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Islands in the sun

ML Kalyakorn Kasemsri turns her love for her country's tropical paradises into her first book

ML Kalyakorn "Khem" Kasemsri feels very unhappy if she is away from the sea for too long. Devoted to the deep, the waters have a calming effect on her spirit while the islands in the Andaman and Gulf of Thailand offer a haven for her soul.

Out of this lifelong love affair with our world-renowned but fast-changing marine resources has come Khem's first book "Ultimate Islands: Thailand's Best Tropical Islands". In the coffee-table tome, which runs to more than 300 pages, she tells foreigners how to enjoy the best 100 islands out of the 300 islands in Thai waters in the right way.

"My main goal is to promote Thai tourism," she says, adding: "Most books on our islands are written by foreign authors. These books are either positive about our islands or very critical of them. But I am Thai. I know my subject well, and have some accurate information and objectivity that allows for a better understanding of our country. It's not all praise nor is it negative. I just present the right information, and through this, readers will form their own judgement."

Kalyakorn chose to launch her book on the relatively unknown Coral Island, a 30-minute speedboat ride from Phuket. The launch also included island hopping on a yacht from Wahoo Big Game Fishing (Thailand) and first-class accommodation at Vijitt Resort.

The event sought to illustrate Kalyakorn's colourful past and unbridled love for the Thai blue seas.

At the age of 10, Khem left Thailand to study in Australia for one year then returned home for two years before heading back off Down Under to attend an all-girl boarding school. The following year, she moved to England, where she enrolled in high school then went on to study graphic design at university.

Back in Thailand in her early 20s, Khem joined Thai Airways International as a flight attendant, a job she kept for three years.

A friend persuaded her to give up flying and join Merrill Lynch. Three years later, she was on the move again, joining the Peninsula Hotel Bangkok as a PR manager.

Stints in the real estate, with the McCann Worldgroup and Absolute Impact followed.

But her true love is travelling. And now she's turned her passion into business. Her travel website www.WorldTravelJoy.com doles out expert advice to fellow voyagers.

Years of travelling solo with only her dog for company culminated in the publication of "Ultimate Islands". She's responsible for the photography, which took two months, and the text, which required three months of writing.

"I took all the photos in the books myself. I liked photography and did study the discipline," she says.

The content is divided into Thailand's main regions and subdivided into provinces. The practical information is there too. The only part in the book that Khem doesn't write is the list of recommended restaurants, which is provided by one of her sponsors, Singha Beer.

Khem seeks to promote Thailand's natural beauty, and has picked the islands as the subject because she feels Thai islands are of unparalleled beauty.

"That's why they continue to attract a lot of foreign tourists such as westerners," she says. "I'm also a nature lover myself. A holiday to the islands can never be missed. When I took a break from my UK studies, I needed to spend time near the sea or on an island. Every minute I spend in a beautiful and interesting location offshore will always give me more pleasure and worthy memories. The colours of an azure blue sky contrasting with crystal clear blue seas; the genuine lushness of green vegetation … these are nature's infinite and ineffable qualities. It is undeniably a balanced way of life in this wonderful world of ours."

Khem has picked around 100 islands and has visited each one.

The most beautiful islands on the Gulf of Thailand are, she says, the Angthong Islands in Surat Thani. The most stunning in the Andaman is Tachai Island, which belongs to the Similan Marine National Park.

"Tachai's sand is white and soft. Your feet sink as you step on the beach. All kinds of fish can be seen fooling around near the beach, and there are more than seven colours of corals under the water.

"Angthong Islands consist of 42 islands. In reality, only five or six islands are accessible to tourists. But the Angthong are the most beautiful in the gulf. Taking photos of the sprawl of these 42 islands involves climbing to the top of the Wua Talap Island (where the national park office is located). It's very difficult to get to the top because there's no stairs. But the view up there is worth the effort," she explains.

The book has something to please every island lover, regardless of whether or not they can swim. Historical sketches of each island are provided. She traces Koh Chang's development as a tourist destination back the Fifth Reign, for example.

Khem's most challenging chapter was the one covering the southern islands, which required extensive research. She was amazed to find that Krabi has the most islands in the country.

She is against the lack of restrictions on tourist traffic at marine national parks.

Popular destinations such as the Similan and Surin Islands, which are known for excellent diving, are now inundated with tourists.

"I went diving in Similan not long ago and under the water, you see more divers than the fish," she says, adding: "Samui doesn't' feel special to me anymore. Neither does the Maya Beach, which is cluttered with tourists blocking the natural views in the background. On one occasion, I spotted tourists leaving a pile of Styrofoam lunch boxes behind on Ardang Lawee Island," she says.

The writer's media trip to ML Kaluakorn Kasemsri's book launch in Phuket was supported by Bangkok Airways, Vijitt Resort, and Wahoo Big Game Fishing (Thailand).



IN THE DEEP

"Ultimate Islands" is available at Asia Books and Kinokuniya. It'll be available at bookstores in the UK, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong soon.


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