Real Talk: The Unfiltered Version of my First 2 Months in Thailand
Wow… where do I even start!!!??? I can’t believe it’s ALREADY been 2 months. On other days I can’t believe it’s ONLY been 2 months. Thailand has been a lot of things so far. Despite the sun and the palm trees and the beautiful beach scenes shared on social media, I’m going to come right out and say it - it has not all been roses and butterflies.
We’ve all seen it. Free-spirited tales on Instagram and travel blogs of picking up and moving abroad. You see the rebellious excitement and wanderlust and glamour of exploring a far off land - and this perception of liberation from societal expectation or norms. Maybe that’s how it works for some. That is not how it has worked for me. I don’t really want to paint this beautiful picture without also sharing the truth. It’s been challenging. It’s been difficult. It’s been chaotic. This has thrown me many hard life lessons. I've had some dark moments. But it’s also had many rewarding glimmers of light in between. It has also been NOTHING like what I had planned. I smile at myself as I’m typing this… at how naïve it was to try to move to a new country that I knew nothing about, where I knew no one and tried to carry out a “plan”. The only sure thing about a plan after all is that nothing will go to plan. I love sharing the good times. But I also don’t want to paint an inauthentic picture of what this has REALLY been like. So here goes. My best attempt at an authentic summary of my first 2 months in the Kingdom of Thailand.
When Luke and I decided to set out on this adventure together a little over a year ago, I was excited about all of the possibilities. First thing that came to mind was that I’d be able to work and tattoo internationally. That has been my long-time core dream that I’ve largely tried to build my life around – to be able to travel the world and support myself creatively. But it’s just not that simple here. There are strict labor laws. There are visas. There’s TONS of paperwork. And all of that costs money. Walking in to a tattoo shop and working was either going to take a lot of time, administrative hassle, and money… or a lot of risk.
Strike 1. I figured all this out and decided to redirect while still back in Columbus. Luke and I were already months in to planning, so I wasn’t going to give up so easily, even if it meant potentially pausing tattooing for a year. I wasn’t happy about it, but that was the reality, so I sought out Plan B. I had been practicing yoga for several months and was loving it at Modo Yoga in Grandview. I’ve struggled in the past with a lot of sports-related injuries. On top of that, after 2 years of tattooing full-time, I was also starting to feel the effects of being hunched over day after day. Yoga was helping a lot, and I wanted to further my education in it. I decided I would start an online 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course, plus join a yoga studio here in Thailand to continue to advance my own practice. But when we got here, I was yet again disappointed to find out how far away the yoga studio was, and it simply wasn’t walkable. Luke and I tried. Many ways. We got shot down by narrow roads crisscrossed with highways, a valid fear of driving, wild dogs, etc… it just didn’t work. And while taxis and transportation are not expensive, on a daily basis it adds up. I just didn’t have the budget for it. So my plan to join a studio and go to classes every day was not going to pan out. Strike 2. This one was hard because I wasn’t too sure what to do at this point. I had spent months researching how to pursue tattooing, then yoga, and now I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t have a plan C. I hadn’t thought about any other interests. I was in a city I didn’t know, in a country I had never been to. And I left behind a career I love, my friends and my family. I still had my watercolors, but creating in a studio all of the time can be extremely isolating. I suddenly felt very far from home. Luke was loving it here. I was feeling lost.
