Samui Wining & Dining
Why Here?
Nora Beach Resort and Spa’s Food and Beverage Manager,
Panus Malai, has witnessed first-hand Thailand’s rise as a tourism superpower.


Why Here?Thailand’s tourism industry plays a significant role in the country’s continuing economic development. And an estimated 2.5 million people work in the sector. Many of them are employed in resorts, hotels and restaurants in the major tourist areas, like Samui. And a career in the industry is both rewarding and challenging. Panus Malai is the Food and Beverage Manager at Nora Beach Resort and Spa on the northern end of town. And with more than 30 years’ experience he’s seen Thailand become a major destination of choice for more than 15 million visitors every year. We spent the day with him to find out more about his career and his time on Samui.


JP: Tell us about your background please Panus.

PM: I was born in the north of Thailand and stayed there until my teens. My family then moved to Bangkok so that I could attend a better school in the city. From a young age I always helped my mum out in the kitchen and as I took a greater interest in food she encouraged me and taught me how to cook many different kinds of regional Thai dishes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a chef when I left school but I knew that jobs were readily available in the hotel sector and so I started working at the Montien Hotel’s restaurants in the city.


JP: How different was Bangkok back then compared to today? 

PM: In the late 1970s, tourism was just beginning to have a discernible impact on the place. There weren’t that many large hotels and most catered to the domestic market; particularly conferences and banqueting. That would soon change and I don’t think the construction of newer and bigger hotels has stopped since then.


JP: How did your career progress?

PM: I enjoyed the ‘front-of-house’ aspect of the business where I was in contact with customers every day rather shut away in a kitchen. That said, I’ve always taken a great interest in the food that was served and have learned an enormous amount about Thai and international cuisines from every chef I’ve worked with. I spent ten years in the capital and then the opportunity came up to go and work in Saudi Arabia for a year. It was hard work but it gave me another perspective on fine-dining and another culture. When I came back, I took restaurant manager positions at The Royal Gems Golf and Sports Club and then at The Swiss Park Hotel, both in Bangkok, where I spent several years.


JP: And after that?

PM: I’d spent most of my career up until then in the capital and I’d gained invaluable experience and was promoted a number of times but I was looking for a new challenge. In 1993, I was offered the position of Restaurant & Banqueting Manager at the 5-star Westin International Hotel (now The Sheraton), in Chiang Mai. It had 527 rooms, three function rooms, a grand ballroom that could seat 1,800 people, a Chinese restaurant that could cater for 700 people and a Mediterranean restaurant, as well as bars and a nightclub. I had to hit the ground running and this kind of role requires exceptional organizational and people management skills. I spent several years there that went past in a flash and then I took on a similar role at the Sofitel Raja Orchid Hotel in Khon Kaen, in the north-east of Thailand where I spent seven years. In 2003, I moved to the Mercure Hotel in Chonburi as Food and Beverage Manager and in 2005 I went to Samui for the first time. I spent a year at the Samui Peninsula Spa and Resort (now Q Signature Resort) and then spent another three years in Bangkok and Hua Hin. And then, in 2009, I joined the team at Silavadee Pool Spa Resort in Lamai before coming to Nora Beach Resort & Spa in 2010.


JP: Tell us something about Nora Beach Resort.

PM: It’s one of The Nora Group’s four hotels on Samui. The 113 rooms, suites and villas are on a gently sloping hill that leads down to a quiet bay on the very northern end of Chaweng. We have a large pool that most of the guests spend the day around which is beachside next to the Prasuthon Restaurant. It’s open from early morning until late into the evening and we have an excellent brigade of chefs led by Executive Chef, Khun Kittichai.


JP: Can you make some recommendations from the menu please? 

PM: We have an extensive menu that has regional Thai, western and fusion dishes and my favourite is the king fish. However, to really appreciate the breadth and depth of our culinary style, I’d suggest booking a table for one of our themed event nights; they’re hugely popular and attract guests from all over the island. On Mondays we host a ‘Touch of Thailand’ buffet with dozens of dishes from the four regions of Thailand (650 baht person and half-price for children aged 4-12 years). Wednesdays are ‘Sizzling Australian Steak and Barbecue Night’ with an open grill station and a live band (980 baht per person including a glass of wine). And on Fridays we have an ‘Under the Stars Beach Barbecue’ with fresh seafood, Thai and international cuisines, a Hawaiian Dance Show and a live band (980 baht per person and half-price for children aged 4-12 years). Each event starts at 6:30 pm.


JP: What’s a typical day like for you?

PM: I tend to come in early and check on the breakfast service; we can have over 200 guests when we’re full. My day is then filled with meetings, administrative work, training, planning events and weddings and being in the restaurant and bars during the busy periods. We also put on activities, such as cooking classes, fruit and vegetable carving and cocktail making classes, in the restaurant during the day. And I try and take some time to chat with our guests and make sure they have everything they need.


JP: Finally, Panus, when you do get the time, what do you like to do to relax? 

PM: I like to be with friends, eat out and let someone else do the running around. And as Samui has so many good restaurants, I never really need to cook again – although I probably will from time to time. I love the fact that my job means I spend my days by the ocean. That’s relaxing and calming and one of the main reasons why I came here and why I intend to stay.


Johnny Paterson


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