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Exclusive Interview: Artist, Creator and Innovator – meet John Underwood

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august 2009

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Meet John Underwood. The man behind some of the most iconic artworks in Australia and South East Asia. Regional reports on property, lifestyle, leisure and more. Plus new this issue: Living News - Extra!.

Tropical Living and Actor Smart Krissada help some of Bangkok’s most needy children.

A round up of the must visit property and lifestyle events around the world.

Insurance advice for condominium owners.

How is the next hottest destination Koh Kood shaping up?

Browse through a selection of homes for sale nationwide – featuring special reader offers. Your guide for property and leisure related services.

august 2009

contents living departments

Living Homes

Villa Grand Cru,

Chiang Mai

Soneva Kiri, Koh Kood


Chiang Mai

50 60 68

Nature’s Beauty

Cocooned Paradise

A Liberating Lanna Retreat

Living Style Living Essentials Living Interiors

77 80

It’s time to accessorise!

Through the keyhole of a private country residence

Living Leisure Elite Event Living Travel Living Pleasure Living Books

88 90 94 98

Warming up for Cannes

All aboard the Orient Express of the river Mix life and pleasure with a home in the highlands The great outdoors


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW STORY : Marie Moon IMAGES : Courtesy of Underwood Phuket PHOTOGRAPHY : Nakarin Banjerdjin

John Underwood A refreshing point of view

Sculpture Sentosa, Singapore

Rarely do I have the opportunity to interview anyone as inspiring or quirky as John Underwood. Artist, inventor, sculptor, designer, recycler, creator, innovator, story-teller, businessman, philosopher… there are so many facets to this Phuket-based artist, it’s hard to know where to begin.



ow-key and relaxed John fetches a coffee and sits as we begin chatting at his new Phuket factory.

Growing up in country Australia, the son of a sheep farmer, John says he just fell into art: “You just do it. I’ve always drawn and enjoyed it and everything else seemed boring, a task.” If you’ve ever known an Australian country boy, you’ll know they are a resourceful bunch. The landscape simply demands ingenuity and invention. Really, these guys are Crocodile Dundee and MacGyver rolled into one; there’s no machine or engine that can’t be restored with tin wire and rubber bands; no such thing as an impossible problem. What John does is combine the common sense mechanical skill with a unique artistic sensibility to turn abstract visions to three-dimensional artworks. Ceiling fans, chandeliers, decorative lights, fire torches, entry gates, mirrors, bathroom fittings, mosaics, sculptures, John says there is a strong element of industrial design in everything he does. “There’s more to it than just looking good. You have to use the right materials and think about the functionality of it. I’m not an interior designer. I’m the guy who makes the items that designers use. I’ve just been lucky that I’ve been able to make it a living.”


Indigo Pearl Resort, Phuket



Four Seasons Resort Lungkawi, Malaysia


Indigo Pearl Resort, Phuket


Underwood Desigh Studio and factory Phuket

Hotel De La Paix, Cambodia

Four Seasons Resort Lungkawi, Malaysia

Making a Living What John modestly describes as “a living” includes

Trash or Treasure? Recycling underlines a lot of John’s work.

producing some of the most iconic artworks in Australia

“I think of the old adage ‘you can’t make a silk

and South East Asia, like the magnificent stainless steel

purse from a sow’s ear.’ I find people tend to take

whale and dolphins jumping out of the pools below

a lovely piece of expensive material and build

Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers, or the complex

something that’s not that good. I like the reverse.

mosaics at Brisbane and Melbourne airports, or the

I like to take the sow’s ear and turn it into

innovative artworks at Indigo Pearl Resort, Phuket.

something that people see as a silk purse.”

Myself, being married to a struggling artist, I have to

To illustrate he turns to the large wall bordering

ask “How do you do it? How do you make a living from

his factory; a series of rusted sheets of corrugated

art?” To my disappointment John tells me not to expect

tin metal placed in a simple lattice formation. “It’s

too much; he’s had some very lean times. “Especially

a wall that’s completely worthless. It has no value,

after the crash of 1997 I can remember sitting with my

but it’s interesting enough that more people

wife and two children with just THB 400 and trying to

come in here because of the wall than anything

decide how to spend it.”

else we do.

Darn! No new car just yet I joke. To this John sighs

“I look for plentiful things that no one really

a little and the philosopher in him speaks out, “The

wants and then try and work out how to make

trouble as I see it is that our perception of success, of

them into something interesting. For example

enjoyment, of beauty is all wrong – we’re taught the

TV tubes - you can cut the front panel out and it

wrong things, the idea that we really need a big house,

makes a glass block. There are millions of them out

new cars, plasma screen TVs and other possessions and

there so what can you do? Can you make walls

if you don’t achieve these you feel like you’ve missed

out of it, roofing tiles, furniture?”

out, you’re unworthy.” One of the best examples is at the Indigo Pearl To my relief he admits he hasn’t always had such

Resort Phuket where John worked with his friend

strong values. “I’d say that back in the 80s I was after

Bill Bensley. “We did a wall using recycled car

the big buck, but to me you’d have to be pretty out

tyres. It’s so simple but it looks great and became

of touch with what’s going on to not worry about

much more successful than if it had been made

the environment.”

out of marble or some other expensive material.”



Four Seasons Chiang Rai - Tented Camp

Most enjoyable project?

Indigo Pearl Resort, Phuket

Four Seasons Chiang Rai - Tented Camp

Q& A “Indigo Pearl was different in that what I’ve always been interested in really fitted the project. Recycling found objects, mining, rusted metal, car tyres it was very easy for me to slot in and I was lucky that they gave me a lot of input into the design and elements of furniture.”

Most Challenging project? “The Four Seasons Tented Camp in the jungle at the Golden Triangle. Fifteen luxury tents at a very remote location and that fact that the footprint is very small, you have to do the least you can to change anything that’s natural. To me that’s very challenging and interesting.”

Key differences between designing in Thailand and Australia? “I haven’t worked in Australia for 18 years. Honestly I think that the opportunities for me here are much greater than if I was in Australia.”


