It is past noon, but for most of the guests on the Same-Same lodge and restaurant on the Thai vacation island Koh Phangan it is still early morning. Partying on the beach till the break of dawn takes a lot of energy, so a lot of the guests are having breakfast now. Two Danish guys are having a game of pool. For another Dane it is time to start working.
Since April 2004 Søren Kristensen from Klarup near Aalborg has been running Same-Same with his Thai wife Thip. Søren Kristensen does not know exactly what the day will bring and that suits him just fine.
“Ever since school I have never liked to have a timetable controlling my life. I have always wanted to have my own business, bring my ideas to life and start new things. I do not like to have to do certain things at a certain time,” the Dane says.
A hot adrenaline kick
The thought of getting a house and a steady monday-friday job in Denmark has never appealed to him.
“It would never work out for me. I think a lot of people are restricted from doing what they really want to do, because they have to make money to pay for all their monthly expenses and because they have to perform their everyday duties. I just love living here in Thailand. Because of the culture and the way of living here, it is easier to be spontaneous,” Søren Kristensen adds.
Ever since his first trip to Thailand in 1995, he has felt at home here.
“The minute you land in Bangkok Airport, it just hits you. Bam. Right in the face. The 10 million people, the heat, the smell from the food stalls, the incense from the temples and the hectic life in a city that never sleeps. To most people Bangkok is just too much with all the noise and pollution, but to me Bangkok would not be Bangkok without it. To me coming to Bangkok was just one big hot adrenaline kick,” the Dane enthusiastically explains, while a motorbike roars past on the dirt road outside the restaurant.
Asia is to be seen
Søren Kristensen´s first trip to Thailand lasted for three weeks. He went back to Denmark, but three years later it was time to go back to Asia. He quit his job at the Bilka Supermarket in Aalborg. Traveled through Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, before once again returning to Denmark.
He started working with troubled children at three local schools before becoming a mailman. The purpose of having these jobs? To make money for his next Asian adventure. In 2000 he went to Asia for half a year with three of his friends. All three first time visitors to Asia.
“I had talked so much about South East Asia back home, but it can really not be described. You have to see it yourself,” he eagerly explains before discussing a Viking themed snorkeling trip with a bypassing English business associate.
For his three friends the trip was such a great experience that all three of them have later returned, but to Søren Kristensen the trip was more than a great experience. It was the beginning of a new life.
The girl with the smiling eyes
Early 2001 the four friends decided to spend an evening in Bangkok watching Thai-boxing, the national sport of Thailand. As the guys were not to fight them selves, they had their hands free. And what better way to use your free hands than by drinking a lot of alcohol and so the guys did.
The guys were slightly drunk when the Thai-boxing ended and it was time to go home. However, Søren Kristensen and his friend Martin decided to go to Khao San Road, Bangkok´s backpacker paradise, to get something to eat and a night cap.
While standing at a food stall something caught Søren Kristensen´s eyes through the steam and smoke from the sizzling pans. A smiling girl with long black hair and school books under her arm. The Dane went to talk to her and soon Thip, as the girl is called, and the two Danes talked like old friends.
They talked so well that Thip missed the bus she was waiting for to bring her home after a day at university.
Søren Kristensen also thought that it was nice talking to her. So nice that he suggested that they met the next day.
“I most probably would not have done that back home in Denmark, but it is different here. You feel more free and you get to talk to more people here. I am not really sure why I asked to see her again. I just felt that I had to. She had more to tell and the way she smiles with the eyes is so fantastic,” he tells.
The next day, however, meeting Thip again did not seem like the smartest idea to the Danes, but to them a word is a word, so they showed up at Khao San Road at seven o’clock as agreed.
“We were really hung over. We had spent the day eating junk food and watching movies and still we were SO tired. To be honest it would be okay did she not turn up,” he laughs.
Two meters long destiny
Quarter past seven, no Thip in sight. Half past, still no Thip anywhere, so the two tired Danes started walking down Khao San Road. Two meters before turning around the corner and down the soi to the hotel, Thip, having been caught in the hectic Bangkok traffic, comes rushing through the crowd calling out for the Danes.
“Had we turned around the corner, Thip and I would never have met again. We had not exchanged phone numbers or anything, and the next morning my friends and I were going to the Phillippines. But she made it and we had a fantastic night. Sitting ín Khao San Road with one of my best friends and Thip singing from the top of our lungs was just a one-in-a-million-experience,” Søren Kristensen enthusiastically explains, while Danish singer Kim Larsen sings about a flying carpet in the restaurant speakers.
Having no wish to tempt destiny once again, Søren Kristensen and Thip exchanged e-mail addresses. After traveling for two months in the Phillippines, Laos, Vietnam the four Danes returned to Bangkok for two nights before going back to Denmark. Søren Kristensen met Thip again for a single night.
