Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Living On Tiger Street

I can’t even begin to pronounce the name of the street that Tiger is stationed on. Heck, I’m not even sure which bit is the street name. 

Here’s how the address is listed on Tiger’s website: 

7/6 Moo 5 Soi Tad-ied Ao Chalong
Muang Phuket

Anyway, as I said earlier, the general area is filled with at least three major Muay Thai camps – Tiger, Dragon and Phuket Top Team

It’s also crammed to the rafters with differing levels of accommodation – from uber-basic (I presume, I didn’t venture into anyone’s crib to inspect closely) on-site rooms, to luxury hotels like Cocoville, The One and Signature

The cheapest options come in at around 4500THB (£96) a month, and the swishest about 24,000THB (£514), with a bit of variation depending on whether it’s high or low season (January is pretty much the highest point in the calendar). 

Now obviously £500 odd quid between us is pretty reasonable for top-end digs, and coming from a flatshare that cost me alone around £1,000 a month, the tendency is to rush right in with a credit card. If we were on a shorter holiday, say two weeks, I would have been holed up ordering room service 24/7. 

But of course our travels are clocking in at around 6 months in total, and we’re wringing every last penny out to make them last longer. So we took a browse through the mid-price options and came across Fern House (around 18,000THB/£385 for a couple staying a month). 

Handily, given Fern House only has nine rooms in total, it seems very few people know about the place. 

Around the third time I answered the “Where are you staying?” question accurately and saw blank expressions in return, I defaulted to “next door to Cocoville”. 
However, quite a few of the rooms are booked up by return visitors, so it pays to contact them well in advance (and directly, they have to pay commission to Tiger if bookings come in through the gym). 

Stylewise, it’s a place with relatively scant furniture and adornments, but those that are included are aesthetically pleasing, in a rustic wood and concrete kinda way. 

As someone whose obsessive-compulsive disorder inspires regular cleaning, straightening and binning sessions, this triggered way fewer neurotic outbreaks than an overstocked mishmash of cheap and nasty chairs, tables and fridges.

And given I generally pass out pretty early and don’t drink much, being 5-10 minutes walk away from camp also minimised my late-night interactions with young fighters who may be enjoying a beer or six and a girl from Patong. 

Impromptu mum-style lectures are rarely appreciated.  

Aside from the d├ęcor, Fern House had a couple of other great things going for it. 

1) A pool. With jacuzzi jets and largely no-one else in it (only nine rooms, you see?) 

Training for a couple of hours at a time, in 30 degree heat and humidity, really brings out the sloth in a girl or boy. 
Andy even took his Kindle in (it makes me wince every time I look at this picture). 
2) Tanja. As the main face of the hotel, Tanja is about as helpful and enthusiastic as it’s possible to be without spontaneously combusting. She’s on hand to offer you free bananas in the morning, patiently teach Thai phrases or turn around laundry in a matter of hours. 

To say she goes an extra mile is an understatement – when we couldn’t find a scooter hire place with a single bike left, Tanja popped next door and asked a friend if she could lend us hers. She loves a good chat (I now know quite a lot about her family setup, career history, financial planning and romantic aspirations) and her personality really made Fern House a homely place to stay. 

We have of course done the Facebook befriending thing and I hope I get the chance to return one day. 

And no, it's not a funky perspective thing, she really is that tiny. We gave her an Magnum lolly when we left in an attempt to fatten her up though.
Aside from our hotel base, the area around Tiger is…well, somewhat surreal. 

Business and tourism are pretty much based solely around the fight crowd, who catwalk their gym-branded t shirts up and down the road (the ones saying “Fighter” are particularly popular). 

In the month we stayed there, I only saw the home crowd change out of fight wear once, ironically for the “BBQ Beatdown” event at Tiger (I think some romancing might have been on the cards that evening). 

The street's inhabitants are also approximately 80% male, and heavy on testosterone. As a woman, I felt a bit like a misplaced kitten in a pack of marauding lions – not exactly prey, but a little surplus to requirements. 