24 Four Seasons Chiang Rai - Tented Camp

Indigo Pearl

Four Seasons Chiang Rai - Tented Camp

Four Seasons Resort Lungkawi, Malaysia

Underwood Desigh Studio and factory Phuket

Indigo Pearl

Four Seasons Resort Lungkawi, Malaysia

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai

Indigo Pearl Resort, Phuket

Brisbane World Expo 88

John’s relationship with the well-known architect/landscape architect began 10 years ago and includes 20 amazing projects completed with a few more on the go. “The key to success in my industry is to find a designer that you can work well with and then you’ve got to give them exactly what makes them look good. I’m that guy for some designers.”

Objects Full of Potential A stroll around John’s Phuket factory reveals multiple surprises for instance a wall installation of ten cheap carved wooden masks. John fitted them to the wall in a triangular formation, stuck a spoon in each mouth and then placed a glass egg on each spoon. “Individually the masks are quite ugly but now, it’s quirky and interesting and a piece of art.” At this point he stands up to retrieve a bag of coloured beads. To me they are pretty, shiny, colourful but to John they are found objects full of potential. “I’m big enough that I don’t mind people knowing I love beads!” he jokes. These beads may be used in any one of his current projects; a private residence for the designer of Ferrari’s Formula 1 and his wife Pornthip Noppakoon Byrne; new works at Trisara; The Malaysian King’s Palace, but probably not in the Nicky Handlebar hotel project he’s working on in Patong. Designed around Harley Davidson motorbikes it is themed after graphic novels like Sin City and 300, tattoos and the grind-house film genre. Close to completion it will be the place to be during Phuket Bike Week. Of all his skills perhaps John’s greatest talent is his ability to find the whimsical beauty in all things treasured or trashed. What a refreshing point of view.

What do you think about… Thai villa art? “I’ve always fancied an eclectic style using beads, glass and metal. I think that’s really great in an island environment. When I first started in Thai resorts, it was more like a museum than something you’d like to live in. In the last 10 years that’s really come down. Now things like simple wooden dishes placed on the wall can become art. Before it was more refined and I think they took it a little too seriously for a holiday resort.”

Copycats? To be honest I would prefer if there wasn’t copyright. To me all it does is restrict. Inventors, artists, they don’t care about copyright. If you are an inventor you’re not going to stop work just because you don’t have the rights on it. It’s only the next business step that binds everything up. It’s probably an unpopular point of view but if people want to copy me, copy me. If they can do it better than me great, I’ll keep doing something else. I want to keep doing the next thing and the next thing.”



STORY : Voralak Suwanvanichkij Images : Courtesy of Six Senses Resorts and Spas

Koh Kood

Once known mostly to backpackers, Koh Kood is increasingly attracting upscale developments and well-heeled travellers. With government efforts to promote it as a luxury tourism destination, the island is transforming. So, how is the market taking shape?


Untouched Island Koh Kood, one of the larger islands in the Koh Chang Marine National Park, lies on the maritime border with Cambodia. With a pristine coastline and densely verdant interior, the 129 sq km island has eluded large-scale development, a stark contrast to the fate of other islands, such as Koh Samui and Koh Chang, in the Gulf of Thailand. Traditional villages, with a total of about 2,000 residents, thrive on Koh Kood. Livelihoods include coconut cultivation, rubber tapping, and fishing. Currently, access is only by boat from the mainland of Trat province or nearby islands. Also, with limited infrastructure, there is little to do on Koh Kood except enjoy the natural surroundings. Indeed, the best things about the island are the things it lacks: roads, crowds, and noise. But is this

destination. “The strategy is to utilise unused land for development in an environmentally friendly manner,” and any development “should help raise living conditions of local residents and support local economic growth.” Fears that development will go unchecked are not unreasonable. Five years ago, similar guidelines were rolled out for neighbouring Koh Chang – then a quiet island known mainly to backpackers and local weekend trippers. Despite having National Park status, Koh Chang has since experienced rampant development, becoming the kingdom’s fastest-growing resort destination. As mid to high-end hotels cropped up alongside more basic beach bungalows, the

set to change?

subsequent surge in tourism resulted in garbage,

Development Plans

system destruction, including the death of marine

The Treasury Department owns most of the land, with some parts of the island under the jurisdiction of the Royal Thai Navy. In early 2008, the department drafted development plans for Koh Kood, stating intent to reclaim some of the navy-controlled properties for the construction of a commercial airport, waste management facility, ports, and water and electricity plants.


The plans also specify that Koh Kood will be slated as an “exclusive zone” or upmarket tourist

wastewater, and water supply problems. Ecolife and corals, has been reported and clean-up efforts are underway. For Koh Kood, it is unclear whether the Cabinet has approved the Treasury Department’s plans. Commenting on progress so far, boutique resort developer Anthony McDonald, CEO of X2 Resorts, says: “We haven’t really seen much. There has been no further indication of a public airfield on

the island.” Also, he says that in general, water,

the high-end development offers travellers

roads and electricity supplies are currently

villas that start at USD 1,000 per night. Private

inadequate to support the handful of existing

homes range from USD 4.5 to 7.5 million,

resorts on the island.

demonstrating the appeal and price premium of an untouched island.

Anthony adds: “The ‘build-up’ of infrastructure is a huge task that will take time.

To facilitate transportation, Six Senses has

My concern is that there doesn’t seem to be

constructed a private airstrip on Koh Mai

a concrete road map of development with

Si, a small nearby island, cutting travel time

a clear timeframe. This might exist within the

from Bangkok to less than one hour (current

government but it has not been shared with

arrangement from Bangkok include a 1-hour

hoteliers on the island.”

flight to Trat and a 2-hour boat trip out to the

Slowly Transforming Nevertheless, in keeping with the

island). The firm has also had to build their own roads. Adam Taugwalder, director of sales and

government’s “exclusive zone” designation,

marketing for Six Senses Private Residences,

new market entrants include luxury property

comments: “In terms of ecology, we’re

developers such as Six Senses Resorts and Spa

doing a lot of work here to ensure we are not

Group, The Central Group, and X2 Resorts.

changing the eco-system [such as] not using plastic bottles, not importing water, planting

Six Senses, “acclaimed global pioneers

our own organic fruit and vegetables,

in creating luxury eco-resorts,” is putting the

sourcing supplies from locals to help the

finishing touches on its 500-rai Soneva Kiri resort

community and eliminate transport, and not

and private residences. Set to open this fall,

destroying large areas of jungle.”


