Edit 11/19/2014: I’ve updated this post to include gyms and locations from our travels in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, China, and India, in that order. I hope it will help someone searching for a barbell on the road. I’ll keep it up to date as we continue through Africa and South America. – Paul
Keeping up with any sort of workout regimen is hard enough in daily life. On the road, it becomes almost impossible – any of you who have traveled a lot for business know exactly what I mean – and even more so in budget accommodation that will never have a gym attached. (Hotel gyms are usually nearly useless anyway.) CrossFit boxes have been non-existent in Cambodia and Vietnam, and weightlifting gyms are hard to find due to language barriers. The streets are littered with motos, cars, sidewalk vendors, and trash. Want to go for a run? Better do it at 3 a.m., or you’re going to get run over.
That said, Jacque and I have tried to maintain at least a workout or two per week. With a Kilimanjaro climb on the horizon in November, we need to keep our fitness up. So far, we’ve been pretty successful. Our jump ropes and Therabands have come in handy a few times, but mostly we’ve found local facilities to get a workout done, either indoors or out. I usually try to program CrossFit-like workouts, with strength and metabolic conditioning included as able, because I believe it gets you a lot of bang for your buck. My five handy tips that have helped us stay fit on long-term travel:
1. Take advantage of free-weight gyms whenever possible. The equipment will be old, ‘80’s-era weight plates, but ask a local for a weightlifting gym. Google is unlikely to find them, I’ve found. The big cities will have a gym, and if it’s truly a local place, it will cost you $1 for a day pass. Bodyweight workouts are easier to come by, so break them up with a little heavy weight from time to time. Squats are good for the glutes and the soul. Bonus for you CrossFit types: locals think you’re the crazy foreigner anyway, so go ahead and do Olympic lifts, overhead squats, AMRAPs and other metcons, and box jumps. You’ll get a few stares, but nobody will say anything so long as you’re relatively safe about it.
2. Find a local park. In Cambodia and Vietnam, every park seems to have a well-equipped outdoor workout area. There, you can find ellipticals (the non-motorized variety), pull-up bars, parallel bars, monkey bars, and a variety of other equipment that I couldn’t figure out. Use creatively. Parks also have stairs, benches, buildings for handstand push-ups, trees if there are no pull-up bars, running paths, room for jumping rope, and dance aerobics classes for 50 cents. (Video here.)
3. Just stay active, man. Pick a destination at least every couple weeks that has hiking, rock-climbing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, dancing, yoga, or local tribesman to wrestle. (My brother-in-law did some of that in Inner Mongolia, apparently. They all wanted to wrestle the white guy. I haven’t personally experienced this yet.) Wake up in the morning and get moving.
4. Lay off the beer. This doesn’t apply to everyone, obviously, but an expensive beer will run you $1.50. More likely, it will be under a dollar – cheaper than bottled water. Since it’s so cheap, it’s tempting to knock a few back during happy hour, but that’s not helping your belly at all.
5. Set a long-term goal. For me, the Kilimanjaro climb has been a great motivator. Showing up in Tanzania with a beer belly and no endurance is a sure-fire way to get carted off the mountain due to altitude sickness. Maybe you want to train Muay Thai in Thailand – you sure don’t want to show up for that in terrible shape. Or a half-marathon in Athens. Or a long trek in the Alps. Whatever. Just make sure it’s something more concrete than a vague goal to stay fit.
It’s been about eight weeks since we left Denver. The five tips above have helped us keep moving during that time, but we still have six months or so left on our trip. I’ll edit this post as we learn more about how to better keep moving in places beyond Southeast Asia. I’ve also had to learn a little about programming my own workouts, which I haven’t done much since I started CrossFit. Figuring out a reasonable WOD (workout of the day) using whatever equipment is available has been a fun challenge. Below, I’ve listed out the workout locations and many of our workouts for those of you needing inspiration or maybe just a place to sweat more than usual in Cambodia or Vietnam. (Note: some of these use CrossFit terminology. Quick google search should help for the uninitiated.)
