Samui Wining & Dining
A GREEN AND SILENT WORLD
 The secret interior of Samui beckons.

The secret interior of Samui beckons.

          

Samui isn’t all about beaches and life by the pool, good as that may be. You’ve no doubt noticed that it’s mainly the outer perimeter of the island that’s settled. That leaves a huge part – the interior. Maps all show the same thing: that most roads here just fizzle out and it’s just a big, green, blank space. Hotel staff may be puzzled if you ask them how you can explore the interior; everyone’s more interested in what lies on or near the coast.

So, just what’s actually there? If it appears to be a mystery, that’s exactly the truth of the matter. It is. Very few people from Samui can put their hands on their hearts and say they’ve explored it all. It’s mostly farm land, orchards, coconut plantations and pure forest and jungle.

          

If you’re exploring off-road, you need to be cautious. You can debate forever whether the interior, as seen from the beach consists of very high hills or low mountains, but whatever you decide you can convince yourself that it doesn’t actually look dangerous. After all, you’re unlikely to be caught in a snowstorm, right? But never mind other tricky and sudden weather conditions, such as protracted downpours; be careful if you’re off-road in the interior. Paths fork, join, divide in a complex web that can mislead within minutes and reference points may be few and far between. People have come to grief after having a fall and being unable to summon help. As with venturing into mountains, it’s best not to go alone, and to tell others where you’re going. And if venturing out on a motorcycle, be aware that this is highly dangerous and probably not even covered by your rental agreement (it’ll probably state that riding off-road isn’t allowed), let alone your insurance policy. And are you really that good at riding a bike anyway? One thing that you may not be aware of is that on long, steep descents, brakes on automatic bikes may fail. Use a bike with manual step-down gears, or be prepared to take some lengthy breaks on hills. Consider hiring a taxi rather than taking risks. Here in ascending order of difficulty of access is a brief guide to the interior of the island.

          

Let’s start with waterfalls as most are very easy to get to. In Thailand people love waterfalls and if you visit at a weekend or public holiday, you’ll find entire Thai families come to spend a few hours, perhaps bringing a picnic with them, and if the water is high enough, enjoying a cooling dip (naturally the water is colder than the sea).The secret interior of Samui beckons. In dry seasons, the water can completely disappear, but at most other times, expect pools of varying depths, smooth rocks to sit on and plenty of shade thanks to jungle trees. Beware of the obvious dangers: dehydration, falling from slippery rocks, jumping into pools and leaving too late in the day – night can overtake you very quickly. And no, don’t even think about taking that selfie while standing on high rocks.

          

Hin Lad waterfall, one of the most popular, is just a few kilometres south of Nathon. Tarmac roads take you all the way, and it’s easily accessible by motorbike. Simply called Hin Lad, it’s both quiet and beautiful. Park up where the road ends and you’ll find a monastery (definitely worth exploring) and the first of a series of pools. This is a popular spot for swimming and whiling away a few hours. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike up through the jungle for some two kilometres taking in a series of pools.

The rocky path requires concentration and good shoes, but the walk is worth it. A few kilometres south of Hin Lad, Lad Wanorn waterfall is smaller and quieter. It’s scenic and a good place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere before moving on elsewhere.

          

Not many people consider visiting gardens on their tropical holiday – the beach is hot enough already, they’ll rightly say. But the Magic Garden is usually fairly cool. The word ‘magic’ is definitely appropriate, and that’s the very draw of the place. Quite a few tours stop off here, but if you have transport it’s easy enough to get to yourself. You’ll first need to go to Ban Saket on the ring-road, in the south-west of Samui. Close to the turn-off to Ban Taling Ngam, you’ll see a Chevrolet showroom and right here you should turn off the ring-road in the direction of the hills and follow the concrete road. After a while you’ll come to a military camp and a checkpoint, but don’t be alarmed; you’ll simply be waved through, as this is a public road. It’s also one of the few good roads that allow you to get to the heart of the island. Continue on up the road until you come to the signs for the garden.

          

Visiting the garden is a mysterious experience as it’s filled with statues of mythical beings. The work of a retired farmer, Ta Nim, this labour of love brings to life ancient Thai legends. The statues are extremely life-like and look like they’re about to start moving and even photographs of them capture their enigmatic beauty. The Magic Garden can also be combined with a visit to neighbouring Paradise Park Farm or food and drinks at Peak Eye View Restaurant.

          

There’s only one road across Samui and it’s definitely a very picturesque drive – providing you have the right vehicle and plenty of mountain driving experience. Be warned: it’s extremely steep in parts. You can access the road either from the northern side of Samui at Soi 1, Maenam, or from the southern side at Lamai, turning off the ring-road at the lane that leads to Tamarind Springs. (From Lamai there’s a further possibility: turn off towards the hills at the 7-Eleven on the hill that leads up from the main temple in Lamai, and then follow the small lane.)

          

No matter which way you decide to cross the island on this road, most of the drive is along flat ground, with thousands of coconut trees on either side. It’s remarkably easy, though look out for patches of sand. But the further you go, the more you’ll be heading towards what seems a towering wall of greenery. You’ll by now have seen the interior of Samui and might want to turn back. And there’s every reason to; the central part of the journey is an unforgiving ride up, up, up through the hills. The secret interior of Samui beckons.You’ll need a modern 4x4 or a very good manual scooter, along with very impressive driving skills. Choose between the short but jaw-droppingly steep hill climb from the Maenam to Lamai side, or the very long, very bendy but not quite as steep hill climb from the other side. (Most people choose the latter.) If you’re the driver, don’t admire the view, but keep your eyes on the road. The central part consists of plantations, rain forest, jungle and a few gardens. Keep going on the road and soon you’ll be going down again, though it’s barely any easier than going up.

          

As you drive through the centre of the island, however, you also have a chance to take the rough track that leads to Khun Si waterfall. Unlike the other two waterfalls we mentioned already, Khun Si is very remote, hard to get to, and absolutely not for the faint-hearted or for anyone who’s reckless either. The waterfall here is in three sections, none of them particularly high, but you’ll certainly find no crowds and it’s deliciously quiet. There’s a great view point close to the waterfall, too.

          

Finally, Wat Teepankorn is located just over 600 m above sea level, with panoramic views of Samui. This temple has a large Buddha statue and bells that you’re welcome to ring. Various plantations line the approach and you’ll have a glimpse of Samui’s farming life. Visit here on an official tour as the road is steep and dangerous. You’ll usually be able to find snacks and drinks up at the temple or close by, but it’s probably best to bring your own.

          

The interior of Samui is certainly worth seeing and you’ll certainly be avoiding any crowds. The colourful sights are simply magic in themselves. Quiet and uneventful, with no villages, hardly any people, you’ll see a side of Samui that only the local islanders experience.

          

 


 


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