Greetings from Phuket Thailand (23-28 Sept 2017)!
After a great first stop in Asia I flew from Yangon Myanmar to Phuket Thailand quite uneventfully. The flight was later in the day and by the time I hailed a taxi and got to my villa it was already late and the villa owner was in bed. There wasn’t a front office to check into and if not for the taxi driver I would have been locked out and in a bad situation. Luckily I saved the contact information for the villa to my phone and the taxi driver called her. After about 10 minutes she showed up, walking down the street in her night gown, and briskly showed me to my villa and told me to settle up the next day. I apologized profusely for not informing her that I was showing up late and kicked myself for not planning ahead and assuming there was a front office open 24 hours.
To rewind this back a bit let’s start when I first began planing this visit. I had always planned on visiting Thailand from the start. The mystique of the tropical jungle setting and ruthlessness of the training in Muay Thai gyms make Thailand a very intriguing spot to see, whether it’s for training or just sightseeing. Vara is a BJJ Globetrotter and lives in Bangkok, she knows all there is to know about visiting and training in Thailand and happily helps out everyone. In fact she’s so good at this she now helps run BJJ Globetrotters for Christian and has her own #askvara Instagram account where I’m pretty sure any time of the day or night you’ll get a response within an hour. Anyways, with Vara’s help both my stops in Phuket and Bangkok were put together quite easily. For Phuket Vara practically planned the entire visit, I did initially have reservations and questions but she easily answered and shot down every one of them and I eventually went with her suggestions.
The villa I rented was a bit out of my usual price range but when looking at the price and time to travel throughout Phuket from the cheap hostels in the tourist area, and really how nice a place I was getting to relax in (I had my own place with air conditioning and the property had a pool!) I was actually saving money by taking the more expensive place that was closer. I only had to walk a few minutes to each gym and there were tons of choices for cheap, or not so cheap, restaurants nearby. As for getting around to sight see I could rent a scooter and pay for a day a fraction what each trip would cost with the taxi mafia in Phuket.
Back to getting settled in at the villa. I was let into my villa, dropped off my bags and headed to the 7-eleven just around the corner to grab some food. Once back in the villa I decided I would take advantage of the TV and check out what Thai television had to offer while I relaxed. I was not disappointed. I found a game show that had a number a people involved, all sitting or standing around blocks used as chairs. They were all talking and after someone would say something some of them would either stand up or sit down. I have no idea what the purpose or rules of the game but it was quite entertaining and made for good time wasting while relaxing and figuring out my game plan for training during the week.
I can’t add the game show video on here but you can head over to my Instagram Account @pandasodyssey and watch it there.
I didn’t get out to see many sights in Phuket as Fight Street isn’t too close to town or the tourist attractions. I was also paranoid about being stopped by the police and made to pay a hefty ‘fine’. There are places like Monkey Hill and Rang Hill that are right in the downtown area that I figured would be a problem trying to drive to there and back. There are also several night markets around Phuket but I didn’t like the idea of driving a scooter to a heavily crowded area let alone going at night. That just means I have more reason to go back there one day.
However I did one day get out to the Big Buddha Phuket statue which is on the top of a mountain. I rented a scooter and set out, I was scared of running into a police barricade during my drive out to the statue. I did see one at right the mouth of the street to Big Buddha after the roundabout, which is a usual tourist trap I’m told. As soon as I saw them as I came up to the roundabout my heart skipped a beat and jumped into my throat. The police had already pulled over a group of tourists and were talking to them, most likely asking for them to pay a ‘fine’. As my mind raced figuring out how I would address the situation and attempt to make it out without paying too much I made sure not to be driving too fast and blend in with the flow of traffic. I also made the decision I would stare straight ahead without looking at the Police shaking down the tourists on either side of the road. I continued forward, looking forward, saying to myself ‘I don’t hear anything, don’t stop, no one is jumping out in front of me, don’t stop, just keep going!’ So I just drove right through the trap without ever stopping or looking to see if I was clear. No one chased me so I assumed I was good.