Siem Reap, Cambodia (near Angkor Wat temple complex)
Kbal Spean. Hiking path to a waterfall and rock carvings, farther from Siem Reap than Angkor Wat. About $20 or so for a tuk tuk driver for the day to Kbal Spean and other temples. Can be done as a trail run easily, about 1 mile (1600m) one-way. We did it as a hike in just over an hour.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Riverfront park along the Tonle Sap river. The park is probably the main tourist area of Phnom Penh and easy to find. There’s a workout area with monkey bars, pull-up bars, etc. There are also stairs down to the river about every 30m along the park – ideal location for some stair running or jumping. Just be careful of glass, dirt, and feces as you go up and down. The newer stairs toward the south are cleaner. WODs in the park:
1. Run each set of stairs along the riverfront, hitting every other step on the way up. Pull-ups and push-ups afterward to round it out.
2. Two-footed jumps up each set of stairs in the new section (larger stairs). 10 push-ups at the top of each set of stairs.
3. 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 of strict pull ups, strict HSPU, and pistols. 30 double unders after each round.
Fitness Resort. Run by an expat and his wife, they have a boxing ring, evening aerobics classes, a weight room, and other fitness accoutrement. They also have bungalows if you want to stay there. http://fitness-sihanoukville.com/. $4 for a day pass.
1. Weight room session: 5-5-5-5 front squat; 5-5-5-5 push press; hang clean skill work.
Otres Beach. One of the many beaches in Sihanoukville. I did a two-mile run here to get our moto back. We accidentally left it at another beach and wandered away. Oops.
Backpacker Heaven. This was a hotel we stayed at that had a large patio outside. They also have a small pool.
1. 5 rounds: 50 double unders, 10 pushups, 30 sec plank at top of push-up. Resistance band work to round it out.
Koh Rong, Cambodia (Island)
2. Stand-up paddleboard for an hour. ($5 for the paddleboard rental by the docks.)
3. On the beach – 5 rounds: 5 pull-ups on a tree, 10 pushups, 15 air squats, run 200m. (5 rounds of Cindy plus running.) Cool down with a swim.
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam
Gym at 2 Dien Tien Hoang, Da Kao, District 1. Our Airbnb host helped me find this gym, but it’s nowhere near the usual tourist haunts in Saigon. Everybody lifts barefoot, despite the clutter of weights lying all around. (When in Rome…) They actually have an old Oly platform, which was awesome, but don’t expect any Oly bars. There’s also a track in the complex. Cost $1.50 for a day pass. I saw a Vietnamese guy with a “no regerts” tattoo here – spelled wrong, just like that – which was hilarious. Lots of local flavor.
1. Front squat 3-3-3; Bench press 5-5-5-5; C&J heavy singles.
2. Heavy deadlift 4-4-4. 3 rounds: 10 man-makers, sprint 50m. (My apologies to the women in the crowd. Jacque did this with me and killed it.)
3. Back squat 3-3-3; strict press 3-3-3; Pendlay rows 5-5-5-5. AMRAP 11: 15 deadlifts, 10 front squat, 5 strict press (use light weight).
Le Van Tam Park (cong vien Le Van Tam), across from 181 Dien Bien Phu, Da Kao, District 1. Pretty sizeable park with all kinds of activity. There’s a workout area similar to the riverfront in Phnom Penh, except bigger. Locals will be doing aerobics classes, dancing, playing badminton, rollerblading, break dancing, running, walking, working out, you name it. Very fun park. Again, it’s far from the normal tourist area.
1. 15-12-9 of strict pull-ups and burpee box jumps.
Gym at 88 Hang Buom. I actually found this gym online at another blog (http://stopdroptravel.com/2014/03/gyms-hanoi/) and it’s near the tourist area (old quarter). The equipment is really crowded in there, but most people are doing dumbbell curls and bench press. The squat rack should be all yours. There’s also a small courtyard out back to move a little more for the metcon, and I saw a punching bag if that’s your thing. $1 for a day pass.
1. Back squat 5-5-4-4-3; strict press 5-5-4-4-3; Pendlay row 5-5-5-5. AMRAP 8: 2 heavy db squat clean, 4 box jumps, 6 push-ups. I used a set of stairs for the box jumps – 3 stairs per jump.
2. Deadlift 3-3-3-3-3. For time: 20 thrusters, 20 hang power cleans, 20 push press, 20 front squat, 5 thrusters, 5 hang power cleans, 5 push press, 5 front squat. (This WOD was good as it can be completely confined to one squat rack without needing extra equipment.)