And the ratio of Farang to Thai folk seems similarly saturated, with almost everyone in the latter group working in the service industry – whether dolling out food in restaurants, washing or drying gym wear, building new hotels, tattooing Westerners with tribal ink, or recommending aloe vera, mosquito repellent and prescription grade painkillers in the pharmacies. 
Couple that with the fact that every restaurant offers a comprehensive English/American menu alongside local fare (Andy went on a quest to find the best breakfast fry-up) and it’s like Thailand without too much of the Thai side of things. 

Less “authentic travel experience” and more like a steroid-amplified real-life and ongoing episode of “The Ultimate Fighter”…

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Mister Miyagi And The Infamous Stick…aka the Beginner’s Muay Thai class at Tiger

So, as previously mentioned, Tiger is probably the biggest and most well-known gym in the area, with thousands upon thousands of wannabe Chuck Norrises flooding through the doors every year. Along with a few real life MMA fighters, who have chosen to set up shop (or fight camp as the case may be) there for a prolonged period.

There is also a third group of folks – those who have chosen to literally sweat off the pounds and attend the camp for weight loss.

Anyway, the point that I’m making is that it’s a very mixed bag. Which is doubtless reflected in the lower level Muay Thai classes.

Now, Andy and I have a bit of “kicking and punching” experience behind us. I did a couple of years of kickboxing/JKD about a decade ago, and Andy spent his teens and early twenties doing Shorin Ryu Karate. Both of us have dabbled in various Muay Thai and MMA classes since.

But as our first Tiger class held a very real potential for getting smashed in the chops, we pegged ourselves low and went to the Beginners session.

The class was big, very big. And whilst some folk might be more physically blessed than others, there’s literally no way of telling who can do stuff properly, and who’s a distinct liability to themselves and others. Or is just there to work off the last chocolate bar they ate at Christmas.

So they’ve come up with a format that collectively covers off all bases:

1) Running. Sweet baby Jesus, these folk love to make you run. 30 minutes at the beginning of each class, round and round in a circle. Ditto sideways galloping, running with high knees, running whilst punching and anything else that gets the heart rate up.

2) Stretching. Partially to limber up, partially to stop people having a cardiac arrest after all that running.

3) Copying moves in a mirror. Rows upon rows of students doing jabs, crosses, slips, elbows and blocks like the instructor at the front.

4) Partner drills. Trying out a couple of combos with another person.

5) Bagwork. Trying out some of your new moves a bit harder on something that shouldn’t smack you back.

6) Padwork with the instructors. Depending on which one you get, this might involve three rounds of flirting and “I’ve been to England” type chat, or someone trying to punish you for all the sins of humanity.

7) Sparring. Largely split into three groups – people they think can be trusted to fight together, women and then stragglers that don’t fit in either group.

8) Strange half hour break where chief instructor Mr Miyagi forces everyone to introduce themselves and their country of origin, before telling a story about his wife’s infidelity. Allows everyone to get their hopes up that the physical pain is winding down, whilst simultaneously getting eaten by mosquitos.

9) Getting our asses up and doing endless (well a few hundred) jumping knees, front kicks and elbows into a bag.

10) Enforced walking knees, round the room, with the promise of being beaten with a stick by Mr Miyagi if you put your heels down.

This is a shot of Mr Miyagi during a quieter, more pensive moment - admittedly it's a lousy photo, but I didn't want to risk incurring his wrath.)

11) Watching someone get beaten with a stick.

12) Three hundred situps and one hundred press-ups. Sometimes the trainers will simultaneously hit you in the stomach with medicine balls or pads for extra misery.

In total, the whole shebang takes 2.5 hours, and is offered six days a week, morning (8am) and afternoon (4pm). Overall it’s a bit like a kilogram of pick n mix sweets – there’s something for everyone and most people feel thoroughly sick by the end.

The downside is unless you get a particularly diligent instructor (more on this point later) there’s no real chance to polish the finer technical elements – the onus is on movement (of all kinds, particularly running) and entertainment (the “authentic” Muay Thai experience, complete with beatings) perhaps more than finesse in execution.

I’m not going to claim to have the “key” to this class – suffice to say by the end of it I had drained the bottle of water, and was bright red with two ripped up toes (tip: tape them before the session) and everlasting cramp in one calf.

Now if only they’ll promote me to the Intermediate level…