Chiang Mai’s coolest workouts

Natalie Hernandez gets a sweat on at Chiang Mai's coolest workouts.

By | Mon 27 May 2013

fitness 2

We’ve all heard it before, the benefits of working out: more energy, better endurance, reduced stress and anxiety levels, better overall health and, of course, the chance to look better naked! Chiang Mai’s sticky heat and crazy traffic make it tough to run or cycle much inside the city (and plus, that stuff can get a little boring on the best of days), so, I set out on a mission to find out what else Chiang Mai has to offer in terms of fitness.

Here, I bring you my findings. May they leave you feeling a bit more inspired to drop the fried meatballs, strap on some sneakers and do some intentional sweating!

While not the most intense workout I’ve tried, Zumba was definitely one of the most fun. Think of it as going to the club and breaking it down to your favourite songs with your closest friends, except instead of wearing heels you’re barefoot. And swap out the sweaty guys trying to grind up on you for sweaty guys trying to learn how to move their hips. When I first arrived, I made sure to stand in the back, hoping no one would notice my lack of coordination skills. My plan wasn’t very logical, considering we were facing a mirror wall and one of our photographers had come along, but I tried to dismiss the fact that there would soon be evidence of my not-so-nimble moves and instead focus on mimicking our cheerful instructor as she effortlessly glided across the floor (leaving our aforementioned photographer quite smitten). Doing style combinations that included salsa, merengue and reggaeton provided enough variety throughout the hour-long class to keep the dancing from becoming repetitive and, as an added bonus, enhanced the working of different muscles. My favourite muscle-tightening move was ‘quick feet’, where we tapped the balls of our feet up and down as quickly as possible to the beat of a fast-paced reggaeton number that made my calves, thighs and butt burn. But it was a good burn. And, as one of my fellow class members said, “If feeling everything in your body jiggle isn’t motivation to work out, I don’t know what is!”

Zumba at Spirit Fight Academy

27/1 Sanamkela Kao Road

080 854 6232

Buffalo Rice Farming

I was more than mildly intimidated when I first heard the term ‘buffalo rice farming’. By this point, it was safe to say I had gone beyond the unique requirement and reached the ‘out-there’ category of exercising. However, within the first few minutes I discovered this workout was not at all intimidating. In fact, it was every little kid’s dream come true – getting to run around in the muck with an animal friend; how fun is that? The initial challenge of treading in the mud, however, took more than a couple of laps to get used to, and trying to manoeuvre the rather obstinate buffalo didn’t make things any easier. After finally thinking I’d gotten the hang of it, my confidence levels rose as I gleefully called out Thai commands to my workout partner – in a horrible accent enjoyed by all – until Khun Buffalo decided to show me who was in control. And what is it that alpha male animals do to establish their dominance? They poop right in front of you. As disgusted as I was to see (and smell) the excrement, the worst part came when the buffalo decided he wanted to keep going and took off once again, making me trudge right through it! I don’t know how many people can say they’ve willingly trod back and forth in buffalo dung, but now I can. I guess in fitness, anything goes.

Absolute Bootcamp Fitness 

3 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13

082 889 2377


Rock Climbing

Bouldering is not rock climbing. Okay, so it’s all part of the same sport, but for someone who has a vastly irrational fear of falling, the difference is colossal, because in bouldering, there’s no support system – nothing to keep you from falling but your own shaky limbs. Yet within minutes after arriving at Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), I was on the wall, ready to take a stab at what I’d always considered one of the most intense sports. I scaled the easiest routes first, deciding that would reassure me enough to try my hand at harder sets. But before long, it was the height that kept me from ascending, not the difficulty level. I found myself getting halfway up and subconsciously scurrying back down, out of fear that if I got too high I would be forced to let go and just…fall. At that point I had an awakening, a moment of clarity. It was obvious: I had to learn how to fall. So I put the routes out of my mind and began climbing to the top, using any holds I could find, pushing myself to let my body dangle until I had no choice but to let go. Though daunting at first, I continued this pattern time and time again until I could, er, release, my fear of falling. It seemed like such a weird concept, going climbing to learn how to fall, but you know what? I not only learned, but conquered my fears in the process, and that felt even better than the calorie burn.

Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures

55/3 Ratchapakhinai Road

053 207 102

Cross Fit


“What’s your excuse?” This phrase has brushed the lips of CrossFitters all over the world, and it was what landed me at CrossFit Chiang Mai. Always having had too many excuses not to try it, topping my list were ‘it’s intimidating,’ and ‘what if I can’t do it?’ But the time had come to drop the excuses and get to it. I spent the hours preceding my debut sitting in the Citylife office, gawking at motivational YouTube CrossFit videos that, in my frenzied state, only intimidated me further. I kept calling out to my editor, “What if they make me climb a rope? I can’t do that!” and “The entire workout is going to be centred around pull-ups, I can’t even do one!” Having built it up as if I were going to war, when I finally walked into the bamboo-encircled ‘box’, my stomach was ready to jump out of my throat. However, within seconds, director Mark Ritchie’s friendly face greeted me and calmed my pounding heart to an almost average beat as he led us through a group warm-up. It’s safe to say that the workout itself was nowhere near as torturous as I’d imagined it. It was, in fact, a high intensity interval session that that included a balance of strength and cardio and kept me alert, quickly switching between movements. But at its core, it was so much more than that. It was a way for me to meet new people hailing from all over the world, a chance to prove to myself that limitations are primarily mental, not physical, and an experience I would gladly repeat over and over again.

 CrossFit Chiang Mai 

48/1 Chiang Mai-Lampang Road

053 406 331 


Muay Thai


Muay Thai was by far the fiercest workout on my list of activities. With my fighting knowledge stemming primarily from Hollywood movies, I knew the intensity of boxing…in theory. When it actually came time for me to slip on the gloves and step into the ring, my previous assumptions were nothing but understatements, a joke compared to what I actually experienced. But, as I listened to my trainer call out for jabs, punches and kicks, I felt my own adrenaline and intensity increase. I could feel myself responding better to his commands: blocking quicker, ducking quicker, retaliating quicker. By no means did I make an exemplary transformation in my hour-long session (at the end I was still inexplicably incapable of blocking any kick that came at my left side, which proved amusing to many). Nevertheless, a mental transformation occurred. There’s something about pushing your body beyond any preconceived limits that changes the way you think about fitness, and more importantly, about yourself. You’re left feeling audacious, ready to take on whatever (or whoever) comes at you. And that is a pretty damn good way to feel.

Lanna Kiat Busaba Muay Thai Camp

161, Soi Chang Kian, Huay Kaew Road

053 892 102