Gym at 4 Tran Hung Dao. Our Airbnb host gave me this address, which is far from the normal tourist haunts but near her apartment. It has a pretty nice weightroom with newer equipment, actual Oly bars (but no platform), and air conditioning. It’s still over-crowded with equipment like all gyms in Asia apparently are. There’s also a pool. Cost for a day pass to the weight room only is $3.
1. OHS 3-3-3-3-3; 5 back squat EMOM for 5 minutes. On a 2-minute running clock: 3 rounds of 5 heavy man-makers.
Sapa, Vietnam. I climbed Mt. Fansipan, highest peak in SE Asia at 3,143m or 10,312 ft. We did it in a day, which was very difficult – with all the rain, the entire steep climb was slippery. Do it in two days if you’re less than confident in your climbing ability. It took us 9 hours as four experienced mountaineers.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai Municipal Stadium. The stadium is located just north of the moat road; it’s easy to find on Google maps. The stadium has a 400m track with a good surface and plenty of stairs. There’s also a dusty weight room under the stands on the east side of the stadium; entry fee 20 baht ($0.66). They don’t seem to mind farang in their gym, but keep your shirt on – I got scolded for taking mine off. (It’s too damn hot here!) Chiang Mai has lots of classier fitness facilities as well, but I didn’t go to any. They’re easy to find on Google.
1. Back squat 5-5-5-5-5; strict press 3-3-3-3; three-position clean 1-1-1-1-1. 10 rounds: sprint the big stairs, then 10 push-ups.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Muay Thai Chinnarach. Chin, as he’s known, is a former Thai champ and runs a no-frills training gym on the island. Jacque didn’t train Muay Thai with me (hip injury), so she did a few workouts at the gym while I was getting my butt kicked:
1. Warmup | 2 rounds: Samson stretch, 10 air squats, 10 situps, 10 supermans, 10 push-ups, 60-second plank. WOD | 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Rep Rounds for time; Burpees, Push-ups, Situps
2. Warmup | Run 800, dynamic stretch, shoulder and IT band mobility. WOD | 12 min AMRAP: Run 100m; 8 DB Thrusters 10kg; 24 DUS; 6 pull-ups.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Titiwangsa Sentral Condominium. We stayed at this airbnb property (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3571303) for a few nights before flying to Japan. The 5th floor has a nice pool, a weight/cardio room with some dumbbells, and an outdoor area with pull-up bars and the like.
1. Swim WOD. 5 rounds: swim 20m, 15 squats, swim 20m, 10 pushups (note to self: swimming sucks and/or I suck at swimming)
2. Swim 500m
3. AMRAP 20min: 3 strict pull-ups, 6 burpee bar jumps (20″ bar), 9 decline sit-ups, 12 double unders
4. 5 rounds: 15 goblet squats with dumbbell, 10 plank rows (as in the bottom of a man-maker)
Nakamura Sports Center at 〒453-0053 愛知県名古屋市中村区中村町待屋４３－１. This is essentially the equivalent of a YMCA back home. There’s a weight/cardio room and a pool. The weight/cardio room is 300yen ($3) per visit. Copy/paste that string of Japanese into Google maps and you’ll find it! Don’t expect the front desk or, in fact, anyone to speak English, although we did run into one expat from Maine at the gym. One quirk of this gym: you’re expected to wear “inside” shoes in the weight room. Wear your street shoes and change into clean gym shoes at the entrance to the weight room, which is upstairs.
1. Weight session: Back squat 3-3-3-3-3; Bench press 5-5-5-5; Bent rows 6-6-6-6
2. For time: 15-12-9 heavy deadlifts and thrusters. Pendlay rows 5-5-5-5
Mt. Fuji, Japan. We climbed Fuji-san, starting at 10pm and summiting around 4:30am for the sunrise. There’s lots of info out there about how to climb it; my only recommendation is to avoid the busy times of the season. It was crazy crowded, and we climbed right at the end of the season!
Ukima Park at 〒174-0041 東京都板橋区舟渡２丁目１５. Unfortunately, this park doesn’t have any kind of work-out equipment; we had to get pretty creative. There is a 900m loop around the lake for running, but we used an archway for pull-ups, retaining wall for box jumps, and a support post for handstand push-ups. We looked a little crazy, I imagine. Jacque got scolded for doing ring rows on the railing.
