking furiously and my breathing loud and heavy, I constantly questioned my sanity throughout the first three laps. Too stubborn to give up, there was no way I was going home with regret if I didn’t complete this. I kept myself distracted, counting “1-2-3-4” in my head over and over again. By lap 5, a sense of calmness washed over me and I knew I would be OK.

And just as the hour ended, I made my 10th and final lap up those forbidden stairs: my hands up in the air, victorious and finally, finally realising after a week full of the impossible:

I, Korii, could sure as hell do anything I put my mind to.

 

Doi Suthep Temple Chiang Mai

The crew and I about to face our biggest challenge yet… 10 laps of the 300 step Naga Serpent staircase leaading up to Doi Suthep.

Pushing through the pain and fear: Earlier in the week we went on a 40km cycle through the beautiful countryside of Chiang Mai. It was the first time in 4 or 5 years that I had touched a bicycle. But it was going OK, until we had a 4km uphill climb to conquer. Now I am known for having naturally strong legs, but not even these Polynesian trunks of mine were able to get me up that hill in one piece. A lot of that stretch involved me walking and pushing my bike up. Needless to say, once that hill was behind us, I felt nothing but pure relief.

So it was rather ironic when going back downhill turned out to be much worse. I got a little too confident and ended up going way too fast. All of a sudden, I panicked, slammed the brakes and flew off the bike. As a result I spent the rest of the day riding along in the support van. What with it being a busy road, I was lucky to walk away with only grazes and bruises on my arms and legs. These made sleeping and working out a lot more painful in the following days but I managed to push through.

So when my second chance at the 40km cycle came up a week later, I was determined to complete the entire thing in one piece. I was not going to let my fear of crashing put me off. Fortunately there was no 4km uphill climb, although we did get off our bikes to trek up to the top of Mae Sa Waterfall, which would be enough to finish anyone off. I was a lot more cautious this time round, going as slow as a snail on every downward slope, not caring if I was the last person in the group. Nothing was going to stop me, not even the hammering rain that stung my eyes throughout the last 7km of the journey. As I biked up the driveway to the resort, I had that same feeling of victory as when I had completed the step challenge. I was soaking wet, muddy, battered and absolutely destroyed but I had done it. I had cycled 40km in a single day.

 

Mae Sa Waterfall, Chiang Mai

Climbing the 10 tiers up to Mae Sa Waterfall.

On travelling solo and putting myself out there: While there was so much challenging me physically and mentally, it was the social aspect that also had me nervous. I had this fear that I wouldn’t make any friends and that no one would like me, which seems awfully irrational considering I moved to Perth from New Zealand and managed to make a whole new group of friends pretty easily.

The Canadian guy I was dating at the time tried to reassure me that “everyone loves Kiwis” as I contemplated buying a selfie stick to take photos of myself. Whether everyone loves Kiwis or not, I had no reason to stress at all. I made some incredible friends, all with the same purpose for being there – to get fit, lose weight and reset. Two things about our group were very intriguing: most of us had travelled to Chiang Mai alone. And most of us were expats or had been expats at some point in our lives: there was the Irish project manager living in Abu Dhabi, the English guy living in Hong Kong but moving to Beijing, the American director of an international school in China and the Brazilian who was also moving to China. It seemed that by taking the plunge and booking myself on this trip, I had met like-minded people as independent and free-spirited as myself.

The fact that we were all from different backgrounds and at different ages didn’t seem to matter at all. I was one of the youngest bootcampers, along with a couple of 19 year olds: Leigh, the most loveliest college student from New York on holiday with her Taiwanese mother. And Abdullah – the super wealthy teenager from Kuwait who practically lived on Snapchat. Normally I reserve a lot of judgement for people who spend every waking moment on their phones, but him and I got along like a house on fire. And that’s the thing: when you travel, you open yourself up to interacting with people you probably wouldn’t have given a second glance back at home.

Our trainers were such incredible, inspiring people as well. Tom was this well-tanned English guy who had lived in Thailand for 11 years. He couldn’t stop telling me all his stories from his previous life playing rugby in New Zealand. And while he certainly pushed us, it was with the most encouraging spirit possible.

There was also his assistant, Anne, who was originally from Zimbabwe but had made Chiang Mai her home for the last 3 or 4 years. I loved walking with her in the mornings and hearing her stories about her family and life both in southern Africa and Asia. She could easily rattle off all the cafes and restaurants to check out in the city, further inspiring me to do a return trip. The other trainers, Nick and Methee were fantastic as well – Methee, in particular was a real hoot, making us yell out “MACHINE” during our Muay Thai training.

 

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Kicking butt at Muay Thai training!

