Quality of Life
Cost of Living
Muay Thai Training
Fight match ups
Summary : Definitely worth a visit if you're on a long trip to Thailand, but try to visit some other destinations too.Phuket is fake fake fake and covered in bullshit. But you know what? Sometimes I like the bullshit.
If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know by now that I don’t hold back when I write about training in Thailand, and I’ll give you my honest opinion on any matter. In this guide, I’ll attempt to give you all of the info you need to help you decide where to train in when you travel to Thailand.
Training in one region of Thailand is completely different from the next, which is why a generic Thailand guide just won’t cut it. I’ll be telling you the good and the bad aspects of muay Thai training in Phuket.
First off, it’s worth knowing that Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and wealthiest province which attracts 5 million tourists annually. Pattaya is the only location which is more popular with visitors than Phuket so, as you can imagine, there have been a lot of muay Thai gyms opening up on the island in recent years. I spent around 6 months training in Phuket whilst on my travels and fought 8 times while training in the gyms there.
Just like anywhere else, the muay Thai training in Phuket has it positives and negatives. You may find that my positives are your negatives and vice versa but, again, it depends what kind of experience you’re after.
Either way, this guide should enable you to make informed decisions on where to train to get the most out of your trip.
Let’s break this down into a few different categories which (I think) are important things to consider before jetting off to Phuket.
Whether you’re here for a couple of weeks or a couple of years, it’s not always a good idea to concentrate solely on the gym you’re training at and look past all of the other aspects of your life here such as the location, accommodation, transport and access to necessities and creature comforts.
In my opinion, a fighter needs to be happy in his/her surroundings and have good friends around them in order to get the most out of their time in Thailand. If this isn’t the case, Thailand can be a pretty dark and morbid experience and training goes out of the window!
Living in Phuket
So here’s the thing, living in Phuket can be a LOT of fun. It has a huge expat community with 20% (40,000) of all Thailand expats residing in Phuket so it’s a really easy place to meet people while on your travels. I always think that Phuket doesn’t really feel like “real life” a lot of the time, it’s a bit crazy and surreal. You’ll certainly have some stories to tell after leaving Phuket.
You’ve probably heard that Phuket is a pretty good place for a night out. You wouldn’t be far wrong.
If you want a crazy night out in Phuket then look no further than Patong. Patong was once a small fishing village but, due to the growth in tourism in the last 30 years, it’s now a town filled with restaurants, bars and clubs. The nightlife here is certainly tourist-orientated, so most of the bars and clubs won’t differ too much from western countries in that respect.
The main difference is that most of them are filled with prostitutes dancing on poles and the prices of drinks are extortionate. A lot of the girls you meet here will be bar girls which can be irritating (or not); you won’t be able to walk down the street without them grabbing you and trying to pull you into the bar which, during your first week in Thailand is pretty funny but it will probably start to annoy you after a while.
If you want a more authentic Thai bar then your best bet is to head into Phuket town.
To be honest, meeting Thai girls online has to be the easiest way of filtering the good girls from the bad, and also allows you to concentrate on your training.
Patong isn’t the only place to go drinking, the local bars in the area you’re staying can be nice too and will certainly have their fair share of western customers. The Rawai area is a personal favourite, and if you’re looking to stay in a less built up area of Phuket, then it could be for you.
If you want to save money in Thailand then you could always go for the cheaper option of drinking with friends pretty much anywhere. Alcohol is dirt-cheap in Thailand if you buy it from 7/11 or Tescos.
Shopping in Phuket
You won’t have to travel far to find what you need while living in Phuket; whether it be a theatre, supermarket, department store or other chain store. The two main shopping centres you’ll need to head to are Jung ceylon in Patong which is a stone’s throw away from Bangla Boxing Stadium, and Central Festival which is in Phuket town. The downside is that these places are expensive. A little less expensive are places like Tesco, Big C and Makro.
