Location: V2K Bowling Centre, Phonsavan
Website: Not a chance
Tel: Not as far as I can see
Opening hours: 9am until “late”
Price: 20,000 kip (About £2)
Review: I have to admit that we nearly skipped Laos altogether on this trip, but I am so glad that we didn’t. From the almost otherworldly scenery, to the wonderful people and totally bonkers gyms, this country has surprised and delighted me at every turn. I am currently writing this article on a 8 hour bus ride from Phonasavan to Vienna Khan, as we slowly making our way down towards the midland border crossing into Vietnam. The bus has almost all seats removed to carry goods and there is a chicken ties in a bag on the floor next to me, periodically clucking and trying to escape its bag.
How did we get here? Having spent a few days in Luang Prabang, we took a 5 hour bus journey deep into central Laos to visit Phonsavan and see the myste
rious Plane of Jars. The Plane of Jars is the name for a huge area in central Laos where hundreds of enormous limestone jars have been found. Despite years of study by organisations from all over the world, little is known about the people who made them, or what their purpose was. This is a photo from my travel Instagram page, if you are interested in seeing more of my travels from a non-gym related angle you can follow me on Instagram at @quit.pack.go
. You can also check out my travel website: Quit Pack Go.
Anyway, back to Laos’ weird and wonderful gyms. As sad as it may be, but one of my favourite things whilst travelling is finding a new gym. And after a few days of not being able to train at all, I was starting to get lifting withdrawals. It’s a thing. Shut up.
It is honestly just plain weird where some people think to build a gym in Laos and my find in Phonsavan was no exception. Given that Phonsavan is something of a transit town, without many shops or banks, I had pretty much given up on finding a gym here. I had tried all the usual google searches such as “gyms in Phonsavan” and “fitness Phonsavan.” I had even gone on google maps and looked for gyms and fitness centres in Phonsavan, but these searches had yielded nothing. But yesterday, I thought I would ask my host, the amazing Mr Kong, just in-case. He told me that there was in-fact a gym in town and gave me a general map location to search for it. I grabbed my gloves, stuck in my headphones and headed off in search of this place. Finding anything by foot in Laos in a bit of a struggle since they don’t seem to believe in pavements.
Jogging in the general direction of the gym, I got a number of looks which would suggest that jogging isn’t really understood either. On my route from Kong’s guesthouse, I did pass some beautiful buildings that I would not have seen otherwise, including the local government offices which seemed unnecessarily grand, but looked beautiful against the glow of a setting sun.
And then it happened. Next to the enormous bull tied to the other side of the road, I came across the V2K Bowling Centre. Now, my reaction was the same as I expect (/hope?) yours is right now, but this was where Mr Kong had told me that the gym was based, so I decided to walk across the huge car park and have a look for myself. I had come this far after all. At this point, I fully expected to be greeted with bemused looks, whilst the staff explained to me that this was clearly not a gym. But when I walked inside, there it was. A gym. In a bowling ally. And not upstairs or round the back. The gym was IN the bowling alley. Whilst the majority of the equipment was housed into a little glass room at the side of the lanes, the punch bag and treadmills are literally next to the bowling lanes. Whilst some of the gyms in Laos been in some weird location, such as people’s homes or children amusement centres, I think this is the weirdest location so far on this tour.
The gym itself, whilst on the smaller side, was surprisingly good for its remote rural location. The static bikes, cross-trainers and treadmills were new and in good condition and the ones that were not next to lane 1 had a view out across the local playing fields where I watched local children playing football amongst the cows grazing in the same field. Overall, this gym was clean and all of the equipment was pretty new. The carpet did fit oddly in places with no real regard for convention, meaning there were flaps of loose rug in some parts and no carpet in others. But this was not enough to dull my enjoyment of training here, just keep an eye on the floor to avoid tripping over it between sets.
- Dumbbells unto 25kg
- Adjustable benches
- Flat barbell bench
- Olympic bars
- Smith machine
- Easy bar
- Preacher curl bench
- Smith machine
- Pull up bars
- Lat pulldown
- Leg curl
- Leg extension
- Pec dec / reverse fly machine
- Swiss balls
- Yoga mats
- Cross trainers
- Punch bag
The gym has a series of fans rather than air-condition to keep it cool, but given that this area of Laos is so high in the mountains it was cool enough to train when I was in there. The reception desk for the bowling alley sells water and other drinks from a fridge nearby, but they don’t sell any protein or supplements, so I hope you stocked up in Luang Prabang. Also, this gym doesn’t provide gym towels so you need to bring your own. I finally bought one, but if you are still planning your trip it is probably worth getting a sports towel like this one, as you will use it on almost every gym visit.
Entrance to this amazing gym on a day pass is 20,000 kip, which is decent since this is the only gym within 200 miles.
When I asked the guy at reception for the opening hours, he gave a sly smile and said that the gym and bowling alley were open from 9am until “late”. When I asked him what this meant, he laughed and said that the bowling alley closed when the last of the drunk locals left. This seems to be around 9 or 10pm.
Who is this gym for? Whilst I was training here I didn’t see any other tourists, but I did see locals of both sexes training cardio and weight training. Having seen the gym, I would say that it seems like a safe environment for women to train. The gym its-self is a little out of the main town so if you will be walking back after dark if you train here in the evening. I didn’t get an unsafe vibe from this place, but if you are a lone female traveller you may want to consider renting a bike or taking a tuk-tuk, as the walk is pretty isolated.
Tips: Phonsavan is very cold at night and the sun goes down at around 6.15pm. If you are going to be in the gym past 6pm, you may want to consider bringing extra clothes to wear after workout, or you might find yourself damp and cold on the way home. Which sucks in Laos.