People in Business
Interview with Han Hakvoort
During my study as a teacher in physics and biology in Holland, a friend and I were DJ’s at night to make some extra money. From there we started several businesses, including slot machines, which I didn’t like and we decided to separate the business. Financially this was a stupid thing, because he became very rich with this, but I did not like the people associated with this business. Later on we started with some other friends a recruiting business, which became very successful till the economy went down in 1997. In the end we decided it would be better not to continue and we closed down the business.
We then started travelling a lot in search of the perfect place to live. On a rainy in Holland we made a list with criteria to find the right place for us to live. We wanted to live on the beach in a warm tropical climate. It had to be safe, affordable and with good medical facilities available. Great food, wines, cigars and cheeses were also on the list and importantly it should take no more than 24 hours to reach Holland.
Finding Hua Hin
We travelled to many countries and continents and fell in love with beautiful places in the world, like Portugal, South Europe etc. Then we came to Costa Rica, absolutely beautiful but more than 24 hours away from Holland. I wanted to go Thailand, but Petra was not keen due to the reputation it had. Due to a pending business deal I had to attend to, Petra travelled by herself to Koh Samet and we met after 14 days. When I finally arrived in there, I saw the happiest person I have ever seen. She loved the food, she loved the weather, she loved the people and she loved Thailand!
We travelled around and decided to go south, the train made a stop in Hua Hin. We had never heard of Hua Hin, but decided to check it out. We got out of the station and found a tuk tuk, the driver had a big scar on his face, so we called him the “contract killer”. We said to each other, if this goes well, then Thailand is the country for us. He brought us to the Nilawan guest house, next to the Marriott. The beach was beautiful, the lady who ran it, Khun Pu, made us feel so welcome. We planned to travel the next day, but decided to stay for 6 days. We continued our trip to the south, but meanwhile Hua Hin had stolen our hearts, three weeks later we returned to Hua Hin. We started reading up on Hua Hin and took out our list again.
It was and is a very safe place because the King is staying here and with daily direct flights Holland was well within the 24-hour reach. The Thai food was amongst the best in the world and because the Baht had crashed, it was also one of the cheapest places on earth. Cigars, wine and cheese were not available at that time. Hua Hin scored the highest on our list, an 80% score, so we decided to give it a try. We bought the a piece of land in Koh Tao with sea view and encountered our first bad experience in Thailand, in short we had to buy the land twice, an expensive but good lesson!
Initially we thought to live half in Thailand and half in Holland, but to give Hua Hin a real chance, we decided to live here full time. We sold our house in Holland and we brought here all our personal stuff. Christmas 1997 we moved into our first house, that we still have.
With 7 languages between us, we spoke no Thai, so we took Thai lessons, but ended up teaching them English instead! Wanting to do something in Hua Hin, we looked at many options including growing flowers because of the agricultural history of my family, but foreigners were not allowed in this field. Hua Hin was not as it is now, with just 16,000 people in the greater Hua Hin at that time, to put this into prospective last year 18,000 condos were launched in here alone. There are now many more condos here than there were people living when we came.
People started asking about our house and how they could have a house here. And that is when I started White Lotus 1 in 2002. I believe I was the first one in Hua Hin building luxury villas for westerners with the possibility to pay for the lease in yearly installments, considerably reducing the initial investment. My previous experience building houses, working with architects and floor plans came to good use. We didn’t use agents, Arnold Ruys, who had bought a house in White Lotus 1 helped a lot with the sales. At that time there was only other big developer, Per Ericson, who was focusing on the Swedish community. The 10 planned properties were sold in 6 months. For all materials you had to go to Bangkok, there were no local suppliers. Getting the Thai contractors to build a western style house was a real challenge, but then I found a group of people from Udon Thani that really wanted to learn and we formed a great team.
In my experience as a developer, I have come across a few customers who are buying houses here at a fraction of the cost in Europe, but they cannot accept the little mistakes that happen. People that want top quality, forget that top quality in Thailand is also expensive because this means that you have to import everything and some times that makes it even more expensive than Europe. I know that some developers cut corners, but over 90% of the developers want to get it right because they want to do phase 1, 2 and 3. They want to have a good reputation.