If you want cheap produce then always get what you can from markets. Market food is generally safe to eat in Thailand. I’ve never been ill from eating it (yet).
Oh, and avoid buying anything from a beach!
Things to do in Phuket
If you want to make the most of your down-time then Phuket isn’t a bad place to be. Activities you might want to consider are jet-skiing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, snorkeling, visit the zoo, watch the muay Thai fights at the local stadiums and more.
Generally, if you’re here for a short time and want to get the most out of training, or if you’re here living full time as a fighter then you probably won’t have the time or funds to be doing any of the above. After my fights, the only things I really do is have a few drinks at a bar or get some take-outs with mates and binge on a few buffets or at 7/11.
I’m not one for laying on the beach and sunbathing, but obviously Phuket has a lot of nice beaches so there’s always somewhere to go and relax on your own or with friends. Also a good place to drink whiskey at night if you’re poor like me and want to save cash.
Oh yeah, the beaches look a lot different in high season than they do in low season; they’ll usually be packed with tourists during high season so you may want to do what I do and avoid the well-know, larger beaches and find the smaller “secret” beaches that 99% of tourists don’t know about. Ask locals or your gym owner for details.
For more info on living in Thailand, you may want to read some of the blog posts written by Mike over at the Staying in Thailand site. This guy has lived in Thailand for about 7 years – whatever he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing.
Cost of Living in Phuket
This is always the hardest question to answer – “how much will my trip to Thailand cost me?”.
It’s the hardest question to answer because it completely depends on how you live your life over here. Everybody has different wants and needs and so they require different budgets. Below I have outlined some of the main costs you will incur during your trip to Phuket.
The important thing to remember here is to always take more money then you need. Your trip will always cost more than you think due to all of the miscellaneous items/services you will purchase but just can’t plan for.
A cheap, short-term solution for accommodation is to stay at a hostel. Dorm rooms can be found for 150 baht per night and double private rooms for around 200 baht per night.
If you want to stay in a hotel, you’re probably looking at around 500-600 baht per night. Your best bet is to look at the Phuket hotels on Agoda and Hotels2Thailand to search for the cheapest hotel in the area you want, you can easily find a decent hotel for less than 400 baht per night. Or, if money is no object, just search by star rating and find one that best suits your needs.
If you’re staying for more than a month, you may want to consider renting an apartment near your gym. This is a much cheaper solution than paying for a hotel as you can negotiate a deal for monthly rental. You should be able to grab an air-conditioned apartment for around 6,000 baht per month.
Gym rooms are the most expensive type of accommodation you are likely to come across. Of course, they’re extremely convenient as you’ll be on the doorstep of your gym and surrounded by your mates from the same gym. Gym rooms can vary from a matress on a dirty floor to hotel-like rooms with all the works. In any case, the price will be inflated due to the high demand.
A Thai dish in a local restaurant will cost you around 40-60 baht. You can get free water with ice at the restaurant instead of buying bottled water.
Note: Thai dishes are often pretty small in these restaurants so you might have to double that price and buy two. If you want western food such as McDonald’s or Burger King then you’re looking at 250-350 baht for a combo meal.
If you want to save money while training in Thailand then you might want to consider buying and cooking your own food. Tesco would be my first choice for cheap, fresh food in Phuket.
The cheapest and easiest way to get about in Phuket is to rent or buy a motorcycle. You’ll be able to rent one for 3000-4000 baht per month or 150-200 baht per day. If you are staying long term then it is definitely worth buying a used bike as soon as you get there and sell it before you leave for roughly the same price. The roads in Thailand are a dangerous place, regardless of which region you’re in. However, Phuket roads are less congested and safer than those in Bangkok.
Songthaews (converted pick-ups with benches in the back) run on a loop from Ranong road in Phuket town to their destination. You can get one of these to various places around the island for around 30 baht. Not the fastest or most comfortable way to travel, but cheap providing you agree the price beforehand.