On being inspired to build a life away from the office: Towards the end of my time at bootcamp, I remember Chris the American, giving me a clear warning not to spend the next 40 years of my life slaving away in an office. I’m not sure what made him bring that up: perhaps he saw the dread I had about going home and realised how much of a wandering soul I really am.

It therefore seemed like a sign when I came across a copy of The 4-Hour Work Week at a bookstore during my stopover in Singapore, and of course I had to purchase it. While you’d assume this is the kind of book you read when you want to quit your job, there’s actually a lot that can be applied to your normal office job as well, in particular the importance of prioritisting what work you need to get done each day and how you can influence your boss to spend more time working remotely. It also opened me up to the whole concept of testing new ideas and not being afraid to fail. Something which goes against my natural instinct to not want to ever fail. But the thing is, if you never fail, you never learn. And if you never learn, you never grow.

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My copy of The 4-Hour Work Week

Taking back my power: And so two months later, I wish I could say that I’ve consistently lived with this renewed sense of motivation and adventure. I’ve done a fair bit of travel since returning from Thailand: I was sent to Sydney for work and then 2 weeks after that I was off to Bali. But in reality, all I’ve done is made endless lists of things to try and places to visit but very little execution.

A few weekends ago I inquired about joining the local Muay Thai gym and even went to have a sneak-peek on a Saturday morning but I couldn’t work up the courage to actually join. Even though I’ve tried Muay Thai and trained with professional fighters in Thailand, all I saw were the shirtless, tattooed-up guys and the girls looking fit in their crop tops and here was I in my preppy sweater and hair freshly curled and feeling completely out of place even though I had no need to feel that way at all.

I’ve had plans to go exploring around the Perth region but I’ve lacked the motivation and courage to just take myself when no one else is free to join or isn’t really interested. After things ended with Canadian guy not long after I got back from Thailand, I returned to Tinder, “advertising” for a travel/adventure buddy, not really believing that I was more than capable of being my own adventure buddy. As a result, karma decided to deliver me only penpals who wanted to talk about all the things they wanted to do but couldn’t actually follow through (sounds like a familiar story?). And from that came a big lesson for me: if you want adventurous, exciting people in your life then you need to live your own adventurous, exciting life.

Career/work wise? Again, I’m still working on that. I feel like I might need to re-read The 4-Hour Work Week again and remind myself not to be afraid to try new things. In a way this blog is my attempt to build my own platform away from my job and work on my writing, something I’ve always been passionate about but too busy/scared/tired/insert whatever excuse to work on.

So now as I reflect back on that moment of victory at the top of the Naga Serpent staircase, I will now acknowledge the strong, powerful adventurer I truly am and have the courage to live that version of me. In a way, I’m hoping this blog will keep me accountable with this. And this time instead of repeating “1-2-3-4” in my head, I’ll replace that with three simple words:

“Just do it”.

Over and over again.

Doing a fitness bootcamp holiday in Chiang Mai:

If you are interested in a fitness bootcamp, consider booking something with Fresh Start Thailand Fitness Bootcamp in Chiang Mai. They cater for all fitness levels. Even if you don’t want to lose weight, a fitness bootcamp can be a great way to reset yourself and work on your fitness! People will often come here as part of a wider Asian trip – perfect if you’ve been on the road for some time and need to get back into some healthy habits.

Cost and location: Located at the Pavana resort in the beautiful Mae-Rim district, prices start from around 24,000 baht ($960 AUD). I did a 10-day bootcamp, staying in the deluxe poolside room during off-peak season which cost 78,641 baht ($3145 AUD). This cost covers all meals, training, activities, accommodation, massages, saunas and airport transfers.

About Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai is a beautiful city surrounded by lush, jungle-covered mountains. With a population of around 1.5 million people, it is Thailand’s second biggest city. Visiting during the wet season, I was enamoured by how green the landscape was. The rain isn’t that bad though – it’s usually one or two big dumps of rain in the afternoon and with the heat it doesn’t take long to dry off. Be sure to pack plenty of mosquito repellent during this time of year!

Chiang Mai is a very artistic city, well known for its crafts and furniture making. The city is also home to a large digital nomad group and it’s easy to see why – you can certainly live a very comfortable life here for very little.

Getting to Chiang Mai: Travelling from Perth involves a 5 hour flight to Singapore and a 3 hour flight from Singapore to Chiang Mai. I ended up doing a one day stopover in Singapore then carrying on the next day. I would highly recommend this as it’s a good way to break up the trip. Thanks to Skyscanner, I managed to get airfares for $745 AUD return flying with Singapore Airlines/SilkAir.

Note: Due to almost all of my time spent working out or lying dead on my bed, I didn’t get many good photos while I was in Chiang Mai. As a result, I decided to source the featured image for this post from Pixabay.

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Reflecting on fitness bootcamping in Chiang Mai: finding the adventurous spirit I left behind in Thailand

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