Friday, 16 July 2010

Back again...

Without excuses or my usual self-flaggelation for neglecting this blog, let's get back into it: nothing too radical has changed at Baan Bophut since I last posted fortunately, but I'll attempt a catch-up.

Bad news first. Receptionist and Baan Bophut stalwart Mia, finally lost her husband Pee Lek to cancer after his protracted illness. Lucy and the staff that could be spared attended the funeral rights at a temple in Suratthani. We shared Mia and her young daughter's grief. Here's a snap taken when I last saw her at Christmas.

Big Joe, (AKA John Bell) larger than life Samui character and purveyor of the finest homemade pies, sausages and much else was killed in a road accident on the mainland when he ran off the road, returning home from Pattaya, after overnighting in Hua Hin. Joe is very sadly missed, as both a generous and open-hearted friend and supplier of the tastiest breakfast sausages on the island.

We have also lost the pups, only introduced in the last post. Foxy's nocturnal raids on a neighbour's chickens meant they couldn't stay at the hotel if they were to remain safe and unpunished. After the aggrieved villager turned up with a machete, threatening to do the dogs in, unable to keep them at home and in the absence of any offers from friends to take them as a pair, a heartbroken Lucy donated the innocent and dopy Bonzo with wily culprit Foxy, to a local temple. They should by now have completed their metamorphosis from being wholly secular beach dogs, and hopefully, developed some respect for other peoples' chickens. Immersed in the monastic life, they might even have become vegetarian.

Do you want to guess which one is which?

Christmas and New Year were both enjoyable, but unremarkable. We cooked our traditional Christmas lunch for (I think) 25 guests and friends including the pictured, Sara and two companions from Tenby on a 'round the world holiday of a lifetime. We were pleased to get the stress of the catering out of the way to enjoy ourselves.

Lucy took herself off to Australia for a friend's wedding in March and although the hotel didn't fall apart while she was away, her absence was noted. "The hotel dropped the ball..." one TripAdvisor reviewer was correct to note.

Like many of the other businesses in Bophut we closed for most of May, traditionally a hot and steamy month on Samui with, not surprisingly, even less visitors about than usual and took the opportunity of redoing the decking, servicing ACs and conducted some maintenance in the rooms.

Thailand's political ambivalence still polarises the nation and the protests have a direct bearing on the hotel's occupancy, but hey! What's new? The Asian tsunami of late 2004; the ongoing separatist insurrection along the southern border, the asian originated SARS, H5N1 (bird flu), H1N1 (pig flu) viruses and Icelandic ash, each have had a similarly adverse affect on Thailand's visitor numbers over the years and the hotel trade as a consequence.

Although there's not been a hint of civil unrest in Koh Samui throughout the most recent months of protests in Bangkok and elswhere in the north, the island has not been spared and our own August bookings look pretty gloomy. I suspect some of this though, can be attributed to the financial situation, the affects of which will linger for quite some time. But it's good to see the £ strengthening, which might entice more Brits to venture our way.

I've not been completely idle these past months, having been engaged in writing over thirty pages of new website blurb that includes a Samui and regional guide to the beaches and resorts; the neighbouring islands, transport, and introductions to Thailand's food and exotic fruits. I'm hoping we can go-live with the website before too long, but we still have some work to do with the photo/layout and Dom's not totally happy with the Wordpress theme we originally chose.

I'm motivated mainly out of boredom to restart this blog after such a shameful period of neglect, but also in no small part by a desire to discuss the latest TripAdvisor review we've received. We never respond to reviews on the TA website, either good or bad, and are frequently amused by the 'Management Response' our neighbours' use to excuse criticism while simultaneously questioning the integrity of any negative reviewer.

Thankfully, we've not had too many bad comments, and we try to rectify any points subject to genuine criticism. In the latest review, however, while still giving Baan Bophut a 'Very Good' rating of 4/5, the reviewer describes the hotel in their heading as "...a teeny bit soul-less" and continues "it was a tiny bit 'international' for us - we might have wanted a bit less sleek modernity and a bit more of a Thai feel".

