Pichit Kulkeatdech unveils his latest “baby,” a state-of-the-art THB 200 million river cruise that he says will change the face of the dinner cruise experience along the Chao Phraya.
by Percy Roxas.
He’s called the “River Boat King,” and very few can question the title. Pichit Kulkeatdech, president and CEO of the Grand Pearl Co., Ltd., operates four—out of the current 10—dinner cruise boats on the Chao Phraya River, making him the biggest boat operator on the “River of Kings” today.
A jovial, friendly guy, Kulkeatdech started his business from scratch; his story is actually the very stuff of legends. But this son of a migrant Chinese businessman who made good in Thailand through pure guts and determination earned his success through sheer hard work.
Kulkeatdech simply says his life has been a series of ups and downs, although he prefers not to delve on the downs but rather focus on the ups. “I’m a very positive person,” he tells us. And indeed, despite the many challenges he has faced in running an almost 30-year-old boat business, he has emerged even stronger.
Today, he owns and operates not only the Grand Pearl Cruises but also a French restaurant on River City Complex, where on any given night one might find him jamming with the band. He finds equilibrium in singing and hanging out with close friends there during his free time.
Kulkeatdech recently unveiled his latest “baby:” a state-of-the-art THB 200 million river cruise he says aims to change the face of the dinner cruise experience in Bangkok. “It is the most luxurious dinner cruise boat on the Chao Phraya so far,” he describes the boat, which he christened Wonderful Pearl Luxury River Cruise and Dining Experience (●www.grandpearlcruise.com; 02 861 0255 ext 5). “It’s set to raise the bar among the present crop of river cruises, in size, service, and facilities.”
Naturally, it’s all he can talk about these days. “It has taken us two years to built this new boat, using all of our expertise and knowledge of over 20 years in the business to make this our most luxurious boat on the Chao Phraya so far,” he says. “It’s big, comfortable, luxurious. The 65-meter long and 50.5-meter wide vessel can accommodate up to 700 people. Before this, our biggest boat, Grand Pearl 1, can only accommodate up to 300 people.”
He made sure Wonderful Pearl would be an outstanding boat. “The builders used luxurious materials such as marbles and high-standard steel, among other elements, to give it a totally sleek look; an interior designer was commissioned to complement the structure and give it the feel we wanted; and even the lighting was designed deliberately to evoke an ambience of luxury and exclusivity. There is even a colorful fountain of the topmost deck that highlights the area,” he says.
What prompted him to build another boat for dinner cruise? “Most of the dinner cruises operating today, including mine, are too crowded, too inconvenient, and too commercialized,” he says. “I want to deliver a higher-end experience for the growing number and changing demographics of dinner cruise guests.”
In almost 30 years of operations, Kulkeatdech’s company established a number of successful programs and events such as “Candle Light Dinner Cruises,” “Ayutthaya Tours,” and all-day events chartered by domestic and international corporations as well as private parties. With the Wonderful Pearl, he expects not only the river cruise market segment to grow further, but also the experience to become even more memorable.
“Imagine cruising along the Chao Phraya River, being enchanted by memorable sceneries as you enjoy our exquisite Thai and international buffet line,” he tempts us. “Whether sipping a refreshing cocktail prepared by one of our world-class bartenders or treating yourself to a glass of wine sourced from a selected group of exclusive vineyards from around the globe and served by our well-trained staff, you are bound for nothing but a pleasurable experience.”
Kulkeatdech also felt that the experience of a luxury river cruise—probably once-in-a-lifetime for many Thailand visitors—is not complete without some grand entertainment. Therefore, a common evening would start with a welcome by a veteran Thai saxophonist and an Elvis Presley lookalike, joined later by a group of Filipino musicians. The live musical entertainment is eclectic, although mostly jazz-pop.
“The journey only last about three hours or less, but the experience is really something to cherish,” says Jacqueline Tan, a Chinese guest on the dinner cruise during out visit. “Wonderful Pearl puts you in the lap of dinner cruise luxury.”
Some naysayers say Kulkeatdech is taking a big gamble by putting such an expensive boat for a Chao Phraya dinner cruise, considering that it will probably be more expensive than existing river cruise operations. But he is unperturbed.
“I think the business potential of the Chao Phraya has yet to be tapped to the full,” he says. “Besides, I believe that the attitudes of modern travelers are changing; today they understand that value-for-money doesn’t mean getting everything at bargain prices, but they now understand—even look for—the new meaning of value: high-standard and good quality.”