Chuchai Chairittilert, who was publicly and pitilessly reviled four years ago after announcing plans to demolish venerable wooden homes to make way for his hotel, doesn’t seem like such a bad guy.
In fact, for a millionaire sporting sparkling diamond rings, he’s downright spiritual.
The “European-style” hotel Chuchai Buri Sri Amphawa is set to open next month in that town (Amphawa) on the Mae Klong River in Samut Songkhram. As well as rooms with lovely views, it will have a community mall, a food centre and a shrine.
Ferocious protest erupted four years because the hotel was going to stomp on 11 charming homes along the river, all decades old with weathered folding doors and galvanised-tin roofs. The locals pointed out that they represented traditional life on the canal in a locale that had been a vital hub of commerce since the 17th century and earned Unesco World Heritage status in 2008. Amphawa has a great floating market, and swarms of tourists come round to see swarms of fireflies illuminating the river.
What happened in the end was that the homes were renovated and turned into guesthouses where seminars, exhibitions and shows can be held. The fireflies seem pleased. Chuchai, no longer the bad guy, is relieved.
“It was very tough,” he says. “If any one of my people made a mistake it became a huge scandal, and that was all right, but what was said about me in the news was not true. I did no one any harm, but it was like people splashing excrement all over me and screaming, ‘You’re a bad person!’ It was horrible!
“And once your name carries a stink, it’s very hard to get it smelling nice again. Someone might give you the best detergent, but the foul smell is still there. I decided to push ahead. I wanted people to understand what I was doing. I wanted to let them know I could do this better than they thought I could.”
Chuchai wants Amphawa to be admired as “a beautiful lady who could be a contestant in a world-class beauty pageant. She’s always been beautiful, but nobody’s ever put her onstage. All you have to do is adorn her with a tiara, earrings and accessories,” explains the owner of the “Gem Peace by Chuchai” shops (yes, peace, not pieces).
He sought to preserve the old houses as best he could, but they needed better wood and stronger structures – termites had made a feast of them. “We spent more than Bt10 million in the area.”
Chuchai is proudest of the hotel’s Shiva Linga shrine, which he hopes will become a new tourist destination. He had the linga representing the Hindu god Shiva made from jade and embedded with a diamond. Next he plans to establish a dharma retreat.
“I’d like to understand the dharma as much as I can so I can get closer to nirvana. I love practising the dharma. In business there are a lot of things that cloud my mind and the dharma is like detox. Thinking about the dharma and philosophy makes me feel stronger. I don’t get obsessed about anything. In our kind of society, sometimes I have to use brand names, but my inner self doesn’t get attached to anything.”