“I saw her as a cute girl, a good friend and a contact in Bangkok, but I did not see her as a girl friend,” he stubbornly claims.
Meet the Kristensens
However, not long after having returned to Denmark, the e-mails going back and forth between Aalborg and Bangkok started changing. From chitchat to the more flirting kind as Søren Kristensen puts it.
When he told Thip that he would come to Thailand with five friends in early 2002, Thip had a suggestion.
“Come two weeks earlier and meet my family.”
The young Dane claims he saw it as a good opportunity to learn more about the everyday life of the Thais, so he went to meet Thip´s uncle and aunt in Pakchong in the northeastern part of Thailand.
But not only did Søren Kristensen learn more about the Thai way of life. He and Thip also got to know each other better and that all turned out so well that they became real sweethearts.
Having met Thip´s family, Søren Kristensen thought that it was only fair if Thip met his family in Denmark.
Six weeks later Thip got her visa and went to Denmark. Meeting Søren Kristensen´s friends and family went beyond all expections even though the family did not know that Thip was their son´s girlfriend.
“We wanted Thip to see Denmark before we told anyone, and besides they never asked,” he laughs.
Søren Kristensen did his mail route, but it did not take long, before Thip was bored staying in the Aalborg apartment. She started helping Søren Kristensen delivering the mail and soon word spread that Thip could do Thai cooking, so she got busy making food at parties in the weekends.
One month before Thip had to go back to Thailand, Søren Kristensen invited his family over for a cup of coffee.
“We told them that we had decided to get married, and that the wedding was to be in Thailand. I think they were a bit surprised, because everything had happened so fast and now I was going to marry someone from another country,” Søren Kristensen explains and emphasizes that his family has always supported him 100 percent.
And so the family did this time. After being told that her youngest son was getting married in Thailand, Søren Kristensen´s mother, Nethe said:
“Well, we will just have to go Thailand then,” and so they did.
Twelve of Søren Kristensen´s friends and family joined the wedding in February 2003. The wedding was held next to Thip´s mother´s house in Korat, a three hour drive northeast of Bangkok. In honour of the Danish guests Thip´s mother decided to have a real European toilet installed in the house. That way the Danes did not have to worry about using the traditional squat-down toilet, that has put many a grey hair in the heads of Europeans (and sometimes given them wet shoes).
The wedding was true to Buddhist tradition. Five monks blessed the couple, there was sacrifices and incense, and almost 200 from the village joined the wedding celebrations.
The newly-weds decided to settle in Thailand, at Koh Phangan. An island they had visited before and liked a lot. The couple wanted to start a hotel and restaurant for backpackers. Thip is a trained chef and had restaurant manager experience from Bangkok and Søren Kristensen had experience from backpacker traveling.
“I know what backpackers want. A good, cheap place to stay with a nice atmosphere. A home away form home, so we decided to make just that,” Søren Kristensen tells.
Hard work ahead
Agreements were made and Søren Kristensen went back to Denmark. On Koh Phangan the building of Same-Same began. The hotel was supposed to be ready in November 2003, but when Søren Kristensen arrived Koh Phangan late October, he was surprised. Only the framework was build.
“I knew they were delayed, but not to that extent. It was a very bad start, as I had already quit my job in Denmark, but all we could do now was to start working ourselves and show that we wanted the hotel built asap,” he tells.
Every day Søren Kristensen and Thip worked 10 hours mixing cement, painting and lots more.
“It was very hard work. I lost 14 kilos working four months in the Thai construction business,” he laughs.
April 2004 it was time for the official opening of Same-Same. However, the hotel had already tried being fully booked before it was completely finished. At the March full moon party, when 10,000 people from all over the world come to Koh Phangan to attend the famous beach parties.
Christmas Duck to the rescue
From day one it was almost always possible to walk in from the street and get a room. That all changed after the 2004 Christmas.
“We offered to make traditional Danish Christmas food. Word spread throughout Asia and 60 joined us for the Christmas dinner. Making Christmas food gave us a lot of publicity and increased our business tremendously,” Søren Kristensen explains.
Not only did the number of guests increase. The guests liked Same-Same so much that they recommended the place to Lonely Planet, the Backpacker bible.
Ever since October 2005 Same-Same has been listed in Lonely Planet and that means fully booked almost every night. During the interview quite a few people visit the hotel hoping to get a room, but without a reservation, the message is: Fully booked.
Inspired by their own success the couple opens two more guesthouses with a total of ten rooms, five bungalows, bar and restaurant this august. Sure Koh Phangan will be home for the couple in the near future, but in ten years?
Søren Kristensen does not hesitate for a minute
“I do not know whether I am on Koh Phangan in ten years. I do not want a timetable for my life. We take one day at a time and see what happens,” the Dane says determined.