Exploring Samui Island
If finding a heavenly island paradise is not your initial reason to travel to Thailand, a few days sightseeing amongst the hustle and bustle in Bangkok will soon have you craving the peace and serenity that Island life affords. After a few hours studying my treasured Lonely Planet guidebook in a noisy rundown hotel in Bangkok, I decided to catch a bus south and east, to a ferry port that takes you to the Thai Island of Samui. I was not disappointed with what I found there.
Samui is about one hour sailing off the East Coast of southern Thailand. The destination is by no means a hidden paradise, but it is in stark contrast to the tourist-infested Islands of Phi-Phi and Phucket on the West Coast. Ko-Samui (Ko literally means Island in Thailand) is much quieter than the Western Thai Islands and the idyllic setting can be best explored either by hired car, or by one of the many scooters available to rent.
There are many things to do and see on Samui Island. I started like most do, lying on the beach and enjoying the scenery, taking a traditional Thai massage and sampling the unique delights of Samui Island cuisine. The stresses inherited from the urban metropolis of Bangkok slowly began to evaporate into the clear blue skies as Island life started to heal and cleanse. Whilst all this is enough to lure you back time and again, there is so much more to life on Samui. In fact, the vast array of activities available inevitably means that you are bound to miss something on the Island. So, I was glad to be one of the lucky ones who decided to take what is arguably the most difficult journey on the Island. This is a journey that not only takes you to the very centre of the Island, but it also brings you to the highest altitude on Samui. So what is there to see at this exclusive location. A good view? Well yes, but in addition to the view there is something infinitely more precious.
The secret garden or the magic garden, as it is sometimes referred to, is hidden away amongst dense foliage and trees, which all lies on the top plateau of the oval-shaped island. Unfortunately, the journey to the garden is quite an arduous one and so the best way to get there is by hiring some transportation. It is only very recently that the military road to the garden has been opened up to tourists, so it is still relatively uncharted territory. However you decide to get there, it is certainly well worth the journey.
A Samuian fruit farmer started to build the garden in 1976 when he was 77 years old and he continued to work on it until his death. The garden contains a vast number of diverse statues that seem to come alive in the carefully sculpted garden. The very number and obscurity of the mysterious figures make you revert back to the innocence of childhood again as you meander through the wondrous fantasy-like landscape. It is difficult to image that this was all done by one old man, a man now revered on Samui for his astonishing achievement. When he died he was, as requested, set to rest on a hill above the stone population that he created, making him something of a God overlooking his motionless creation. I dont know if it was my overactive imagination, but I sensed an all-seeing presence as I perused the remarkable works.
Away from the garden, the biggest town on the island is the growing capital of Chaweng, which is host to the majority of hotels and lodges on the island. Here you will find everything that you will possibly need, from diverse restaurants, massage parlours, souvenir shops and a large market. This prosperous and thriving marketplace in Chaweng holds a great deal of enchantment for tourists and the secret to its success, just like the magic garden, is plain simple hard work. Spend a while at one of the many marketplace cafes and you will notice just how diligently the people work to keep the market growing and expanding. Perhaps their inspiration lies somewhere up there on the mountain.
Like many Islands, navigation on Samui could not be simpler. The main road goes all around the periphery of the Island, with some small roads connecting you to the more central areas. Other things to see and do on the island, if you have the time and energy, include buffalo riding, scuba diving and snorkelling, golf, fishing, Thai boxing, kayaking, and festivals and temples to name just a few. Information and trips to these attractions can be found in one of the many tourist offices dotted around the Island.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason J.R. Gaskell, Msc. is an ESL teacher and freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and Ezines; and more recently has been working on a new title for Dorling Kindersley publishers.