Chalong Pier is a dear and memorable place for many Raya employees. Early mornings at the dive gear storage, customer pick-ups from hotels, and organizing them into boats are among the routines that at the end of the season the team would’ve performed even with blindfolded eyes.
The hustle and bustle of the pier, hundreds of tourists coming and going everywhere got the staff sweating, and carrying the huge number of tanks and dive gear into the boats certainly wasn’t anyone’s favorite tree. However, still many of the staff wintered in Thailand from season to season, and I think its obvious why: The reward of all the effort was to spend days at sea and even more addictive, beneath the surface.
Raya began operations in 2000 on the small island of Raya Yai, 23 kilometers south of Phuket. At that time, a small group of passionate Finnish divers landed on the island, wanting to share their findings with tourists, taking them to local dive sites. They were enchanted by Thailand and the Andaman Sea as an endless treasure trove. They were hooked and there was no return to the coldness of Finland. Their lifestyle included tent accommodation, sunburned hair and no worries about tomorrow. Good ideas tend to be born when there’s enough time for creativity and you’ve found something so unique that you want to share it with others. Why not make a living with what you can do best.
The word about the Finns spread around and quickly the tour operators were offering their customers many kinds of excursions organized by Raya in several other holiday destinations as well. The focus was not only in scuba divers as the comprehensive tour program took into account the whole family. However, there are problems in the paradise as well. They have been caused by both natural disasters and local bureaucracy but the focus on ”doing what they do” has remained despite the challenges. Or maybe even because of the challenges, something the Finns like to call “sisu”.
Over the years, Raya has employed countless diving professionals and provided travel industry students with internships in paradise, as well as creating hundreds of local jobs. Raya is also involved strongly into my own story becoming a Phuket resident, maybe I'll write more about it in the near future…
Now the Chalong pier is quiet. Fishermen and boat drivers are on duty and supervising their boats from the dock and, like so many Thais, believe that with the virus vaccine, everything will return to normal. The quiet monsoon season has begun, so the silent life will continue for a long time because of that as well. However, the atmosphere of the pier is undeniably very sleepy.
However, it is not a matter of longing for the past, but of acknowledging and keeping up with change. The only sure thing about life and entrepreneurship is the change: You either adapt or die.
When the coronavirus epidemic in March 2020 suddenly turned from some “Chinese disease” into a global pandemic, Raya’s team was also suddenly completely out of work. The whole world and its air traffic was also shutting down. The situation was assessed and Raya’s core team made a quick decision: it was time to go ”back to the roots”: Excursion program at Baltic Sea was developed and started in June. Finland and its archipelago is full of amazing, unexplored destinations, and now the same professional skills we were able to rely on when traveling to Thailand can also be found in Finland.
But of course, due to its uniqueness, great beaches and attractions, Thailand will return as a popular destination, probably already in the winter of 2020-21.