Sydney & The Secret Garden of Koh Samui
Hi, I’m Sydney your tour guide and local visiting Archaeologist from Coconut Villas on Bang Por Beach.
I’m going to take you on a mystical tour where we will wander amongst unclad goddesses and into the depths of Samui’s private historic gardens. Here you will often find Pop Stars and famous Dj’s, Actors and other personalities completing photo sessions amid the wonders perched beneath the heavens of Koh Samui.
The most spectacular views over the whole of Koh Samui’s mountains can be found at the top of Kao Yai, the island’s highest peak. This summit also reveals one of the island’s most treasured sanctuaries, and it is here where our tour begins. Being an Archaeologist, this site is more than interesting to me in a number of ways. The primary reason being that there are discoveries at every turn, and for those experiencing this for the very first time it is a delight for me to watch as new explorers peer through the jungle to see what awaits them beyond.
Motionless, as if Medusa from Greek mythology had paid a welcome visit, a garden of stone statues lingers in silence amongst these grounds known most commonly as Tanim Waterfall & Magic Garden.
Built over a period of more than twenty-five years, this garden is the unique creation of a local gardener and farmer by trade, who began this task in 1976 at the ripe age of 77. Upon arrival at this garden, the first thing you see is a stunning sculpture entangled with the roots of a great, ancient tree on a large rock, standing like a protector over the secret garden. This sculpture was hand made by Khun Lung Chai in memory of the creator, his father Khun Paw Nim Thongsuk, and also gives the sanctuary its alternate name of Uncle Nim’s Magic Garden.
From the summit you are faced by a tree-lined stony stairway, winding its way down to the beautiful garden below. Mimicking a reversed stairway to heaven, once accomplishing the bottom you will discover a house, over-grown with moss and tropical vegetation. These houses, of which there are a few, were built in order to house travelling, or wandering monks in need of a place to sleep for the night. Khun Nim initially started visiting the site on Kao Yai from Namuang where he lived, to farm durian fruit and coffee. Over the years of resting here after a hard day’s work he fell more and more enamoured with the scenic tropical jungle and vegetation, with flowering trees giving way to natural springs, rivers and waterfalls. It was here that he conceived his dream of constructing an eternal garden for his final resting place, in reflection of the heaven he believed he would soon be going to.
Little did he know that he had more than 20 years to complete his task.
Built purely for his own use, he set about the colossal task of bringing concrete up the mountain.
It is from the very first statues that greet you, comfortably laid out by the river that you begin to understand the kindness that Khun Nim had in his heart. Two sculptures depicting a grandmother and grandfather from the paternal side reveal Uncle Nim’s respectful wish to honour the Thai heritage, and in reflection to the fact that he felt the island had already paid respect to the grandparents of the maternal side with the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks.
Slowly meandering through this unbelievable garden is like taking a wonderful journey of discovery as you notice more and more images revealing themselves from out of the foliage. Amid the sometimes-intense tropical undergrowth, turtles and frogs crawl into site.
In the centre, the garden opens up with various groups of statues. To your right, angels stand by protecting the catacomb of tombs above. What you may not have fathomed is the fact that this garden is a graveyard made by the deceased himself. With one hand in the air in a welcoming gesture the statues remain fixed as Khun Nim inspired them, while to their right an added group of angels sit in frozen stances playing music to appease the visitors. Hidden behind the largest group of angels on the hill to the farthest right is another stone stairway, which leads the way to Khun Nim’s resting place. Here you are welcome to sit at his tomb, light incense in the ancient Thai tradition and thank him for his special garden where he rests next to his wife Yai Daeng. Looking down from here you can see across the river that runs through the middle of the estate and over to the other side where many more discoveries await the curious mind. Overlooking the whole garden from this height you can understand why Khun Nim chose this particular spot to construct his tomb upon.
But the journey here is not complete. Crossing the small river running through this oasis, over stepping-stones, you will reach the other side of the garden valley and it is here where an assembly of statues meets you. A motionless monk sits behind a lady in meditation, revealing a story from Khun Nim’s own imagination, while a wild dog stands slightly behind him with two dragons on either side; the one to his right in the grass and to his left perched up on a rock.
As you continue along this side you come across two larger caves, which are draped by the garden’s beautiful purple and pink hanging flowers, presenting a cool haven on a hot day. Just behind these caves you will come across a smaller, hand-chiselled looking cave with the statue of a man sitting inside. This is Khun Nim, a self-portrait viewing his garden with the eye of an eternal guardian. I must point out to you from an archaeological point of view that judging by the size of the figure he was also a small man, making this an even more astounding achievement, particularly at such an age. A little further to the right and you will find a similar second cave, wherein lies a statuette of his father. You will also notice these two images are made of a whiter stone than the others, making them appear more human.
The journey of mystical discovery is seemingly endless here, and with the more time you spend, the more groups of statues you discover amongst the garden’s landscape, which if accompanied by a guide who can recount the stories behind these groups of statues, is fascinating to listen to as you begin to understand the amount of deep thought and consideration that Khun Nim has put into each and every single piece.
Khun Lung Chai is the current garden’s guardian, and is Khun Nim’s youngest child. Having been specifically instructed neither to make any changes nor to add anything new, he maintains and repairs the garden for tourists and historians to come and enjoy its secrecies. Continuing in the family tradition, Khun Lung Chai has begun construction on his own garden, which he is building in honour of his mother Yai Daeng, and is located a mere stone’s throw away. He plans to have multi-tiered waterfalls which will flow into a large pool at the base of the garden.
Upon completing the journey of discovery within Uncle Nim’s Magic Garden I felt I had truly experienced a tour through the eyes of its creator, brought about by his concept of immortality. The Secret Buddha Garden is a constant reminder of a very special man with a vision to create heaven upon earth, and through this the memory and story of him will stay alive and be retold for generations to come. How completely inspiring such a creation can be, not only to ourselves but to his family and son who continue the passion for creating such wonders woven amongst the beauty of nature. Every August hosts the anniversary of his death, and it is then when the family will gather at his tomb to make offerings and remember their inspiring grandfather. An absolute must see.
Finding Uncle Nim’s Magic Garden is in itself a fun challenge. However, I do suggest that you take a tour with me, as we will have to pass through the Air Force Base Camp and travel on military grounds to make our way up the very steep mountain roads. If you’re staying with us at Coconut Villas, inquire into how you can join the tour and take a journey into Samui’s past that will be celebrated forever.