Also, an on-site Eco Centre serves as an integrated waste management site, converting

“so as far as I have experienced, there seems a level of control on development.”

waste generated by the resort operations into reusable energy and water sources, as well as into compost and fertiliser.

However, in the big picture, “lack of a clear master plan makes the job of Or Bor Tor difficult. Luckily, developers on the island to date have had

X2 Resorts is also constructing luxury villas,

a nature-preserving attitude so that between the

scheduled to open in 2010, on a plot adjacent

government and the developers, projects have

to their existing Away Resort, comprised of

eventually moved forward in an eco-friendly way.”

mid-range bungalows. Anthony says: “We are

He muses: “The government surely has learned from

fortunate [to be] right

disastrous developments on

on the main road that

Koh Samui and Koh Chang

goes across the island

that a new approach

so the main challenge is

is needed.”

electricity; it’s unstable.” Also, while it is difficult

Also, “the lack of a regular ferry service

to predict how the global

for transfer of goods,

economic slowdown as

vehicles, guests and staff

well as persistent political

is a big problem. While it

problems in Thailand will

has improved recently, it

affect market growth, it

is not adequate for true

is clear that Koh Kood’s

commercial use

limited infrastructure

year-round,” he says.

Future Outlook

is keeping major development at bay. Anthony concludes: “I am happy to have things as they are for the sake of the natural beauty of the island, one of the last remaining jewels of Thailand.”

Anthony explains that there are clear building regulations on the island. The local government offices (Or Bor Tor) are strict in enforcement


Discover more about Sovena Kiri in our Property Profile section.

PROPERTY PROFILE STORY : Voralak Suwanvanichkij IMAGES : Courtesy of Six Senses Resorts & Spas



Cocooned Paradise Soneva Kiri offers a uniquely luxurious experience, underpinned by heightened social and eco-consciousness, on one of Thailand’s most unspoilt islands.


Pristine Setting With sheltered coves fringed with fine white

Naturally Opulent While such painstaking planning would have deterred

sand and a dense jungle-covered interior, it is easy

others, Six Senses is committed to operating the greenest

to see how Koh Kood initially captivated Sonu

developments in the world. And what makes the project

Shivdasani, founder and CEO of the Six Senses

truly unique is what it does not have: crowds, beach

Resort and Spa Group. While visiting Thailand’s

vendors, nightlife, and shopping centres. Also, “you

fourth largest island five years ago, Sonu envisioned

will not find marble or gold taps,” Adams says, adding

the pristine setting as the next location for his most

“Here, we foster a ‘No News, No Shoes’ environment.

upscale Soneva brand of resorts and residences.

There is no pretence. Super-luxurious living means having what really matters, such as space, privacy, exceptional

“Sonu’s vision is to create new destinations,

service, fantastic food, and peace of mind.”

and it took two years to select the perfect 500 rai site on Koh Kood,” says Adam Taugwalder,

To fully appreciate Soneva’s offering, Adam

director of sales and marketing for Six Senses

elaborates “The experience begins at Suvarnabhumi

Private Residences. Also, given Koh Kood’s lack

Airport. Two representatives meet guests upon arrival

of infrastructure and relative distance from the

and escort them to the Thai Airways first-class lounge.

mainland, Adam explains “It was a slow process.

While guests refresh, staff will clear customs. Guests are

We had to build our own road, and use barges

then welcomed aboard a private eight seater Cessna

to haul wood to the site.” Great care has also

Grand Caravan. After an hour flight, they land on a

been taken to preserve the natural environment;

small island with a private airstrip that we built, and are

“from afar, all you can see are the tented rooftops

greeted by personal butlers. They then take a quick ride

amidst clusters of trees.”

on a wooden Riva speedboat to Koh Kood.”

Scheduled to open this October, Soneva Kiri joins

length of the compound. An adjacent tree house,

two sister resorts in the Maldives, as well as numerous Six

replete with private deck and pool slide, serves as

Senses and Evason resorts and spas around the globe.

a children’s room. With leather and wood finishes,

Island Living

spacious master bathrooms include outdoor and indoor bathing areas. The rest of the home contains a lounge, dining area, gym, steam room

In addition to 42 resort villas, Soneva Kiri offers 21

and sauna, spa pavilion, sunbathing decks,

residences, including three Beach Villas, three Cliff

open kitchen, wine cellar, and quarters for a

Villas, and 15 Hill Villas. All homes include four bedrooms

live-in butler.

(with the exception of one six-bedroom Beach Villa) of 1,200 sq m to 1,600 sq m in interior and exterior living

Eva Shivdasani, Sonu’s wife and the group’s

space. Occupying 3,900 sq m (2.4 rai) to 6,200 sq m

creative director, designed the fully furnished

(3.9 rai) plots of land, homes are priced from

interiors. True to the Soneva spirit, homes exude

USD 4.5 to 7.5 million.

an air of rustic sophistication. Bose sound and entertainment systems are hidden in stacked

Each secluded unit is comprised of a cluster of wooden structures connected by walkways. Seamlessly blending and opening into its natural environment, Beach Villas front the white sands and azure waters,

leather trunks and furniture has been crafted from natural, ecologically sustainable materials.

Green Vision

while Hill and Cliff Villas afford views of both the ocean and tropical underbrush.

Other eco-initiatives include recycling wastewater for use in the gardens and

Master bedrooms are exquisitely well-considered, opening onto an infinity edged pool that spans the

landscaping, turning solid waste into compost and fertilizer, use of electric carts, bio-fuel



manufacturing from garden waste and used cooking

of discounts on services at The Spa Village. Floating

oil, and treatment of rain and bore water into

above mangroves, the spa is the largest in the

drinking water.

