Samui Wining & Dining
No Boundaries

Manish Jha, the enigmatic General Manager of Anantara Bophut,
tells us what cricket and Samui have in common!

 

76Living the dream. That’s how most folk who visit Samui for the first time think about it. They come here for a holiday break and fall in love with everything. And then the thought occurs, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here!” And, for many, that means just what it says; puzzling out a way to make a living on Samui and actually ‘live the dream’. And why? Because Samui is a tropical island paradise with a laid-back lifestyle.

 

But there are people – just a few – for whom this is really no big deal. And the reason is simple: they were living in a tropical paradise already! A Caribbean island, or somewhere in the Seychelles or the Maldives perhaps. And that’s exactly what happened to Manish Jha before finding himself on Koh Samui.

 

Not that he doesn’t appreciate Samui; far from it, in fact. But, as he told me with a down-to-earth smile, “When you’ve already become used to ‘paradise’ then it’s not such a jolt!” And then added pensively, “But Samui is more gutsy and ethnic; more unspoiled in many ways. Away from the densest of the tourist areas people are still close to their culture and roots and this endows the island with the best of both worlds.”

 

Manish was born in India in the industrial centre of Jamshedpur, sometimes referred to as ‘the Chicago of India’. And, as a boy, dreamed of being a cricketer – of opening the innings, even perhaps in an international arena. Life pushes us all in unexpected directions and Manish now manages one of Samui’s top hotels. But those strong dreams of being the ‘opening bat’ must have formed deep roots. And one of the reasons that he is on Samui today is exactly that – he’s gained a solid reputation for ‘openings’, but not the cricketing kind!

 

Upon leaving school he graduated through hotel school and moved up though a series of positions in India’s top hotels and resorts. His first international engagement came some years later and transported him to ‘paradise’; in this case the Maldives, where he jump-started his career setting up – ‘opening’ – the Food and Beverage department for the new Taj Exotica Resort & Spa. After several more innings he was called upon to ‘open’ again, this time for the exclusive One and Only resort in Reethi Rah. And in 2005, when the Anantara Group began to build their flagship project, the Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa – Maldives, they took him on board to establish from scratch and once again ‘open’ their Food and Beverage department. And Manish remained there for a further six years until his eventual move sideways and upwards in 2010 as General Manager of Anantara Bophut: a new innings in a different paradise – Koh Samui.

 

“I’d been in the Maldives for more than ten years,” he explained, “and eight of them at Anantara. My wife, Ruchie, who had an established administrative career of her own, had not long produced our first child, our daughter, Bhavya. She’d already stopped working and I took a long look around and decided we both needed a change. And then William Heinecke, the CEO of the Minor Group that owns the Anantara chain, invited me to Koh Samui. This man is an inspiration to me and has my utmost respect and I leapt at the chance. Promotion to General Manager is both an honour and a challenge but I’ve been here a year now and we’ve all settled in fine.”

 

At the age of 33, Manish was probably the youngest GM around and, at first, found the hugely laid-back island lifestyle frustrating when it came to getting things done. He’s very much a ‘hands-on’ kind of guy and accustomed to prompt results. But after several eye-opening instances which involved him rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in himself (in the kitchen or in helping to service the rooms) he quickly found that he’d won the respect of the staff. “We’ve got two superb restaurants here,” he told me, “the gourmet Italian Full Moon and the relaxed High Tide. Plus 106 rooms and 20 luxury villas. And a flourishing spa and conference centre. The days when the manager sat in an office have long since passed. I don’t work set hours; sometimes I finish at 7:00 pm and sometimes at 11:00 pm. Now and then I even take a walkabout at 3:00 am just to see what’s happening. My phone is on 24 hours a day and I’ll come in right away if ever I’m needed. I’m a part of a team, and it’s a good one, and we all need each other to be effective.”

 

I asked Manish what he thought of the island now he’s had a chance to get to know it. His response was both measured and diplomatic. “Politically I’ve seen big advances in the short time that I’ve been here,” he replied. “And there is a very positive attitude towards responsible tourism. But there is still one significant element which needs to be addressed. I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that, even though visitors now have less money to spend, the cost of getting to Samui keeps on rising. We’re having to compete with inexpensive direct flights from Bangkok to Phuket and we’re losing more and more revenue in that respect. I’ve grown to love this island and I want to be able to do everything in my power to attract visitors here.”

 

Unlike some of the hardworking island residents, Manish seems to have seen more of Samui than most. And he’ll admit this is largely due to three year-old Bhavya. He takes one day off each week and fills it with being able to enjoy the company of his family. The monkey theatre and elephant treks, the waterfalls and mountain viewpoints; he’s come to know them well. And he’ll even confess to knowing the words to more cartoon jingles than he does pop songs, although that’s another story!

 

But, just in case you thought his innings as an ‘opener’ were over, not so! His appointment here came just at the right time to oversee the construction and opening of Anantara’s spectacular set of 20 new luxury pool villas. But that’s the way it goes with cricket. There’s always another game to play and more openings to manage, even on this little paradise we call Samui!

 

Rob De Wet

 


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