1. 4 rounds: run 700m, 10 strict pull-ups, run 200m, 8 box jumps (as high as you can go), 6 handstand pushups
On the banks of the Meguro river near Kita-akabane station. The gym we were supposed to go to was closed (it’s a community rec center at 3-17-57 Akabanedai, Kita, Tokyo 115-0053), so we got creative again. We had a commuter on his bicycle stop to watch the entire 35-minute workout…apparently we’re interesting.
1. 10 rounds of: start at (1). 5 burpees, then sprint up the grass hill to (2). 10 rows (essentially ring rows on railing). Run to the retaining wall at (3), then run/climb up it (about 6 feet at a 70-degree angle). Run along the wall to (4) then max effort sprint up the hill (about 100m). Jog all the way back down to the beginning.
People’s Park. This park is gigantic and a wonderful place to people watch. Look out for the older folks with printed papers stuck on top of umbrellas. They’re “selling” their children for marriage: the paper will have income, career, and the like on there for the parents of potential mates! There’s also something called the fitness paradise in the park. Basically, there are rings, pull-up bars, parallel bars, and several barbells made from concrete. Yep, barbells. Endless possibilities here, all for free.
- AMRAP 20: 3 heavy squat cleans, 6 strict pull ups, 9 ring dips
- 8 rounds: 10 push press, 10 ring rows, 20 box jumps
Kangding, Sichuan Province, China.
Hike overlooking town. This town is surrounded by mountains. The town itself is at 2600m; we started a hike behind the Zhilam hostel that took us up and into some grasslands around 3500m. Zhilam hostel provides maps of the hike, although we nearly got lost on the way down (it’s a loop) – the trail is scarcely a goat trail on the back of the mountain. The end of the hike goes past some gold-covered temples that were a nice welcome back to the town.
Litang, Sichuan Province, China. No real workouts here, but at just over 4000m/13,000ft, just walking around for an extended time feels like an accomplishment! We walked all around town during our few days there.
Apartment complex. As always, our airbnb places served us well. This one (https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/3499778) had some typical outdoor workout gear next to the building.
- 8 rounds: run 200m, 10 rows, 6 burpee fence jumps (fence about 4’ high, use hands to help spring over). Jacque says: “this was brutal.”
Great Wall Hike. The Jiankou portion of the Great Wall, while a trek to reach, is much more rewarding. It’s not restored and not very busy. We took a hike from Xizhazi village to the wall then along the wall. Total hike was around 6 miles – some of that was near-vertical climbing. (It’s actually quite dangerous in parts.)
Park Place Science Park Hotel. The one time we’ve had a hotel gym! I booked this using points earned from staying one week a month for a year in the worst Radisson ever in Colorado Springs for work.
- Tabata day! Tabata man makers, hang clean, DB push press, and jumping squats
- 4 sets of 5 Turkish get-ups (per arm); 6 rounds: run 400m, 10 pendlay rows, rest 1:00
Varanasi, India. India is the hardest place thus far to find workouts. There’s no outdoor gear, and I don’t know if you’d want to use it if there were. India is dirty. We only found one gym, although there are CrossFit affiliates in Delhi as well.
Scorpio Gym, Dashaswmedh Ghat Road. Typical Asian gym – old, dusty equipment, overcrowded with weights, no shoes allowed, but totally usable. The owners (two brothers) were friendly. One was very curious how long I’d been training, you know, back home. I guess my load of 95 pounds for my AMRAP was duly impressive. (Guys, stop laughing!) Fee is officially 200 rupees ($3.30) per person, but this is India: Jacque and I both got in for 200 total after protesting.
- EMOM 6: 5 back squat. AMRAP 20 min: 10 deadlift, 6 power clean, 3 strict press.
Shiv Health India, Arakashan Road near Krishna Deluxe hotel. Small, very small, weight room in the basement of a hotel. Look for the sign with a bodybuilder over the door. Morning session 7:00-11:00, afternoon session starts at 4:00pm. No shoes allowed inside – watch your toes! Power cut out halfway through my workout, so I finished in the light of my iPhone flashlight. The equipment is crowded enough to make any kind of WOD impossible, but there is a squat rack. $1.50 for a single day.
- EMOM 6: 3 heavy front squat, 10 pushups. 6 sets each of 3 strict presses and 6 pendlay rows.
…more to come…