I first met Lies Sol in 2005 aboard Patti Seeri’s stunning wooden-built traditional Indonesian sailing Phinisi Silolona, which was moored off Trisara Resort in Phuket’s north-west at the time. It was fitting that I should meet such a classy lady aboard such a classy sailing vessel and the first impression that Lies made has endured.
Lies represented the quintessential Phuket island romantic, the sort of heroine you’d find in a James Michener novel about escape to exotic tropical isles. And yet here she was, not a fictionalised romantic creation, but the living, breathing author of her own life of adventure.
Lies hails from Amsterdam and speaks Dutch, English, French and German, plus basic Japanese and Thai. Her early adventurous spirit was ignited by an uncle, a missionary based in Ambon since the early 1950s, who told magnificent stories of his travels when she was a wide-eyed little girl.
Early Days of Adventure
After university in Amsterdam, Lies decamped for Japan and taught English and translated for a living in Tokyo, all while studying Japanese and appearing in TV programs and commercials. However, it seems Lies’ soul felt the call of the ocean and the tantalising possibility of a life scuba diving and sailing saw her, on a whim, heading to southern Thailand and an undeveloped tropical paradise called Phuket.
As Lies tells it, “Someone in Bangkok said just get on a bus and head south until you find paradise. So, I did and arrived at the furthest point to which the bus went, which was a palm-fringed beach called Kata.”
It was 1989 and Lies says, “Phuket was bustling with like-minded souls seeking the chance of adventure and escape from the confines of the modern world. We tended to live freewheeling bohemian lives, sleeping on boats, the beach, or in ramshackle beachside accommodation. There were plenty of parties fuelled by grog and good company and there was a shared sense that here you could re-invent yourself and be whoever you wanted and do whatever you wanted to do.”
The Call of the Sea
In Lies’ case this meant following her great passion – the Siren call of the mighty oceans. She became the manager of a bare-boat chartering company in Chalong dealing with all the weird and wonderful customer requests and problems that arose day-to-day.
Lies passed all her scuba qualifications to become a dive instructor and worked with Siam Diving and the Dive Café for a time before moving to Phi Phi Island for a couple of years and working as a dive instructor at the Palm Beach Resort.
Between 1994 and 1996 she went on to work aboard the luxury yacht Modern Star in Indonesia, then managed the private island Papa Theo and organised the first “Thousand Islands Regatta”. Later she became chief stewardess, cook and dive instructor aboard luxury charter yachts sailing around Florida, the Caribbean, Indonesia, New Guinea, Langkawi and Phuket. It was the sort of life that would make James Michener salivate but it was all simply a day-to-day reality for the amazingly adventurous spirit called Lies Sol.
From Adventuress to a World of Luxury and PR
Some spoilsports might say that you eventually have to pay the price for such freedom and hedonism when you reach later life, but Lies seems to have made an effortless transition to a more stable, even dare I type it, more conventional existence, without losing her passion for adventure. She went on to work for Art Asia Publishing on Phuket and SEA Yachting magazines and became heavily involved in organising the King’s Cup and Phang Nga Bay Regattas for several years.
In 2006 she joined Mom Tri’s Boathouse at Kata Beach and became well known in her new role as that iconic resort and restaurant’s ever-smiling PR manager, working with the legendary Louis Bronner and of course Mom Tri Devakul himself.
Her new milieu of luxurious wine dinners, parties and international jet-setters was one in which Lies thrived. But never one to let the grass grow beneath her feet, five years later she took an entirely new direction, training as a yoga teacher in California before returning to Phuket to teach at Bikram Yoga. While still a keen yoga practitioner, Lies is now focussing on her latest full time job as resident director at Northrop and Johnson Thailand.
An Amazing Journey for Lies and for Phuket
Lies has astounding life story and she compares her own journey with that of Phuket itself over the past years.
“I have seen enormous changes in Phuket over the almost 30 years I’ve called it home. It has gone from being a pretty undeveloped escapist’s dream, to one of the world’s most popular mainstream tourist hubs.
“This has brought with it inevitable growing pains such as traffic congestion, environmental stress and rampant construction, but there have also been giant strides in the sophistication of experiences Phuket can offer residents and visitors.
“When I arrived, Phuket had a beer and som tum culture, you couldn’t get good Western food, or a even a glass of wine. Everything closed down in the rainy season. I had to drive to Phuket Town to pay my bills, buy Western food, or phone my mum. Now you can find anything you want here and we are totally connected to the rest of the world 24/7. I would say Phuket is different, rather than better than the old days. A different sort of traveller finds their way to Phuket now and they are also looking for different things.”
So where is Phuket heading?
“We have exchanged penurious adventurers for bus-loads of Asian tourists, but as a commercial tourist-based economy you have to adapt or die. However, Phuket’s environmental decline is terrible and combined with the horrendous traffic, it could well signal our death knell in future.
“Phuket now needs to be managed like a big city, with effective garbage separation and processing; a comprehensive public transportation system; and strictly-enforced building and development codes. Frankly, I feel most sorry for the local people who now live in Thailand’s most expensive region and face traffic and environmental problems on a growing scale. Foreigners have the choice of leaving any time they wish, but the locals will be left with the appalling mess that fast progress and tourist development have made.”
It was a sobering end to a lovely dinner in the cheery, bubbly atmosphere of Rossovivo. As I walked out to the car park with Lies, I noticed a sign in a window that read: “Laugh today… it’s later then you think.”
Yes, indeed Phuket!