With KhunAnat, who later became Thai Minsiter of Agriculture, our heads rotated in circles as we stared at the swirls of rust and yellow pigment on a 600 foot vertical cliff in front of us. In 1985 there was nothing at all on Railei Beach, Krabi. A few weeks later I went with some friends and slept on the deserted beach, catching crabs and fish to cook over a fire.(Pramoen cooking pic) Even back then, we didn’t think it would last, but reveled in having a natural wonder all to yourselves. Today hotel rooms go for up to US$2,000 a night.
Land was for sale for next to nothing, and we decided yes it was worth owning some. Twenty years later our 17 acres were worth about US$20 million, but alas we didn’t own it anymore. We did a small sub-division and sold off 30 ½-acre lots to our friends and their friends. We built a nice wooden clubhouse with a clay-colored tile roof in what is now ASEAN style. And we set up Railei Beach Club. Not only the value of the land grew and grew. So did the trees, not just coconuts but real forest trees and pine-like casuarinas. I have a bias against casuarina because they are a fast-growing invasive species that can easily take over a beach. I much prefer the sea umbrella tree and the one with fragrant powder puff blossoms.
Chang Tai and his band of carpenters built the clubhouse and the first houses there and, being from Thailand’s dry Isan region, they ate any monitor lizards they could find. But after they left, the wildlife came back and flourished. Gibbons, macaque, and langur (or leaf) monkeys, sun bear, and over 100 species of birds thrived in a low density tourist development without little village kids shooting them with sling shots. They’re all still there and prove to me that eco-tourism can indeed help protect a natural environment.
Many things were learned from this epic project
When clearing the land of scrub, watch the workers every minute. If you want to save the beautiful trees and plants, do it yourself. If I left the workers, they would burn everything and the fires would scorch or even kill the big trees. Best to have a crew of 5-10, set down rules like carting all the scrub far away to be burned. And watch them every minute.
Low density doesn’t pay
Low density doesn’t pay but do it. If you want to maximize revenue from a beautiful piece of land, build as much as you can on it. BUT If you want the maximize all the good things in life – like trees, wildlife, and the luxury of open space, keep the density low. ½-acre lot gives privacy and preserves the surrounding nature. And don’t allow the houses to take up anymore than 18% of that 1/2-acre or some people will replace nature with bricks and mortar, a poor trade.
If you find something beautiful, hold on
It’s not just the $20 million we lost by developing this gem of a property, it’s also the chance to do your own creative thing to carefully preserve, enhance, and share it with others.