Ice Cold in Rawai: Yoga, Muay Thai and Ice Baths in Phuket
I’d been in fasting beast mode. Through a combination of changes to my diet and training regimen and sheer bloody willpower, I’d shifted 12kg over the start of summer.
But I wanted more: A break, but not a break, where I could let Practice-Growth Prav take a backseat for a while and give my newly rediscovered mindset free reign.
Phuket, Thailand, seemed the ideal destination—with more operators than you can shake a stick at offering wellness breaks at bargain prices.
I settled on Stay Wellness, a well-being and lifestyle resort promising yoga, Muay Thai boxing classes, well-equipped gym facilities and—my favourite—ice baths.
Stay Wellness’ seven restaurants and eateries with healthy veggie options (surprisingly hard to come by in Thailand) sealed the deal.
Barely a week and one gruelling 12-hour flight later, I touched down in Phuket. From there, it was a short transfer to Stay Wellness, where I wasted no time getting my jet-lagged ass straight into a relaxing yoga class…or at least that’s what I thought…
Did I Say Relaxing?
Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve long believed that yoga is for girls.
Standing at the back of the class expecting an hour of gentle exercise, I quickly realised how wrong I’d been.
While the rest of the class flowed gracefully from downward dog to low lunge, I felt as though I’d been possessed by the spirit of Mr Bean as I lolloped hopelessly, doing my best not to turn the class into an hour-long physical comedy routine with me as the main star.
I stumbled. I hopped, and I fell. But most of all, I sweated and groaned through what turned out to be one of the most gruelling workouts I’ve ever experienced.
The exercises got easier over the week. My poses and stretches improved a little with each class until I could finally ditch the Mr Bean routine and touch my toes with at least a modicum of grace.
It wasn’t just the gruelling physical aspect of yoga that appealed to me. The instructor, Dao, bookended each class with breathing exercises and gratitude meditations that helped me see yoga as a spiritual practice as well as a (gruelling) physical one.
And I finished each session on an insane high.
In short, yoga was right up my street, and I couldn’t have wished for a better location for my primer than Stay Wellness’ serene studio.
Ice Baths in Rawai, Phuket
I’ve always been a proponent of hot (sauna) and cold (ice baths) for their many health benefits.
Ice baths at Stay Wellness’ Le Spa were offered just two days a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays after 4pm—much less often than the daily plunge my inner Goggins would have liked.
But there was another problem: Stay Wellness’ ice baths weren’t cold enough to give me the invigorating brrr I look for from a cold plunge.
I’d say the spa’s ice pools cruised at around 13C, which felt like a warm evening soak in the bath compared to my preferred 2-4C.
And the pools were so spacious that I reckoned I’d need almost half a ton of extra ice to get it down to temperature.
My quest for the perfect ice bath in Phuket led me to several places.
Like Stay Wellness, Pakpon Relax offered twice-weekly ice baths, and there was plenty to like about this place. Papkon’s public ice baths were good but not cold enough.
If you book the day before, a private bath here could be had for ฿1200 (£27). I decided to look for a place with colder baths I could visit without too much planning ahead.
Ton Mai Spa
Ton Mai Spa takes my runner-up position for Phuket’s ice bath crown. The spa offers lockable storage, sauna and massage facilities and a tidy food and drinks menu with protein shakes.
Their ice baths were the highlight, with public (free to all) and private options at ฿300 (£6.70) for two hours.
I ordered plenty of extra ice to bring my private pool down to temp at a reasonable ฿30 (0.67p) per 10kg bag, although you could strike lucky if your bath’s previous tenant happened to be a cold freak.
I’d usually need around 15 bags to reach optimum brrr—the point where I’m shivering hard for a while after getting out.
If, like me, you like to divide time between the plunge pool and sauna, here’s a warning: Plenty of spa users won’t think twice about taking a sly dip in an unattended pool. “Gotta watch out for those ice vultures,” a fellow bather warned me.
On my last day at Ton Mai Spa, I ordered 150kg of ice for the public pool and let them have their fun.
Ice vultures aside, I liked Ton Mai Spa, but it can get booked quickly.
I discovered Phuket’s ice bath gold medalist by chance after spotting a sign while whizzing past on my rented motorbike.
The staff at Evergreen Spa said baths were twice weekly but were more than happy to meet my request for a private session. Entrance was ฿150 (£3.35) —just pay for ice at an even more wallet-friendly ฿30 (0.67p) per bag—and the baths were perfectly sized to reach a cool 2-3C using around 20 (200kg of ice).
The steam room was nicely scented and set to pump out constant steam, making the other saunas I’d seen so far seem like a London fog in comparison.
To top it off, Evergreen also served a respectable selection of fruit juices and protein shakes in a quiet, serene setting—and not an ice vulture in sight!
Although it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, I loved Evergreen’s outdoor pools, where I could shiver watching dragonflies and exotic insects flit around my head.
The outdoor pool.
Not an ice vulture in sight!
I like my ice baths cold enough to feel like an ordeal, with the optimal plunge being cold enough to leave me shivering and questioning my life choices long after exiting.
At Evergreen, I’d time my plunge to Stardust’s The Music Sounds Better With You, whose 6.43 runtime is now etched into my psyche. I’d follow up with Moloko’s Sing It Back to bring my dip to just over a cool ten minutes.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to a 90s dance compilation without my teeth chattering.