If you get a meter taxi in Phuket, you might want to take out a bank loan so you can pay the driver a hugely inflated price at the end of your journey. The taxis in Phuket are run by the Thai mafia and are obviously corrupt. Only use this method of transport if it’s your last choice. If you can ride a bike, do it.
Training costs in Phuket aren’t that much different from the rest of the country; you’ll find cheap gyms at around 8,000 baht per month, and the more expensive gyms at 12,000 baht per month. A normal walk-in training session should cost 300-400 baht and a day pass for 500-600 baht.
Of course, if you’re staying for 3 months or more then you’ll probably be able to negotiate a discount. The way I save money if I’m not being sponsored by the gym is to just pay for one training session per day. It works out at almost half the price. In the morning I do my own training; running and/or strength training at a nearby gym.
In my opinion, this is much better use of my time then turning up to morning training and doing a half-assed muay Thai session where most of it will consist of running and other strength and conditioning work anyway.
Muay Thai Training in Phuket
OK, so now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty; gyms, trainers and training partners. These are all of the things that will directly improve a fighter or practitioner’s skills so they should be chosen carefully to get maximum benefit from the trip to Thailand.
As mentioned above, Phuket is a huge tourist trap so the gym you train in will probably have a large amount of foreigners training there. Don’t expect to arrive at an authentic Thai camp in Phuket. These camps are designed to attract foreigners and they produce little (if any) homegrown talent, unlike the more traditional gyms in Bangkok.
The main aim of a gym in Phuket is to make money from foreigners paying to visit the gym, not to make money from their Thai fighters, so that’s the main difference between Phuket gyms and Bangkok gyms.
The upside of this is that the gyms are generally well-equipped and clean. Two very important things to look for when choosing a muay Thai camp in Thailand, in my opinion. The owners are used to accommodating for foreigners so they’ll have a better idea of your wants and needs and they’ll understand the differences between Western and Thai culture better than the staff in a traditional Thai gym. Indeed, a lot of the gym owners will be westerners themselves.
Also, the gyms are almost always located within walking distance or a short motorcycle ride of shops and supermarkets so you won’t be stranded out in the sticks.
One more great thing about staying at a camp like this is that you’ll make a lot of new friends and won’t be bored when you’re not training.
You will find some decent trainers in Phuket gyms who are really competent, technical instructors who may (or may not) have fought at a high level previously. However, you may also find some trainers who a) don’t know their ass from their elbow and/or b) simply don’t give a crap.
In my opinion, it generally comes down to the owner of the gym. Simply put, if the gym owner is foreign then the Thais tend to care less about their job, and will try to do as little work as possible. Not all foreign-owned gyms are bad, but if the person in charge doesn’t know how to take control then the Thais working under them will have a field day.
I once trained at a gym where the foreign owner had a shortage of trainers so he asked the head trainer to get somebody in for a few days. The (Thai) guy he brought in honestly looked like he had never trained a day in his life. Seriously. He had certainly never fought and he was training foreign students at the gym. Totally embarrassing.
I am speaking generally here. Some of the trainers you will come across will be very good, but the mentality of the trainer is obviously going to change when you put him in a gym where he is only required to train tourists rather than training up Thai fighters to be the next Lumpinee champions.
BTW, the guy in the photo above, “Big”, is a great trainer.
It is also important to remember that a good fighter doesn’t necessarily make a good trainer. Many gyms in the tourist areas like Phuket will employ a large number of ex-stadium champions as trainers purely for marketing purposes. In reality, some of these fighters can’t hold pads to save their lives and may have questionable English skills. Although they have tons of knowledge, you just aren’t going to learn much from trainers like this.
While we’re on the subject of trainers; don’t rule out being trained by a foreigner. I had the attitude when I first went to Thailand that I only wanted to be trained by a Thai. Sure, you’re travelling half-way across the world so of course you want to be trained by Thais some of the time but, the reality of it is, is that foreign coaches (the good ones, at least) are much better and coaching other foreigners. They can break a technique down into simple terms and give you tactical advice. Thais generally can’t (or won’t) do this. The Thai way of coaching is to just “do”. Bear this in mind if you find you’ve hit a brick wall when training solely with Thais.
