By Colin Hastin
With its rich prize of marlins, sharks and sailfish, the beach resort enjoyed a golden period when it attracted adventureseeking fishermen from Bangkok – and partygoers ready to celebrate the day’s catch in style
It was also a place of partying and great social standing, with expats mixing with Thai dignitaries and even royals from Bangkok.
Today, Bangsaray is far better known as a favorite destination for foreigners to either live full-time or just as a few months’ escape from the winter back home, while young Thais have discovered the charms of this quaint and largely unchanged fishing village in all kinds of trendy retro-restaurants and coffee shops, and even a restored boutique hotel that once went by the name of The Fishing Lodge.
Sadly, big game fishing in Bangsaray is just a memory, with only tenuous links to its heydays captured in faded photos of happy fishermen and a few moldy examples of their catch preserved in glass boxes on display at the Bangsaray Club. The days when hundreds of enthusiasts would congregate at this seaside venue - known back then as the Bangsaray Big Game Fishing Resort - for a full day’s outing on the ocean waves and nights of partying are long gone.
While it’s unclear whether the decline of the sport was due to overfishing in the Gulf of Thailand, exacerbated by the illegal use of explosives, or simply a lack of interest to push it forward, it should not be forgotten that the biggest game fish ever caught off Bangsaray was a hammerhead shark weighing over 320 kilos, reeled in by an obviously very strong fisherman in 1972. The monster was apparently too big to gauge its full weight on the club’s equipment.
Catches at the actual tournaments were extremely modest by comparison, the largest hooked at one event being an 8.3 kilo dusky jack, landed by a certain June Numchuanchai after a hard, 30-minute fight, earning her (or more likely, him) the individual title, with more than double the points of the nearest rival.
"Typically, the local tournament would start at 7am and continue until 5pm. Of the 70-plus game fish recognised internationally, some 20 exist in Gulf of Thailand, so teams had plenty of species to target – though not as many as in the past"
At its peak, the competition would attract up to 50 teams, each being ferried out early morning to their boats from the shallow waters lapping the Fishing Resort. All kinds of vessels were used to fish, from sleek cabin cruisers to barges acquired temporarily from the nearby fishing village, and sometimes manned by local fishermen. None had a monopoly on the catch, with the most unlikely boat often landing the biggest fish.
This was confirmed by British expat Frank Plunkett, one of the keenest fishermen of that era, who told a local reporter that most of the biggest fish were actually caught by the slower boats
“Dad worked for Anglo-Thai, selling Ford tractors when he first got here in 1961,” recalls Kay, who as a youngster was always given a ‘gopher’ job during the tournaments.
Kay also remembers her Dad’s friend and colleague at Ford, fellow Englishman Tim Hughes, as a keen angler and supporter of the sport in Thailand. Tim, a frequent visitor to Bangsaray with his Japanese wife, was a member of the fishing club’s team that participated in tournaments in Hawaii, Australia and Florida.
Members of Bangkok running club, the Hash House Harriers, will also remember Tim as a regular hasher in its early days in the mid-70s.
ther keen anglers from the 70s included popular local character Bert Hobson and John Wood, who worked of Nestle. Kay says that Patrick ‘Shrimp’ Gauvain made frequent appearances, more for the social life than for the fishing – a description that he confirmed to this writer a few weeks ago.
Typically, the local tournament would start at 7am and continue until 5pm. Of the 70-plus game fish recognised internationally, some 20 exist in Gulf of Thailand, so teams had plenty of species to target – though not as many as in the past.
BigChilli columnist Ruth Gerson remembers her late brother-in-law Abby Gerson bemoaning the decline in plentiful catches. ”Like many of his generation, he blamed it on the use of explosives by local fisherman,” she said, adding that Abby himself almost fell victim to these illegal tactics when a charge exploded just metres from his boat, causing it to lurch sharply. “But with his characteristic humour, hejust said: ‘It did me good. I got all the fish – everything came up’”.