Six Senses group.

Also, to showcase the viability of green living,

Serving as a kids’ club, The Den is a bamboo

an Eco Villa has been constructed as the “world’s

structure with a curvaceous roof shaped like a manta

first zero-carbon hotel suite,” says Adam. Here, a

ray. “It’s very creative, with activities such as pottery,

plant-studded roof keeps inside temperatures down,

painting, astronomy, and cooking,” says Adam.

furniture is built from driftwood, natural processes are

Adding to the element of fun, a drawbridge door

employed to clean the pool, and solar energy powers

is controlled by a secret code and adults have

pumps and air conditioning.

to be accompanied by children.

Soneva also demonstrates a commitment to its

Other activities include watching classic films at

staff. A Host Village houses all 350 employees. In

Cinema Paradiso, an open-air theatre situated by

addition to accommodations, the village provides a

the resort’s two reservoirs; star-gazing at the

canteen, library, internet café, swimming pool, gym

observatory; participating in various water sports;

and other sporting facilities “so that everyone feels

and going on waterfall and jungle treks. Also, “we

very comfortable.”

will offer chartered trips to Angkor Wat, which is just

Like No Other

an hour away,” Adam says. Ownership privileges also cover six return flights

Villa owners enjoy unfettered access, with a

(each accommodating up to eight persons) every

20% discount, to all the resort’s amenities, including

year, exclusive use of a speedboat, and special rates

restaurants and bars, beach barbeque, private chef

at all Six Senses and Soneva resorts around the world.

services, and ice cream parlour offering 60 different

Additionally, the company offers an optional rental

flavours. Additionally, residents may partake in pod

programme with an expected 6% yield per annum.

dining, where dinner is served on an extraordinary podshaped structure hoisted into the treetops.

Adam stresses: “We don’t encourage property investors; rather, we hope to attract buyers who

The extensive dining choices feature locally grown and organic food. Adam says “We either grow our own

truly believe in the product and will enjoy it for themselves.”

produce or form partnerships with local farmers on Koh Kood. Food is fresher and the carbon footprint from its

For more information visit

transport is limited.” Owners can also take advantage


PROPERTY PROFILE STORY : Robert Kimmins PHOTOGRAPHY : Supachai Vongbunyong



Nature’s Beauty All you can hear are chirping birds, the rustle of leaves in a cool mountain breeze, and the muffled roar of a nearby waterfall. While you laze on the terrace and stare up from the house at the jungle that stretches to a mountainous peak, it’s hard to believe that Chiang Mai City is less than 10 minutes walk away.

A Short Step from Town Villa Grand Cru is a secluded chalet-styled dwelling, encircled by tropical gardens and natural beauty beyond them. Looking west, this area is dwarfed by the forest-clad slopes of Doi Suthep Mountain. But less than a mile to the south, narrow lanes meet with Chiang Mai’s busiest thoroughfares, with their shopping malls, markets and university. Ancient temples, entertainment, a bevy of restaurants and the airport are all within half an hour’s drive. The original house was built on this site approximately 22 years ago, and in 2005, Ronald and Josephina Elfring moved in from Holland and made renovations: “We dug our own well and installed an electric pumping system,” Ronald informed me. “After building a garage, we put new bathrooms and kitchens into the house. The garden landscape is our own idea, not to mention the style of the swimming pool area, and in all, the project took 10 months to complete.” A tall bamboo hedge – neatly trimmed - separates road from garden, and once through the gate, a fine alabaster wall looms high. At the flick of a switch, water cascades down its translucent surface; either side of a tiled-roofed doorway. And hidden behind it, a swimming pool measuring 12 x 6 metres is equipped with a weather-guard, to keep the water clean and warm. Turn left at the wall, and amble along a lantern lined drive to a twin lock up garage. Then stroll on the terrace that follows a carp-filled stream with rock falls to the rear of the house. From there, a raised patio with remote controlled sun canopy looks out eastward to a stepping stone path leading down to the pool; sloping lawns, and a vast variety of trees – palm, fig, lemon, coconut, maple and others.


Dutch Meets Dharma “We love Asian art,” said Ronald, “and when travelling Thailand’s neighbouring countries we like to bring back souvenirs.” This is evident the moment you enter the grounds at Villa Grand Cru. Marble figures and statues punctuate the garden’s natural setting and the poolside shower is mounted on a sandstone carving of the Elephant Buddha – a symbol of strength of mind in Buddhism and noble gentleness. Inside the house, there are many eastern religious artifacts, Chinese cabinets, Thai Lanna murals, Oriental woodcarvings and a splendid Burmese tapestry, and from Vietnam, an eggshell screen in contemporary design. When entering the living area, through sliding doors from the raised patio, the L-shaped lounge is huge. Soft furnishings surround the television, which has satellite links, and the octagonal dining table – made of bamboo – has eight matching chairs and a sideboard. A large office desk is made from the same material, and telephone lines and the Internet are laid on. Parquet floor to ceiling windows with sliding doors are abundant throughout the house. All walls are beautifully decorated and the lighting technique makes full use of soft lanterns, spots and dimmers. The large master suite lies off the lounge and can be used as a guestroom or utility area, and from its private terrace, there’s a glimpse of the pool through the trees. Like all three bathrooms in the main building, this room’s facilities are tiled in pink marble, with bowl-shaped porcelain basin, and for chilly mornings, heaters are housed in the lighting system. While a lot of what’s been described so far is of eastern design, the kitchen is definitely western. The perimeter is fully equipped with mod cons and plenty of work space, and a marble-topped cooking island takes centre stage. The washroom has a whirlpool machine, and out on an adjoining patio, diners can sit at a large granite table and gaze at the jungle or the fish in the pond.


