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Mom Luang Tri Devakul


									Mom Luang Tri Devakul – a Thai original

       Little did ten year old Mom Luang Tri Devakul know when he
agreed to fly to America that it would be 18 years before he would
return to live in Thailand.
       “I was very interested in flying in an airplane but didn’t realize
that I would find myself in a new culture where I didn’t speak the
language and would be away from my family for so long,” says a
smiling Mom Tri.
       His family had a tradition of traveling and living abroad.
Descended from King Mongkut, Rama IV, the first Thai monarch that
valued relations with the Western world, Mom Tri’s grandfather was
in charge of the Foreign Ministry during the reign of King
Chulalongkorn, Rama V. He worked closely with Dr. Francis Sayre,
an American adviser to the Royal Court, to abolish extraterritorial
treaties. The two men and their families became close friends. Mom
Tri’s father was sent to study in Boston where he stayed with the
Sayre family and in 1952, the young Mom Tri followed in the family
tradition and went to live in Washington, DC, where a senior member
of the Sayre family was the Dean of Washington Cathedral.
       “Though I didn’t speak English, I was very impressed with my
new life. I remember shaking hands with the newly inaugurated
American President, Dwight Eisenhower, and I spent many fond
hours playing in the construction site of the emerging new
Washington Cathedral,” he remembers. “It’s probably where I
developed my interest in architecture and building.”
       The young Mom Tri expressed his artistic talents as a child
spending many youthful hours building sculptures and designing
palaces. But when his father advised that he pursue a career in
medicine, he agreed and enrolled in Dartmouth College. Four years
later he graduated with a Pre-Med degree. But instead of pursuing a
medical career, he applied and was accepted into the Harvard School
of Design where he majored in Architecture.
       “I had been designing sculptures and objects all my young life
so it seemed like a real opportunity to study architecture with talent
like the founder of the Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius, who was on
the faculty of Harvard at the time,” he continues. “I enjoyed my
studies at Harvard but never lost sight that essentially I felt myself to
be a sculptor, a more personal artist, who prefered to work on my
own design rather than deal with the demands of clients and the
restrictions that impinge on the creativity of a design.”
       After graduation, he returned to live in Thailand in 1970. By
this time, most of his life had been spent in America and he found his
native country a wealth of interesting architectural details. During
this period, many of the traditional Thai temples made of teak wood,
were being taken down and replaced with temples constructed of
concrete and decorated with mirrored tiles. Mom Tri is credited with
saving much of the teak wood decorative Buddhist motifs, some of
which he has artfully used in his numerous projects around the
       In the early 1970s, he was an Architecture professor at
Chulalongkorn University and worked with Dr. Sumet Jumsai in their
own architectural firm. But when Prince Sanid Rangsit commissioned
him to design a hotel at a deserted beach on Phuket, he decided to
give up his teaching and pursue the potential of a design career.
       “In the 1970s, Phuket had very little infrastructure. Kata Beach
was virtually cut off from the rest of the island with impassible roads
and swamps. We couldn’t get the funding to build the hotel as the
banks said there were no international flights to the island,” Mom Tri
remembers. “Eventually, I was able to negotiate with Club Med to
build on the beach and with that in hand, Thai Airways agreed to fly
to Phuket and that satisfied the banks.”
       The next ten years were productive for Mom Tri. He designed
both the Australian and Indian Embassies and the United Nations
Conference Center in Bangkok. And on Phuket, he was able to
acquire considerable tracts of land that had little value at the time.
       “It was good timing. Then, land near the beach had little or no
value as the local people could not grow rice, or rubber or pineapple
so close to the sea,” he explains, “and there was not yet any tourism
so I was fortunate to pick up the land where Le Meridien Phuket and
Le Royal Meridien Phuket Yacht Club now sit for a good price.”
       He worked hard to get the necessary permission to build
Phuket’s first five star resorts. There were no requirements for
building permits back then but he did have to negotiate with the
government who had a master plan for developing Phuket and
tourism was not part of that plan. He had strong support from
General Prem Tinsulanonda who was about to become Prime Minister
and who believed in Mom Tri’s vision of tourism as a means to
improve the lives of Phuket residents. Mom Tri became Thailand’s
youngest Senator in the 1980s to better work on promoting tourism
in the country.
      While he spent many years building his successful resorts, Mom
Tri himself lived on a hilltop which separates Kata Yai and Kata Noi’s
beaches. He spent happy times returning to work on his sculptures
which eventually came to enliven the gardens of his retreat.
      “Back then, the only people who came to the beaches were
hippies who sunbathed and played in the sea in the nude. So many
of my sculptures from that time are the human form in celebration or
repose,” he explains. “My own home was a collection of local
materials which over the years has been extended and improved and
now has become Villa Royale where I invite people to stay and
experience my many years of collecting art in buildings that express
my interpretation of contemporary Thai design.”
      Mom Tri has always drawn admirers from the Royal family to
his home. He decided to build a small hotel at Kata Beach which he
named The Boathouse to give his many Royal friends and family a
place to call their own while visiting Phuket. Soon this boutique
resort, which is now called Mom Tri’s Boathouse, became
internationally famous as the signature address for fine cuisine and
excellent wine. It was recently awarded the Best of Award of
Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine, the only top award given
in Thailand.
      Besides building extraordinary resorts, Mom Tri has contributed
to the development of the international community by initiating the
famous King’s Cup Regatta, in honor of King Bhumibol, Rama IX,
which draws hundreds of avid yacht enthusiasts to Phuket each
December. He is also the architect and Chairman of the Board of
Governors of the Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International
Education north of Chiang Mai.
      “The Prem Center promotes living and learning as a lifetime
experience. With 500 full time students, the Center has also
welcomed over 10,000 international students who have come to learn
about becoming global citizens with studies in culture and the
environment,” he says.
       Mom Tri has ongoing development projects including stunning
villas dotted around Phuket but he spends much of his time in
Bangkok with his wife, Khun “Tam” Devakul and with their son,
Trithep. And quite often he returns to his early interest in creating
art, both sculpture and painting.

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