Please don’t overlook Phuket as a training destination because you’re unsure of the caliber of the trainers here. There are good trainers, you just have to filter the good ones from the crappy ones. When you do, make sure you stick with him – tell him you want him to take you on pads every day and he should start calling you to train with him.
One of the best trainers I’ve had in Thailand was from Phuket.
In Phuket gyms, most (if not all) of your training partners will be westerners. Some may be fighters and have a decent standard of muay Thai but some won’t as they may just be training at the camp as part of a fitness regime or just not really taking it that seriously.
When it comes to sparring and (especially) clinching, you’ll need good Thai fighters to train with, and I generally find that if two unskilled westerners are clinching with each other is a bit like the blind leading the blind.
If you’re training with partners of a similar or lower skill level than you the whole time then you may as well be training back home.
In addition to this, camps may become overcrowded and have a high student:trainer ratio so you don’t get much attention and have limited time on pads which can be particularly frustrating if you have a fight scheduled.
Perhaps a beginner would be happy just to work with a Thai trainer, and that’s great. But if you have a bit of experience and have decent basics then the standard of training partners becomes even more important. Training with other foreigners every day simply isn’t enough and certainly isn’t worth paying large training fees for.
Of course, the ideal scenario is to find a gym with high-level foreign fighters AND Thai fighters.
Muay Thai Stadiums in Phuket
This is quite an important aspect to consider when choosing where to train. You can learn a lot just by watching the best Thai fighters in the world at the muay Thai stadiums.
The two stadiums in Phuket are Bangla Boxing Stadium and Sainamyen and, in my opinion, they are just as bad as each other. I’m not going to lie…these stadiums put on some of the best comedy shows you’ll ever see. They are well-known for putting on fights which involve tuk tuk drivers or “fall guys” who just fall over in the first round or get knocked out by foreigner who has little or no basic technique. Either that or you watch two unskilled foreigners swinging at each other until one gets tired and falls over.
The most cringeworthy part of the experience is when the foreigner bangs out this helpless Thai who is posing as a fighter but doesn’t realise the fight is a set-up, and so he proceeds to run around the ring like he is Superman. Sigh.
Not all the fights are bad. You’ll actually see a few really high quality fights, but they don’t happen very often. Of course, there is the odd good foreigner and some good Thais who aren’t at their best anymore but are still hard as nails. I got my ass kicked by one so I know all about that. But, on the whole, foreign fighters here are usually tourists, many of which have never fought before.
Generally, the standard of the majority of fighters here is very low. Every night, a fake belt will get handed out to a foreigner in Bangla, only to be taken back off them after the fight! It’s just a show for tourists.
If you fight here, it doesn’t matter where you are from, you will be listed on the poster and introduced to the crowd as being either Russian or Australian 99% of the time. These are the two most common nationalities visiting Phuket so the promoters do it to get more bums on seats.
In short, these stadiums are just putting on cheap entertainment for foreigners who are paying upwards of 1,700 baht to get into the stadium. Very low quality match ups and a good chance you will be mismatched and either get hurt or gain nothing from the experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to enjoy going to the fights. It can actually be good entertainment a lot of the time, but if you want to watch real Thai fighters at the top of their game then Phuket isn’t the place to be.
Fighting in Phuket
I was sponsored by in a couple of gyms in Phuket so I was fighting at the local stadiums on a regular basis (twice per month) and taking the odd fight abroad too.
The first thing you need to know about fighting in Phuket is that the promoters in Phuket put on a lot of fights; 3 shows per week at Bangla Boxing Stadium and 3 shows per week at Sainamyen. That’s a lot of fighters to find in a very short space of time so, as you can imagine, the match-ups aren’t always going to be spot on. In fact, they are rarely even close.
