Top Picks For You
Thailand Travel Guide

I Trained at Thailand’s Top Muay Thai Camp

Hint: Your abs are really, really gonna hurt.

Sun, sea, and a spinning kick to the ribs. It’s not what most people look for in a vacation, but as my opponent follows up with a jab to my nose, I tell myself that this is exactly what I signed up for when I accepted an invitation to learn the art of Thai boxing at Thailand’s number one fitness and fighting camp.

In 2023, Tiger Muay Thai celebrated its 20th birthday. Now a sprawling modern facility with multiple boxing rings, an air-conditioned gym, a yoga studio, a mixed martial arts cage, and its own restaurant, it’s hard to imagine that Tiger started life as a humble local ring with a couple of punch bags and a leaky thatched roof.

What was once a quiet countryside throughway in the south of Phuket island has been transformed into a leading fitness destination, attracting health-conscious holidaymakers from around the world. Soi Ta-iad, now also known as Fitness Street, has more health shops, restaurants, martial arts centers, and gyms than you can shake a protein shake at. At the center of this revolution was Tiger Muay Thai, whose industry-leading coaches, savvy marketing, and diversified program of mixed martial arts training have been the catalyst that has put Soi Ta-iad on the map.

It’s my first day training at Tiger and I’m late. I’ve slept in and already missed the 6:30 a.m. yoga session, which I would have benefitted from since my body is about as flexible as my sleep routine. It would be a tough ask to attend every class at Tiger, though. The packed schedule that runs from sunrise to nightfall features a broad range of sessions, from HIIT classes with names like Tabata Crusher and Sweat Attack to Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, and of course, Muay Thai.

Continue Reading Article After Our Video

Recommended Fodor’s Video

Although its historic origins are hotly contested in Southeast Asia, Muay Thai carries profound cultural significance in Thailand. The country’s national sport, Muay Thai stands for discipline, respect, humility, and honor, with centuries-old traditions woven into the rituals and customs that accompany each contest. Attend a fight at one of Bangkok or Phuket’s Muay Thai stadiums and you’ll experience a cultural performance that transcends the fighting on display.

There’s been a surge in recognition of Muay Thai across the globe too. Muay Thai will officially contest as an Olympic sport in Paris in 2024 for the first time. Meanwhile, the sport’s focus on utilizing multiple limbs for striking has drawn world-champion UFC fighters like Petr Yan and Valentina Shevchenko to Muay Thai training camps like Tiger to hone their combat skills.

Thankfully, I’m not squaring up against a UFC champion in my first sparring session. But I’ve possibly overestimated my athletic ability by skipping over the beginner class and placing myself in the intermediate category. My partner, Ruben, practices Mixed Martial Arts at home in South Africa, and it’s immediately clear I’m punching above my weight.


Being punched, kicked, elbowed, and kneed from left to right is a helpful reminder of why Muay Thai is known as the “Art of 8 limbs.” Compared to Western boxing, where you only need to watch out for your opponent’s fists, the eight points of contact in Muay Thai means there are simply more ways to get hurt. When I keep my guard up to protect my temples, Ruben boots me in the leg. Dishing out an overeager left hook earns me an elbow to the side of the head. And when I come in too close, Ruben pulls me into a clinch and twists and screws my head like a stubborn bottle cap that just won’t give. While kneeing me in the ribs.

All in all, it’s a chastening first day. Battered and bruised, I retreat to the sanctuary of my hotel after training to warm down with a few lengths of the swimming pool. I recognize another guest from Tiger on the sunbeds. We’re staying at the Marina House Soi Ta-iad Muaythai, a popular training base for visitors to Fitness Street, so I’m not surprised to see a fellow fighter here. I am surprised, however, by his answer when I ask him how long he’s been staying at Marina House.

“I moved in two months ago,” he tells me, “And I’m booked in for another ten.”

The guest’s name is Aidan. He’s American and, by his own admission, a big guy. He’s also not much of a fighter, having only donned a pair of boxing gloves for the first time when he came to Tiger this year. Aidan told me he was one of the first digital nomads to take advantage of a new working visa scheme introduced by the Thai government in 2022. I ask him why he chose to settle in Soi Ta-iad, and he answers me straight. “Because it’s like fat camp for adults.”

Noppasin Wongchum/Dreamstime

Thanks to Tiger’s Muay Thai classes–where a two-hour workout can burn up to 1,000 calories–and the nutritious food served up by Fitness Street’s health-centric eateries, Aidan says he’s lost over 20 pounds in two months. But he’s made some gains too. He tells me how much he enjoys the camaraderie of the Muay Thai beginner classes, where the emphasis is less on fighting and more on fun and fitness. He’s made a lot of friends, some of whom are booked in for the long term like him, which he says is a testament to the spirit of the camp and the people who are drawn to it.

I hear a similar message the next day from a very different source. “I’ve been coming here since 2012,” says Brendan, a professional mixed martial arts fighter from the UK. He’s at Tiger to train for an upcoming fight, the biggest of his career to date, at Madison Square Gardens. There’s a Professional Fighters League lightweight title–and $1 million in prize money–on the line, but top-level training is only part of the reason he chose Tiger. “I love the place,” he says. “I love the vibe; I love the energy. For fighters–for anyone–it’s a great place.”

That afternoon, I leave my ego at the door and join Aidan in the beginner’s group. It’s a real mix of people: men and women of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of experience. A few dabble in a bit of boxing at home; others, like Aidan, have only recently picked it up. We ease into the session with a short jog around the floor, followed by some shadowboxing fundamentals and combination work. The lead trainer, Kru Dang, a title-winning Muay Thai fighter, is all laughs and smiles; other trainers move around the room with pads to help us fine-tune our footwork and fiddle with our front kicks. I’m then paired up with a German called Kerstin for some light sparring, followed by a HIIT circuit that’s murder on the abs. Kerstin finishes first, which means I have to do it again.

Two hours pass in the flash of an uppercut. Famished and fatigued, I’m keen to rush off after the warm-down, but Kru Dang encourages us to stick around for a chat. Kerstin says she hasn’t seen me around. She asks me if it’s my first day. I tell her that until this afternoon me and my ego had been getting the living daylights kicked out of us in the intermediate group.

“I’m a writer, not a fighter,” I say.

Kerstin laughs. “Give it a week and you will be,” she replies.

Ten days later, I’m walking back to Marina House after my last session at Tiger, flushed with a now-familiar combination of endorphins and berry protein shake. I’m still not much of a fighter, but at least I’ve made more friends than I could fill a Muay Thai ring with. And I’m fitter, faster, and even more flexible than ever after Aidan started dragging me to those 6:30 yoga classes. This, I realize, is what I really signed up for when I came to train at Tiger Muay Thai. And it sure beats a spinning kick to the ribs.