After White Lotus 1, came White Lotus 2, with some of the new buyers ready to finance the additional land. Interestingly, at that time foreigners could not own a car, bank account or even a sim card in their name. House sales in Hua Hin really took of in 2004, when we started the Sanuk project. The Tsunami in Phuket brought Hua Hin even more in the limelight.
Banyan Estate and Golf Course
One of the White Lotus 2 buyers wanted to know what other plans I had, so I showed him the 280 rai land where now the Banyan Estate is. He and some others decided to finance this new project and once the word got around several more investors wanted to be part of this, then came a very wealthy investor asking what other plans there were. I had discovered much cheaper land over the hill behind the Banyan Estate, a whole valley actually, beautiful but with no electricity and roads.
Golf was getting big in Hua Hin and having a golf course belonging to the Banyan Estate was the perfect marketing tool to sell these properties. The land was bought over night, approaching the landowners with cash and contracts in hand. We had no experience building a golf course, so we needed help and found the right guy for this, a Thai golf designer K. Op from GolfEast. I wanted to leave the terrain and trees as much as possible in tact. The location of the clubhouse was chosen by me to give the most beautiful valley views and sunsets there are.
We wanted to integrate the Thai wooden house style in the clubhouse, mixed in with modern elements. A lot of people don’t know how to look at the club house, when you enter from the pro-shop you see an alley and the views from the club house expand the more you walk through the alley on both sides with a complete panoramic view over the golf course and valley at the end! Try it next time you are there.
Unfortunately issues developed with some shareholders and after a 2,5 year process a settlement was reached ending my connection with Banyan. We had been through a tough time and decided to take a break from all this to find our lives back.
Kao Yai Apartments
Finally I was ready to do something again and after seeing that the market had changed, I came up with a new concept “Kao Yai Apartments”, that is half a house, half a condo. All that you want from a house without the hassles of a house (garden & pool maintenance, security etc). Close to White Lotus 2, we found beautiful land overlooking Hua Hin and the sea. There is a huge demand for second homes, but people nowadays want to invest less than before, given the present economic circumstances. The concept is not revolutionary, but new in Hua Hin and I believe this will fill a gap in the market.
Retiring in Hua Hin brings a great life with it, but I always like to stay active, I like to stay involved in something that I love, or give advise to younger people starting in business.
The Future of Hua Hin
The city is growing fast, it needs a master plan to cope with all the new developments around and in town. The traffic is already a problem and some parts of the beach are not clean enough. I think we should have more lively spots in the city. Places like Cicada Market, the shopping malls, water parks etc add to the luster of Hua Hin, but being a beach destination, we could do with many more terraces in town and on the beach. Most foreigners want to have their drink outside and watch the people going by. With biking becoming very popular, it would be great to have dedicated bike paths to attract more visitors. The mountains around Kao Yai and Banyan and towards Pranburi are beautiful when experiencing these by bike. With all the huge developments by Thai companies, I am sure that there is a great plan ready for Hua Hin, I hope that this will cover the needs for Thai and foreigners
I think is a combination of how I was brought up, when you give your hand or word, you stick to it. My grandfather he bought a ticket in the lottery and the main price was a bicycle (a big price in those days) and he said my mother who was a little girl at that time; if I win this the first price I give it to you. He won and gave her the bicycle because he had given his word. If you have a commitment, you stick to it even if it costs you money, you can put it on the table and you can discuss it, but you don’t run away.
Doing Business in Thailand
If you come as an uptight European and you don’t take advice forget it. You will face a thick wall that you are fighting. You need be patient and don’t expect that you can bring your European attitude to work here, you will not succeed. The Thais are lovely people but you have to give them time and you have to give them respect, which is very important.
Hua Hin is where we are at home and we thoroughly enjoy our lives here, our “list” was right!