And like that, we’re in December.
Actually, it seems to have taken a century to get to the end of this horrendous year, but it looks like we’re finally getting there.
And with a vaccine-coloured light at the end of the tunnel, I wonder if next year won’t end with things being completely back to normal. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?
In the meantime though, we’re cautiously getting back into the swing of things.
We’re talking about a dinner with the Royal Consul-General of the Kingdom of Thailand to tell you about, celebrating the fascinating festival of Loy Krathong.
And coincidentally, we also took over the controls to the social media of Thailand’s tourism board Hug Thailand for the day over the weekend – and even had a story published on their website.
We also attended the annual Australian Society of Travel Writers’ awards (virtually of course) in which we were finalists.
Our Christmas gift guide Hint Magazine launched and we had a taste of travel with a trip up to Tamworth, NSW as well, so it’s been a busy time for us. But here are all the details!
Jim & Christina xx
Not a bad view, is it? But it’s what you’d expect of the home of one of the most important people in the country.
This is where the Royal Consul-General of the Kingdom of Thailand resides and he’s invited us to have dinner with him.
Mr Chakkrid Krachaiwong – the Consulate – and his wife Mrs Pornrat Krachaiwong join us for a quick selfie. In fact, it’s Mr Krachaiwong’s idea!
We’re here with a group of very impressive travel writers – Marianne Rogerson, Liny Milan, Catherine Marshal, Deborah Dickinson Smith, Holly O’Sullivan, John Borthwick, Eleney DeWinter, Mark Harada and (not in picture) Elisa Elwin.
We’re also graced with the presence of Tourism Authority of Thailand Director, Suladda Saratilavan (bottom left).
We can barely believe our eyes as the consul-general leads us onto the veranda. He’s organised a chef to come and make Christina’s favourite Thai snacks to come and cook for us.
These are kanom krok – a kind of egg and condensed milk… blini? I don’t know what you can compare them to. It’s the one thing we seek out as soon as we arrive in Bangkok and were pretty much the last thing we ate on our trip to Thailand in March.
They’re delicious and if you find them anywhere – in Thailand or out of it – eat them!
The reason we’re here today is to celebrate Loy Krathong, which is a 700-year-old Thai Buddhist festival.
It’s a time for people to pay their respects to Buddha and to the goddess of water and rivers. ‘Loy’ means ‘to float’ and ‘krathong’ refers to lotus-shaped vessels that are emblems of this beautiful ceremony.
We watch as a troupe of Thai dancers teach us how to make our own krathong…
…and then we get to work.
Originally, krathong were made with banana leaves and stumps with coconut husks and colourful paper to create a lotus flower shape.
Today, we’re using paper plates and bowls, and glueing special paper lotus petals on – with the careful guidance of our dancers of course!
While we wait for the both the glue and the sun to set, we find the dinner table has already been so.
It’s time to eat and we’re very excited about what we’ll be served. Mr Krachaiwong has invoked his personal chef to cook for us tonight, which is even more exciting.
We’re not disappointed.
Four elegant interpretations of classic Thai dishes adorn our beautiful plates.
Coconut rice and papaya salad with succulent grilled beef to start, then a rich, sumptuous tom yum goong soup, then a trio of dishes – green chicken curry, mee krob (a sweet and sour crispy rice noodle dish) and jasmine rice with mini tomatoes and a radish artfully carved into a frangipani.
Finally, a lineup of fresh fruit with a coconut jelly that’s almost crunchy.
If anything could make us miss Thailand more than usual, it’s been this meal.
With dinner over, we move back to the pool where our dancers perform another Thai dance for us. The three dancers represent the major regions of the country: the south, the east and the north.
With their krathongs ready, they lower them reverently into the water, showing us the process.
Soon, the Consul’s pool is full of krathongs, giving it a joyful yet somewhat eerie appearance. It’s a beautiful ceremony and one of the most important in the Thai culture.
I would love to be in Thailand to see what this looks like on the great Chao Phraya River of Bangkok.
Loy Krathong follows the Thai lunar calendar and takes place on the full moon of the 12th month.