Thai feel? I thought at first reading that they might have the wrong hotel. Upon considerable reflection, I felt I could forgive their apparent blindness to genuine Thai architecture and the various stone panels depicting temple dancers and mythological Thai deities that adorn the hotel's facade and restaurant (itself a traditional style 'sala'), and fail to notice the presence of thirteen Thai staff and a comprehensive, mainly Thai menu. But I am curious to learn that if Baan Bophut exhibits "sleek modernity", what kind of dives had they stayed at before?

Most wounding (to my soul) was the accusation that our little hotel was "soul-less", even a "teeny bit". I would much rather have been criticised for concealing elephant turds in their mini-bar or allowing the ritual drowning of protected wildlife in our pool. At least we could do something about that.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The monsoon finally arrives in Bophut...

At least the strong winds and high tides bits have, according to Lucy. It rained hard last week overnight, and it's raining now, but the monsoon un-typically let up on the rain for three days, delivering only strong onshore winds and bright sunshine. The rough seas and high tides have dumped a load of beach sand onto the lawn area, which Jonny has been manfully trying to remove before the salt kills the grass - a strong possibility unless we get plenty of rain to dilute its affects.

We have only one guest and no bookings for a couple of weeks, so Lucy has sent most of the staff home while we paint the other guest rooms and conduct other bits of internal maintenance.

I know all this because as Lucy and I talked on Skype this morning, she simply walked around the lawn and beach with her MacBook showing me the damage through the lens of its built-in camera. At the same time she could see my reaction in Dubai recorded by my iMac's camera. Magic - and free!

The rough seas have also been responsible for breaking up Bophut's pier just down the street. The end third now separated from the shorter, strongest third, nearest the shore.

08/11/09: She's since sent me photos of the devastation. The pier is worse than I thought and it looks as if the village is taking a heck of a pounding. We are so lucky that Baan Bophut has a beach for the waves to crash against.


The monsoon isn't the only thing to newly arrive at Baan Bophut. Despite promises to herself (& mum, Olwen) not to take-in another stray dog, after Blackhead disappeared, she's adopted two! Here they're pictured at 8 weeks old. They're now 10 weeks, all jabbed-up and seen to by the vet, and considerably bigger. Lucy tells me they're both gentle with an even temperament and not 'yappers'.

Bonzo and Foxy, different sizes, but both from the same litter, were too much to resist when Lucy learned that without a home, they would be going to Samui Dog Rescue to be put down.

Personally I'm delighted the hotel now has its own dog(s) again, instead of sharing (& feeding) the neighbours' - what's a beach hotel without a dog?

HM the King and royal household celebrate Loi Kratong...

Quoting the Nation newspaper:

"Their Majesties the King and Queen last night floated their krathong in the river near Siriraj Hospital. Many royal members joined Their Majesties in celebrating the Loy Krathong festival.

After Their Majesties floated their krathongs, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and his son, HRH Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, HRH Princess Chulabhorn Valayalaksana and HRH Princess Srirasmi, the Royal Consort of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, followed suit.

This was a rare event.

Hundreds of loyal subjects lined Siriraj Hospital's walkways to greet the Royal Family.

Since being admitted to hospital on September 19, His Majesty has appeared in public only twice, the first time on October 23.

Although His Majesty remained in a wheelchair last night, he smiled and waved to his people. After floating his krathong, he viewed a floating procession of decoratively lit boats along the Chao Phya River.

His Majesty also held a camera.

The Royal Household Bureau said His Majesty's health has been improving. More than 20 million people have signed get-well messages for him during his hospitalisation."

Saturday, 24 October 2009

This has to be Suratthani's top destination...after Samui

While I knew of Khao Sok National Park in mainland Suratthani I didn't know anything about the park until I started to search for a website that I could link for Suratthani attractions in the previous post.

I didn't know it has an area of 740 km.sq, nor did I imagine it to be the oldest virgin rainforest on the planet, older and more diverse even than the Amazon rainforest.

