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End of the affair. The Thai Muang Golf Club being demolished to make way for a much grander plan.

Exclusive: Huge Phang Nga Sale Splurge

Thursday, December 6, 2007
A TWO-BILLION BAHT-plus deal for the Thai Muang golf course is likely to revolutionise the tourism and real estate businesses along Thailand's idyllic Andaman coast.

According to informed sources, the golf course has been bought by superrich Hong Kong businessman Richard Li, who plans a major development in the area that has so far remained a ''sleepy hollow'' in the province of Phang Nga, north of Phuket.

News of the purchase, revealed exclusively for the first time here on Phuketwan, is likely to trigger a shift of investment cash north from the well-known holiday island to Phang Nga, traditionally its less progressive neighbor.

The Thai Muang golf course and its surrounds occupy 1070 rai. The future use of the site will be revealed on December 10 in Hong Kong to insiders and possibly others when the wraps come off Mr Li's masterplan for the first time.

Details are yet to be disclosed but at least one six-star resort is tipped to be part of the package. The golf course has been closed for several weeks and the existing buildings are now being demolished, part of the sales agreement.

It is anticipiated that the 18-hole golf course, which has some notable ocean scenery and is a links course unlike those on Phuket, will probably be retained, perhaps even promoted as a centrepiece.

The scale of this purchase exceeds any in modern times in the Andaman region. It is likely to have the immediate effect of sparking a land boom in and around the small, relatively undistinguished township of Thai Muang.

Even in a large natural disaster, Thai Muang failed to achieve much notice. While the 2004 tsunami caused havoc all along the Andaman coast, other regions in Phang Nga were hit much harder and, as a consequence, received much more attention in the aftermath recovery and rebuilding phases.

Most of the destroyed and damaged resorts in Khao Lak, about 30 kilometres north along the coast, have been restored without anyone showing a great deal of interest in Thai Muang . . . until now.

Although the two are neighbors, down the decades Phang Nga has been the slower province in developing as a tourist destination. Phuket has about 10 times the number of rooms and resorts.

Phang Nga's south has mostly attracted ''natural'' tourists, especially Germans and Swedes, who found the increasing commercialisation of Phuket not to their liking and moved north to the peace and quiet of the province next door.

The Thai Muang development, expected to be open for business in about three years, is predicted to change all that. One influential local says the arrival of Richard Li is ''sensational'' and will almost certainly be a springboard for rapid development of the whole of Phang Nga.

To put the two-billion-baht-plus purchase in perspective, Phuket's own 20-year-old Laguna Phuket resort complex, consisting of six quality resorts with an expanding property arm, recorded net earnings of one billion baht for the first time in 2006, according to 'Property Report Thailand' magazine.

Laguna is looking at expanding to Vietnam and also has a joint-venture plan ''to develop 400 rai near Laguna for residential, commercial, retail and entertainment purposes,'' chairman K. P. Ho was quoted as saying in the November issue.

It could be that Richard Li's entry into the region will generate greater interest in large-scale developments of this kind, both in Phang Nga and Phuket.

Existing large investors whose complete plans have yet to be disclosed include Raffles, the noted Singapore resort brand, on land in Phang Nga and Ripley's, the US adventure theme park chain, on land in Phuket.

Billionaires have been growing more interested in the Andaman region over recent years, but the entry of Richard Li takes big money to a new level for this part of the world.

Now aged 41, Richard Li is the second son of Li Ka-shing, whom the online Wilkepedia describes without qualification in his son's entry as ''Asia's richest man.''

Possibly the most all-pervasive billionaire in Hong Kong, Wilkepedia calls Li Ka-shing in his own biog ''the richest person of Chinese descent in the world, one of the richest and most influential investors in Asia, and the ninth richest man in the world according to 'Forbes,' with an estimated wealth of $23 billion on March 6, 2007.''

Richard Li is a billionaire in his own right through media and technology investments and as the driving force behind the Hong Kong PCCW broadband telco.

Wilkepedia says that In April 1999, when Richard Li announced he would turn telco equipment distributor Tricom Holdings into ''Asia's premier Internet company'' under the name PCCW, the stock recorded a gain of more than 1200 percent in a single day.

Now it could be the turn of real estate in Phang Nga to experience the Li effect.

Mr Li's official website adds that he is a pilot and a licensed dive master. It is not known whether he enjoys golf.

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