In Samut Sakhon province, just southwest of Bangkok, a bounty of fruit is produced year-round thanks to irrigation from the Tha Jeen River. Sun-drenched orchards of lychee, dragon fruit, pomelo, papaya and kaffir lime, among countless others, flash by as you ride along the back roads. But grapes? Aren’t they confined to the temperate hills?
On a day trip into these agricultural lands, we slowed down next to a vineyard bursting with green grapes that appeared to float over a pond. Chin unexpectedly turned down a side lane and stopped at a farmhouse, where she charmed the vineyard owners into letting us go for a boat ride. Before setting off, they introduced us to their happy dogs.
After being welcomed as though we’d been expected, we were off in a little boat rowed by a farm hand with a soft, soothing voice. Excited about these strange visitors, the dogs trotted alongside us on rows of earth placed beneath the vines.
Like something out of a very pleasant dream, we were shaded from the sun by bulging clusters of ripe green grapes — one after the next for as far as the eye could see.
Drifting slowly under this green canopy, it took some effort to restrain ourselves from reaching up with hand or mouth to pick a grape or two. I was reminded of the Roald Dahl novel, James and the Giant Peach, feeling as though we’d stumbled on some magically delicious realm of the imagination. It was also a reminder of how beautiful Thailand can be, and not always in the ways you might expect.
Apart from a slight breeze rustling the vines and the occasional splash from a swimming dog, the place was utterly quiet until we came to a half-dozen workers who joked as they picked. Though it was hot, they wore long sleeves, face masks and straw hats to shield the sun.
We snapped some photos of the pickers before cruising through a patch of lime and chili trees on the way back to the farmhouse. Next to a batch of fresh-picked kaffir lime leaves, one of our new friends was waiting.
The owners, a Thai couple probably in their early sixties, invited us over to a wooden pavilion overlooking the vineyard for a few grapes and iced roselle juice. We offered to pay them something, at least for the boat-woman’s time, but they would have none of it. Before pulling out, we did pay respects to the local spirits for overseeing what really did feel like a slice of heaven, just 40 kilometers from a city of 20 million people.
Though I’ve become accustomed to spontaneous instances of hospitality in rural Thailand, they never cease to surprise me. This vineyard was not marketed as an “agro-tourism” attraction (not that we have anything against those). The family who owns it didn’t hope to gain anything by taking us for a spin under their grapes. It was simply a nice thing to do — and an experience that we’ll never forget.