I continued down the road and up the mountain to the statue which I felt was testing the full power of the scooter, moving my 110 kgs up the steep slopes. I felt uneasy on some parts but I made it up without any accidents. There were some great views along the way and at a few spots there were elephant rings where you could feed and ride an elephant around the field or forest paths. I didn’t stop for them as I was on a mission to make it to the statue and on the way back I skipped them to save my money for gas and didn’t see any ATM’s since leaving Fight Street. I got to the top of the Big Buddha and the whole trek was instantly worth it. What a view! And what an impressive statue to be in the presence of as well! From the stairs to the Big Buddha and the railings all around it you can see down to the coastline and far into the tropical forests around us. The temple, souvenir shop and different stores around the statue sold every kind of Buddhist trinket as well as food and drink. It’s quite the trek to get up there, might as well take a rest break in the shade and re-hydrate.
All around the Big Buddha on the top of the stairs are the different gods that Buddhists pray to each day. As well as the impressive statues were other stands selling mala bracelets necklaces which were said to be blessed by the monks, all sorts of elephant and Buddha statues and carvings, and a number of other souvenirs. As the statue was still being built you could buy a brick and have your name printed on it for a price to help build it. I would love to visit the place again once it’s fully built and see all the names of who helped. Once I was done wandering the grounds, taking pictures, taking in the view and relaxing I was ready to start my trek back to the villa. As I starting walking to the scooter an all too familiar feeling came over. The wind picked up, the air had that humid dew smell and the sky became dark. The afternoon torrential downpour was about to drop on us. Every afternoon for about 30 minutes came in a storm with such power it was like a power hose sprayed on the whole city, and then it would leave and within 5 minutes you would never know it happened. People quickly found cover and waited for the storm to hit and leave. Once it passed I was on my way, now testing my luck going down the steep slopes of the mountain on the scooter while they were soaked wet and pooled with rainwater at some parts. It made for an interesting ride back but luckily no wipe outs or accidents. I decided I had used up my luck getting by the Police and making it safely up and down the mountain, trying my luck to make it into to the city to see Monkey hill was just asking for problems. I passed on pressing my luck and returned the scooter early.
As always you can see more of my pictures of this visit and from all my other adventures over on my Flickr Account.
As Vara laid out in her advise for my visit I found an affordable villa on Soi Ta-iad, or Fight Street as it’s affectionately nicknamed. This street is an athlete’s dream vacation. On one end is Tiger Muay Thai and on the other end is Phuket Top Team. All in between is everything you could need, restaurants that have meal plans to keep you healthy while you stay and train, massage places to roll out your arms and legs from hitting the pads all day, pharmacies in case you get sick (or more often in Thailand, get an infection) and of course equipment stores for new training gear and scooters to rent. There’s a few other Muay Thai gyms across the street as well. A complete athlete’s training camp paradise.
I wish I would have jumped in and taken some of the Muay Thai classes at the gyms there but I needed gloves and I wasn’t about to spend a bunch of money on bulky gear I can’t bring with me for one or two classes. I did however make a video of wandering the street to show you how awesome the place is to visit.
To watch this video, and all my other videos, head over to the Panda’s Odyssey YouTube Channel. While you’re there please show some love by liking, sharing commenting and subscribing.
Tiger Muay Thai & MMA
Of all the conversations I’ve had about traveling the world and training at different gyms Tiger Muay Thai & MMA came up quite a lot, probably the most named gym in all my conversations. Once I got to the gym and walked around its property I could easily see why it is lots of people talk of visiting and why lots of MMA fighters have training camps there. The front of the compound holds the office and grill restaurant with three different rings and matted areas for kickboxing behind them. Further behind those was an area for fitness classes and off to the side was the matted for BJJ and MMA. It was an impressive place to walk around and watch all the classes being run.The whole place is open with no gates or fences to pass, one can wander the grounds and watch the classes quite openly, although you may be approached by one of the instructors to sign up for classes.
Once I had planned my schedule and picked a day to train at Tiger Muay Thai I set out to sign up for the day and get my pass. It’s quite simple to sign up for classes you just go to the front office and pay for either the class, the day or the week. You get a paper to show the instructors or staff coming to take attendance. I made my way to the back mat area where class would be, as I was a bit early so I just sat in the shade and watched the other classes going on. I was actually a bit turned around and thought the fitness mats was where the BJJ classes were held but then ran into some other people also early for class and followed them to the far back building where the mats for BJJ and MMA where. In the far end there is an MMA cage and by the entrance there was an air conditioned weight room, the rest was open mat space for classes under a roof with no walls, just posts holding it up and letting the tropic breeze in.
