Once upon a time, there was a small Thai family. They were Samui folk, part of the island’s community, stretching back for generations. Unlike some, they weren’t wealthy. They didn’t own huge plantations or long strips of beach. But the head of the family, Khun Cherd, was savvy. He had watched his island change. He’d seen more and more white faces coming to town. He’d looked on as more little huts and houses were built, and family-owned resorts bloomed on the beach. And so he began to supply a need. He opened a small shop, called it ‘Friendship Motorcycles’, and rented-out scooters.
But wait – you have to think of the Chaweng of 30 years back, kilometre after kilometre of nothing. The beach road was made of dirt, and on almost all of its length, you could walk across a fringe of untidy scrubland to the beach. There was a muddle of small beach resorts around where Soi Green Mango now is (but at that time, no Green Mango Disco). One big hotel, Chaweng Regent. Somewhere around where McDonald’s is now, Chaweng just stopped. And, south of this, there was almost nothing until you hit the ring-road. Khun Cherd set up his motorbike rental up at the other end, near Chaweng Regent. But back in those days, there were no big bikes, just little scooters.
He had three children, and the eldest son was named Ohm. Khun Ohm was keen to help his father from an early age, taking care of the bikes, checking them in and out and assisting with the service and repairs. The years passed. Samui gained an airport, and more people came. Khun Cherd cleverly moved his shop to a more central position to maximise his customer potential.
Meanwhile, Khun Ohm grew up and headed off to one of Thailand’s top colleges, in Trang, to study ‘mechatronics’ – the advanced technology of electronics related to mechanical engineering. Motorbikes, engines, engineering, and electronics – they all came together in one course of study. And for the first time, away from the tiny rural island of Samui, Ohm discovered the excitement of big four-stroke bikes. He bought himself a Honda CBR 400 and got in with the local chapter of bikers, Trang Superbike.
Graduated and qualified, he returned to Samui in 1998, not quite sure what to do next. By this time, the island was buzzing and there were tourists all over. He brought his old CBR 400 back with him and it caused a stir. There was only one scooter rental shop that had a 400cc bike parked outside, and before long, it was being rented out every day, at four times the price of a scooter. Ohm wasn’t happy – he now had no bike! So he and his father put their heads together, Khun Ohm called on his biker buddies in Trang, went off with a bag full of cash, and came back with three more big bikes.
“And this was the way it kept on going,” Ohm told me with a chuckle. “But every time I bought something new for myself, someone wanted to rent it. Much later, after I’d set up the big shop and got myself a hi-lift custom truck with big wheels, people wanted to rent that too. Today I’m a family man with four terrific kids. So my wife and I drive around in a really nice Hummer. And guess what? Everyone wants to rent it. But this is my family car, so no way. I just don’t need to do this anymore. The ‘truck’ stops here!”
In 2005, Khun Ohm branched out on his own. He’d found the perfect place – at the very southern tip of the beach road, on the T-junction where it meets the ring-road. Right in front of where everyone coming out of Chaweng has to wait for the traffic. In a year, he’d doubled his stock. Then he started adding choppers and cruisers as well. The following year he took over the shop next door, knocked them into one, and put glass all across the front.
Khun Ohm is an outgoing man, intelligent, lively and alert, full of energy and always on the go. Sometimes loud and direct, but with the disconcerting ability to suddenly soften, smile gently, and make you feel that you’re his new buddy. And he’s instinctively smart, business-wise. He managed to tune-in to everyone’s holiday dream – even before most of us knew what we wanted. Harleys. Ducattis. BMWs. Superbikes. Then little open-top Suzuki jeeps, chopped and modded in his own
workshops. Then big chunky Wrangler Jeeps. And now, a couple of open top Mercedes SLK sports and BMW Z4 convertibles, too. And then there are the franchises.
Today we have Ohm Cycles, Ohm Cars and Ohm Custom Wheels, with salerooms for Lifan and KTM motorbikes. Plus an exclusive supply of Harley Davidson spares and custom parts. There’s the stock and fitting of ‘Ironman’ custom parts, the exclusive Würth franchise. And a big workshop for the repair and custom-building of bikes and cars. Plus a café where people can meet and chat. But it’s not all take.
“If we take, then we must give back also,” Khun Ohm continued. “I am a Samui man and I make money from tourists. And I’m also president of the Samui chapter of the Dark Knights Motorcycle Club. Samui has maybe eight or nine motorcycle clubs now. All are separate. But I can bring them all together. In 2010, we organised a Red Cross Charity Run and raised more than one million baht. Last year we collected 100,000 baht for Baan Haad Ngam School. We have also increased tourism, because every year in May we hold Samui Bike Week. A thousand bikers come from all over the nation, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. This is normally a quiet time for Samui, a mini low season. But for a week the resorts are busy, there is a carnival atmosphere with music and laughter, old friends meet again, and my island is happy once more.”
Dreams come in all shapes and colours. Some you can’t even remember. But a million visitors to the island of Samui remember the name of ‘Ohm’. It’s become an icon, woven into the story of Samui, a part of the legend, constantly hovering under the surface of everyday life – and very much a part of it, too!
Rob De Wet