The Ulysse Nardin Freak Out feels right at home amidst the colors and flavors of Thailand’s busy streets and waterways.
Le Freak, C’est Chic
The Ulysse Nardin Freak features a central flying carousel tourbillon (Calibre UN-205) that functions without a crown, dial or hands. The baguette-movement rotates on its own axis to indicate the minutes. The idea for this unique construction was the brainchild of watchmaker Carole Forestier-Kasapi when she was consulting for Ulysse Nardin at the end of the 1990s. Dr Ludwig Oechslin then took the concept and developed it into The Freak. The name was actually an internal code name for the watch, but when the company couldn’t find a more appropriate name, they decided to roll with it.
The in-house manual calibre is unique in that it replaces the traditional anchor and anchor wheel with two silicon impulse wheels in the center. Both wheels have 18 teeth that activate an alternator each, which then transmits the energy to the balance staff, first in one direction and then in the other. The movement doesn’t require any lubrication thanks to the reduction in friction that is achieved with silicon components and a structure that ensures that the force is always released in the direction of the balance rotation.
Discovering Thailand with the Freak
Touching down at Trat airport, passengers rapidly disperse through the small open-air, thatched-roof airport, obviously eager to continue their journeys into the city or onwards towards one of the 52 neighboring islands in the Muh Koh Chang National Park. Trat is on the eastern end of the Thai coast, bordering Chanthaburi Province to the northwest, the Gulf of Thailand to the south and Cambodia to the east. Around 200 miles from Bangkok, it takes 45 minutes by plane or five hours by bus, which is enough to keep it off the main tourist track.
Exiting the airport, a minibus awaits to take us into the city for lunch. During the journey, I take the opportunity to set my Ulysse Nardin Freak Out to local time, which is ingeniously done by lifting a small locking tab at 6 o’clock and rotating the bezel in either direction.
I have chosen the Ulysse Nardin Freak Out for my travels because of the Swiss brand’s special connection to Thailand. Ulysse Nardin’s savior and President, the late Rolf W. Schnyder, was a keen explorer, travelling all over Asia as a young man. He lived and worked in Thailand for a number of years before setting up the very first Swiss factory in Thailand producing watch parts for Switzerland’s top watch brands. Later, when he bought the Ulysse Nardin watch manufacture, he continued his relationship with the country through the brand’s retail operations, making Ulysse Nardin the perfect choice for my Thai adventure.
After a good night’s sleep at the Centara Chaan Talay Resort, we set off for the village of Ban Nam Chiao, an award-winning eco-tourism fishing community where Muslims and Buddhists have lived in harmony for generations. The original inhabitants were Siamese fishermen and farmers. They were joined by Chinese merchants in the 1800s, and in the 1950s by Muslim refugees who had fled unrest from neighboring communities that are now part of Cambodia.
Today, everyone lives alongside each other peacefully as they spend their days fishing. We are able to join one fishing trip. The afternoon’s catch is good and we take it back to the village where the women cook the fish immediately for us in a delicious garlic sauce. We also get the opportunity to make some sweet Thai pancakes called tangme krop, and turn our hand to weaving a traditional peasant’s hat under the watchful eye of one of the village elders. The hat, called a ngop nam chiao, provides the perfect protection against the sun and rain and is made out of woven palm leaves. The shape differs depending on the occupation of its owner and each one takes five days to complete. I spend over an hour on mine and it still looks like a bunch of leaves when I finish, making me realise the complexity of this ancient craft.
From Ban Nam Chiao, we drive for about five minutes to Ban Laem Ma Kham — or Black Sand Beach. It is a 15-minute walk to the beach through an impressive mangrove forest that has been grown to protect the beach and local wildlife. Numerous birds and marine life can be seen as you take one of the elevated wooden boardwalks through the forest. The beach is quite small, but there are places to sit so you can bury your feet in the sand, which locals believe has healing properties. I have to say I think it really did work as my feet seemed much softer afterwards.