The richness of the tropical forest flora, the abundance of fresh water and the shelter of the mountains combine to provide an excellent habitat for many species of wildlife. Mammals that call the place home include, the Malayan Tapir, Asian Elephant, Tiger, Sambar and Barking Deer, Sun Bear, Guar, Banteng, Serow, Wild Boar, Pig Tailed Macaque, Langur, Sumatra Rhino, White Handed Gibbon, Squirrel, Munjak and Mouse Deer.

The forest is dense and dominated by tall emergent trees; the middle layer is a tangle of figs and woody climbers, whilst the understorey contains evergreens such as bamboo, rattan, ferns and palms, all fighting for light. It is also home to many varieties of orchid and for flora-spotting botonistas, the park is one of only a handful of locations in Thailand and Malaysia where grows the world's largest flower, the parasitic and stinky Rafflesia kerrii, with it's rotten-meat stench (to attract pollinating flies) and giant 50-90cm diameter red flowers.

Twitchers are well served with over 180 species of birds. Khao Sok is just about the only place in Thailand to see both Lesser and Grey-headed Fish Eagle. The Banded Pitta is a fabulously beautiful species which appears far more common in the park than anywhere else. Hornbills can be found with Great, Helmeted and White-crowned the most frequently seen.

Divers (tech), kayakers/canoeists, fishermen, climbers and cavers all seem to be well catered for.

It appears that Khao Sok National Park is one of the easiest national parks to get to in Thailand. It's frequently visited by tourists from the southern beach resorts and many places from Khao Lak, Krabi and Phuket run minibuses to the accommodation just outside the park. Samui based trippers must first take the ferry and bus to mainland Surattani. If you choose to drive, simply follow highway route number 401, which is also known as the Suratthani-Takuapa road. Turn right at the 109 kilometer stone and drive for another 2 km. or until you see the park’s headquarters.

From Suratthani take a minibus to Khao Sok or any bus to Takua Pa can also be taken; the buses will stop at Km 109 where people from various bungalow resorts at Khao Sok wait to collect visitors. From the main road to the accommodation is a few kilometres so it is best to take a ride with one of the bungalow operators. A visit here, from where I copied some photos, looks to be a worthy choice.

Nok Air cuts the costs of travel to mainland Suratthani...

Photo source: Nok Air
Nok, no surprise given their livery, means 'bird' in Thai

From Sunday, Oct. 25, low-cost airline Nok air will start flying between Bangkok and Suratthani, Samui's mainland province . A promotional fare of Bt555 (US 16 GBP 10) one-way or Bt1,000 return, will operate for the first three months, after which it will double, but is still expected to be around $10-$12 cheaper each way than Air Asia, that also operate the route.

Sihaphan Choomsai Na Ayutthaya, the airline’s senior vice-president for public relations, said the new air route, aimed at increasing (cash strapped) tourist traffic to Samui and Koh Phangan, will have two roundtrip flights daily. The flight from Bangkok will depart from Nok Air's hub at Don Muang airport.

The route will be serviced by a Boeing 737-400 aircraft which can seat 168 passengers.

Suratthani Gov. Pracha Taerat said the new air route would provide tourists bound for Samui or Koh Phangan a chance to make a side trip to some of the province’s many other attractions.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Monthly roundup...

Less than two weeks after Gary's 40th birthday bash that featured Dirty Vegas as previously posted, sadly his Bophut Hills Gecko venue burned to the ground. Gary was briefly hospitalised with smoke inhalation, but thankfully there were no other injuries. Gecko can and will be rebuilt. The overwhelming tragedy is the loss of Gary's tapes and digitised music representing twenty years of a life recording and DJ'ing. The fire is attributed to an electrical fault in an AC.

I forgot to follow-up on my pledge to name & shame or acclaim the contractor we used to finally sort-ot the hotel's WiFi package. I'm delighted to recommend the services of Matthew at Bluechip Wireless who have provided broadband WiFi throughout the hotel and beach. Bluechip also upgraded our reception computer and agreed to become our on-call IT department. Good job Matthew - thanks.

And on the family front...
It's number one daughter Lucy's birthday today. When I called her this morning she was into a sausage roll and cup of tea at Big Joe's and later planned lunch at Ocean's 11 in Bangrak with Jonny. I hope she had a great day.

