On the 45-minute drive from the airport to Chalong, located in southeastern Phuket, we passed a range of tourist hot spots including the Laguna Resorts, and Surin and Patong beaches, which are peppered with restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
Arriving in Chalong, you soon realise this part of the island is in stark contrast to these other, better-known haunts. This is a place with a fitness focus, centred around one road, Soi Tad-ied, that’s lined with gyms and Muay Thai and MMA (mixed martial arts) camps. The boards propped outside the street cafés don’t offer two-for-one cocktails and burgers; rather, they sell protein shakes, raw food and gluten-free produce.
This is a newer side to Phuket – an area where people can go to mix a little relaxation with a lot of physical hard work. It’s a place where you’re far more likely to spot a six-pack than a beer belly. During our stay, we heard of people visiting for one week to six months and more, some with the aim of losing a few kilos, others looking to completely change their lives through weight loss and fitness.
Keen fitness fans ourselves, my companion Michelle and I were eager to see what the different gyms had to offer.
Our host Filip, manager and owner of both Cocoville, located centrally on Soi Tad-ied, and the brand new Coco Retreat around the corner, has lived in the area for many years and has witnessed first-hand its fast growth as a fitness destination. Cocoville has been a popular choice among health and fitness tourists, given its central location on “the street”.
The new Coco Retreat, where we stayed, will appeal to those who are not only interested in everything the fitness gyms and camps have to offer, but are also looking to participate in less high-energy pursuits such as Pilates, yoga, meditation and tai chi. It’s a five-minute drive from Soi Tad-ied, though a soon-to-be-built pathway will cut through Coco Retreat to Cocoville, giving direct access onto the street.
Rooms are comfortable and modern. The restaurant, which serves a healthy, calorie-conscious menu as well as normal à la carte fare, is open-plan with views of both pools. Visiting in October, one of the wettest months in Phuket, we didn’t get to try out said pools as it did indeed rain for almost the entire duration of our stay. Happily, we were there to exercise, not sunbathe!
Anyone who stays at either of Filip’s properties can book a package that includes access to all activities within the local gyms, or ask for a personal schedule to be put together, tailored to their particular needs. Filip emphasises flexibility, and almost any schedule can be accommodated due to the high number of gyms on the doorstep.
Cost: A one-week stay in a Coco Retreat villa starts at $1,450. This includes airport transfers, two Thai massages, and all-inclusive access to the gyms on the street, as well as a Big Buddha hike and meditation. Special meal and fitness programmes can also be formulated according to your fitness level and goals.
The hotel has a range of accommodation from standard rooms to villas, as well as a fitness spa and a yoga room. It’s located close to the Wat Chalong temple, and has views of Phuket’s Big Buddha.
Big Buddha hike
We were told that the 5km uphill hike to the Big Buddha was a must. Filip recommended an early start, so we were up by 6am and at the foot of the hike by 6.30am. It was a steep climb and a decent wake-up for our muscles. Just as we made it to the top we saw the clouds rolling in, and we knew we were in for some bad weather; luckily we made it back down just in time before the rain started.
One of the main gyms on Soi Tad-ied, Unit-27 is a large, impressive facility, mostly open-plan. It’s owned by Rob Hallam, who runs it with his son Dayle. The gym offers spinning, yoga, body-fit and personal training sessions and is the only CrossFit-affiliated gym in Phuket.
Feeling slightly apprehensive, Michelle and I opted for a personal training session with the only female trainer, Sarah, as well as a spin class. Sarah immediately put us through our paces – flipping tyres, climbing ropes and using the TRX equipment; she was firm, and it was a tough session, but we felt comfortable with her. The spin class, also led by Sarah, was held in the gym’s separate studio, accompanied by a good strong playlist (essential for spinning) and disco lights. Great fun.
Although it’s located just off the main street, Titan Fitness has the advantage of having more space than some of the gyms packed on to Soi Tad-ied. It has an outdoor training facility that includes a Strongman training area, sprint track and assault course, as well as a three-storey indoor gym, with a yoga studio at the top. Michelle and I arrived at Titan early one evening and thought we’d round the day off with a yoga session. The studio was clean and peaceful, and the one and a half hour session helped to stretch us out after the day’s activities.
Dragon Muay Thai
This was the session Michelle and I were most looking forward to. Having first tried Muay Thai during a previous bootcamp in Chiang Mai, I couldn’t wait to give it another go. Dragon Muay Thai gym is located opposite Cocoville, and we were told this facility would be more suitable for those just starting out in this discipline.
Our trainers spoke minimal English, but we managed to keep up and follow them during our extensive warm-up. We then had one-on-one training, showing us how to perfect our form for different punches and kicks. Before we knew it we’d been there for two hours; the variety of practices kept us on our toes, and even though communication was tough, we received plenty of guidance and attention.
The area as a whole was pretty nice, and I liked the fact it wasn’t really touristy; even though the beaches are only a short drive away, it still felt secluded and private. The accommodation at Coco Retreat was very nice. I liked the café feel of the restaurant, and the staff were friendly and accommodating. The hotel has a homey feeling about it. I would say this place is geared more for singles or couples without children.
The food was surprisingly good, with lots of healthy options on the menu. For breakfast, the oatmeal banana pancakes and the Chunky Monkey protein shake were great. My favourite dish, the delicious ‘Ajay Chicken’, can be ordered by special request.
I really enjoyed Unit-27 and the vibe there. I loved owner Rob’s passion for the work he is doing with and for his kids. Our personal training session with Sarah was fantastic; she challenged us to do things we had never done before, but also showed us some exercises we would be able to do again at home, without all the equipment.
I loved the Muay Thai – it was one of the highlights of the trip. It was fun to challenge myself with something I’ve never done, and a really great way to burn some frustration. I think we were there for nearly two hours but I didn’t notice the time (or the pain) as I was having so much fun.
We flew to Phuket with Jetstar for just under $360 per person return.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.