Friday, 31 October 2008

Beach weddings at Baan Bophut: a bit of a lottery...

Anita & Richard's wedding, with Carter (left) a popular Samui based wedding Celebrant

With the soaring costs of weddings in UK, Europe and Australasia, tropical beach weddings on Koh Samui are becoming increasingly popular. It's a pity that we're losing some of our enthusiasm for hosting these events.

While we've hosted only five weddings to date and have another couple booked for 2009, we learned quickly that the attraction of guaranteed revenue from booking-out all our rooms to one party, usually for between three and six days, is tempered by being left with vacant rooms either side of the event. And coincidently, on each of the last three occasions, having to turn away enquiries for 14 days and more.

We seem to have less trouble filling our little hotel these days. At least half the rooms are reserved for many months in advance which reduces our ability to accept reservations for the entire hotel.

On balance, room revenue and food/wine sales, together with any commissions paid to us by other participating service providers doesn't always compensate for the inconvenience to other guests we've had to molify; staff overtime, hire of additional seating, linen service and items too numerous to list that come under the general heading : organizational hassle.

An early start: The florists work their magic

Lucy has had to become very selective in deciding which bookings to accept and has declined more than she has accepted, mainly from whom she calls 'Bridezillas'. Her decision, in the end, comes down to whom and when, and is highly subjective. Priority is given to friends and former guests, followed by smaller wedding parties, and those that can book low season dates well in advance.

Chair/table and linen hire. On this occasion, for 36 guests

Unfairly, prospective brides must also possess a hard-to-describe quality that puts them on the same wavelength as Lucy - she must be able to empathize with the bride-to-be, and it helps if they have some idea of what they want and don't want on their special day. Given the issues I've described, the least successful way of securing a wedding booking at Baan Bophut is to ask from the outset "How much discount for booking all your rooms?" And the most successful way? Being her big brother.

Jane and Arash's wedding, with Celebrant, Carter (again)

I've made this sound like it's all downside for us and it's not, of course. We love dressing-up: ourselves, our staff and the hotel to create a very special, memorable day for the bride & groom. If they can get through Lucy's selection process, the couple and their guests are on to an absolute winner.

A typical wedding at Baan Bophut for 35-40 guests that includes three/four course meal with wine, flowers, cake, celebrant (if you don't supply your own) fireworks, professional photographer and an open bar for, say six hours, totals about Thai Baht 175,000 (US$ 5,250, GBP 3,250 currently) at the top end. Room rent is obviously extra, as is an on-site hair and make-up stylist that costs a (very) little bit more, but most wedding parties value this convenience.

Savings can be made by limiting guest numbers, the menu choices, table wine, and free bar. But even at the top-end, our prices offer a much better deal compared to 'Western' wedding costs. Flight costs put some guests off, but if the wedding date can be fixed for far enough in advance, it's possible for guests to plan their annual holiday around the event.

Apart from passing Lucy's selection process, the weather is also a bit of a lottery. There is no time of the Koh Samui year when it can be guaranteed not to rain, and while we have no real alternative venue to the beach for a large number of gueststs, we've always managed so far.

Try as I may, I can't get these random pics below to line up, other than as a long string.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

WARNING: May contain nuts...

On tropical islands and shorelines everywhere, local people call the coconut palm by a variety of names, which reflect its usefulness to these societies - Tree of Life, Tree of Abundance, Tree of Heaven. Almost every part of the coconut palm is used. It's a source of food, drink, oil, fuel, animal feed, wood, shelter and cocktail mixer. In writing this post it's difficult for me to know what information to include; the end-uses of this botanical miracle are so diverse, and interesting...but hey! This isn't Wikipedia so I'll confine this post to my usual facile skimming of the facts, as they apply locally.

As I've noted in a previous post, coconut cultivation and processing now takes a backseat to tourism and fishing as primary employment within the Samui population, but it must still enjoy the number two position, after tourism, in value to the local economy. Although in decline for years as plantations have been destroyed to make way for real estate developments, Samui still is home to around 2,500 different varieties of coconuts - the world's largest diversity in one location and ships some 2 million nuts a month to Bangkok.

To many visitors the coconut palm is an enduring symbol of the tropics and for me, almost any vista worth viewing, when framed by coconut fronds is made special by their inclusion.

Just about every part of the coconut tree - trunk, fronds and fruit is useful to man, but the process starts with harvesting. Plantation workers use various devices to detach the nuts, either by hand, after climbing the tree; by means of long poles or the employment of monkeys trained to select and pick nuts from the highest trees, removing them from their tough stalks with a twisting motion. Retired monkeys don't really get to retire on Koh Samui. Instead they continue to work performing for visitors and have become a popular and valuable tourist attraction.

The harvested nuts are stockpiled and allowed to dry out, making it easier to remove the 'meat' which shrinks away from the inside of the nut. The coconut meat can be grated and soaked in water to produce coconut milk, and coconut cream, the higher solids milk which quickly rises to the surface after standing for a while. Alternatively, the meat is dried in ovens or on racks above slow burning fires where it is converted to copra, from which oil is extracted.