Time to Move on? Timber stairs and wrought iron banisters with wooden handrail join lounge to first floor landing, which leads off to a hallway and into the master bedroom that has fitted wardrobes, a king-sized bed and thin bamboo curtains covering the windows overlooking the pool. Down the hall, the second bedroom has sliding doors that open onto a terrace, which provides a spectacular view of the mountain. Up on the third floor, the attic bedroom has plenty of space for a king-sized bed, and a triangular window looks out at the forest. No matter where you stand on this property, you never lose sight of nature’s beauty. And even when the trees and hillsides have faded into the night, floodlights pick out every detail of Villa Grand Cru, and its trees in the garden, with romantically haunting illumination. This prestigious building, also including self-contained servant quarters and built-in guesthouse, with ensuite bathrooms and Thai-style kitchen, covers 465 sq m on one rai of land. This plus all contents such as furniture, electrical equipment, art collection, etc, have been placed on the market at the asking price of THB 30 million. Having put so much work into Villa Grand Cru and developed such a beautiful home, the obvious question is why do Ronald and Josephina want to sell? It would seem that its mission accomplished for them and we leave the last words with Ronald. “We love Chiang Mai. The climate is good and the people are more than nice. We have done what we set out to do here, and right now we’re happy to live with our achievement. We’re in no hurry to sell. However, our children are grown up and living in Europe, and so Josephina and I are always looking for new challenges. If someone wants to buy our house, it points us in a new direction, and that would be time to move on somewhere and start a new project.” For more information visit


LIVING INTERIORS STORY : Rachel Williams PHOTOGRAPHY : Nakarin Banjerdjin

A Country Life UK native Melanie Habanananda has exclusively opened the doors to her private country home for the pleasure and inspiration of Tropical Living readers. Along with husband Tanit, Melanie embarked on a restoration and interior design project in Chiang Mai and produced these stunning results.


LEFT: View of the house over the lily pond. House on the left – bedroom, two central houses - sitting room, house on the right - kitchen. THIS PAGE: Sitting room. 18 th century Chinese caligraphy, Chinese altar table and chair from Oriental Spirit, Chiang Mai. 19th century blue/ white porcelain and early 18th century Chinese ‘Kang’ coffee tablebought at River City, Bangkok. Lamps, Chiang Mai water jars, shades, rice winnowing baskets, storm lamps (on Kang table) from Index, Chiang Mai. Cream sofas from Peter’s furniture, Bangkok. Carved window brackets, from wood carving shop Chiang Mai. Side ‘butlers’ table, Jim Thompson, Bangkok.

Melanie gudies us through her home: “The house was originally four rice barns and our local village builders built it to our design. We didn’t have any plans. It was a bit of trial and error! We were very lucky to have a good friend living nearby who loves Thai style houses and was happy to help. We decorated the interior ourselves with the help of a close friend who has a wonderful ‘eye’. We didn’t use an interior decorator. We love decorating ourselves. “Our inspirations include traditional Thai houses with Lampang style roofs to fit in with the Northern Thai environment. The beauty of old Chinese furniture because of its simplicity and pure lines and also contrasts - simple rustic style rooms using local materials with sophisticated furniture and modern comforts. Old Thai houses aren’t the easiest of places to live in so we had to adapt the house to make it more comfortable. To date we have only put air conditioning in the dressing room next to our bedroom. Apart from the months of April and May the nights are quite comfortable LEFT: Bedroom window view Rattan chairs from Elephant House, Bangkok. 19 th century Chinese stool, Under the Bho, Chiang Mai. Silk cushion cover – Mel made herself. ABOVE: Evening drinks platform Designed by Mel and Tanit and built by local builders.

for sleeping and in the winter it’s often very chilly. We also thought that a modern television set would be completely out of keeping with the house so we have a system where a projector is suspended from a roof beam and we use an extending screen that can be easily stored when not in use.”


1 3 1. 18 th century red lacquer Chinese cabinet, Oriental Spirit. 2. Lamps made in the village by local crafstmen. 3. Bedroom doorway. 18 th century Chinese wooden carved doors, Sinophile, River City, Bangkok.


THIS PAGE: Bedroom. Bamboo bed, made in the village by local craftsmen. Red silk blanket, Tim Thompson, Bangkok. Tribal Carpet, Arditti, Christchurch, UK 18 th century Chinese wooden carved doors from Sinophile, River City, Bangkok. 19 th century table, calligraphy and 18 th century scroll table - Oriental Spirit, Chiang Mai. Cream bedspread - fabric from Woraroj Market, Chiang Mai. Bed canopy – Mel made herself using old Chinese embroidery found in Chatuchak weekend market, Bangkok. If you would like your home featured please e-mail


LIVING TRAVEL STORY : Liz Smailes IMAGES : Courtesy of Manohra Song Cruise

A Timeless Treasure If Asia has found a special place in your heart, there is no better way to foster that union than on board an intimate floating, luxury hotel from Bangkok to Ayutthaya round trip. Merrily meandering along the Chao Phraya River aboard the Manohra Song, this special cruise covers the Thailand of yesterday, today and tomorrow.


o brake lights. No honking horns. Just a lavender, sky and the clinking of glasses as we moored for the night at Wat Bang Na. Since leaving the Manohra pier at 10am

located at Bangkok Marriott Resort and Spa we had visited some of the most important historical and modern cites along Thailand’s River of Kings. Tomorrow we were bound for Ayutthaya where 33 Kings of various Siamese dynasties carried out their administration and lived until the invasion of Burmese troops in 1767. But that would be tomorrow for now it was time to kick back, reminisce on the marvels of the day, soak in the luxury on board this lavishly converted rice barge and relax.

A knock on the door at 8am told us it was time to meet the monks who had watched over us that night. It was my first experience of merit making with monks, and the current Abbot made us feel extremely welcome and prayed for our safe and healthy onward journey. During a quick visit to the neighbouring shrine and temple, under suspicious eyes of my boyfriend I was able to shake the sticks asking Buddha of my fate - number 11 was my calling; “Existing mate a good match. Present conditions extremely favourable.” Relieved no-one was in danger of being thrown overboard and the trip was in good hands, we embarked on phase two of the journey starting with a continental breakfast of fresh croissants, fruit and ham and eggs cooked to order. Nothing had escaped the crew’s meticulous attention to detail - even the daily newspaper was there.


