On the shore of Long Beach, on the west side of Ko Lanta Thai Island, is the cosy beach bar named Pangea. Like the island itself, this place knows how to mix native Thai nature with the western touristic vision, offering visitors a quality location with a multicultural atmosphere where they can enjoy the sunsets and parties with international DJs. Now in its sixth summer, the bar run by owners Alex Chamarre (Corsica) and Dokie (southern Thailand) is an example of success based on cultural mix, hard work, perseverance and mutual respect. Alex tells us about the path they took that led to the achievement of a dream.
Ko Lanta Yai, an accidental destination
Chance – or maybe destiny – was what led Alex to Ko Lanta Yai Island in 2009 after having worked in various European cities and travelled half of the world. Alex tells us his story: "After working in the catering industry in different places like London, Ibiza, France... I decided to travel. First I went to Latin America and then to Australia. When I was there, some friends of mine contacted me and told me that they were working in Thailand, in Ko Lanta Island, and they needed someone to help at a bar-restaurant. So I went there without knowing exactly where I was going. Thailand was not in my plans."
Alex arrived at Ko Lanta archipelago and district, in the southern province of Krabi. This archipelago is made up of 52 islands, but the two main and most populous ones are Ko Lanta Yai, known as Ko Lanta, and its smaller neighbour, Ko Lanta Noi. A strip of water just one kilometre long separates them. South of Ko Lanta Yai, the terrain is quite rocky; by contrast, the northwest coast, where Long Beach and Pangea are, has a tourist infrastructure with hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and more. This coast is very busy during the dry season, or summer, from November to October. In addition to tourism, fishing, bananas, cashew nuts and rubber cultivation represent the livelihoods of local people. To the northeast are the famous Phi Phi and Phuket archipelagos: an island group more developed and exploited by tourism than Ko Lanta, where local culture is still preserved. This culture is characterised by an ancestral fusion of the civilisations of its first inhabitants: the sea Gypsies.
Pangea, a world without borders
Ko Lanta Island captivated Alex, who did not hesitate to return. When he did, he found the missing piece that helped him realise his dream. "When summer finished in October 2009 I went to France, but I already knew that I was going back. So I did the next year – this was when I met my partner Dokie. He already had a bar, and we started talking about opening a new one on the beach. Dokie had the land and contacts and I had some money. This encounter was what made it possible to open Pangea, which didn’t happen until the next season."
The blend of Dokie´s knowledge about the island and Alex´s experience in the European tourism industry resulted in a place that offered something different to anywhere else on the island at that time. "The initial idea was very simple – open a beach bar and organise parties. There were already other places like that on the island, but after my third season in Ko Lanta, I realised that something was missing: a bar a bit more modern, more adapted to European tourism. With this idea in mind, we built a bar which, at the beginning, was no more than a few pieces of wood, a sound system and a few beers."
And just like that, on 6 December 2011, the two partners were celebrating the opening party, naming the bar ‘Pangea’ – a name with meaning that also symbolises a lifestyle, a dream. "For me, opening my own bar on the beach was a dream. Years ago I saw a documentary that explained what Pangea was. It was the name that the Earth had near 350 million years ago, when all the continents were together, before they moved. That idea stuck in my mind, and I thought that if one day I had a bar I would name it that because this is my interpretation of life. I see the world as if it had no borders; it´s the idea of all being together, as it was on Earth before, because for me there is no religion, there is no skin colour. And this is Pangea, a meeting place for people from all around the world, from all cultures and religions."
The sixth season: an example of perseverance
Like almost everything in life, the beginnings are often the most difficult part and success comes after years of effort, dedication and perseverance. "We started out really excited about the future, but at the beginning we had problems. The most serious thing was when, after the first season, we closed the bar for the winter. That year there were many heavy storms, the tide came in a lot and swept away the bar, and destroyed everything. Luckily, my partner Dokie knew a couple at the time that lent us money to rebuild the bar; thanks to this we were able to continue with Pangea.”
For the past five years, Pangea has been growing and improving with each season by incorporating new services and events. "Every year we have included something new. At the beginning we only had drinks and one party per week. In the second season we started to organise the Sunday sunset party. In the third season we added the kitchen: it was something simple; we only offered salads and sandwiches. In the fourth we opened the restaurant with a Thai chef. During the fifth season, last year, all of these small projects started to work and more people began to come. This season we have a team of 12 people and we’ll try to do it all even better."
This winter is the sixth season for Pangea, a time in the evolution of the dream that will determine its next steps forward. "The biggest change happened between the fourth and the fifth seasons. We went from having a moderate amount of costumers to hosting many people. It was a great season. At the moment, this summer is going well, but we are kind of waiting to see how it develops. This year will guide us; the results will tell us how to perform and what to decide for the future.”
The secret is in the mix
In spite of the uncertainty of all ongoing projects, there’s no doubt that Pangea knows how to attract and keep its customers. Maybe its secret lies in the idea of mixing and merging different worlds, a fusion that is felt not only in Pangea´s atmosphere, but also in its music and menu. "90% of our customers are European tourists, but they are a mix of many nationalities. Although Pangea is a bar of bamboo and wood, like many others in the island, I think people somehow notice that it´s run by a foreigner, maybe because of the way it is run, the music, things like that. In the island bars they play predominantly reggae music, but here we play a little bit of everything: funk, African music, Spanish music… So, people see something different, they notice the mix. Pangea is a Thai beach bar with a European touch; or the other way around, it's a European bar with the Thai spirit. It depends on how you want to see it.”