Self-snap: Lucy and Jonny today

It gives me huge pleasure to let those that don't yet know - number one son Dominic finally asked his Fiona to be our future number one daughter-in-law last weekend. We could not be more delighted with his choice.

HM the King makes his first public appearance today...

HM the King has made his first public appearance since being admitted to Siriraj Hospital over a month ago, appearing in a wheelchair in the hospital's ground floor to pay homage to his late mother and King Rama V on the occassion of the Piya Maharaja Day, a public holiday.

Using their day-off to show their loyalty, many more well-wishers than usual visited the hospital, some wept with joy as His Majesty made his appearance to place garlands at the portraits of his late mother and King Rama V.

Photo source: The Nation

The monarch looked alert but frail as he was wheeled out to greet well-wishers in the public areas of the hospital. The appearance followed a tough week for the Thai people as rumours about his health caused panic selling and more than a little market manipulation at work in the stock market. The SET Index fell 7% over two days last week amid rumours originating from Hong Kong and Singapore which are now being investigated.

"His physical strength has increased. His sleep and food intake is normal," the Royal Household Bureau announced yesterday. It added that doctors would continue to give antibiotics and food supplements to His Majesty until the prescription schedule was completed.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The King showing early signs of recovery...

(AP photo)

Thailand's 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej spent his 14th day in a Bangkok hospital today with what the palace obliquely called a second bout of low fever and inflammation in his lungs, that finally appears to be responding to treatment.

King Bhumibol, the world's longest-serving monarch, was admitted to Bangkok's Siriraj hospital on 19th Sept. for fever, fatigue and lack of appetite three days after a routine check-up. It is his longest hospital stay since October 2007. Since his admission, the palace has released almost daily updates on his condition without saying what is causing the symptoms.

After being hospitalised for four days, the king's temperature returned to normal, but the fever returned several days later, according to the palace. "His overall condition has improved and his medication can be reduced" the Royal Household Bureau said in its latest statement. The brief statement said that a medical team would continue to give the king a reduced number of antibiotics and nutrients intravenously as it has since his arrival, and continue with physical therapy.

Elephants and well-wishers take part in a Buddhist prayer for the health of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok yesterday (Reuters photo)

The king is regarded by his people as a semi-divine source of unity and stability in a country beset by four years of political turmoil that has been marked by several changes in government and frequent mass street protests.
Bhumibol is a constitutional king with no formal political role, but he has repeatedly brought calm in times of turbulence and is considered the country's moral authority and a unifying figure.

A mahout astride his elephant participates in prayers for the King outside the hospital (Reuters photo)

Thousands of well-wishers have crowded outside Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital and events have been organized around the country in honor of the king. The king's health is an extremely sensitive topic in Thailand because of concerns that the succession may not go smoothly. The heir apparent, his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not yet have the stature or moral authority of his father. He has reigned through a score of governments, democratic and dictatorial. In his six decades on the throne, he has taken an especially active role in rural development and is respected for his dedication to helping the country's poor.

Young well-wishers pray for the King's return to good health outside the hospital (Reuters photo)

Bhumibol is revered by most Thais, but in recent years the palace has come in for unprecedented, though usually discreet, criticism because of allegations that the king's advisers interfered in politics, including playing a part in inspiring a 2006 military coup that ousted a democratically elected government. Open discussion of the matter is barred by strict lese majeste laws that make criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

We join our staff and all loyal Thais in praying for the speedy recovery of the King

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Six Chefs Six courses Charity Dinner

I've just noticed this event posted on the radio station site. While not a new concept it's another innovation for Samui; a chance to dress-up and for a very worthy cause...

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A musical mystery tour...

Making it back home with the sun already warming her back this morning, Lucy has since been raving about Gary Gecko's fantastic 40th birthday party bash at his new venue in the Bophut Hills last night. And in absolute raptures over featured artists - Dirty Vegas, who also opted to spend their two nights on the island at Baan Bophut. By one of those weirdly, ever contracting degrees of separation their next gig is here in Dubai tomorrow night, in support of former Stone Roses frontman - Ian Brown - followed by Manchester, our family's birth city, on 3rd Oct.