The landscape seen by boat or by car from Bangkok

Ayutthaya became a Siamese capital, the temple shows

to Ayutthaya can not be described as particularly

traits of early 14th century Khmer architecture and today

breathtaking. However, the river route is much more

still houses a 19 metre high sitting Buddha image named

picturesque with peaceful green fields, farms and villages

after Sam Po, a Chinese explorer who visited Ayutthaya in

with water buffaloes wandering around on both sides of

1407. As we walked around the temple, Buddhists pilgrims

the river bank. For those interested in riverside living, the

paid for lengths of saffron-coloured cloth to be ritually

variety of rural houses, magnificent architecture, styles of

draped over the image’s shoulder.

gardening and land development to be observed was an unexpected surprise for me - and also a distraction from the game of chess I had been challenged to.

Once a magnificent city until a Burmese invasion left everything in ruins over a dispute about a rare white elephant, historic temples are scattered throughout the

Five relaxing hours after our morning departure we

streets and along the encircling rivers. It’s impossible to visit

arrived in Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

them all in day without feeling “wated-out” so its worth

With a broad smile and enthusiastic wave, guide Khun

doing a little homework beforehand and requesting a

Patty greeted us on dry land at Wat Pananchoeng and

specific temple to your guide if there is something you

whisked us off into imperial eras centuries ago. Built before

definitely want to see. Khun Patty led us to Wat Phra Si


Sanphet where major influences are still detectable today. It used to be the largest temple in its time and was used as the royal palace for several Ayutthaya kings, as well as a 16 metre high standing Buddha covered with 250 kg of gold until the Burmese conquerors melted it down. Now famous for its three large Chedi (stupas), our guide told us the tales behind each monarch and identified signs of French and Dutch influences in the architecture. After a brief jaunt on an elephant among the ruins, we were driven 20 km south through arable farmland. Here, workers earn a minimum wage of THB 200 per day at a cereal factory supplying many of unskilled labourers with an income. The hot day and dusty yet enchanting parks and ruins meant our welcome drinks and cold wet towelettes on board provided immediate refreshment. That night we moored beside a monastery which we would explore in the morning on the outer island, south of the Royal Palace. Built under the influence of King Chulalongkorn (1868 - 1910) it is a curious and harmonious mix of western and eastern religious influences. Young novice monks played along the river banks, water hyacinths encircled the boat and it was time for a delicious cocktails, a Thai meal and bottle of wine!

Manohra Song The Manohra Song, dubbed ‘The Orient Express of the River’, is a 20 metre rice barge that has been carefully restored and lavishly converted into an ultra-deluxe river cruiser. Built upon the original 100 years old solid teak hull, Manohra Song has been designed for up to four couples to explore Thailand’s famous Chao Phraya River in style and comfort. The vessel features four air-conditioned staterooms with queen size beds, ensuite bathrooms, an expansive lounge and dining area with a full bar and a separate sundeck. Private crew quarters and the kitchen are located in the aft section. The creative design for Manohra Song was conceptualised by interior designer Kathleen Heinecke who used warm teak, padua and mahogany woods throughout the vessel. Custom made furniture covered with colourful Thai silks and cottons, oriental rugs, Thai and Southeast Asian art, sculpture and artifacts complete the distinctive design.


Bang Pa-In used to be King Chulalongkorn’s Summer Palace and is frequented under the current monarch by Queen Sirikit on her business trips to the region. Open to the public as a palace museum, it demonstrates great, traditional palace architecture and the development over the monarchies with Asian and European influences. Thanks to our guide, we enjoyed the treasures kept in the palace and learnt of the legends and anecdotes about the imperial family and the court as we toured the grounds complete with beautiful pavilions, miniature lakes, bridges and rock formations. With a brief stop at Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Craft Centre we said goodbye to our tour guides and rejoined the boat for the final cruise back to Bangkok. Lunch and afternoon tea on board provided refreshments to dwell on as our magical tour came to an end. Life is but a dream on board the Manohra Song; mention Our final day of the tour included two cites I

Bangkok and the majority of replies will moan and

doubt I would have visited of my own accord if

groan about the traffic, but mention Thailand and

they had not been included in the itinerary, purely

eyes begin to sparkle at the thoughts of food, history,

because they were either unknown to me or I had

hospitality, climate and culture. A three days/ two nights

mistakenly not considered them worthy of a full

journey with the Manohra Song encompasses all of

day excursion outside Bangkok. After a tour of the

this with an unmatched excellence. The guest book is

monastery we took a short ride on a charming cable

full of testimonials and as one Swedish guest had aptly

car operated by the monks to cross the river to the

expressed, “We will cherish the memories because words

Summer Palace.

can’t adequately fit the experience.”

A number of accessories were sourced from artisans working along the rivers and klongs (canals) of Thailand, as well as in more remote and rural areas. “Some of these crafts are quite sophisticated and fine, while others are folk items or things that have been used by the Thai people for generations,” Kathleen explains. “We also wanted to reflect and recreate in a small way, some of the many early European influences that were embraced and encouraged by King Rama V. Many of these resulted in a good marriage of the styles of the time, both Thai and foreign, mixing local carving expertise with sumptuous fabrics,” she added. Thai master craftsmen were also employed on the construction of the boat itself. Most of the work was carried out in the same manner as it has been for centuries – using mostly a sharp eye and patience with simple tools in very experienced hands – skills that have been passed from father to son.

PRICE Three day trip including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner: THB 59,000 net per couple per room from April 1st – September 30th. All other periods THB 69,000 net per couple per room For all enquiries and bookings contact Tel: +66(0)2 477 0770 E-mail: or visit


LIVING PLEASURE STORY : Robert Kimmins IMAGES : Courtesy of Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort

A Home in the Highlands How would you like to live in the luxury of space and comfort, with floor to ceiling windows displaying the beauty of a golf course – its bright green fairways, yellow sand traps and sea blue water hazards rolling towards the nearby mountainside? In the cool mountain air, take breakfast in the garden sala, and at your leisure step out to the playing area, a few yards from your table.



t’s an uphill drive heading east out

picturesque lake to the right. Aim too

of Chiang Mai on Highway 1317.

far left and you’ll catch the sand.

