Samui Wining & Dining
Secret Garden Beach Resort has just been refurbished, but it’s still very much in tune with its original vibe.


Every so often on your travels you’ll come across a resort or a restaurant that you just sense has some history to it, which put down its roots, stayed strong and established itself. And when you walk in through its doors, you know that you’ve arrived somewhere that’s trustworthy and will fulfil all your expectations. Secret Garden is a place like that; it’s one of Samui’s original small resorts that started off as just a dream in its owners’ minds. They were a Thai family who bought the open plot of land in 1987. It was just a coconut plantation back then, albeit fronting an amazingly beautiful beach. Two years later, they built a pub on the land and then, in 1993, they started to build the first backpacker bungalows.


Back in those days, Samui wasn’t as well-known as it is today. As a tourist spot it was certainly lagging behind Phuket in terms of fame. Not just that, the infrastructure was fairly basic. Travelling around Samui was difficult; there were far more dirt tracks than you’ll see today, and Bangrak, where Secret Garden is located, was just a strip of tiny beachside cottages, and some restaurant and bars.


Because it was located right on the beach, people loved staying at Secret Garden. Amenities were fairly simple, yet the place was comfortable; there was electricity, running water and food and drink. But there was something else too: music.


It was a major draw. It had started in 1990, when Secret Garden was just a pub and someone had the idea to create a stage. Some people came because they wanted to jam – they turned up with guitars and musical instruments, while others just pulled up a chair to listen. Soon it became a bit of a tradition to turn up at Secret Garden on a Sunday afternoon. Fifty, a hundred people would come; sometimes the entire place was packed, and you could hardly move. How did all that come about? Word of mouth is how. Back in those days the internet was just getting off the ground, and social networking meant standing with a drink in your hand and talking face-to-face. On a small island,Page-46-1 such as Samui, something like Secret Garden wasn’t going to, well, be secret for very long. In any case, the music soared into the air and people coming along the road would drop in to see what was going on. The resort did well for itself, and even though it’s changed hands as many resorts have over the years, it’s kept its name. And it’s also kept its music. The wellknown Secret Garden Sunday Sessions have been going for quarter of a century, albeit with a few lulls here and there. The music is performed by locals and international artists visiting or staying on the island, with the most famous ever being Mick Jagger, who once performed here while on holiday.


In 2012, John Vermeulen and Rik van der Voort became the new Dutch owners of Secret Garden. They decided that the time had come to focus once more on the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions and the event is very popular again, with a lot of Samui residents and visitors attending this weekly event.


John and Rik aren’t simply impresarios, however. Not content with arranging music, they have also completely modernized the resort. They’ve kept the original ambience; it’s still in tune with the old vibe of being this amazingly relaxed, great-value spot to stay in or just drop by for some refreshments.


The sea here is great for swimming, and the beach is part of the sandy bay of Bangrak, which curves all the way up towards Big Buddha. Day beds on the beach and around the pool are ideal for the guests wishing to spend long lazy hours here with beautiful sea views and refreshing cocktails.


The Beachfront Restaurant & Bar is open daily from 8:00 am until 11:00 pm. You’ll find a wonderful à la carte breakfast, sandwiches, salads, homemade pizzas and a wonderful Thai and European/Mediterranean lunch and dinner menu. And every Sunday, you’ll find the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions featuring live music and a barbecue and buffet,Page-46-3 starting at 7:00 pm, with free entry. Happy hour is from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm daily, and on Fridays it’s extended an extra hour with a selection of finger food as well. Fridays is especially popular with the island’s residents who come to unwind after a week at work.


Thanks to friendly, welcoming staff and a great chef, Secret Garden is a great place to drop into, even if you have accommodation elsewhere. But you may well want to stay when you see the newly designed bungalows that are located in the tropical garden around the swimming pool. They offer everything you’ll need or desire for your stay on Samui. To celebrate the new-look Secret Garden, Rik and John held a resort relaunch party in August, featuring, of course, live music.


At Secret Garden you’re five minutes away from the airport and from there it’s a hop to Chaweng and its restaurants, bars and nightlife. You’ll find the resort on the Bangrak beach road as you head towards Big Buddha and the airport.


In less than 50 years, Samui has gone from unknown to a world-class holiday destination that brings together people from all over the world. As one of the first small resorts Secret Garden has been part of things from almost the first days. Today it’s upgraded but has lost none of the features that so charmed and captivated the earlier holidaymakers who came to the island.


 Dimitri Waring


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