Samui Wining & Dining
SUCCESS STORY
Poppies Samui was the island’s first boutique resort and is still going strong today!


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This month is the 40th anniversary of Poppies. Well, I admit, I’m being dramatic. To be exact, it was 40 years ago today that Sergeant Poppy taught the band to play – but that was Poppies Bali! This was the original resort, created by Englishman John Taylor. But the concept, unique at the time, took root and grew. Initially a small but thriving restaurant, catering to the adventurous travellers of those times, this was lovingly expanded by John into a beautifully serene garden built around the restaurant and then, over the next few years, a series of thatched and modest accommodations were gradually added. And in the 1980’s John came to visit Samui.

      He was a regular visitor to the island as, at that time and in so very many ways, Samui had a similarly attractive ambiance to Bali. On one of his trips he met and took a liking to an Irishman, David Hill, and his Thai wife, who between them just happened to own a small but prime plot of beachfront land in Chaweng. You’ll need to take a step backwards in time and re-adjust your picture of Chaweng, to appreciate the venture which was about to develop. In those days there were no ATM machines or 7-Eleven shops. There wasn’t even an airport. Most of Chaweng was concentrated in the small area around Soi Green Mango,

with only one or two big hotels dotted along the six kilometres of the narrow, soft and muddy beach road. From this road you could not only see the sea along nearly all of its length, but also stroll to it across a strip of untouched wasteland, almost anywhere. Thatched wooden beach huts were scattered in isolated groups, here and there. And there was absolutely nothing at all in the middle range – in the gap between the 3-and 4-star concrete hotels and the rural beach bungalow resorts.

The plan that John and David hatched was to create a resort which filled that middle ground – to create a garden resort with all the charm and essence of traditional Samui, but with cottage accommodation that satisfied the expectations of western holidaymakers; bungalows with hot and cold water and air-conditioning. Luxuriously fitted, equipped and furnished to international standards. Today the concept is a common one; nothing so new about it, and every other small resort declares itself ‘boutique’. But back then it was unique. It was the first of its kind – and also a challenge.

          David’s plot of land was perfectly-placed but compact. Right from the start the problem was to maximise the number of cottages, but still keep each one secluded and private from its neighbours. John was something of an expert on landscape gardening. And, over the following months, plan after plan was drawn up and then revised, to create a resort that was based around a lush and landscaped garden whilst maximising the potential of the cottages. And one more thing. Poppies in Bali had already proved the attraction of an excellent restaurant. Along with all the other requirements, its sister resort on Samui also needed to be created around an eatery which was every bit as good as the quality of its accommodation.

          Poppies Samui began its planning in 1989. But it wasn’t until 1994 that all the seeds had rooted, grown and finally blossomed. There were 24 luxuriously-appointed cottages cunningly bedded into a lush and tropical garden landscape, amidst winding pathways which gave no indication of its true boundaries – an aspect which even today is nothing short of fairyland, especially in the evening, when the concealed lighting works its additional magic. It’s been said that coming into Poppies at night is like leaving the rest of the world behind. The rest of Chaweng seems like it belongs to another planet. And it’s true!

          The restaurant at Poppies, vital element that it always had been, got off to a flying start with the initial appointment of Californian Chef, Jeffrey Lord. And, in the years that were to follow, there was a succession of world-class chefs. The concept behind their offerings and presentation has never really changed over the years: a variety of quality international dishes alongside a representative selection of Thai cuisine.

          Today the current kitchen staff is unique on the island. Firstly, almost all of the senior staff have been loyally resident since day one. This is unheard of elsewhere! To add to this there are two (anywhere else they would be titled ‘Executive Chefs’) Chefs-in-Charge. Khun Watanee – nicknamed Khun Wan – takes care of the Thai side of the menu. (Some might say that she’s the baby – she’s only been at Poppies now for around a dozen years or so.) And the other is Khun Noi (Khun Suwit Suwan) and he’s looking after the Western menu, and has trained under every one of each of the previous chefs, having been in the kitchen here since the start. Their combined cuisine is the envy of many, and features the amazing signature ‘Breast of Duck with Strawberries and Feta Cheese’, and the Thai khantokes, which most unusually include a veggie option. Speaking of which, Poppies is renowned for taking care of its guests, and so is equally renowned for the extent of the vegetarian dishes on the menu.

          Delightful grounds, luxurious accommodation, a quality spa, a world-class restaurant, a day-time swimming pool, and right on the beach. A super ‘Thai Night’ every Saturday, featuring several hours of contemporary and classical Thai dancing, with accompanying orchestra of musicians, plus a range of local craft stalls with live demonstrations from the artisans. It’s no wonder that guests come back again and again for their holidays, some of them having come back each year for ten years or more. It’s Poppies Samui. It’s an object lesson on how to get everything right. And it continues to blossom as much as it ever has – ever since day one!

 

 Rob De Wet


 


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