So I tried to remind myself of the reason we ended up here in the first place – for Luke to train and compete in Thailand in their national sport of Muay Thai. Finding him a gym still needed to be priority. It goes without saying that there are A LOT of Muay Thai gyms in Thailand… one of them about 5 mins walk from us - Fight Nation. Luke reached out, and we quickly were able to schedule a meeting with one of the owners, Eddy. We met for coffee at the gym that week. He was very warm and welcoming. He told us all about the gym. He introduced us to the head trainers. It all looked great! So Luke scheduled a private training session for the next day with Bas, the head Muay Thai coach. I was excited for Luke. He seemed very excited and hopeful about the gym. And I was truly so happy and hopeful for him as well. The next day we returned for the training session. I tagged along with my new book and sketch pad. If I’m being honest, I had very little interest in Muay Thai. I cared about Luke finding a gym he liked. That was pretty much the extent of why I would have ever stepped into a training gym at all. I figured I could sit and read, and take some photos for Luke. I was still really down about my own plans, but was looking forward to getting out of the apartment and getting to watch Luke do his thing. Maybe I’d relax, read a little and enjoy the day. Plus we were getting coffee afterwards and I love coffee in any country! Luke started with a warm-up with Rasmus, the second owner of the gym. They did some punching and kicking and I didn’t have a clue what was going on but all looked great to me... Bas stood by at first, just observing. Then Bas stepped in the ring with Luke and they started hitting pads. Punch, kick, hit… and again, still had no clue what I was looking at… all I knew was the longer the session went on, the more enthralled I became. It was the first time I had ever actually seen someone train Muay Thai. I felt this completely unexpected excitement well up inside me. It was only just the day before I had sat at a table across from Eddy and laughed when he asked if I also did Muay Thai. I told him that this was Luke’s thing and I had no interest. But there was something about Bas’s energy – I caught myself thinking, “this is someone I want to learn from.” I sat on the edge of my seat for the rest of the session. I never opened my book. At the end, I found myself asking that dangerous little question… “I wonder if I could I do that?” That night I emailed Eddy and told him I wanted to try Muay Thai class. When in Rome, right? I had essentially no experience. And with multiple previous injuries in my ankles from running, part of me felt silly (and stupid) for even trying... I was nervous, both because it was my first class, and also for myself physically. I was so sick of being injured on and off for years on end. But I figured I’d give it 1 class… it’s only 90 minutes, right??
*ONLY* 90 minutes… lol. I was quickly reminded how terrible my cardio had become like a swift kick to the head. After about 30 mins I was gassed. And I loved it. I liked being in the gym again. I was also in a weird mental place and even though it was all so new, the gym felt comfortable, like a place I’ve known before. It was a comfort that I found myself clinging to. After my first class, I signed up for a month. And like anything I do, I can’t just pace myself. I dive in, headfirst, and go balls-to-the-wall, 150% right out the gate. After the first week, I started attending the 2-a-day trainings. My ankles appeared to be holding up and I was soooo excited! I was running up the mountain every morning. My cardio improved VERY rapidly, and I was thrilled by what my body was able to do again… until it couldn’t. I went from a pretty sedentary lifestyle in Columbus doing yoga in the morning, tattooing in the evening, and then coming home to Netflix + a bag of pretzels + a bottle of wine every night, to running up mountains, jump-roping, hitting pads, and sparring twice a day, every day. After training one morning I felt a twinge in my inside right ankle. After training that evening, I was barely able to walk. I was about a month in, and my previous ankle tendonitis reared it’s ugly head, really to no one’s surprise, including my own. These kinds of injuries can take weeks or months to heal. I know this, because I’ve already done this. Turns out history keeps repeating itself if you do the same shit over and over, hoping for a different result. It was my own fault, but I still felt absolutely defeated beyond belief. Muay Thai had become the thing that I latched on to. It gave me that purpose I so desperately was searching for - plus a community, friends, ground to stand on, and I felt like it was getting taken away too. This felt like strike 3. I was fucking pissed. There’s no nice way to put it. I was in pain. I was so upset that I had hurt myself again. I was just MAD at how literally everything was going. Meanwhile, Luke was loving the gym! He was doing great, loving training, was in the beginnings of gearing up for his first fight, and I was so happy for him! He’s getting to live his dream! But I was sad for myself. I just wanted to be happy too. I wanted to love this experience as much as I had hoped to love it, but I didn’t. And I was not always very good at separating the two.
