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Hello and welcome to our travel blog and we appreciate you dropping by! Our goal is simple – enjoy and experience life while we still have the health and energy to do so. Do that travel we’ve always wanted but didn’t get round to. Experience what traveling and living in other countries feels like. Revel in and enjoy the journey. Currently based in beachside Hua Hin on Thailand’s Gulf Coast, we are pursuing new passions. For Vivien, that’s learning Thai and helping others with English. For me, it’s writing and photography. For both of us it’s travel and being able to share our experiences with you here, and in publications that accept my writing. Enjoy reading! Michael & Vivien

Large red wine glasses, two rows of five, lined up atop the wine bar. Monsoon Valleys winemaker and their wine consultant on one side of the counter, Vivien and me on the other. A serious wine tasting happening right in front of us. The task for them was to choose the next Shiraz to take the place of the current vintage. The stock of the current vintage was all but sold out. There were four newer batches of Shiraz under consideration – but which one was ready?

Tasting each in comparison to the current vintage. Identifying the characteristics of each, a little too much tannin on one, a nice chocolatey character on another, the fruit a little too vibrant on one more. And we got to play along whilst the experts went through their process. Just Vivien and me – what a privilege!

Having attended a wine tasting hosted by Monsoon Valley wines – a large vineyard just 45 minutes drive from our home here in Hua Hin. The evening was coming to an end and the invited crowd was now focused on securing their dinner.

Over the course of the last hour, the 30 or so invited guests, including us, had sampled Monsoon Valley’s Signature White – a Chenin blanc. Their Signature Red, mainly based on the locally cultivated but German origin Dornfelder grape variety. And Monsoon Valley’s Sparkling Brut Prestige. The wine tasting was accompanied by canapes from the wine bars kitchen – all perfectly tasty and suitable matched.

Two, soon to be launched wines, were also tasted – a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region and a Shiraz from South Australia’s Langhorne Creek. Both to be released under the companies Mont Clair label.

Appreciative comments on the wines were overheard by our fellow wine tasters. Questions proffered to and answered by the winemaker on the wines and the new imports. The crowd suitable happy with what was on offer and the price points of the various wines. The sniff of potential wine sales a positive outcome for winery staff.

We had been having a conversation with Hans-Peter Hoehnen, the German wine consultant who has worked with the vineyards winemakers for the last 10 years helping them successfully develop international standard wines.

Hans-Peter and French-trained local winemaker Suppached Sasomsin now needed to make their choice for the next Monsoon Valley Shiraz. Instead of suggesting we leave, they invited us to be part of the process. Hans-Peter was aware that I had already written and had published magazine stories on the vineyard – simple ‘must do’ travel pieces for people coming to Hua Hin. This insight into the winemaking process could be an interesting story Hans-Peter suggested! Who were we to say no to such an opportunity?

For wine lovers like Vivien and me, we were now privy to a private insight into the challenges winemakers have, vintage after vintage! After some twenty minutes of wine swirling in their bulbous glasses, aromas evaluated, color and texture in the glass assessed, tasting and spitting done – wine by wine and all against the ‘benchmark’ current vintage. A decision was made. A successor names!

And for us, time to say goodnight and a heartfelt thank you to our hosts. We had a new found appreciation for winemakers and their requisite skills.  What an opportunity we had just had. And what a soul-enriching evening this had been!

You can read about a previous visit to Hua Hin Hills vineyard, now called Monsoon Valley vineyards, here.

This blog post looks at two connected religious holidays that have happened this last weekend. They mark the beginning of Vassavasa – a three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada Buddhists which in Thailand equates to over 93% of the population.

Our new home of Thailand certainly offers near-daily opportunities for experiencing and learning something new about life in the ‘Land of Smiles’. These new experiences could be related to history, culture, customs, language, food (Yum), and in this particular instance, the religious aspects of life.

Vassavasa – broadly translated means ‘rain-retreat’ and stipulated that during the rainy season monks and other ascetics remain in their monastery or temple grounds and refrain from travel for the 3 lunar month period of Vassavasa, usually from July to October.

Monks would spend this time meditating and developing their understanding of Buddha’s Dharma (doctrine or teachings). The retreat period is also popular time for Thai boys and men to become ordained as monks.

