Photo: Siangboxing Gym

Vacations in the Land of Smiles are great, but there’s only so much trekking or laying around on the beach you can do. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more substantial – like, say, learning a new talent – Thailand has you covered.

The country’s tourist hubs have really kicked things up a notch by offering people the chance to bring a tangible bit of their vacation home with them. It’s really a pretty savvy public relations move – “Not only did I party, get a tan, and ride a tuk-tuk, I also learned this! (display skill for amazed friends). And you can too!”

At any rate, here’s a list of a few things you can learn while you’re on holiday in Thailand. We’ll refrain from listing any specific venues or companies, because those are a personal choice and should be made only after plenty of research. The Internet is your best friend here – there are endless resources online to comb through and find what’s right for you. The important thing to remember is that there are no special skills needed – just a willingness to listen and learn!

Muay Thai (kickboxing)
It’s a no-brainer that Thailand’s national sport is an attractive one to many foreigners. The ripped, tough-as-nails fighters that spin around a ring in the exciting (often brutal) bouts are superb athletes, and know how to protect themselves to boot. There are essentially two routes you can take: train in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, or other foreigner-friendly cities, or train in a camp in the rural provinces, where very few western conveniences lie. The big city experience will be easier, with English-speaking trainers and plenty of other foreigners, but if you want another layer of authenticity, a camp in the countryside is where you should head. Little English, no air-con, and very few foreigners mean that you’ll get a (very) Thai experience.

The image of saffron-clad monks making their morning alms rounds has fueled a thousand postcard fortunes, but there’s nothing saying you need to be Thai to study how to do it (becoming a monk is a different thing – that takes years of devotion). There are a vast array of meditation centers throughout the country covering every style, location, and duration. Jungle retreats where practitioners live in total silence, beachside retreats where you trade odd jobs for regular lessons, and isolated temples that only take a few students per month – or even year. Courses can range from days to weeks to months and beyond, and the cost varies depending on what type of support network you expect. Thailand also has a surprising number of foreign monks who can help you out, many who will be more than willing to answer questions.

Scuba diving
The rumors are true. Not only does Thailand have some of the best scuba diving sites in the world, but they’re serviced by about half-a-billion dive shops that can take you from noob to open water certification (we’ll talk about over-touristed dive sites another time, but it is something to keep an eye on). That being said, hordes of people head to Koh Tao, on the Gulf of Thailand side of things, to get educated, while others prefer the area near the Similan Islands on the Andaman Sea side of things. There’s also lovely sites down south near the maritime border with Malaysia. As always, do your research, choose a company wisely, and have fun.

If you’d rather spend your time on the water rather than underneath it, you’ve come to the right place. There are plenty of stops in Thailand that can teach you the fine art of navigation and controlling a boat. Most are centered around Phuket, which is no surprise – among those who spend their lives on the open water, it’s a major stopover point. There are courses to serve everyone from beginners to families, and even those that teach you how to race or sail out into the open ocean. It might not be for those on a budget, but how many people are able to answer “What’d you do on your vacation?” with “Not much, learned how to race a yacht.”

[Tweet ““What’d you do on your vacation?” – “Not much, learned how to race a yacht.””]

Elephant training
Despite being Thailand’s national animal, the mighty elephant has gotten kind of a raw deal over the past 80 or so years. As machinery has taken their jobs (it’s not only us humans who have to worry) they’ve been relegated to animal shows, mounts for curious tourists, and even begging for food on the street. Thankfully there are a handful of places that work hard to give injured, abused, or abandoned elephants the quality of life they deserve. Many offer one- or multi-day courses that let you feed, bathe, and help the animals in their daily routine. The job usually falls to the animals’ trainer, a mahout. Some even offer longer courses that let you assimilate a bit further. Please keep in mind though – while you are learning something new, you’re doing this for the elephants, not for you. As always, do your research and read reviews, negative and positive, before choosing a camp. It may also help to send some emails to wildlife conservation agencies to see if they can give you any recommendations.

There are plenty more skills to learn on your vacation in Thailand, but this is just a summary of some of the more popular. Get out there and explore, and let us know what else you find! If you do need some help, we have a few recommendations that can be easily slotted into one of our trips. Enquire with us here.