I tried to stay positive, but it was hard. I’m not naturally a positive person. And my depression was hard on my partner and our relationship. There were tough days. There were days I was not a good partner at all. I say this, not because I want to air the dirty laundry, but because I’m here to share the truth. And the truth is that during this time I was often a shitty partner. I may not be a naturally positive person, but I am quite stubborn. And I still didn’t want to give up on Muay Thai, or Thailand altogether. I limped up to a Physical Therapist’s office one afternoon. I got really good treatment, along with some stretches to do. It made me marginally more hopeful that it might heal faster, but she told me no training. It was so disappointing. I figured that the smart thing would be to quit. Muay Thai is what it is - a high impact martial art that is very intense on your legs and ankles. For me it felt like this crazy little experiment just didn’t work out with my injuries. So that night when I was asked at the front desk if I wanted to renew my membership for another month, out of sheer bull-headedness I said, “No. I want to renew for 6 months." For the next couple of weeks I’d show up to training, but I’d have to work by myself. I would get on the rower, and begrudgingly the echo bike, just to try to keep my fitness up. I did hours of PT, lifting, and stretching. Rasmus showed me a couple of weighted boxing exercises since I couldn’t kick and I would do them over and over and over like it was my fucking job. One night I did 1,000 sit ups, just out of pure frustration. The whole time just wishing I could be in the ring with the other students. I wanted to learn. This was one of my first big lessons from Thailand.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO. And even if it doesn’t come naturally, work fucking hard to be very grateful for that. Remind yourself every day that there are people that WISH they had your problems.
I got a lot of support and tons of patience from Luke during this time. I had support from everyone at the gym, and I was getting help with my physical therapist. It took a couple of weeks, but to my amazement, my ankle began to feel better. It was a rate of healing I hadn’t experienced at home. And it was exciting to be able to get back to some modified training. I definitely pushed my luck with it, but I was still careful, and I continued to heal. By the beginning of October, I was able to practice kicking again, so was back to near full training. As the saying goes… be careful what you wish for. There are days it can be quite brutal. 2+ hour sessions, twice a day. It’s an exercise load that even in my longest days of marathon training I haven’t experienced. I’ve had good days and bad. Days I’ve felt strong. Days I’ve felt completely physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted. There have been days I’ve completely lost my composure. Times I’ve acted less like a 31 year old woman and more like an unhinged primate. These are moments I have not been proud of. But damn, those are the days where you learn the most about yourself and life. They’re the days that make you ask the tough questions. The days you really dig deep. When you feel like you have nothing left, yet you find it in yourself to squeeze out just a little bit more. I’ve found a lot of meaning in that. Currently, I’ve still been able to train full time. I’ve done TONS of experimenting and adjusting with food, nutrition, and recovery. I do a lot of stretching, and alllllll of the PT exercises. I’ve started getting out more, exploring other activities and doing more cross-training. I can’t go every day, but I get to go to yoga class once a week at Shakti Yoga (and have been LOVING it!) I’ve always participated in some sort of activity, but I never would have considered myself to be an “athlete”. So starting a full-time Muay Thai training regime at 31 has not come without great challenge. But that has been a REALLY big learning experience all it’s own. I’ve become my own favorite science experiment, and I definitely plan to share some of the things I’ve tried and learned over the last 8-9 weeks!
Thailand didn’t come in the pretty package I was naively imagining. It has certainly been no walk in the park. This hasn’t been a fairytale. This hasn’t been some glamorous experience. This hasn’t been a perfect Instagram post. It’s been far more than that. This has been real and raw and gritty. It has tested me and my partner. It has challenged my willpower from different angles on a daily basis. But I would not change this… not for anything. I would choose an authentic life experience over a fake fairytale any day, every day, over and over and over again. I wouldn’t describe any of this as EASY, but life isn't supposed to be. Once I started to let go of all of my personally imposed expectations, it has continued to become increasingly rewarding. This was also my second big lesson from Thailand. TAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS, AND LET THEM ALL GO.
In the end, that’s all I really hoped for from this. To have purpose, to learn something or ANYTHING, and to grow from it. I can promise you so far, The Kingdom of Thailand has not disappointed. And it’s only been 2 months. So I wake up and ask myself every day now, what could I do with 10 more?
(^^Working with Coach Phet)
** There’s obviously MUCH more I hope to write about, like more detail of what training has been like, more about the logistics and budgeting of living in Thailand for a year, specifics about Hua Hin, what I’ve been eating in a day for training, questions about artwork and future tattooing, etc.
If there’s a topic above that you’re extra curious about, or if you have any additional topics you’d like me to write on, I would truly love any and all suggestions, questions or comments! Just shoot me a message on IG @megarawiild or drop me an email at email@example.com!
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