Predictably, Lucy has been Facebooking her enthusiasm, urging friends in both cities to go hear the Grammy Award winning UK based band that exploded onto the scene with their self-titled debut album in 2002 landing at number 7 on the billboard 200, and selling close to a million records worldwide. Kudos to Gary for snagging Dirty Vegas for his birthday party.
Twenty years a DJ with the last ten on Koh Samui, Gary is responsible, almost single-handedly, for pioneering the now thriving international dance scene bringing scores of the biggest names in the dance world to his famous Gecko beach venue. Recently squeezed off the beach by newly arrived big name hotel neighbours, Gary relocated his operation to the hills above Bophut where, it seems, the Gecko continues to party on. In between running the NEW Gecko Samui and touring the globe DJ’ing at the coolest venues from Ibiza to Japan, you’ll find Gary in the studio doing what he loves best.. making music!

And he now has another outlet for his creativity with the recent arrival of Radio One Samui where Gary has a regular spot on Tuesday evenings.

Friday, 4 September 2009

We had two fantastic weeks in August...

After our Dubai friends Sam and Chucky put the date of their wedding at Baan Bophut back by a week, we were free to surprise the family by pitching up at my great niece Giada's combined christening and 1st birthday bash in Italy, which had clashed with the original date.

A rather more different call to prayer than we're used to

The celebration with Dom and Fi, my siblings and most of their partners and offspring by Lake Garda, extended to four days of outstanding food, wine and general merriment, amid great company and lovely weather, after the suffocating heat of Dubai. It was also the chance to load up with some fantastic local cheeses and salami for onward transport to Dubai and Koh Samui. We had just 26 hours at home in Dubai before taking-off again for BKK, and once again I was fortunate to be upgraded to Business class (both ways, it turned out).

The wedding at the hotel was our biggest yet, with 48 guests that had arrived from as far away as the UK, the US (actor/rapper Mos Def's dad no less) and New Zealand, together with a large Dubai contingent. The weather was relatively kind in that it didn't rain or, unusual for Samui weddings, have anyone worrying that it would. An onshore breeze picked-up in the afternoon to alleviate some of the affects of the heat and humidity on an otherwise clear, almost cloudless day.

This was the first time that I'd been at Baan Bophut to witness the preparations that go into the making of such a special occasion. There are a lot of moving parts to one of these event and I must say that I was so proud of Lucy and all our staff at the way they pitched-in and got things organized. The flowers were beautiful and the crisp linen on the chairs, each with a little posy of orchids on the back looked splendid.

After the ceremony, while guests headed for the bar (itself beautifully decorated), our staff wheeled-in the eight, large circular tables which they unobtrusively set for dinner, on this occasion a combined buffet and barbecue. The bride's choice, a combo of Thai, western and vegetarian options seemed to go down well and I was pleased to receive several compliments for my fabled, twice-cooked, oven baked ribs. Unused to praising food he hasn't cooked himself, Tik said they needed more pepper.

We met some wonderful people that we hope to stay in touch with, as well as many old friends and Sam's brothers and sisters that we've known and caught up with, on and off, for many years.

Unable to focus, I put the camera away before the fireworks, fire balloons and many guests sought a form of recovery in the pool. For interested family and guests an album of my photos of the day can be found here.

What else happened during my nine day stay...? Oh yeah, the reception computer crashed and it's having a new motherboard fitted, along with 10 times more memory than it originally started life with. And while we were at it, arranged to upgrade our Internet connection and WiFi coverage to all rooms from an additional all-weather router on the beach bar roof. Hopefully it should all be up and running early next week. Watch this space for either praise or scorn heaped on the contractor, to follow.

Finally, I watched some of our staff enjoy their twice monthly English lesson, on this occasion with a trainee from Island TEFL, here engaged in an observed teaching practice. Island TEFL is one of two such schools that use Baan Bophut as part of their TEFL teacher development. It's a win-win arrangement judging by the enthusiasm of both the student teacher and our staff who, Lucy tells me, really look forward to these lessons.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

New crackdown on Samui drug users...