More at Stay Wellness: Muay Thai Training
Muay Thai boxing training at Stay Wellness with Sid—a bona fide southern Thailand champ—was intense, gruelling, but lots of fun.
I knew that a week of training in Muay Thai boxing wouldn’t turn me into Anderson Silva, but I was at least determined to give it a go.
In my first sparring session, Sid landed a blow on my shin, leaving me with no illusions about how brutal this sport can be.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I can’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag. But just like with yoga, my Muay Thai game improved noticeably over just a few sessions, although I never did get used to Sid’s bone-splintering shin shots.
I’d emerge from each session numb with pain and semi-delirious from exhaustion, only to hobble back to my room and prepare for round two of my destruction with Dao in the yoga studio.
Station 10 Circuit Training
Circuit training isn’t supposed to be easy. But my baptism into yoga and Muay Thai made me feel I could take on anything.
The training takes its name from ten exercise stations where participants put themselves through burpee-box jumps, rowing, ring rows, snatches, and other exercises.
The idea is to spend 50 seconds at each station, followed by a 20-second rest—about enough time to crawl to the next station.
You take a three-minute break after the first circuit before rinsing and repeating to complete each of the exercises three times.
What I love about training in this way is that you get out what you put in, and with encouragement from the instructors, I gave it my all.
The combination of exertion and Thaliand’s relentless heat made this workout a cut above the average, often leaving me exhausted to the point of discombobulation.
The only letdown of this experience was one Main Character in a spray-on leotard insisting on setting up a camera before each round of exercises for Insta likes.
To hit Thailand without experiencing a massage would be a crime.
For a traditional Thai massage, Ked 2 was unbeatable—and a steal at ฿200 (£4.48).
But after a few days of Muay Thai, yoga and circuit training, my body was ready for something more, and what could be more relaxing than an intense deep tissue massage?
For this, I turned to Green Inn Sports Massage, where a diminutive masseuse, deceptively named Meow, put me through my paces and then some.
Meow was no kitten but seemed imbued with cast-iron thumbs made for de-stressing knots and aches through sheer brute force.
Meow pressed these into crevices in my knotted hamstrings that I didn’t even know existed, working in the warming fighter oil I’d chosen over the usual essential massage oils.
But Meow was just warming up.
She continued, now with titanium toes, lingering on the most painful spots before walking up and down my battered hamstrings. I’ve heard men pay good money for similar treatment in certain establishments…
The breathing exercises I’d learned in yoga helped me wince through the pain. Now and then, Meow would stop, asking: “Okay?”
“Okay,” I’d assure her through gritted teeth.
“Good!” Meow would sing, counting, “One, two, three…” and begin the ordeal anew.
Brutal though it was, Meow’s technique left me feeling as though the tension had been steamrollered from my limbs and ready for more back at Stay Wellness.
There’s only one way to get from A-B on Puket’s notoriously chaotic roads: Motorbike.
I wanted to find a rental place with good Google reviews that took safety seriously, and Enigma Bike fit the bill perfectly.
The outfit was run by Eric, a Belgian expat who took the time to find out about my limited experience on two wheels before giving a brief rundown of the service and costs.
A pristine bike arrived at my hotel within ten minutes of our conversation, and after receiving a quick tour of the bike, some insurance talk and sage advice about what to do when stopped by police, I was off.
Getting around turned out to be a pain in the ass without a sat nav. I called Eric, and he had one fitted within 24 hours—talk about responsive service!
The positive Google reviews called this one correctly; I’d have no qualms going back to Eric and Enigma Bike on my next trip to Phuket.
Given the intensity of my training, fasting was off the table. I was overtraining by a long shot and needed all the nourishment I could get
But if you’ve followed my career as a restaurant critic, you’ll know I’m always the guy who’s determined to go off-piste where well-thought-out menus are concerned.
So, how did Stay Wellness stack up on the food front?
I’m happy to report that nothing was too much trouble for Stay Wellness chefs. Remove the shrimp from the glorious papaya salad? No problem. Want your protein shakes with half water and half coconut milk? You’re the half-and-half guy from now on. (Real fresh coconut milk, too.)
Stay Wellness’ menu was so good and varied that I didn’t eat any Thai food during my stay, and the combination of healthy options and hardcore training meant this was the first holiday I can remember being on where I didn’t put on timber.
I’ll be Back!
My two weeks in Phuket were transformative. I returned home invigorated, feeling on top of my game.
Yoga, in particular, will be a mainstay of my regime from here on and I can already feel my limbs becoming more supple and flexible with each morning salutation on the home mat.
At age 25, I wanted to be Mr Incredible, and the size of my guns was my number-one stat. These days, I prefer to be Mr Flexible with my eye on the lessening inches between fingertip and floor as I’m stretched and loosened by this ancient and venerable practice.
The cost of my stay was mind-blowing for all the right reasons—I could switch off the electricity at home and live in Thailand on the savings! Plus, I could still put in a good four hours of daily work, stay in touch with my team and ensure I got enough done so I didn’t come home to complete dental marketing carnage.
With the sun on my face, paradisical surroundings, and new experiences at every turn, Phuket was exhausting in the most pleasurable way.
Will I be back? Chai khrup, as they say in Thai—yes. You bet your bottom Bhat I will.