Bangkok is a city brimming with talented and fascinating people. In 27 Questions, we interview notable Bangkok personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, important life moments and their hopes and dreams, all revealed in about the same amount of time it takes to sit through a round of speed dating.
We’re sitting on velvet sofas inside a Jaqueline Kennedy-inspired bar on the second floor of Bangkok’s latest cool cat Mecca, and we’re sipping fresh watermelon juice.
We’re at Siri House — naturally — and we’re listening with sweet delight to the man who is not only its visionary mastermind, but a soothing personification of what it stands for, too. Ou Baholyodhin is the Chief Creative Officer for Sansiri, Thailand’s leading real estate developer. Today, he’s taking us on a stirring journey of sorts.
Of course, journeys are kind of Ou Baholyodhin’s thing. Born into a distinguished military and political family, Ou is from Thailand, but spent a lot of his time growing up and living in the United Kingdom. With a diverse range of interests and strong “nomadic tendencies”, it came almost second nature that he pursued a career in the design arts. He first opened Ou Baholyodhin Studio (OBS) in London in 1997, before embarking on a design journey that spans not only space and product, but also events, branding, and both national and international commercial projects. If you’ve felt homesick and eaten at Mayfair’s Patara, you’ll be familiar. If you’ve marvelled at the Spencer Hart showroom on Savile Row, you’ll be familiar. And if you’ve ever hung out at Trocadero in Fukuoka, then yes, you’ll be familiar. You may have just never known that you were indeed this familiar.
But such is Ou Baholyodhin’s charm. The suave speaker with a humble and noble aura is not a show-off. He doesn’t need to be. In 2000, he was appointed Creative Director for the legendary Jim Thompson, and within the same period published two books (Living with Zen and Being with Flowers). After various successful stints befitting penthouses in Knightsbridge, villas in Malibu, and yachts on the Italian Riviera, in 2018, he then became Chief Creative Officer for Sansiri, a position that had not even existed before. It was especially crafted for him.
It is a true testament to Ou’s skill, and a brilliant example of where the work speaks volumes for the talent, but also for the man’s character. Read ahead as he takes us on an illustrious voyage with stops along the way for flip flops at the Vogue Gala, the best roast beef in Bangkok, and a nightmare of a shopping bill in Milan.
Name: Ou Nopadon Baholyodhin
Occupation: Chief Creative Officer for Sansiri
What is your life motto?
Do not procrastinate.
What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Bangkok?
My mum’s roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It’s the love that makes it the best meal.
Who is your role model?
My grandpa. A very wise man.
What was your first job?
I was a vintage furniture and art dealer when I was a student in London. I just wanted to make some extra pocket money on the weekend, so I had a stall in Camden market and sold design pieces, furniture, and art. I earned more there than at my second job as a designer!
What is your drink of choice?
Fresh pressed orange juice; but they didn’t have that today, so I’m on watermelon juice.
When was the last time you drove a car?
Monday in Milan. I can’t drive in Bangkok.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m neither. I go to bed early but I wake up really late. I normally wake up with an alarm, but go up to as much as nine snoozes. I get tired very easily so I go to bed early, normally before midnight. It’s all or nothing. If I’m up, I might as well stay up until 1am, but if I’m tired, I go to bed. I don’t like doing things halfway.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Something similar to what they serve here at Quince. Something vitamin-loaded with fibre, low in fatty acids, with quinoa and greens, and low-fat protein meat. I know it sounds disgusting, but I would live very long [laughs] — and it’d feel even longer.
What is your biggest regret in life?
Probably that I hadn’t told my Dad I loved him before he died.
What do you hate most about living in Bangkok?
The materialism. The sense that there’s nothing to do. My friends come here and I get embarrassed because it’s either shopping in malls or going to eat omakase. Eat, shop, eat, shop, eat, shop. It’s very, very narrow. So flat and one-dimensional.
How often do you prepare your own meals?
When I lived in London I prepared 3 meals a day. And since I moved to Thailand I haven’t prepared a single meal. I use Lineman [laughs] a lot.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing my mum.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Do you have to be guilty from pleasure? I don’t feel guilty from any pleasure. Pleasure is a good thing.
What is one TV show everyone should see?
I don’t watch TV. I haven’t watched broadcast TV in the last 20-something years. In the old days, we had this thing called DVD machines. I used to watch DVDs, but I haven’t watched TV shows in a long time.
What is your typical Sunday like?
Sundays are for the Sunday market. Chatuchak!
Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
I lost not just my dad, but my brother and my sister as well. I would say a moment I would most like to relive is when the whole family was together.
What makes someone a real Bangkokian?
Somebody who does more than just eat and shop and eat and shop. Somebody who finds other pleasures in Bangkok beyond the materialistic pursuits.
What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
Imagine by John Lennon.
If you could banish someone from Bangkok forever, who would it be?
I can’t say that! I’d be arrested if I told you. I’d probably end up six feet under [laughs].
Where do you go when you want to be alone?
Up in the air. I love my time flying, especially long distance, where there’s nobody I know, and no WiFi. Not European flights, though. You always have people you know on Thai Airways to London or Paris.
What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
Oh, god, how long do you have? [laughs] My mum’s going to be reading this!
I still feel guilty about this. I must have been five or six, and I always played about with my brother and sister. One day we were playing on this grand piano — my mum’s piano. I pressed a key and put a candy inside, which broke the piano, and they thought it was my brother. He got in trouble, and I never owned up. I just let him get in trouble. He didn’t know I did it. It’s a big, big secret. I know it sounds a little bit silly now, but it was a big thing at the time.
What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
I still keep this little box of Japanese incense. I bought it in Tokyo many, many years ago. It’s got sandalwood and all sorts of things, and it’s from an old incense house from the 1700s in Kyoto. When I ran out, I went back to buy another box, but now they stopped making them, so I just have that second box. I use it every time I want that really special scent, but I’m so frugal using it. I want it to last for the rest of my life.
Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, and what is one important lesson they taught you?
My boss. The president at Sansiri. The best lesson he taught me is to never procrastinate. If there are problems or issues, sort them out, and talk them out straight away. Don’t waste time.
Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life?
Both are pretty horrible. If I had to choose, I’d never be alone for the rest of my life. I mean, if it’s with somebody you love and enjoy, everyday for the rest of your life, that’s pretty good.
What is the last dream you remember waking up to?
I woke up in sweat when I was in Milan. I dreamt that I was with a friend, and they started adding all my shopping expenses together, and they told me it came to 30,000-something euros. That’s like a million Baht! I know I did a lot of shopping but I didn’t know it was that much. When I woke up, I texted my friend like, “it was a dream, right?” Phew. [smiles]
How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? Which do you wear the most often?
I probably have about 3-4 boots, 6 pairs of proper leather shoes, and maybe 10 sneakers, but my favourite are my Havaianas — my flip flops I wear every day. I wear them in the car before I get to work and put on proper shoes, and throw them back on the moment I’m done with work. I even went to the Vogue Gala a few months ago when it was raining and flooded, and everyone had their beautiful dress shoes smothered in mud, and I turned up in my dinner jacket, black tie, and flip flops. Havaianas.
What was the best moment of your life?
That’s a hard one. I would say one of the best was the Christmas of 2006. I got a Landrover with my partner and my Dalmatian dog, and we set off and drove southwards and took a long trip until we were ready to come back. I ended up spending three months living in Morocco, in the mountains and in the desert, just living in and out of the car and staying in tents. It was life-changing. After that I came back, and I quit my job, moved to a beach, and retired for six years. That was the beginning of both a mid-life crisis and a mid-life enlightenment.