Mangospa – Pioneers In Pineapple Land

Leif Thomas Olsen and his Vietnamese wife Phuong Yung Mai Le bought a piece of land, basically in the middle of nowhere, but in the midst of truly scenic landscape, overlooking national parks and mountains towards Burma in the west, and near six world class golf courses. For six months they did not know what to do with it. But they were certain in what way they did not want to exploit it: into a congested housing estate fairly deserted and poorly maintained by its inhabitants.
Now a vital undertaking is in full swing; the construction of their own dream resort where the sales of apartments and houses are going very well – as the Thailand property market for Scandinavians overall. Also, others follow their example: another two projects and a golf course are under development within a kilometre’s range.
Yung and Leif had a valuable learning experience when they first bought a property, a few years back, in one of the new housing estates around. It is a typical example what can happen when most or all of the property buyers are foreigners, or simply investors.
“There were very few people around, almost like a ghost town. When we came there we felt house arrest,” recalls Leif. Every time when they arrived half the weekend passed cleaning the place. Six months later they sold it and instead bought the land 10 kilometres inland from Hua Hin.
Based on what they had learned they started outlining their own well-thought out housing development, constituting in a village style living compound and a hotel.
“We have developed this concept based on our own ideas how we would like to live; in a friendly environment with a good and high service level. As we could find nowhere to buy a house where this applies, we decided to build it ourselves,” Leif explains.
“This is more like a living organism to have a project like this. And when it is ready that is the beginning of the project life, not the end,” says Leif.
They will have people coming in and services to deliver, everything from spa and restaurant to maintenance and transportation.
They want Mangospa to become a pleasurable living environment for themselves and all the people coming to stay there, hopefully of different background and with different experiences in order to have a social life for everybody.
Yung and Leif have a few key core values for their concept, where value for money is one.
“We want everything to be as good as we can possibly deliver it. But we don’t want to reach that price segment where people cannot afford it,” says Leif. A spa treatment should for example not cost thousands of baht.
“The same goes for the restaurant and everything else. So we are not trying to pitch the high end of the market.”
But it has to be professional, Yung who is an experienced spa-goer adds.
“The problem with many services in Thailand is that there are two ends here; one very professional but very expensive, the other end is reasonable priced but too unprofessional. We want to be able to have professional treatment and nice and friendly atmosphere, but very affordable. So they come back and enjoy it,” she says.
The atmosphere is a key to the concept who Yung and Leif picture as a haven for inner peace, contentment and fulfillment. As in the Thai expression: “Sabai, sabai.”
“Everybody that comes here, even for a couple of hours, should leave happier than when they arrive. Many people turn up in the middle of November, pretty worn-out from intensive working life back home. Then they need a couple of months to rest and take it easy and then go home happier,” says Leif.
“We want to have something which is, well, luxurious in a way. It has to be a place where people are very friendly but not over-attentive,” says Yung. The way the guests or house owners are treated should be the same and in a good way for everybody.
This quality of service will take the best parts of the western way of providing service, where everybody does everything exactly the same and the Asian way of providing service – with their heart.
“Our idea is to combine these two concepts, so the staff can do it with their heart at the same time as they actually understand what this service also means,” says Leif.
That they started this project in the first case is not so unlikely. One of Leif’s hobbies is architecture.
“I was always interested in real estate, so houses of any kind were always an interest of mine. I think many Swedish people have this idea of wanting to try and run a hotel of some sort. I don’t know why, but a lot of them I meet have this particular wish.”
Yung and Leif are not going to run theirs themselves, though, and the idea came up based on the need to deliver the services to those living at Mangospa. But it is difficult, says Leif, to make ends meet, delivering the services only to house owners – hence the development of the hotel catering to charter tourists and the conference segment.
The house owners will buy in to limited service package for professional maintenance of the common village area, including its salt water swimming pool and transportation to Hua Hin. And with the hotel Mangospa will be able to provide extra services upon request.
Another part of the concept is that house owners will be able to rent it out more easily. “If you have a house here, often you don’t use it full time. And we realised where we had our previous house, it is not that easy to rent it out. Here, they can simply register with the reception and we will let the travel agents know,” says Leif.
As for the Mango spa, Yung’s experience from Vietnam where one gets “top of the line service” at a very reasonable price guides them in the approach taken – to offer the highest level of service possible at the price affordable for everybody.
“I think that if we can offer our guests a good level of relaxation, I think that would be very good for everybody. Spa is definitely part of that.”
Another Thai tradition they are integrating is the architecture. Says Leif: “I think the design of our houses is meant to stress the fact we are actually in Thailand. There are some projects where they build Balinese houses or Western style homes here in Thailand. We want people to realize they are in Thailand with its lifestyle, pace and design, we don’t want to pretend that we are anything else.”
Looking at the competitors, Yung and Leif is very confident their own full service concept that many others are lacking is an advantage.
For certain there is a trend that Scandinavians start moving to Thailand more and more.
“I think we are just in the beginning. For good and for bad, I think,” says Leif. “Thailand is the new Spain, and not only for Scandinavians. It is just a matter of where these people will choose to live.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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