Homemade and heartfelt is what Samui Green Market is all about. And people come to it not just to trudge around and make a few purchases, but to enjoy the fun, vibrant atmosphere. Since it kicked off some years ago, it’s been happily free of the earnestness that seems to hallmark some of today’s new-style markets. It’s a chance to get to know other people – it’s surprisingly friendly – and to enjoy food, drink, locally made goods and a relaxed space. The market’s not really a commercial venture per se, but originated with the Samui Mala, a loose coalition of ad hoc volunteers on Samui, who support a vision for a clean and green Samui.
Some islanders may remember how nine years ago, Tamarind Springs hosted the first Samui Mala festival, in 2007. Originally the organizers wanted to arrange a little yoga festival, but ended up hosting a full day event with yoga, healing, environmental education and a great party. Says Shelley Poplak, a leading light in both the Samui Mala and the Green Market, “We realised how much everyone wants connection, and how hard that is on our island with everyone coming from other parts of the world or of the country. Since that time, Samui Mala has helped coordinate various events, but we realised that we needed a regular community forum, rather than an annual event. Once we found a venue that was open to hosting this on a regular basis, at Elysia Boutique Resort in Fisherman’s Village, the market really came to life.” Since the first Green Market was hosted there in October, 2015, it has become the home base every six weeks. “Sometimes for special occasions, the market moves to other locations as we did with the highly successful event hosted by Six Senses Resort, in August 2016,” says Pat Kell, owner of Elysia and Greenlight Cafe and Bar.
Even if Samui is a small island, it can be tricky to bring everyone together, and even harder to make that happen on a regular basis. Samui may look to the outsider as if it simply comprises Thai inhabitants along with a varying percentage of holidaymakers, but the truth is that there’s an incredibly diverse community here. Most people are Thai, certainly, but then there are scores of different cultures also present here. How to bring all these different groups together? For the Samui Mala the answer was to start with something that really does unite everyone on the island – food! And on Samui, food isn’t just something to fill stomachs, it’s as diverse as the cultures on the island, and there’s a real enjoyment of it. Says Pat, “Breaking bread (or sharing rice) with others emphasises what we have in common, and brings groups of people together who hold a vision for a clean, green Samui. Clean, green world really, but we start on Samui, where we can make a difference.”
And so the Samui Green Market was born. As a social occasion it works extremely well, taking its cue from the Mala’s successes. Up to now, Samui Mala has staged successful events and fundraisers at various resorts, usually on or around the 21st September (the UN Day of Peace). The Mala’s events have always had a very convivial aspect, and Shelley goes on to say, “It’s really what most people comment about at our events – where else can we meet and chat, catch up with old friends in a ‘unbranded’ and stress-free environment and meet new like-minded folk?
The Samui Green Market as a regular event has quickly become a place where healthy foods can be bought and sold, and of course, sampled and enjoyed. A whole variety of other products have also come to be represented. But it’s more than just artefacts, food and fun. Whereas at many a market the underlying note is little more than the sound of the cash-register, this one’s different. People are fired up by the idea of the wider community and, as Shelley sums it up, are simply asking the question: can we be kinder to our planet, to each other, and live simpler, more connected lives? Can we see solutions instead of complaining about ‘the powers that be’ not fixing the problems?
The market is certainly having an effect as businesses have been inspired by access to this outlet to grow successful enterprises with a natural or organic flavour; Island Organics, Samui Chocolate and BioFizz are showing that small, locally grown solutions are welcomed by locals and tourists alike. These companies are growing partly due to their exposure in this community. “For example, we just heard that after Garth Welsh, Director of Culinary & Service at Resort W Koh Samui, visited our market, the hotel is now stocking local chocolates in their minibars, and offering a Samui cheese platter on the menu,” says Pat. This is to be applauded on an island where at least one hotel chain imports its coconuts from Vietnam!
At the market you’ll come across organic juices, breads, locally produced cheese, great baked goods and raw foods. And as a common denominator, a wonderful sense of creativity from the multi-ethnic community. More and more Thai people are also involved as vendors and shoppers, and the general demographic is much more diverse than in the past.
There is now an organic farm in Lipa Noi, and more restaurants on the island are offering ‘as good as it gets’ options for non-toxic products and even organic produce. At the market you’ll also find locally sourced offerings from a growing list of establishments like Greenlight Cafe & Bar, June’s Art Cafe, Kamalaya, Magnolia Cafe, Peace Resort, Six Senses Samui, Sweet Sisters Cafe, Samui Health Shop by Lamphu and Yoga House and Spa.
The Green Market is concerned about the environment – and it actively encourages people not to use any plastic at the events, to use recycled signage and provides a forum from which to launch campaigns like Trash Hero and #savesamui – both local initiatives to reduce plastic on the island. “We try to be inclusive, and educate and inspire, rather than make rules,” says Shelley.
The green market starts at 3:00 pm, and there’s usually live music as well. You’ll sometimes find activities too — past markets have seen children’s art, laughing yoga, presentations by groups such as Samui Snake Rescue, Flying Arrow Archery, Samui Circus Studio and even poetry readings. It’s a casual up-to-you atmosphere. But generally everyone seems more interested in lively conversation, sharing and fun with the community. Parking is easy, and everyone is welcome.
“We have room for more vendors,” says Shelley. Vendors donate towards keeping the market sustainable, and in turn the market has donated surplus fund to charities. “Recently we dedicated the entire proceeds to ‘Yoga Gives Back,’ and the local ambassadors for the charity were on hand to describe their work in India.”
The market is a place that’s run by people who care deeply about what we’re consuming, and who have a passion for not simply going along with mainstream offerings. Instead they’re bringing new, creative products to Samui. There’s a freshness to the market – not to be confused with the food itself – and it feels innovative; here are people trying out something new. It’s not about business and balance sheets; it’s about connection and making a difference.
You’ll find the Green Market at Elysia Boutique Resort, in Fisherman’s Village, and it takes place roughly once every six weeks. It’s well worth making your way there to enjoy all that’s on offer. Elysia is easy to find. Turn off the ring-road at the Bophut traffic lights and go straight on into the heart of Fisherman’s Village where the road narrows. At the T-junction (just a few metres from the sea), turn right and go straight on until you see Elysia on your right.