An Aegean island in Thailand

Small courtyards brightened up with pots of flowers, cobblestone alleys with whitened borders and the deep blue of the Aegean on domed roofs and wooden window sills, are no longer the privilege of visitors to the Greek islands alone but also of those to Thailand?s popular coastal resort of Cha-am, where the Thai?s love of Greece is not just expressed in post cards and posters, but in a replica of neighborhoods of one southern Aegean island in particular.

Santorini Park, a giant theme park modeled on the popular island destination, is due to open on May 5 on an expanse of 6 hectares, complete with models of traditional Cycladic houses, alleys and climbing bougainvillaea. The designers of Santorini Park, however, have not allowed reality to restrict them and have also their own twee brushstrokes to the phantasmagoria, including ancient-style statuary and pop-art features, as well as artificial waterfalls and fountains.

More than a series of sets for the perfect photo-ops of a ?Grecian holiday,? Santorini Park promises to be a shopper?s paradise, bringing together 140 stores carrying top brands in apparel, footwear, accessories, artwork and more, as well as plenty of family entertainment and food options.

Besides dozens of restaurants, cafes and sweet shops, Santorini Park has a 40-meter windmill, a bell tower and an Italian-style carousel, and is surrounded by greenery.

The company behind Santorini Park is Pena Group, a southeast Asian leader in retail centers. The cost of the two-year project ran to 12.2 million euros.

Local authorities on Santorini were not, however, contacted or consulted on the construction of the park, neither by Thai authorities nor by Pena Group.

The residents and municipal authorities of the island found out about Santorini Park through the press, while there are differing opinions in regards to the impact the development may have on the island.

Some argue that although Santorini Park is half a world away, it will generate tourism interest in the island through indirect advertising. Others believe that Santorini has more to lose than to gain from the development.

The mayor of Santorini, Nikolaos Zoros, is of the latter opinion.

?Sure, the name of Santorini will be heard on the other side of the world, but the whole esthetic aspect is very serious,? Zoros told Kathimerini, adding: ?I am always somewhat guarded about things that are not originals, but copies, and so in this case also I would prefer to see what it looks like before stating an opinion. What is certain is that the choice of Santorini as a model shows a preference and a love for our island and our country that is very welcome at this difficult period.?