Weekly Local Biography

 Nikolaus Prachensky


While the man featured this week with the fashionable stubble may have been christened Nikolaus, he is better known as Niki, the owner of Siamese Traders in Chiang Mai. He is an addict - to tea, “Oolong” to be precise.

Niki was born in Vienna, the only son of two artists. His father in fact is the Professor Emeritus from the University of Vienna and a leading Viennese artist. His record at school reached the great heights of ‘mediocre’ as Niki was more interested in the world at large than he was in schoolbooks. “I was hungry to suck the marrow out of life,” he said with his infectious grin (while sipping another cup of Oolong, brewed correctly and dispensed and decanted).

By the time he was 19 years old, parental influence could not hold him down any further and he ran away to sea. It was 1977 and the seafaring industry was in the doldrums, with the ports in Holland full of unemployed sailors, and Niki could not even find the ladder to get on the bottom rung of, so he started work in a hotel as a food and beverage (F&B) trainee.

This was his first real job, so everything was new and exciting. He also learned that when you work in a bar in the evenings people confide in the barman, “Though in my case it was the bar-boy,” he said, laughing again.

He then began the usual round of changing from hotel to hotel, “I thought the grass was probably greener somewhere else,” until the inevitable National Service call-up grabbed his attention. He was assigned to the Tank Corps, but ended up in the F&B Supplies Department and discovered the principle of supply and demand. “Everybody loved me. I managed to sneak out (food) supplies every night!” He had the supply and they had the demand!

After the tanks, he managed to find some investors and he opened the first Nouvelle Cuisine Restaurant in Austria. “I had the expertise, they had the money.” However, this was not to keep his itchy feet in one place. “Austria was too ‘normal’ for me,” and he set out for SE Asia, to sate his desire to see foreign countries.

Hong Kong was not to his liking, but he liked the food in Thailand. For someone such as Niki, this was enough to make him look at staying here and he found a fellow Austrian in the garment business and joined him.

This was a successful move in many ways. The business grew as Niki grew and in the 14 years he spent in the garment industry the number of employees grew too, from 12 to 3,000.

The inevitable was happening, however. The management role was becoming too constrictive for such a free spirit as Niki’s. “I opened a small restaurant in Bangkok with some other Austrian friends called ‘The Bolero’ to have fun in the evenings. We re-created an old bar (the Bolero) - exotic and seedy!” But the ‘fun in the evenings’ eventually burned him out with, “Too many long evenings and too many gin and tonics!”

For something different he went to Singapore to help in the outfitting of a motor yacht. After all, a career in the garment industry is what every motor yacht outfitter needs! At least the crew would be well dressed!

But this was just a dalliance on his way to Paris. Paris? Yes Paris, where Niki managed a nightclub restaurant for the next two years. It was also around this time that Niki met an American author, Daniel Reid, who lived in Chiang Mai. This was to have a momentous impact on him and on his future. They struck up a great friendship and it was Daniel who introduced Niki to the ancient Chinese concepts of inner health and peace - and Chinese teas! (We broke off to brew another pot of Oolong, to which I was also getting fairly addicted by this stage!)

He began to attempt a healthy lifestyle, while still living in Paris, and became “homesick” - not for Austria, but for Thailand. He began to hang around Paris’ Chinatown and hankered for noodle soups. It was too much - he left Paris and returned to Thailand.

Back in Bangkok he got a job in the food service industry. At least he was back here, but he came across a new discovery on his voyage through life. This was called a ‘conscience’. Here he was, having been exposed to healthy living and trying to adopt it for himself, while selling french-fries “By the metric tonne!” He was being torn in two.

To get himself back together, he returned to Paris, joining a friend in a TV channel. He became president for Asia and introduced Fashion TV to Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. At least ‘ogling’ could not be considered ‘unhealthy’ unless one was totally narrow-minded!

During this time he had been travelling to Chiang Mai for weekends but by 1997 he had dispensed with the bright lights of the Fashion TV catwalk and followed his heart to come here and settle, eventually setting up Siamese Traders to produce and sell various local products, including teas and jams and other items which he formulates himself. “I personally endorse what I’m selling.” He also enjoys working on his own health, “I’m not getting any younger and I enjoy waking up in the morning feeling good.”

This does not mean that he is now sitting in the corner contemplating his navel (while sipping on Oolong, naturally). He still needs excitement and stimulus, which he currently gets by taking his 4WD into the mountains and drinking tea with the KMT still up there.

His advice to the youth of today includes “Think, meditate, find out what you want to do, then do it - and give it all you’ve got.” Niki Prachensky has certainly been giving it all he’s got - and is loving it! By the way, the tea’s not a bad drop either!