There are now a great many resorts on Samui. Back at the start, it was all about Thai families and their little huts on the beach. But, as time passed, the airport appeared and things started to change. More beach resorts were built; some of them ambitious. But there was one which stood out from the crowd. It kept the island ethos, but it combined Western standards with family-resort familiarity, and offered consistent quality at a reasonable cost. Its name was (and still is) Poppies Samui.
It all came about as a result of two foreigners abroad. In the late ’60s, in La Jolla, California, there was a small restaurant that used to be patronised by famous Hollywood personalities. Some time after its closure, several friends of the owners were holidaying in Bali, where they met a young Balinese girl. The result was that two of them decided to team up with her and expand the little restaurant she owned. And they decided to name it after their favourite restaurant – Poppies.
Over the years that were to follow, one of the original group returned and continued to build-up the little resort, adding cottages and, in 1980, turning it into the delightful Poppies Bali. Some years later, on holiday on Koh Samui, the owners of Poppies Bali partnered with another couple who owned a piece of land on South Chaweng Beach. In those days this area of Chaweng was deserted, and where today there is the broad and solid concrete of the beach road, at that time it was a muddy dirt track.
Together the two couples brought with them the success of Poppies Bali. And it didn’t take so very long before plans were being made to turn the featureless rectangle of land on the beach into Poppies number two – Poppies Samui. In the event, this ended up taking four years to complete. The challenge was the design: the intention was to maximise the accommodation yet, at the same time, somehow manage to create the illusion of both space and privacy.
This was finally achieved by two very clever design twists. Firstly, the pathways were carefully planned to meander and turn in such a way that interacted with the foliage to confuse the senses: the place looked bigger than it actually was, and the boundary walls were similarly screened by trees and bushes to enhance the ‘edgeless’ effect. And second, a huge amount of earth was added on top of the frontage of the resort, effectively creating a man-made rise on top of which the added accommodation could be seamlessly integrated. And to achieve this effectively, an underground passage was created alongside the frontage of reception, so that deliveries and staff could go to and fro without being intrusive – keep this in mind!
One other unique feature of Poppies was its restaurant. Back in 1994, when the resort opened, it was the usual thing for resorts to regard their restaurants merely as a place to feed their guests – nearly always with the local food. But right from the word go Poppies wanted quality Western cuisine as well, and an international chef to head the kitchen. It was a bold idea – to be exciting enough to attract diners to come in from outside – but it worked like a charm; so much so that Poppies Samui quickly gained a name for some of the best dining on the island . . . a reputation which it still enjoys today.
But here’s the most intriguing thing of all: Poppies’ staff. It’s perfectly normal for staff to move on after a time, usually to take a better position. Once in a while, if it suits them, one or two will stay on for longer. But Poppies have a staff-record that’s probably unequalled anywhere. Of their 82 staff members, 31 have been there more than 10 years, 20 for over 15 years, and 11 employees have been with Poppies for more than 20 years. Three of the now-senior staff have actually remained in place since day one!
And it’s not merely good wages that’s inspiring this kind of loyalty. It’s the respect that the owners show to them, and the support in all manner of things. This has created a family atmosphere that everyone, staff and guests alike, who comes to Poppies feels a part of.
And so back to that ‘secret passage’ again. Just recently the General Manager, James McManaman, decided to ‘bring it out into the light’. He spent some time collecting old photos of the original few years’ history, and commissioned a local artist to create paintings from these in a traditional style. And so, today, diners are invited to enter the resort not through the reception area, but via the now-renovated showpiece passage. This is lined with captioned paintings, each encapsulating a fragment of Poppies’ history, and culminating at the kitchen where today’s Executive Chefs, Khun Noi and Khun Wantanee, will greet them and offer hors d’oeuvres.
It’s a long way back to 1994. But Poppies Samui has stood the test of time with flying colours – not just because of the quality of its cuisine, but also because of the quality of the prime people it employs . . . and they’ve also got a passage to prove it!
Rob De Wet
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7742 2419.