I introduced myself to the instructor Alex, a brown belt from USA who loves meeting all the visitors that come to Tiger Muay Thai from all over the world. He had heard a little of BJJ Globetrotters before from past visitors so when I told him of my travel plans he was interested in my adventures and learning more about the affiliation and how I used it to get around. When we added each other on social media I saw we had a bunch of friends in common, all active Globetrotters of course. It would be awesome teaching at such a place as Tiger where so many people visit to train as they’re traveling, hearing all their stories would be so inspiring. One day I hope to have a job in a place like that.
Anyways, classes are great at Tiger Muay Thai with Alex and everyone but they were also really hot. Thailand is so extremely humid and even with the fans on and hitting the morning or evening classes I was dying in the heat. On the flip side I always felt limber and loose even after classes or waking up in the morning so I guess the constant heat wasn’t all bad. The warm up drills weren’t as bad as I had feared and drilling techniques was fun with some active resistance and troubleshooting to make it your own or see where it fits in your game. Rolling with the people there widely ranged from inexperienced new guys to top performers with a lot stiff athletic matches. One match in particular during one class was with a very fit blue belt I drilled with, he was fast and aggressive and at one point almost had me in a reverse wrist lock, which mostly was just bending my fingers back way more than they could go. I later saw him online, in a poster for a Bellator pay per view. I didn’t feel so bad get my fingers bent considering what he could’ve done if it were an MMA class.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time training at Tiger Muay Thai and I will definitely return, hopefully for a longer time to really enjoy training there with everyone. Thanks Alex for the fun chats after classes and the great training.
Phuket Top Team
I messed up on scheduling and didn’t get to Phuket Top Team until my last night on Fight Street. PTT is another gym I really wanted to go to, especially when I had recently learned that several MMA stars, like Chris ‘Cyborg’ Justino frequent there. The place is similar to Tiger with a front office and the outside rings under a giant roof, but with PTT the BJJ classes are inside in a matted room that is much cooler than training outside. Being able to train in a temperature controlled room was a welcomed change, even though I had an air conditioner in my villa I didn’t keep it on too much in fear of getting a sinus cold. The front office also is where all the gear they sell is and they must have gotten in a big supply as the room was full of gloves and shin pads they ere going through re-stocking. looking at the gear made me re-think about picking something up, but again I passed on it, but now I wish I picked up something from both places to have as a souvenir, perhaps next time I visit Fight street I will try the kickboxing classes and buy some gear from the gyms.
Where as I trained in both gi and no gi with Tiger MMA I only attended a gi class at PTT, the attendance there was much bigger than the gi classes at Tiger. The class was mostly lower belts, I think I was at a beginners class, and I didn’t get to talk to many before class but there seemed to be a large portion of them being locals and not just visitors like of the Tiger Muay Thai classes. Warm up was thorough and there were a few movement drills I was completely lost at but in the cooler temperature I was able to survive it and was ready for drilling. We were working a technique from guard, with my partner working the technique, when I see a man walk into the room and make his way over to the instructor where a few black belts were sitting and talking. I knew instantly who he was but my partner saw my gaze and felt it necessary to point out who it was “You know Carlson Gracie? Well that’s his son, Carlson Gracie Jr!” Which I thought was a funny way to point him out.
There were a few rolls after class but with the size of the class only half were on the mats to roll each round. The matches were fun, although I’m sure if there were more higher belts I would have been destroyed instead of faring as well as I did. Again I was surprised how even though some matches were aggressive no one was trying to ‘test’ the new big guy like so many gyms I had been to in Europe. Maybe it’s the open welcome culture on Fight Street that changes the overall view of testing the new guys and instead just training and having fun but either way I really enjoyed myself training at Phuket Top Team. Of course after class I asked the instructor if it was OK to say hi to Carlson Gracie Jr and get a picture with him. I wish I had my patches on hand with me to give them but at least I got a picture with a BJJ icon.
After an amazing week living, training and eating on Fight Street in Phuket it was time to leave for my next stop in Thailand: the paradise island of Koh Tao. Catching the bus and ferry to get there was quite an adventure, but that’s for next time.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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