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 décor, 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”…

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