Do you know Renato? Everyone knows Renato. He’s as local as any expat can claim, having been living and working in Krabi for over 18 years. This month we have a chat with the chap and he talks about the good ‘ol days in Ao Nang, what’s at the top of his drinking list, and a secret about Krabi.
KM: Where are you originally from?
Renato: Originally, I am from a small town called Toscolano-Maderno, Province of Brescia. It’s on the “Lago di Garda”, northern Italy, next to Province of Verona. My mother was born in the same town. When I was a young boy we moved to Switzerland, where I did all of my schooling until 1980 ( I was born in 1960).
KM: When did you first come to Krabi?
Renato: I came to Krabi for the first time as a backpacker in 1987, and I have lived and worked in Krabi since 1996. From 1996-1999 I stayed on Koh Jum, started to do business with the first bungalows, called Joy Bungalow, and we are still operating business at Joy Bungalow Co. Ltd. My partners are all Thai, mainly from BKK or Hat Yai. I opened Viva Restaurant da Renato November 1999 in Krabi Town and we are still there today.
KM: Why did you pick Krabi to settle down in?
Renato: I picked Krabi to settle in, because I “kept coming back”, considering it one of the most beautiful places in Thailand and Southeast Asia, while I was traveling as a backpacker. I’ve been many times to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and all over Thailand before settling down in Krabi. At that time Krabi’s seaside, the islands, the beaches, and the water conditions were stunning (it’s still a beauty), the countryside is still pretty much one of the most beautiful places in Asia. I fell in love as well with a Thai lady; that made it easier to make the decision to move down here.
KM: What is your favorite part of Krabi?
Renato: My favorite part of Krabi is where limestone meets the forest, with all its caves and secret places, all the way into the sea. Beside that it is still very authentic. I mean, you meet a lot of people that were born in Krabi and are still living here.
KM: What was Krabi like when you first came here?
Renato: When I came here the first time, there was no airport, and no traffic lights at all, not even one. Ao Nang was a dirt road with a few bamboo huts, and Phi Phi was simply PARADISE on Earth. Krabi was all smiles and relaxed without any department stores. You had to look a long way to find some bread or just simply a yogurt. If you were a traveler, you had to find your way to Krabi by bus. It was a place to be discovered by nature lovers.
KM: Why did you open Viva?
Renato: I opened Viva after moving away from Koh Jum island. I needed a place to feel comfortable to stay all year long. Koh Jum is beautiful in the high season. I opened Viva because I love cooking, I love working with the oven, I love wine and I love meeting people from all over the world.
KM: Were you a chef in Italy?
Renato: I was not a chef back in Italy. I worked in restaurant kitchens and in pizzerias and I learned a lot of homestyle cooking from my mom.
KM: Do you have a signature dish that you love to cook? If so, why do you love to cook it?
Renato: I love to cook all my dishes, but my signature dish is “risotto porcini” because it is slow food and needs to be worked out with plenty of time in a peaceful way. Also, it’s very tasty and good to eat together with several dishes.
KM: What is your favorite wine?
Renato: My absolute favorite wine is Amarone wine, also Reciotto wine which is great to drink after meals, with cheeses or even dark chocolate. Of course, Prosecco to start a dinner with, especially from Franciacorta, that’s a small area in Brescia Province and well famous these days for their world class Prosecco.
KM: Could you tell us something secret about Krabi?
Renato: Something secret about Krabi? Hmmmmm, I know quite a few secrets in Krabi, so I prefer to keep them secret! But I can tell you this: the mountain on Koh Jum island, it’s not easy to reach (you would need a local guide), but has a stunning view on top, which cannot be described with words. You can see all of Phang Nga Bay until Phuket on a good day. It’s located on the northern part of the island, which is also called Koh Pu, actually the official name on the sea map is Koh Pu. That is, because it was always called Koh Pu in the past. But after the first resort was opened in 1991 (Joy Bungalow), and given that it was close to the village named “Jum”, the island was given its second name as Koh Jum. The mountain still has a lot of wild life, and the biggest bamboo grows there that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s big like a footballer’s upper leg and probably 20 meters high. Also, I have seen the biggest black crab ever while staying on Koh Jum, brought in by local fishermen. It looked like a “monster movie” crab, its weight was 1600 grams. We wondered what age the crab could have been. We decided to put it back to the sea instead of eating it. This happened in 1993 and is a true story.
Being here all these years and growing older with a few white hairs, I realize that Krabi is growing quick this time. If there is anything I could wish for this place, it’s for it to stay authentic, and respectful of nature, wildlife and the sea. I wish to see tourism grow in a peaceful and clean way with Krabi’s own people staying happy and bringing their message of “The Land of Smiles”, with an actual smile.
Krabi became my second home, in the same time it has become my home after all this years. I am happy to live here, I love Krabi and want to say thank you to all the good people I’ve met from Krabi in all these years. Once again, Grazie.