Freelance journalist Ryan Jon writes: You’ve been working hard. You’ve been putting blood, sweat and tears into your job and now you’re physically and mentally exhausted. Sounds like you need a holiday.

On your holiday, would you like to put in blood, sweat and tears to the point of physical and mental exhaustion? How does that sound?

Well that’s exactly what a new brand of Australian tourists are doing in Thailand. The island of Phuket is small, but has no less than 20 Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting, Thai boxing, cross fit and weight loss camps where thousands of tourists from around the world reside for months at a time.

Some are interested in actually competing in MMA and Thai Boxing, whilst most arrive having never fought before and are looking for fitness, weight loss or simply a challenge that’s different and takes them out of their comfort zones.

Natasha Botha, a Canadian who now lives in Phuket and works at Tiger Muay Thai said they get about 300 people per month training at their camp. She says she has seen a change in clientele since she started working there.

“There are a few who take the fighting seriously, but mostly it’s just people seeking fitness or weight loss,” explained Botha. “We used to offer only fighting classes but now we’re doing cross-fit, yoga and group running sessions.”

I personally only did one session at the Tiger Muay Thai camp and I couldn’t feel my arms for days. The thought of doing the training twice a day, every day seems excruciating if not impossible. Botha ensures me that “your body does get used to it”.

The boxing itself is difficult at the start. Being a beginner there were a few awkward moments. The instructor grabbed my right leg and pulled it up to demonstrate how high I should be kicking. Not sure what was more embarrassing; how terrible my flexibility is or the fact I ripped the seam of my shorts in the process.

Matt O’Gorman is the drummer of Australian indie rock band, British India. He recently completed his second two week stint in the Phuket heat, after attending his first camp just over a year ago.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said O’Gorman. “I’m exercising, sleeping normal hours and not drinking. It’s completing different to my normal life. It’s extremely cleansing, both physically and mentally.”

The band recently had two weeks off before heading on tour to promote their upcoming album. O’Gorman said his holiday was very different to the other British India band members: “One of the guys went to Japan to party, and the other two stayed home and probably did absolutely nothing.”

Surely training in 35 degree heat for six hours per day will leave you pretty tired, battered, bruised and in need of some serious rest and we’ve heard the saying “I need a holiday to recover from my holiday,” but O’Gorman insists he returned home with more energy than he left with.

He flew home to Australia and performed with British India the following night. “It was hectic racing back to Australia for the gig but after doing a few shows, I certainly felt the training helped my stamina to drum through long sets,” he told me.

“Always being on the road, energetic performances, daily band practice and the late nights; being a musician certainly takes it toll. Doing something like martial arts in Thailand has created a good platform for me to live a healthier way to live.”

The impact isn’t just on Western tourists wanting a healthier holiday alternative. Whilst the recession is hurting tourism worldwide, alternative tourism operators — like those offering fitness or medical tourism in Asia — are booming.

Chalong is a small, sleepy seaside village on the east of the Phuket. It’s some distance from the more attractive west coast beaches that you’re most likely to see on postcards. It’s now the home of fitness tourism on this tropical island where the boxing camps have created an economy within an economy.

The seven training camps located on Chalong’s Tad-ied Road means there is always no less than 500 fitness tourists living on the one street at any one time.

This has lead to rapid development in the area. There’s now guesthouses and resorts to house the fitness fanatics, cafes and restaurants to feed them, health stores to fill them with protein shakes and mineral supplements, massage parlors to help sooth those aching muscles, retail outlets selling sporting equipment, and banks and foreign exchange outlets to help the fighters fund it all.

Meaning that if you spend your annual leave running in 35 degree heat and getting punched in the face in a foreign country, it may impact on more than just your figure.

Ryan currently lives in Phuket, Thailand where he is a breakfast presenter and producer on Phuket Live Radio.

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