I fought twice in Sainamyen and 4 times in Bangla and I was lucky enough to only have one opponent take a dive, but you’ll see it on a daily basis in Phuket if you visit the stadiums enough.
To be fair, I had some pretty good match-ups at Bangla; a couple of foreigners and a couple of Thais. One of the Thais I lost to was an ex-Lumpinee champ named “Tit” who has finished fighting at the top level but is still pretty handy, the other was a big Thai who was evenly matched in weight but then decided to drop to the canvas after a couple of half-hearted knees.
Fact is, if you’re preparing to fight in Phuket then you should also prepare to be mismatched. It’s a distinct possibility. You should also know that your gym hardly has a say in who you fight either, it’s up to the promoter. People who tell you that, the longer you’re in Phuket, the better the promoters get to know your level of muay Thai so they’ll give you fairer match-ups are obviously living in their own little Phuket bullshit bubble.
Promoters don’t care if you’re there for 3 months or 3 years, they’ll still mismatch you if they need to put on a fight.
The promoters in Bangla are extremely shady. On many occasions I have been promised a fight purse, only to have received a much lower amount after the fight.
One advantage of fighting in Bangla is that you are allowed free entry to fight nights for life. Sainamyen charge you half-price.
The other fights I had while training in Phuket were in Cambodia for Bayon TV and in Ayuthaya for Thai Fight. However, the gyms didn’t get me these fights, I got them off my own back through a promoter. That’s the other thing with fighting while training in Phuket; some of the gyms aren’t well-connected and they’ll have you fighting in the local stadiums forever.
Overall, it’s still a good experience (most of the time). I mean, a fight’s a fight, right? Fighting is fun. Even if you’re fighting at a high level elsewhere, you might occasionally want a break from tough fights so you can come back to Phuket for a few fights every now and then.
Final Thoughts on Training in Phuket
A few of the other things I dislike about Phuket is the fakeness of the Thais you’ll meet there. Some people say that Thailand is “the land of smiles” and they’re not wrong, people are always smiling at you. It’s because they think they can get something from you. If you have white skin then you automatically have a $ sign above your head so of course they’re going to smile, they want to sell you something.
OK, I’m exaggerating, not all the Thais in Phuket are the same but it’s something that really annoys me and turns me off the place.
If you are a serious fighter, I don’t recommend training in Phuket exclusively. Sure, hop around a few gyms while you take a little break from the hard training you’ve been doing, but there is better muay Thai training to be had elsewhere in Thailand.
If you’re the kind of person who takes your training pretty seriously but you want a to have some fun at the same time then I would definitely recommend spending some time here.
If you are on holiday in phuket and you want to use muay Thai as a way to get fit – perfect.
With all of the negatives I’ve listed here, there’s still one thing that this place has that other places in Thailand, or anywhere back home, doesn’t have. And that is, it just doesn’t feel like real life. More like a dream. You really have to experience it to believe it. A lot of Thailand blogs and expats I meet note this as a bad thing, and I did too before I spent more time living in Bangkok.
When I was living in Puket full time, I was itching to get to Bangkok to get a taste of the muay Thai training there. But after being in Bangkok for a few months, I came to appreciate Phuket a little more. OK, I’m not a huge fan of its muay Thai training but I think you need to change it up quite a bit while in Thailand. Living in the same place day in day out can drain you and your training becomes stale. Phuket is a nice release, after all, it’s a holiday destination.
Many of the people that come here for muay Thai training aren’t doing so just for the training. They’re coming here to escape their lives for a while and forget about their troubles. This island will definitely achieve that.
Lots of activities to try out when not training
Lots of gyms
Lots of girls
Gyms are very social
Gym owners and staff mostly speak good English
Doesn’t feel like “real” life
Cost of living is high
Annoying people trying to sell you something
Skill level of training partners is low
Competence and motivation of trainers may be questionable
Gyms aren’t always well-connected
Boxing stadiums are phony
Fights are often mismatched