Our next destination is the Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort, a luxury hotel in Koh Chang that will be home for the next two nights. As our visit to Thailand occurs in the rainy season, our scheduled snorkelling excursion has been replaced with massages, and no one seems to mind. It means that I have a little extra time after my 90-minute massage to appreciate the Freak Out in closer detail.
Under the Radar
One of the reasons I’m enjoying travelling with the Ulysse Nardin Freak Out is that it is housed in a stunning all-black, PVD-coated titanium case, giving it a look that is far more unassuming than its gold counterparts. Not that I am worried about being robbed in Thailand, far from it, but there is something to be said about wearing such an incredible timepiece that non-watch-savvy people don’t even notice. Having said that, the dashing general manager at the COMO Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok noticed it, but he had studied in Switzerland and was sporting a gorgeous Rolex, so he doesn’t count! But more about Bangkok later.
As the rain doesn’t look like it is going to ease, the lovely people at the Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort put on a cooking class for us and attempt to teach us how to make Thai soup, two different chicken dishes and spring rolls. It is hugely entertaining as we feel like we are on Masterchef as we compete in teams of two. The highlight was eating everything afterwards, and despite our lack of culinary knowledge, all the dishes tasted rather good.
The following day, we are on the move again and take a boat to Koh Kut (or Koh Kood as it is sometimes spelled), one of Thailand’s most unspoiled islands. The boat is only half-full as it is low season, but there are a number of locals laden with packages of all shapes and sizes and a few hardy backpackers on a gap-year world tour.
After about an hour-and-a-half, our boat arrives at the tiny port of Leam Sok Piert. Small wooden houses on stilts line the shore and a golden Buddha majestically sits on the hill above. It feels like we have arrived on a tropical island, as everything is overgrown with the most luscious vegetation.
Koh Kut is a large, mountainous island to the south of Koh Chang in the eastern Gulf of Thailand. It covers a surface of 40 square miles, much of which is primary forest that has never been touched by man. It has only one petrol station, one pharmacy and one cash machine, which means for the lucky tourists who make it here, it is an explorer’s paradise. There are some great, low-budget places to stay for the hard-core hitchhikers, but also one of the most delightful eco-resorts I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Arriving at the Soneva Kiri Resort, you are given a bag for your shoes as this is a barefoot resort. There is something about taking your shoes off that makes you instantly feel relaxed and at home. The resort isn’t your usual, fancy schmancy five-star kind of luxury — this is a place where you can really disconnect digitally with the aid of natural materials such as the wood and cotton favored in the decor. Soneva Kiri is made up of a series of luxurious villas with their own private swimming pools and a Girl Friday (a sweet name for your very own personal assistant for the duration of your stay).
For lovers of astronomy, the resort has its very own observatory with a huge telescope where you can get your celestial fix. And for those in need of a sweet treat, we particularly enjoyed the chocolate shop and ice-cream parlour where you can go and help yourself whenever you want.
The resort is also interesting from a behind-the-scenes point of view as it grows the majority of its own fruits and vegetables, treats its own sewage and turns its waste into bio-diesel for its farming and gardening equipment. And if that isn’t enough, there is a private airport and plane to ferry its guests on and off the island. It is no wonder that a number of royals and celebrities have stayed here. I have to say it is with a heavy heart that we take the plane back to Bangkok for the last part of our Thai adventure.
Back to Bangkok
Arriving at the COMO Metropolitan hotel in the heart of Bangkok is in stark contrast to the tropical forests of Koh Kut, but it is amazing how quickly we adapt to its timeless and contemporary design. We are booked into the hotel’s award-winning Nahm restaurant (it received a Michelin star in 2017) for our last supper before returning home, an amazing culinary experience that I am not close to forgetting.
Coming back to Switzerland is going to be hard on so many levels. Thailand is truly an incredible country and I now understand why Rolf Schnyder spent so much of his time here. The Freak Out was the perfect timepiece to bridge the gap between Switzerland and Thailand — I could not have wished for a better travelling partner.
With thanks to Thai Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.