This cultural cocktail can also be seen, touched and tasted in the drinks on offer. "Our menu is a mix of what I already knew from my experience in Europe, and Thai products. The idea was to make a very basic drinks menu with a simple cocktail list, including the classic ones. This was combined with the typical drinks from here, which are more fresh fruit smoothies. The result is something very simple but at the same time different, like our 'Happy Hour Pangea Special', which is like a mojito but with a Thai flavour. The concept is to offer something simple but good quality. That applies to everything we offer: food, drinks, music, service, parties...”
One step ahead: festivals and promotion
Perhaps it’s this ‘simplicity and quality’ approach, together with the initiative of blending a more modern and European vision with Thai traditions, that has placed Pangea one step ahead. "I don´t want to change the Thai style of doing things. I work as a team with the people from here. But what I´m trying to do is to apply a more modern vision, a bit more advanced in terms of running a bar. For example, Pangea was the first to organise the Sunday sunset party, to bring international DJs to play at our parties, and to promote ourselves visually in a more attractive way."
The results are evident in the two events that Pangea organises every week. "Every Sunday we host the sunset party. We call it 'Deep Sunday' because we play chill-out music. Sometimes, if people liven up, we keep going till midnight, but it's a quiet event. Many young tourists come, but there are also families with children and local people who work in restaurants or hotels and want to enjoy their day off.”
On Tuesday, however, Pangea powers through until early morning to the beat of electronic music. "We call it the ‘Tuesday Party’. It starts at 10 at night and finishes at 4 or 5 in the morning. Usually we begin with our resident DJ and then each week we invite other DJs who come from different countries: Germany, France, England, Spain, Thailand... At the beginning it was difficult to contact them and invite them over to Pangea, but slowly the word spread and we have had very well-known DJs like James What; Poker Flat-Model Maker record label; Cesare vs Disorder from Serialism record label; Azimute; Vakant; Nakadia from Get Physical-Cocoon; Cesar Merveille Cadenza-Roche Madame; and Von M Washin Mashin."
One of the most important events in Pangea is the New Year’s Eve Party, when, in high season, hundreds of tourists escape from the European cold to spend Christmas on the warm sand and under the Thai sun. This year, as in the previous one, they crowded Long Beach to celebrate the beginning of the year. Pangea played host, livening up the evening with the music from the likes of Moro Project DJ from Germany. “Our New Year’s Eve Party was very good. At midnight the beach was already packed – there must have been about 500 people. We were dancing, drinking and celebrating until the sun came up.”
The colourful and visual design for promoting these events was also a first on the island. "I remember that when I arrived here the flyers and posters that were distributed were black and white drawings. We were the first to make something in colour. This year we have changed the design again – now it's even more colourful and modern, more adapted to European tourists. Before each party we go to the port and we distribute these flyers among tourists. We also promote the event on our Facebook page and several Facebook groups where local festivals are published, such as Party Night Club or Ko Lanta Loco, as well as on Thailand Full Moon website. We have some music sessions on soundcloud and YouTube too."
Realising a dream through respect, integration and hard work
Alex, together with Dokie, has managed to turn a dream into reality. The Pangea keys to success lie in its way of working and coexisting with its environment through respect, authenticity, difference integration, perseverance and confidence in achieving a goal. "My experience has taught me that you can live anywhere in the world if you respect what you find and you are yourself. I have seen how foreigners have arrived to the island with a lot of money and big ambitions, trying to impose things here without respect, and they haven’t even lasted a year because people did not accept them. I´m still here I think the secret is respect. That includes respect for the natural environment. We try to look after it as much as possible: we clean the beach, avoid glass and recycle plastic."
Respect is, certainly, the first step to being able to offer and receive, to communicate, to understand each other, to overcome and integrate differences, and to realise a new idea, a new project, a dream. "I believe that our way of working is the integration of those two visions: the European and Thai. I bring the experience I learned while working in Europe, which is maybe more focused on organising, cleaning, forecasting... The Thai side is the welcoming; they are very helpful, they always try to help, and are very authentic and natural. People talk about the 'Thai smile' and it’s true: this is the land of the smile, and you can see it and feel it everywhere at all times. But then there are also negative aspects. For example, they can't say no – it is something cultural. At work they also always avoid confrontation: they don´t say things directly. I think in Europe this is different – if you have a problem, you say it, you argue and later you talk about it, but I guess confrontation can be also negative. But I think understanding, overcoming and reconciling these differences is what makes Pangea different."
Nevertheless, success also needs perseverance, effort, determination, and a strong belief that everything is possible if you really want it. "To make a business like this work, it´s essential that you really, truly want it. It´s not enough to have the money to open it and see how it works – you need to know how to work in the catering industry, which is not easy. It´s tough and never stops; you must be patient, things are not done from one day to another, and above all, you have to believe in what you´re doing and keep going, keep going. But in the end it’s worth it!”
In the future, live in the present
The reward for Pangea’s dedication and determination is seeing the response they get from people; growing, sharing and giving the best of themselves; enjoying what they have built and achieved; and creating a future knowing how to live in the present. "What I've learned here after 7 years is to live every day, in the now, working and concentrating on the current season. People come to the bar not just to enjoy themselves because we offer this European and Thai mix, but also because this is a positive place where you eat and drink well, you listen good music, you can meet people and share, and because we do our best to make this happen. And people respond – they usually come back the next year and recommend us to others. This makes us want to carry on: seeing people enjoy themselves is satisfying for us. There’s a moment that I have each season, when we are having a party at Pangea. I grab my beer, I walk away, I watch everything from the outside, and then I get this feeling. I feel moved when I see that what we have built works and people are enjoying and are happy at that moment."