As I sat with a couple of chums enjoying a dish of exotic cigarettes freshly shipped in from Mae Sai, washed down with an amusing little vintage from the cellars of Chateau Chang, the conversation turned to the ugly subject of exercise. I was astonished to learn that a staggering 66 percent of us had actually paid to go to a place called a ‘fitness centre’ with a view to lifting heavy things and moving about at a faster pace than is normal in order to improve health.
The next day, filled with the resolve that only a night on the finest Thai beer and the choicest imported tobacco can instil, I decided to investigate the phenomenon of exercise for fitness’ sake. There are a number of places in this city resembling hotel lobbies that will allow you to part with a staggering amount of baht for the pleasure of jiggling about on machines designed by N.A.S.A. only to have to go and sit in a very steamy room in order to get over the unpleasantness of jiggling about on these machines. These places were not for me. I’ve seen Rocky, and I know that being massaged with a lotus flower whilst sipping Patagonian artesian mineral water bottled by eunuchs is not going to do the trick. You need to drink raw eggs, beat up dead cows and have medicine balls dropped on your belly.
With this in mind I walked into the Chiang Mai Gym. I was immediately convinced that my decision not to wear a Juicy Couture velour track-suit was the correct one. This place is for men; men who are not afraid to sweat and grunt and admire their own biceps. But there are no poseurs here and all shapes and sizes are welcome. One Jeff Capes of a man had his young son on his lap during his workout helping him pull down on bars attached to lumps of metal usually used to stabilise construction cranes.
The exercise machines in the Chiang Mai Gym are no-nonsense masses of welded metal, the best of which could probably earn a Turner Prize. You also don’t need an HND in computer studies to operate them. At the gym’s centre is a goliath of a running machine. The most technologically advanced of the gym’s scaffolds; it has a car speedometer attached to a bicycle wheel which will helpfully tell you how fast you are running as long as you are doing more than 20mph. Everywhere there are chains to pull on, bars to swing on and big bits of metal to pick up and put down again. There is no air-con and no MTV, just the sweaty Chiang Mai heat and the clank of metal on metal and metal on concrete.
I am always surprised, and I don’t know why, when I walk into places where pasty out of shape farangs are rarely seen, at how welcome I am made to feel. It was all smiles and hellos as I sat down and tried to work out how not to damage myself too embarrassingly with the various contraptions. Forty five minutes later I was feeling pretty good and determined to do more of this exercise thing. This was not the case the next morning when I found it tricky to operate a knife and fork and my body ached in some very odd places. I decided that it might be a good idea to pop myself into a very steamy room and perhaps get a massage.
Chiang Mai Gym
Non members – 30 baht per day