Samui Wining & Dining
Up in Samui’s hills, the Magic Garden is a place where myths have literally become rock-solid.

Up in Samui’s hills, the Magic Garden is a place where myths have literally become rock-solid.Have you ever been to Iceland? It’s very common there for people to believe in elves; many people say they’ve seen them. In one case, a new road that was being built had to make a small detour because local residents were worried that elves lived at that spot and shouldn’t be disturbed by traffic. So the road was duly re-routed to keep the locals, both people and elves, content. To hear such things might cause some people to raise their eyebrows in mirth. But for every sceptic there’ll be a dozen or more people who believe in the mythical world. In the case of Thailand, it’s the majority of the country.


Once you’ve arrived here, you’ll see that most people really do believe in spirits and other-worldly beings; just look at the spirit houses that you see everywhere. Even as Thailand rushes forward to embrace the modern world, it still equally embraces the unseen one. Legend and myth are still crucial to the country and its people, and it’s up to the individual to decide exactly how real that unseen world is.


On Samui, retired farmer Ta Nim, decided that the myths and legends of his country deserved to be portrayed as realistically as possible. Books and films described them, so why not entire landscapes? He had a plot of land up in the mountains, and spent the last years of his life seeking to create a wilderness garden filled with carvings from the Ramakhian, the cycle of legends that’s based on the Ramayana. An entire mountain valley has been given over to mythical beings. You don’t need to simply imagine that they’re there; you can go see them and touch them. Up in Samui’s hills, the Magic Garden is a place where myths have literally become rock-solid.The experience is a mysterious one and is completely different from anything you may have so far seen on Samui. The sculpture-filled valley is generally known as the Magic Garden, but you’ll also hear it referred to as Heaven’s Garden.


Ta Nim, though old, had immense determination. The valley is high up in the mountains and is a remote spot. Difficult enough territory to turn into any kind of garden at all, let alone one that’s given over to countless statues. Yet he persevered, making the statues right until the end of his life. His creativity was matched by his technical skills as a sculptor – the statues are incredibly detailed and life-like. Though fixed in place, they give the illusion of being full of movement. Some seem to be on the point of beginning an archaic dance, while others resemble the animals seen in some mad dream, contorted and too large for life, and just about to shake their wings or flex their claws. You won’t see all of the statues unless you look very, very hard, as some are camouflaged by the greenery around them, while others are found in out of the way places that the eye simply misses. You’ll have to come here a good few times before you can say you’ve seen everything.


While you’re in the garden, you’ll want to take plenty of photos. The statues are works of art and have a mesmerizing quality about them. And there are so many that they greatly outnumber the visitors that have come to see them. In the garden you always have the uncanny feeling that your movements are being watched and that you’re not alone. You’ll maybe want to spin round just to check that the statue behind you hasn’t somehow inched closer or assumed a different position. It’s that sort of a place. Up in Samui’s hills, the Magic Garden is a place where myths have literally become rock-solid.It’s bound to bring out the child in you and stimulate your imagination. The photos you’ll take, however, will also have a sense of the real about them, something poignant, too, that suggests a world just out of reach of our own that has suddenly, and for just a moment, become visible.


You’ll ask yourself at some point what exactly Ta Nim really believed in and saw. Was he simply recreating in stone some favourite legends? Or was he so driven to sculpt them because he wanted to drive home the point that these beings – or something like them - really existed and still exist? It’s a hard question to answer. Conveniently, if you so wish, you might dismiss him as mad, and his garden no more than a bucolic folly. Whatever you end up thinking, the garden remains an enigma, a monument to the unseen world. It’s a pleasure to come up here, and there’s nothing earnest or ponderous about it. Though the statues are made of stone, there’s a lightness about them, at times a sense of merriment. Even some of the more warlike representations seem extremely spirited. It’s a joyous place. Even the journey there turns out to be more fun than it should have a right to be.


To get to the Magic Garden, you’ll first need to go to Ban Saket, in the south-west of Samui. It’s on the ring-road and you’ll need to aim for the turn-off to Ban Taling Ngam. Almost right by the turn-off you’ll see a Chevrolet showroom, and 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.


The Magic Garden is one of the most unusual sights you’ll see on Samui, but sadly it seems to be left out of many guidebooks, or only mentioned in passing. With its lively depiction of Thai mythical beings, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s an experience that is quite beguiling, and will also be an introduction to the interior of the island, something that few visitors ever see. It can also be combined with a visit to neighbouring Paradise Park Farm or the south of the island. But whatever you decide to do, the Magic Garden is definitely not to be missed.


 Dimitri Waring


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