It usually takes 12 months for a nut to mature from pollination to harvest, with husk colour the best indicator of coconut maturity. Nuts harvested at the tenth month or colour-break stage are stored or seasoned for up to a couple of months to increase copra and oil yield.

Dehusking is a manual procedure employing a sharp-pointed shard of steel positioned vertically with the point up. The nut is impaled with a strong determined downward movement. A few strokes loosen the husk, making it come off (usually) in one piece. Impaling requires accuracy and nerve.

Car insurance in Samui will almost certainly not cover coconut damage, so it's wise to avoid parking in coconut shade. Even sitting beneath one of these fully loaded palms is foolhardy and potentially life threatening.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Baan Bophut's no children policy explained...

As we state clearly in our brochure and website "...we're unable accommodate small children, and to ensure the comfort of other guests, must discourage those with boisterous or noisy youngsters." Why, we've been asked by disappointed or argumentative parents, on dozens of occasions? Because, simply stated, our target market is for independent travelers who seek to escape and relax. And in our own pursuit of these ideals we have learned that children on holiday, with the availability of a swimming pool and caffinated, sugary drinks do not tend to make reliable contributors to our promise of providing a relaxing environment for our guests.

We've learned our lessons and even tightened up the the no-kids policy since being caught out number of times by the assurances of parents and misled by the appearance of shy, bookish pre-puberts that morphed into screeching little horrors as soon as they put a cossie on.

Baan Bophut is anyway, not a child friendly environment: the lower stairs don't have a bannister and the pool has no shallow end - it's a flattened 'V' shape, with steps either end. A particular hazard for running and tripping children are the coarse exposed aggregate floors in the corridors and reception which can inflict a nasty scrape to young knees. All normal kids have scabby knees. We don't object to children hurting themselves on the sand washed floors, its the resultant screams we and our guests find most disturbing.

Lucy's goddaughter Maisie and her
failed attempt to avoid the camera
Inevitably, there are a few exceptions, as when expat friends from the village socialise at BB with their children, but we don't hesitate to warn these kids if they become too loud and neither do their parents, who understand and respect the hotel's policy. Staff have occasionally brought their children to work when their circumstaces have made it necessary, but Thai children, at least the ones we know, seem content to occupy themselves quietly and without a hyperactive impulse to hurtle around the place.

I suppose the only other exception is when a wedding party takes over the entire hotel and we don't have to concern ourselves as much with guests' need for tranquility. Wedding parties are invariably noisy; only the drunks seem able to relax and everyone except our staff forgets there are children present.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A dismal, but dutiful update...

I hate lazy bloggers for their neglect and abandoned blogsites, but I feel I've almost become one myself. It's not that I'm short of inspiration, but (I excuse myself) I am missing some subject photos (of beach weddings at Baan Bophut and others) Above all, I've been lacking sufficient enthusiasm after a day's work, absence abroad on business or after traveling back, to marshall my diminishing creativity to sit down and write something. But here goes. Duty calls, with no particular subject in mind.

You want the good news first, yes? Olwen comes out of hospital today. She's been in UK for a short visit to coincide with Lucy's European trip, but left early from Dubai because I was going to be traveling so much during October. Anyway, she fell down the stairs in her brother's house fracturing her right wrist and calcaneus - the heel bone; the biggest in the foot, and normally requiring terrific force of impact to do it damage.

She had surgery to set her wrist yesterday and is to be discharged today with nothing more than a bandage to her foot, and instructions to bath it frequently in iced water to bring the swelling down. Olwen has been told that it's a stable fracture, but has yet to learn what future treatment is in store once the swelling reduces. Doesn't sound good to me.

Lack of mobility is going to be Olwen's biggest difficulty for the next few months and will complicate her November travel plans to Scotland, and my brother Simon's gite in France with Lucy and my siblings, as well as her scheduled return to Dubai in a month's time. And our flights booked to Samui in December. Bugger, bugger.

I'm still trying to understand how the World's economy has gone into meltdown so quickly. This of more than of casual interest to me. There remain the shares I was unable to pillage to build the hotel, locked-in to my private pension plan . Not much then, but I bet, a darn sight less now - I daren't look.

The US sub-prime crisis I can understand, but how have the stockmarkets in the Middle East been affected? And Japan - that's had no exposure at all to the scams the Americans have been up to?

And why, somebody PLEASE tell me, have banks been allowed to buy a bundle of toxic debt from another bank and show them in their own books, as an asset for crying out loud! I curse all 'special investment vehicles' and fat cat bankers. Defenestration (a great word! - look it up) is too good for the worst of them.

It's Lucy's birthday today, and from what she tells me it's been lunch with Jonny at Ocean's 11 in Ban Rak and a quiet evening organizing themselves for their flight tomorrow night to Dubai, on their way to UK. Actually, they arrive in Abu Dhabi, about an hour away, on the fast improving and well priced Etihad Airways. So, something for me to look forward to and about 36 hours to get my act together before their arrival on Saturday PM. Getting excited.
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