Weekly Local Biography

  Dusit Thammaraks

The chairman and CEO of the Legend Chiang Rai boutique resort and spa is Dusit Thammaraks, a man who managed to juggle several careers and projects, while still working for the government in the Ministry of the Interior. He is a man who says, “My life began at 60, not 40.” That was when he retired from government service. He is also a man who almost became a rubber plantation labourer!

He was born in Trang, the hometown of ex-PM Chuan Leekpai. His father was the mayor and Dusit was the oldest of seven children. His young life was overseen by his very forthright and authoritarian mother. “She was devoted, but very strict. She taught us how to behave,” said Dusit. Part of that training apparently involved the use of the rattan cane, so the young Dusit knew there was retribution in store for transgressions!

His mother also decided the style of education her children would get. Dusit and his eldest sister were to receive an English education, while the next two were to be educated in the Chinese way, and the final three through the Thai curriculum. “Mother controlled the family and made plans for everyone,” said Dusit simply.

To prepare Dusit for his English education, mother sent him to Penang, where she bought a town house, and installed three of his aunts to look after him and his sister. There he completed his Lower Cambridge Certificate, and he was sent to England.

Dusit, by all accounts, was not the hardest working Thai student in the British Isles. He used to play the guitar in Penang, and was soon playing in pubs in the UK. His somewhat laid back attitude to life and work was noticed by the Thai Students Office in England, and his mother was informed. Out of reach of the rattan cane, but not out of reach of mother’s wrath, he was firmly reminded that his grandfather had started working in rubber plantations, and if Dusit’s marks did not improve, he would be joining the labourers there as well.

Since being a rubber tapper was not high in his list of desired occupations for the future, young Dusit knuckled down, “I got scared and gave away my guitar!” and passed his O and A levels and entered the Enfield College of Technology (now called the North London University), finally coming out with his Bachelor’s degree in Science (Economics).

Dusit also wanted to see America before returning to mother and the rattan cane, so talked his parents into letting him go for one year to do a Masters in Political Science in the USA. The course was for two years, but Dusit, who could work hard when he wanted to, completed the course in eight months and spent the next four months of his extra year enjoying America!

On returning to Thailand, he was told that his playing was over (guitar or otherwise) and his future would be in government service. Since his father knew many government officials through his position in Trang, Dusit was pushed inexorably towards this career path, even though he was personally more attracted to private enterprise. He joined Lever Brothers, but when a position became available in the Ministry of Interior, he had to resign and begin his government service career.

Thais with some Chinese inheritance are known as hard workers, and Dusit, with his paternal great-grandfather having migrated from China, was no exception. His father built a hotel in Bangkok (the Manhattan) and Dusit was expected to manage this concern for the family, remembering that he was the oldest. So after work in the Ministry, he would return to the hotel and work would begin all over again.

I asked how he could do this and he gave much credit to the training he received in the UK. “The English people taught me well. I am the administrator. I set the principles for the people (who work there) to follow. I just look at the books.”

The family dynasty did not begin and end at the Manhattan. After Dusit was married, he and his wife began embarking on a set of parallel careers that his wife could head, while Dusit continued with his work ‘after hours’, setting principles and checking books.

In 1975 they came to Chiang Mai to set up an office for Diethelm, called International Travel Consultants, with his wife at the helm. The family then became involved in setting up the Hmong Lodge, with the Diethelm group, using the Hmong hill tribe folk in the resort high in the mountains, 850 meters above sea level.

Another enterprise was the Lampang River Lodge which they started 16 years ago, which Dusit very proudly told me received the Tourism Authority of Thailand highest award of excellence (the Golden Kinnaree) this year.

If these were not enough, Dusit also became a restaurateur. In his student days in the UK he had enjoyed Italian cuisine, and one of his brothers had a friend in Singapore who was a fine Italian cook. They brought him to the Manhattan Hotel and started an Italian restaurant there called Gino’s. This was very successful, and Dusit, the administrator and now restaurateur, ended up opening two Italian restaurants in Bangkok (now called La Casa) and another one in Chiang Mai!

But as his time with the government came to an end with compulsory retirement, as Dusit had said, his life was just beginning. Where the family properties had been three star, Dusit had plans for a five star resort. This is The Legend, a boutique resort in Chiang Rai of 78 rooms overlooking the Kok River, and now up and running, with Dusit administrating as always.

Dusit is not one to go haphazardly from one project to another. “I always plan ahead. I know exactly what I want to do.” He is a man who has certainly made it all happen, and mother’s rattan cane certainly worked for her unruly son all those years ago!