To boost their chances of success, many of the crews tried to recruit the services of a wily local fisherman nicknamed Muk, as in squid ink, who knew all the best places to fish, remembers Kay. “As a kid, I was fascinated by the way he knew the exact type of fish that was taking the bait on a line. I heard he eventually opened up a boating and fishing concern in Bangsaray.”
The headline angler at the tournament was unquestionably M.R. Phongamorn Krisadakorn (affectionately known as ‘Stig’), the Thai blue blood who had been responsible for establishing the resort, more or less as his personal hobby, in the mid-60s – and thereby paving the way for big game fishing tournaments in Thailand.
Stig’s association with the village of Bangsaray began when he was engaged as a building contractor for the Royal Thai Navy. For recreation he would head out to sea at a time of plenty when “you could go around the corner and catch anything you wanted.” On one particularly memorable trip Stig hooked a 90-kilo marlin which aroused considerable interest, and in no time at all, big game fishing became a popular pastime for local expats and weekend fishermen from Bangkok.
About the same time, the US military had set up a construction camp at Bangsaray to facilitate the building of the nearby U-Tapao airbase. Stig made a deal with the Americans to take over the building when construction was finished, naming the low-rise structure the Bangsaray Big Game Fishing Club, with annual tournaments soon following.
The resort was the only one of its kind in the area catering to big game fishermen. Set in a wide bay surrounded by the nearby wooded hills of the Royal Thai Navy base, the resort boasted a swimming pool, restaurant and bar, plus accommodation for 100 persons in 50 rooms, and a small marina which quickly became silted up and unusable.
However, being a personal hobby for Stig, the resort never made money, and suffered a decline when he contracted throat cancer and had to have intensive treatment. A deep water marina built at the club became silted up and unusable.
Kay has many fond memories of the original fishing resort, especially the many party nights in the bar. ”It had a full band set-up – eating area at one side, bar and dancing on the other.”
One of the regular partygoers who was always given a special welcome by Stig and his wife Khunying Urai was a highly placed member of the Thai aristocracy. “No one could dance until the lady in question was asked, so dad would do the honors - and then fun would begin.
“One of this lady’s relatives had been an opera singer who was accompanied on the piano by Dr Paddy Dickson from the Bangkok Nursing Home. Dad and I would also sing and everyone danced the night away.Wonderful memories.
“The club had an amazing Japanese chef for a while as Stig and Urai loved Japanese food.”
Kay has even immortalized the bar in a book she wrote - ‘Make Mine a Cocktail’, which includes a rum-based concoction invented by her mother Betty when the family lived in the fishing village. Called ‘The Bang Saray Bounce, it’s described as “as homage to evenings in the piano bar, telling tales of the day’s catch.”
Because Stig regarded the resort as a personal hobby, it never made money, and suffered a decline from 1975 when he contracted throat cancer. Once he had recovered, Stig recognized that the resort needed an infusion of capital and professional management to make it a worthwhile centre once again.
Sadly, Stig eventually passed away in 1995, a year before David Goulden took over the club’s lease. “It was known at that time as the Bangsaray International Game Fishing Club, but since there was no more fishing and the place was empty, I just renamed it the Bangsaray Club,” says David, who helmed the venue until 2016 and still lives in the area, remaining in contact with Urai and her family.
At night, from the balcony of his condo, David often counts the vast number of fishing boats that trawl the seas off Bangsaray. “There are at least 38 vessels at any one time – this cannot be sustainable,” he says.
hese days, the Bangsaray Club is somewhat less boisterous, partly because of Covid restrictions but also due to changing interests. It’s still a popular restaurant venue with indoor and outdoor dining, and curry nights and other food promotions. The accommodation offered in the Fishing Resort is no more, but the swimming pool, garden and meeting rooms remain. The short-lived marina is now a car park, according to Alan Mehew, the club’s manager today.
Stig once told a local newspaper that two factors were in the club’s favour to guarantee its future: Big game fishing was enjoying unparalleled popularity in Thailand, he believed; and the development of the Pattaya-Sattahip area was leading to a rapid appreciation of land values. Even back then, he valued the resort at 15-20 million baht.
He was wrong on the first factor but, given the area’s property boom in the years since his time, right on the second.