Asanha Bucha

Asanha Bucha Day, falling on the full moon is the first of the two days and observes Buddha’s first sermon in the Deer Park in Benares, India. In the sermon, which is known as ‘Setting the Wheel of Dharma in Motion’, the Buddha first spelled out the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. This event, which took place about 2,500 years ago, also signifies the founding of the Buddhist sangha (monkhood).

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We love that there is always something new to do and experience here in our new adopted home in Thailand. Be it new foods to taste, cultural events to experience, natural attractions to visit, or new locations to tour and explore. Our latest outing had us visiting two very different and captivating markets and learning about some mighty warriors in the township of Amphawa in Samut Songkhram province just 145 km north of our home in Hua Hin and only 70 km south of Bangkok.

The area is characterised by a network of more than 300 canals (Klongs) jutting out from the adjacent Mae Khlong river.  The region is also naturally rich with an abundance of seafood, fruits, vegetables, salt fields and coconut palm sugar.

Amphawa has managed to retain its classic rural Thai charm. So much so, the town received an award from UNESCO in 2008 for its efforts to conserve the centuries-old teak wood homes and temples that line Amphawa’s central canals.

We decided to make it a weekend trip so we had a reasonable amount of time to explore Amphawa and surrounds. Our first stop was to the Mae Khlong (Railway) Market.

Mae Khlong (Railway) Market

The original Mae Klong Municipal Food (Wet) Market in Samut Songkhram town backs onto the Ban Laem Train Line which terminates just a few hundred meters away at Mae Klong Railway Station.

The market sits within a purpose built building and is said to be a great place, in particular, to shop for fresh local seafood. Somehow, over time, it seems that the market has grown out the rear of the building and onto the sides of the railway track immediately behind.

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It’s our second year living in Thailand and second Songkran (Thai New Year) so I started wondering what Songkran is all about.  It has become know as The World’s Biggest Water Party and now attracts thousands of people who visit Thailand specifically to take part – but it must be more than this. Having more or less, hidden behind closed doors last year –  heard so many negative stories about the behaviour of people on Songkran. This year I decided to take much more of an interest – and most importantly try to understand what this festival is for Thai people.

Here’s what I found out!

Songkran traditions are a long way from the images shown in the world’s newspapers every year – powder smeared tourists armed with water pistols and wide grins.

The Thai New Year, in its purest form, is a religious festival steeped in Buddhist and Brahman traditions. Marking the end of a 12-month cycle when the sun moves into April and there was traditionally a gap between rice harvesting and planting a new rice crop. Acquiring its name from the Sanskrit word “Songkran”, meaning to move or pass into. The origins derive from the ancient Indian Festival of Makar Sankriti. The Indian version recognizes the sun’s celestial path and Thai translate the version recognizing the passing of an old year into a new one. Songkran is now held on fixed days, 13-15 April.

So what do Thai people do during Songkran?

Regarded as one of the most important traditions in Thailand because it encompasses three major values in the Thai way of life which are:

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Andaman Islands – our Cultural Insights

India’s the Andaman Islands and more specifically it’s capital, Port Blair provided us with several cultural insights – and isn’t that what travel is all about – seeing new, unexpected, or just real life experiences and events that provide insight to local people’s lives.

There were so many highlights and bonuses that we did not expect. Here is a selection of experiences that stuck with us!

And if you have not read about our Andaman Islands cruising story here.

Weddings

Our first cultural insight was accidental. Wandering the streets adjacent to Aberdeen Market one of our troop noticed stores that looked like they hired out catering equipment – massive pots 3 and 4 feet across and gas burners to sit underneath. On asking our driver he explained these are used in preparing the catering for weddings held at halls just up the street. After some encouragement he took us to one such hall where, coincidently for us, a wedding was in progress.  Our troop tentatively entered the courtyard of the hall and found ourselves being welcomed and encouraged to enter to see what was happening. The males in our troop were ushered into the male eating area and plates of food thrust forward. People were happy to pose for photos and parents even offered their children, dressed in their finery, as subjects for more photos. What a colourful, happy, friendly and joyous place!

Hindu Festival

The annual Hindu festival in celebration of Goddess Devi Muthu Mariamman was happening during our second visit to Port Blair. Devotees, mainly Tamil speaking Hindu, participate in 10 days of devotion and get blessings. We were lucky to see the gathering and procession of devotees who had chosen to participate in the sacred Fire Walk – a culminating event of the festival. The Fire Walk is perhaps something devotees do in thanks to God after making a wish and receiving the desired outcome. 

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