The open road undulates along the Mae-On Valley before climbing the

There are 10 par fours, four par

foothills of the Himalayan Mountains to

fives and four par threes on this 7,049-

Tambon On-Nuar and the Chiangmai

yard golf course and, at first glance,

Highlands Golf & Spa Resort. If the

all of them look a daunting prospect.

journey through lush green paddies

However, care in accuracy and club

surrounded by shadowy peaks is

selection allows the golfer every

beautiful, then the panoramic views

chance to play to handicap. The par

from the Highlands Golf Course

four eighth is a fine example, where

are stunning.

the drive is faced by wave after wave of deep bunkers. Play well to the

Lee Schmidt of the Schmidt-Curley Designer Company is no stranger

right, however, and there’s adequate fairway to land on.

par five 18th was chosen as the

to outstanding golf courses; he has designed a number of them, including

13th and 17th tees. However, the

Beyond the beautifully manicured

Muang Kaew Golf Club in Bangkok,

setting of Highland’s Golf Course,

Chonburi’s Amata Springs, and Mission

the surrounding scenery calms the

signature hole. From back tee to green, this hole

Hills in China. His latest creation,

nerves, quells frustration and creates

measures 558 yards, but a well hit

Highlands, opened in December 2005

tranquility, and the best views of the

drive – left side - enables the chance

and has since been awarded Third

entire valley can be taken in from the

of making the distance in two shots.

Best New Course in Asia by readers of Asia Golf Monthly. After absorbing the gifts of nature – wispy mists in forested mountains, babbling brooks and waterfalls – it’s time to get down to business on this challenging championship golf course. There are plenty of warming up facilities such as practise greens for pitching and putting and a 300-yard driving range. Regardless of handicap, every golfer playing the Highlands should ensure that there’s a wedge in their bag, and maybe flippers and snorkel too, as the course has more sand and water than Patong Beach in Phuket. Lakes and streams come into play on 10 of the 18 holes, and deep bunkers smother the course.

Let Play Commence A round starts off with a fairly straightforward par four; downhill and doglegged, with fairway traps guarding both sides of the landing area. On approaching the pin, bunkers are placed left and right of a two-tiered green. Water waits at the par three second. A stream flowing in front of the green runs into a


Whether to go for it depends on belief

overnight stay or longer, nine five-star

Phukhar’s sister house, Thab Tara,

in clearing the Mae-On stream, and if

rooms are available. They provide air

is priced at THB 6.4 million.

successful, bunkers sit to the left of the

condition, bath tub, open air shower

landing area and all round the green.

and scenic views. Luxury transport is also provided to and from town.

Once the round is over, head for the clubhouse, which is fully equipped with

Staying on Course

pro shop and an outdoor restaurant located on a raised terrace. For an

In the two-storey bracket, houses range in size from 272 to 382 sq m. Each one is unique in so far that three bedrooms are annexed away from the general living quarters. Thab Chantra

One can’t be blamed for wanting

and Thab Nakara are priced at THB 7.4

to live at Chiangmai Highlands Golf &

and THB 7.6 million, respectively. Thab

Spa Resort, and today you have the

Dheva at THB 8.4 million has a fourth

chance. Three hundred and fifty plots

bedroom housed in the main building

of land have been designated for a

and the two structures in this design are

gated community and constructions

joined by an upstairs terrace.

around the first nine holes have already been completed. Made

But these are only the basic designs.

to contemporary Lanna style, five

The system at Highlands is to purchase

types of dwellings are being carefully

the land before moulding the home

located to provide the best possible

to fit personal taste and requirements.

views of the golf course, clubhouse

Sales and marketing manager, Aree

and mountains.

Kuangwaen, said that apart from Thais; Americans, Europeans and Japanese

The housing project has “adopted

are buying. They often modify the

the gracefulness and beauty of Lanna

building construction, interior design

lifestyle, with the emphasis on free

and sometimes purchase two plots of

flow of space and functionality (in a

land to add a swimming pool, sala

household setting).” All constructions

and patio.

are built on 150 sq wa of land, with covered car parking space for two

Time is unaffordable, so why spend it

vehicles in front, and a garden sala

travelling to and from golf. If you live in a

out back. The range of styles starts

house right by the course or simply use it

with Thab Phukhar at THB 6.2 million

for holidays, there is no need for hotels,

including the land.

luggage and transportation. And when it comes to playing a round or few holes

This single-story house covers 222

whenever you feel like it, there are few

sq m and has two bedrooms; each

better places to achieve that freedom

with bathroom ensuite, and a third

than the Chiangmai Highlands Golf

restroom can be found off a large L-

& Spa Resort.

shaped lounge and dining area. In similar design and slightly bigger, Thab

For more information visit


The Gallery

If you have a property for sale or rent which you would like featured in our gallery then please contact the gallery manager,

Ying at +66(0)76 271 111 or


For more information e-mail or call the gallery manager, Ying at +66 (0) 76 271 111


Deva Yama Phuket

Deva Yama is an exclusive development of truly luxurious villas located atop a hillside in Phuket’s millionaires mile. From your lofty perch you will enjoy billion dollar views of pristine Nakalay Bay. Meaning ‘divine sanctuary’ in sanskrit, Deva Yama offers a perfect retreat from the pressures of the world. Deceptively simple design soothes the soul, drawing the eye to fabulous sea views. Deva Yama comprises of eight superlative villas. Set within 6,000 sq m. (almost two acres) of wooded hillside, the elevation of the site drops by 25 metres (approx. 82’), meaning that each exquisite property enjoys superior privacy and unique vistas. Find your own piece of paradise on the last prime cut of land on Phuket’s west cost. Phase A villas are ready to move in by December 2009. | +66 (0) 76 271 333 100


Coastal Living Phuket

Style and Convenience in a Prestigious Location As part of the Ayara Surin residential development, this villa for sale offers privacy, modern style and convenience in a prestigious location. Nestled against the steep slopes of Surin Hill featuring wonderful views of Surin beach, the Amanpuri headland and the Andaman Sea. This villa has been painstakingly maintained and is ready to move in for those buyers looking to buy a prestigious Thai style residence at an attractive price.