Apart from Bangkok, other top spots to visit of Loy Krathong are Chiang Mai’s Ping River (they also have sky lanterns here), Tak, where they float decorated coconut shells also on the Ping River, and Sukhothai – where it’s thought that Loy Krathong started.
Tonight we’ve set ourselves up for an evening of entertainment and celebration for the ASTW (Australian Society of Travel Writers) Awards for Excellence.
This usually happens at the society’s AGM in all manner of glorious locations, but this year, it’s all virtual (thank you, Covid) so we’re hosting our own dinner with friends and colleagues only a screen away.
If you want to know how to platter like this by the way, check out Christina’s tips on how to do it here.
We’re even more excited about this year’s ASTW Awards for Excellence as we’re finalists for Best Travel Blog! It’s a tough group this year, but we’re just happy to be in the running.
You can see the list of finalists – and the winners too – here.
We’re proud to reveal we were prized as runners up for the country’s best travel blog, which is a great honour. And we’re pleased that our friend Michael Turtle from Time Travel Turtle won best blog.
With Christmas well on its way (you know it’s on in under four weeks, right?) we thought everyone would need a bit of help with their Chrimbo shopping.
We’re released our gift guide e-mag Hint with some of our favourite ideas for under the tree or in the stocking.
You can leaf through our guide above or you can look through the various posts we’ve published featuring each category and item in more detail here.
We’re so excited this weekend – we finally get to escape and travel!
This is the Big Golden Guitar of Tamworth, about five hours north-west of Sydney. There’s also an excellent tourism information office right next door with a museum, maps and the most helpful people to show you what there is to do here.
Tamworth is the home of country music in Australia hence the giant guitar. But apart from this excellent Big Thing (and who doesn’t love Australia’s Big Things?), we’re not in Tamworth for the music.
Well, not just the music anyway…
We’re here to check out the newly refurbished Powerhouse Tamworth by Rydges – the region’s first and only five-star hotel.
It’s called the Powerhouse because of its links to the generator that used to be on this site over 210 years ago that gave Tamworth electric streetlights.
It was the first town in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere to have this!
As such, the hotel has plenty of nods to industry and electrical power, and never forgets its roots.
One thing I love more than anything when we’re away in country Australia is exploring the local brews and spirits.
The Powerhouse Tamworth really pays attention to this, which makes our stay here even more enjoyable.
From the taps in the beautifully decorated Coal Bunker Bar, which feels more like a little city speakeasy than a hotel bar, we’re enjoying a drop of New England Brewing Co’s finest before we head to dinner.
As we walked to the Powerhouse Tamworth’s lobby this evening, we thought we could smell delicious woodsmoke in the air and wondered if this could be part of dinner.
We weren’t wrong.
From Jack’s Creek Beef – awarded many times as the best steak in the world – the chefs at the Workshop Kitchen at the Powerhouse Tamworth cook us what we think is the best steak dinner we’ve had.
This is my wagyu rump cap with peppercorn sauce. Incredible.
And the aroma of woodsmoke we smelt on the way in? That’s the ironbark wood-fired grill all the steaks here are cooked on.
We’ll be running a full review of the hotel and its restaurant quite soon, so keep your eyes open for that.
Today, we go to one of the highest points in the area to gaze out over Tamworth. The views out from Oxley Lookout are excellent, though you’re reminded how flat the Liverpool Plains and this part of New England is.
While the sun’s still out, we head into town to check out the beautiful architecture of this town settled over 200 years ago.
Before Europeans came here though, this land was the home of the Gamilaraay People, who are also the owners of the word ‘budgerigar’.
It’s a warm day though, so we decide to pop into a few bars while we’re exploring Tamworth.
This is the Welder’s Dog, which has its own (excellent) craft beer, but also an awesome range of craft beers from around the region, the country and the world. I even spot some Stone Brewing beers from San Diego.
If you’re after a friendly local spot for amazing beers and even live music events, you’ve got to check out the Welder’s Dog.
