Plans change. Sometimes for the better
On a recent Asian cruise I discovered, upon docking at Thailand's Laem Chabang, that my selected shore excursion to Pattaya Beach had sold out. Disappointed, I chose an alternative a short drive away, which promised a visit to a winery. Since I wasn't aware Thailand even had a wine industry, I had visions of a rustic backyard shed and a few straggly vines.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Silverlake Vineyard was established by a former Thai movie star in 2002 and is a real surprise!
Jumping on the estate's motorised tram, I explored the vineyard's grounds with its acres of vines, beautifully manicured gardens and quirky topiary plants, gazebos and windmill. From the Movie House B&B complex, which boasts cinematic themed rooms, I had a first class view of nearby Khao Cheejan Mountain with its magnificent gold-embossed giant Buddha. And there is a 300-seat outdoor amphitheatre which hosts an annual music festival and a concert lawn where up to 6,000 people can enjoy jazz, country, classical and rock music all year round.
At the state-of-the-art winery, which produces both wine and juice, I made my way past walls of wine bottles and pristine silver-coloured wine vats to an ultra-modern cellar door with indoor/outdoor tasting areas. There I was offered generous glasses of two of the local grapes varieties, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz; impressive to say the least.
At the beautiful Villaggio, the entrance to the vineyard, is a small shop that sells vine-fresh grapes, 100% vineyard grape juices and homemade grape jams and jellies. There's also a cafÃ© for light snacks, fresh coffee and homemade ice-cream. But I dined at the Silverlake Wine and Grill Restaurant and Pizza CafÃ© which boasts both Thai and Italian food and seats a massive 200 guests.
I opted for the Thai banquet that had something for all tastes "“ from green curry with pork to stir-fried sizzling seafood. The Italian menu offers appetizers like marinated Italian Beef Carpaccio and includes soups, pastas and pizzas. And the restaurant has a lava stone grill where chefs cook Australian Wagyu beef in a range of sauces, and poultry and seafood in Italian style. The extensive wine list includes not only Silverlake's own offerings, but a feast of fabulous European wines as well.
But it isn't just the fabulous wine and food that makes Silverlake unique. The estate, which features a huge man-made lake, has a real Italian feel. All of the buildings, including the Villaggio community mall, have been constructed in Italian style right up to their richly coloured terracotta roofs. In fact, on my way out of the air-conditioned restaurant, I stopped to view the estate from the balcony and thought I had somehow been transported to Lake Como in northern Italy.
It was time for a good walk to settle all that good Thai food, so I spent an hour or so wandering through the adjacent Viharn Sien Chinese Pavilion. A museum set on three acres, it houses one of the best Chinese art collections in Thailand. Some of the pottery is 3,000 years old, and eighteen Shaolin monk statues demonstrate a martial art form popular fifteen centuries ago.
I also enjoyed viewing the scale model of the Terracotta Army and actual figures of terracotta warriors, horses and chariots; Viharn Sien is one of the few museums outside of China where these gems can be found.
I only had a few hours to spend at Silverlake, but I could have spent all day "“ and night. And as it turned out, it was just as well that other shore excursion wasn't available!
Written by: Penny Garnsworthy
Penny lives in the beautiful Tamar Valley in Tasmania. She loves to travel, and she loves to write "“ and combining the two is her passion. She also writes for the educational market in Australia and blogs about travel, books and life in general at: www.creativepenny.blogspot.com
All Photo Credits: Penny Garnsworthy