Tel: +66 (0) 81 892 9495


Stylishly Thai Phuket

With an elevated Surin beach hillside location, this substantial, modern Thai influenced pool villa affords picturesque west coast ocean views. This quality villa is presented over three stories and features five bedrooms with en suite bathrooms designed to a spacious professional standard, fully fitted kitchen that adjoins the formal dining room on the upper floor. The middle floor includes two well designed bedrooms. The upper floor houses features two master bedrooms overlooking the ocean with an oversized living room. All rooms here have vaulted ceilings and shiny wooden floors. On the same floor is also the 16 metre pool with two covered salas.

Tel: +66 (0) 81 892 9495 101


For more information e-mail or call the gallery manager, Ying at +66 (0) 76 271 111


Thaibali Phuket

With only four exclusive pool villas, few places can match the true privacy guaranteed at this oasis just minutes from Bang Tao Beach. One pool villa is now available for sale. The villa combines the simple elegance of Thai and Balinese design. Natural elements like indoor gardens, moon roofs and water features imbue a sense of tranquility throughout the villa. Additionally the pool villa is fully furnished with a stylish Asian theme and a well equipped western kitchen. While you wait for dinner, enjoy a cocktail and a cool dip in the pool or Jacuzzi. Retreat to the privacy of the master suite and glorious en suite bathroom and emerge refreshed. With two guest bedrooms, the pool villa is spacious enough for up to three couples to enjoy the villa amenities. | +66 (0) 76 271 111


Modern Tropical Phuket

This stylish tropical home in Phuket was recently finished and is now on the market for sale or long term lease. With a land area of +400 sqm. it offers plenty of room for a family up to six persons. The property features three spacious bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, with a master suite that occupies the entire second floor with its own walk-in closet and oversized bathroom. The substantial living - dining room overlooks the pool and landscaped gardens and links to a fully equiped western kitchen, a guest WC, storage areas and a seperate maids room with bathroom. The tastefully landscaped gardens wrap around the pool, Jacuzzi and salas as well as the carpark for two large cars. The owners are well known architects and interior designers in Phuket, who build tropical homes for descerning clients in the best locations. | +66 (0) 81 514 8547 |



The Vertical Aree Bangkok Arrival of the Newest Neighbor. Sansiri Public Company Limited, the market leader in premium real estate development, is pleased to announce a new project The Vertical Aree located in the up-and-coming neighbourhood Paholyothin-Aree. Although Soi Aree is in the heart of Bangkok, it retains a unique charm with old-style homes transformed into hip boutiques and eateries, plus the BTS is close by. The Vertical Aree is a 25-storey building comprised of 189 units, including 1 to 3 bedroom condos of 39.5 to 114 square meters in size. Prices start at THB 4.08 million. Fittings and materials in each unit reflect a marriage of design and function. From quality wood flooring to Kohler sanitary ware and customized kitchens, Sansiri has chosen the very best. | 1685


The Pano Bangkok

A six-star river front condominium on Sathorn-Rama III. This architectural masterpiece of engineering, comfort and design will consist of a 55-storey tower and exclusive river front villas, creatively arranged in a butterfly pattern to ensure panoramic river views for each and every unit. At The Pano, world-class luxury facilities will be arranged with over 3,000 sq.m area for leisure activities and a tranquil landscape. The acclaimed management expertises of the BCA (Building and Construction Authority) from Singapore will ensure that The Pano meets the most exacting international standards. The Pano is prime water frontage along the Chao Phraya River at Rama III Road, yet it only takes 10-15 minutes to reach the Sathorn, Rama VI and Sukhumvit areas. Ready for occupancy in October 2009. | +66 (0) 2 682 6888 103


For more information e-mail or call the gallery manager, Ying at +66 (0) 76 271 111


Millennium Residence Bangkok

Millennium Residence @ Sukhumvit is set to dramatically alter the skyline of Bangkok and become the newest iconic landmark. Nestled in the heart of the city, this freehold residence truly embodies luxury living and as such is a highly attractive investment property. Millennium Residence is ideal for the busy urbanites, located in the heart of bustling Bangkok, on Sukhumvit 16-20, with easy access to the Sky Train and underground stations. Comprising of four, 51 to 53 storey, ‘orchid petal-shaped’ towers with 604 units in total, covering a sprawling land area of more than 20,000 sq m. Facilities include the state-of-theart clubhouse, gymnasium, tennis court and jogging track. | +66 (0) 2 663 7555


The Heights

Khanom, Nakhon Si Thammarat


An investment opportunity in a stunning ‘yet to be discovered’ beachfront paradise on the Gulf of Thailand. 34 villas - three, four and five bedrooms lie on 25 rai of land along a 200 metre stretch of Nai Phlao Beach. Living space ranges from 155-300 sq. m with prices from THB 15.5-25 million. All villas are sold turn-key, designed with superb quality, featuring five-star luxury furnishings for those seeking only the best. 50% of the villas are currently under construction with completion expected in December 2009. Additional amenities and services include a private reception area, daily housekeeping, a 300 sq. m infinity pool, full service restaurant, pool bar, beach service, fitness centre and five-star spa. Easily accessible from two airports and within close proximity to Koh Samui. | +66 (0) 2 126 8099



Thai Royal Residence

Offering stunning views of the azure Andaman sea from its position high in the hills above Kata beach, The Heights Phuket is an inspired contemporary expression designed to complement the site’s unique natural environment. Simple and functional, the interiors are a true fusion of East and West. Large open terraces, expansive living areas, and the seamless spillover of indoor into outdoor spaces reflect the modern Asian design of the site. Using quality materials and natural finishes, experience harmonious living in its true form. | +66 (0) 76 284 602


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