After hitting a few more great pubs (another reason I love visiting country towns), we decide it’s time for a bite to eat.
We stop in at the highly-recommended Pig and Tinder Box for some delicious tapas-style dishes (and a really good spritz by the way).
These chicken karaagi and crispy pork belly bao really hit the spot.
Time for a cheeky cocktail at The Press, a subterranean cocktail lounge with an impressive wall of spirits and vibe not dissimilar to Sydney’s Baxter Inn – though lacking a little of the finesse or charm.
We’re surprised at the bar tender being a bit rude and teacherly, though the grown-up cocktails help us get over the feeling of being treated like children reasonably quickly.
Christina’s elderflower French 75 is exquisite a is my rye old fashioned.
This morning, we’re up as early as possible – not that early really – to head to Tamworth’s Marsupial Park just on the outskirts of town.
Unbelievably, it’s free to get in – just with a gold coin donation.
The park is excellent, with a large walk-in aviary filled with budgerigars of course, but also a great range of free-flying Aussie birds of all shapes and sizes.
Outside the aviary, there are emu in a paddock and a kind of safari park of kangaroos and wallabies you can walk amongst.
From the park, we head towards the town of Nundle, about 45 minutes from Tamworth. But before we get to Nundle, we spot this sign.
Finally, some recognition. To be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t had something named after me sooner.
Nundle is a tiny town on the Peel River with a small run of shops on its main street including this crazy antiques shop.
There’s so much stuff in here it’s hard to move around. How they keep a stock check of everything here is beyond me.
Also in Nundle is the Woollen Mill. You can have a guided tour of the machines and workings of this place during the week, but at the weekend you get this birds-eye view from the balcony.
There is also a cute little shop selling woollen goods and yarn.
But this is the real reason we’re in Nundle. We’ve heard good things about the Peel Inn, so we stop in for lunch. It’s certainly a great example of a little country pub doing great pub food with plenty of character.
There are some interesting decorations in the public bar worth looking at – namely taxidermied two-headed calves mounted in the pokey room and a news clipping of the prize leatherjacket that broke Australian records.
All too soon our time in Tamworth comes to an end and we’re heading south back to the city.
But before we leave the beautiful countryside of New England, we have one more breakfast to enjoy.
The Glasshouse Restaurant sits on the high ground of Goonoo Goonoo Station 20 minutes out of Tamworth. This multi-award winning restaurant is set in an incredible string of buildings – restored wool stores and shearing sheds – and the food is exceptional.
Christina’s corn and lemon myrtle fritters come with streaky bacon, poached egg, ricotta and red gum smoked tomato relish. It’s a wonderfully satisfying meal.
But my poached egg, wattle seed rosti, wild fennel, butter-fried crouton, hollandaise and salmon caviar is just outstanding… but it’s the house-smoked salmon, which is crumbly, tender and packed with smoky umami, makes for one of the best breakfasts I’ve had.
Thanks to our friend Jane Lawson for this tip.
From Tamworth and the North West, there’s a temptation for Sydneysiders to just bomb it back down to the city in one go, but seeing as we’re virtually passing through the Hunter Valley, it seems like a wasted opportunity not to stop by a winery on the way.
Our lovely friend Bel Stapleton, who used to run the beautiful Spicers Vineyards Estate is now working for a Hunter Valley icon – Bimbadgen Estate, so we pop in and manage to squeeze in a cheeky wine and a gab (and an excellent tasting) before we hit the road again.
If you’re looking for some outstanding Hunter Shiraz, Semillon and Chardonnay, you can’t go wrong with Bimbadgen.
And keep an eye out for some interesting developments there from a juniper perspective too.
Today we’re reliving some of our favourite memories of Thailand as we take over the social media accounts of Hug Thailand – the tourism board of the Land of Smiles.
We’re so excited to be more involved with this excellent organisation who have been so generous with us in the past.
But we also have a live cross to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Facebook page, which you can rewatch here. It’s full of our favourite things to do in Thailand.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Edition. Thank you for reading our stories and being part of the romance!
Jim & Christina xx