As part of a new and welcome initiative to stamp-out drug use on the island, Koh Samui District Chief Sakchai Jorphalit has urged hotels and resorts to play their part by making sure their guests understand that drug using tourists are not welcome on the island, and has suggested that notices are posted in hotels' public areas.

Creating awareness of the crack-down comes as a small part of a much wider campaign to eliminate drug distribution and use on the island. Recently Mr. Sakchai launched the Post Box 188 project, an address that encourages anyone to anonymously grass (sorry) with any information that could be useful to the campaign and is a component of the newly launched 'Operation Center to Fight against Drug', which Sakchai manages. The center will initiate other projects and activities to encourage island residents and tourists to help root out the drug problem.

“Our Operation Center to Fight against Drug has just established the Post Box 188 so that residents and tourists on Koh Samui can send us letters, news, reports, suggestions, proposals related to drug usage on Koh Samui. It is another channel for us to receive information directly from people about sources of narcotic drugs,” Sakchai said. He went on to say "People can give information about drug users, drug dealers, drug makers and areas where drug trading takes place or where people use drugs, without revealing their identities".

He cited a police report claiming that as high as 80 per cent of drug users on the island are foreign tourists. This explains, he said, why the drug business on Samui remains lucrative.

In an unrelated report by the Samui Express newspaper, a couple were arrested recently at a vehicle checkpoint for transporting illegal drugs. Somkiat Noentaisong, 32, of Chumphon, threw a white box out the window of the van he was driving as he approached the police checkpoint near the Bangkok-Samui Hospital. The police, who became suspicious, stopped the van and retrieved the white box, which yielded 370 tablets of amphetamine (Yaba) and an undetermined amount of marijuana.

The police's suspicions may have been alerted by the fact that Somkiat’s van had flashing lights and a siren on the roof and was sporting a police logo. Police took Somkiat and his wife, 22-year-old Rattanakorn Kaewinthi into custody.

At the police station the pair confessed they had been hired to take the illegal drugs from Bangkok to Samui.

Police said that for making their van look like a police vehicle, the couple face five months in jail and/or a fine of Bt10,000, but it was not reported if they faced a penalty for ferrying the drugs.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Pilot killed as flight crashes on landing at Samui airport...

BBC News website user, Japhy G, took this photo from the north end of the runway at Koh Samui airport

The pilot of a Bangkok Airways flight has been killed and seven passengers injured as it skidded off the runway while landing at Koh Samui.

The Bangkok Airways flight, carrying 72 people, hit an old and unmanned control tower amid reports of heavy rain.

The President of Bangkok Airways, held a press conference at 17h00 today concerning the accident of the airline’s flight PG 266 from Krabi which skidding off the runway and collided with an out of service, unmanned control tower during the flight’s attempted landing at Samui Airport.

The aircraft, an ATR-72 500 series, with 70 seats, carried 68 passengers, two pilots and two flight attendants. Officials said the injured included the co-pilot, two Britons, an Italian and a Swiss national. The four tourists all suffered broken legs, while the co-pilot also had leg injuries, said the managing director of Bangkok Airways, Puttipong Prasartthong-Osoth. He said the other foreign passengers included nationals of Spain, France and Germany.

All passengers have been evacuated from the site with four seriously injured passengers sent to the Bangkok Samui Hospital, and two others with minor injuries delivered to the Thai Inter Hospital. The 62 other passengers have been transferred to hotels. Two flight attendants and a pilot were reportedly safe, while the other pilot died in the collision with the control tower.
An investigation team from the Department of Aviation has been despatched to the accident site at Samui Airport.

Several were treated for minor bruises or shock - including two other Britons - and were resting at local hotels before being transferred to Bangkok, officials said.

Samui Airport was temporarily shut down following the accident. The aircraft is to be removed on Wednesday morning, the runway inspected and cleared before the airport reopens to air traffic at 13hoo on Wednesday, 5th August.
We offer our condolences to the family of the dead pilot and our sympathy to the injured, also to the visitors whose holiday has been affected so traumatically.
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