SATURDAY/SUNDAY - SINGAPORE
evening 11 PM, and Twenty-four hours after leaving home, we arrived in our first city of the trip which was Singapore.
Singapoore: known as the “Garden City”
for its extensive greening policy. This is a city which is also known for its nighttime display of neon so the arrival time couldn’t have been better as it meant we had the opportunity of seeing this stunning city at indeed its most
stunning; when it literally shows off its colors. I found this to be a city which “sparkled” and even for a city, I liked it very much. It was very clean, very orderly and neat, and oppressed. Hmmmm.
We toured the city with a car, driver and our very own guide – an ideal arrangement. They made sure we saw the basics and from there they took their
cue from what they gathered was of interest to us. The next morning being Sunday, and the population was promenading in full force and dressed in all its finery.
Our first stop was the hotel, and incidentally the erstwhile home, of Sir Thomas Raffles, the Brit who founded the city in 1819 to protect the opium trade route: the Straits of Malacca, a strategic shipping
lane. It was this bar which made famous the “Singapore Sling”: Unfortunately it was far too early for us to do a taste test. We continued through the town to witness the extravagant deliciousness of the decorations
commemorating the upcoming Chinese New Year, the year of the Monkey. The city was festooned with monkeys of all colors, varieties and sizes which were in turn surrounded by seas of flamboyant flowers. We visited
Chinatown and the Indian Market and learned of and experienced the character of this amazingly multi- national city.
We spent a considerable amount of time touring and enjoying
the Botanic Garden which apparently was designed with the intention of creating a destination with world- wide appeal. (I have since learned that this garden is the only tropical garden to be ascribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site) It was
indeed stupendous and definitely an excellent touring choice for us with our considerable interest and familiarity with our local botanic garden in Washington D.C It consists of a pair of immense glass, totally air conditioned,
greenhouse pods; one of which contained a five story waterfall and its attendant rain forest. The other consisted of an impressively substantial collection of cactus as well as many varieties of tropical plants, bushes
and trees. I can’t imagine how they managed such a combination, but there it is. I suspect this could be a case of - where there’s money there’s almost always a way. Perhaps. Here again particular
attention was paid to the subject of Chinese New Year with the zodiac, calendar and a complete explanation of each, and the celebrated monkeys in profuse attendance. Visitor participation and appearance is of particular
interest to me in our visits to our “Garden”, so naturally it would be of special interest to me here as well. I was delighted by the diversity: The visitors were many, exhibiting a profusion and
variety of nationality and garb which was much to my pleasure. There was a contingent of young nuns dressed with great effect in black accented by brilliant green and blue: Apparently they were there in celebration
of the end of final exams. There were also a number of youngsters outfitted in fantabulous costumes posing decoratively for photo shoots. I was told this activity was a popular hobby among local young people and they certainly managed to
add a strongly salubrious effect to the surroundings. And of course there was the ubiquitous bride posing for those prenuptial shots – always a lovely and actually frequent addition to any botanic garden.
I had expressed an interest in seeing an area of single family residents which to me meant a modest suburb but, as our driver was a licensed real estate agent with entry privileges,
what we viewed was a gated community containing an assortment of extremely expensive dwellings exhibiting a totally fantastic variety of styles ranging from traditional and indigenous, ritzy country, to pure
ultra- modern. This was basically the most wildly extravagant modern single family residential architecture I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. We were certainly very far removed from the typical middle class suburban community
that I suggested I would care to see. It was interesting. They resisted very strongly understanding my interest in viewing a community which might house the general population. Maybe such a thing doesn’t exist. Maybe the
entire population was housed in the numerous highrises… they looked very expensive. Maybe they were just intent in impressing us. Just don’t know but sure loved the alternative.
But before we took off on that spectacular tangent I might make mention of the equally spectacular architecture of this city. I was all outstandingly and unusual in its severely
modern design but the centerpiece of the city and it’s piece de resistance consisted of three very high skyscrapers joined on top by a structure presumably shaped, and appearing obviously from a distance, as a cargo ship. This
was presumably symbolic of the role of this city as a major shipping port. I shall say “maybe” because that allusion evaded me completely at the time. On top of that so-called “ship
shape” there is an INFINITY POOL , parks and restaurants and other things as well, but you’d have to pay me A LOT to get me to go up there to find out/prove it. On Wikipedia there’s a picture of a group of people in that
pool, hanging over the city, which is miles below. Can you just imagine being in this water floating over veritable infinity. NO!
That was Singapore where, as I’ve
already described, we boarded our ship and commenced our adventure.
MONDAY/TUESDAY - two days at sea
Crisis du Jour … Day two, 2 AM and in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand, and I awoke to discover my CPAP ( a medical device which boosts air intake for treatment of apnea and breathing
deficiencies) wasn’t working. We poked and prodded and plugged and prayed , but realizing we had a big day tomorrow (into Bangkok), we gave up. And I started stewing: here I am with at the very least a
very uncomfortable problem for two weeks. AND I didn’t envision any convenient CPap reps or even any medical assistants available whatsoever. I even hallucinated a helicopter landing on board to deliver me a new one – that
was how sure I was that there was no solution. I couldn’t imagine being stuck without it for two weeks. This thought was alarming enough : after an hour of fretting I tried poking it some more.
Disaster was averted when I discovered the “memory” was not engaged. –which reminded me that the memory was needed to function. So with a flash of hope I pushed it back in and TA DAH ,miracle of miracles, we had air.
Problem solved crisis averted. Never has air felt so good and I had a new lease on life. So with a sigh of relief I returned to sleep.
That proved to be, unbelievably, the only crisis encountered the entire trip. Amazing.
WEDNESDAY– DAY 3
- LAEM CHABANG (BANGKOK, THAILAND)
We’re in Thailand and we’re off to Bangkok: Time to
earn my martini.
Two hours on the road enjoying the passing scene and learning a few intriguing facts.
They are growing TAPIOCA!!!! You’ve got to be kidding: but then again, where on earth does that stuff come from? It appears to grow in a field. Imagine. We were also informed
of the curious discrepancy between the two names: Siam of the past, and Thailand. Today It is officially known as Thailand which means “ land of freedom”. Siam was a word used to designate a clumsy,
ignorant farmer. It is the only SEAsian country which was not colonized but it did in fact retain a close connection to England. This affiliation was the basis for the well- known story of Anna and the King of
Siam and consequently “The King and I” of Broadway fame; and also serves to explain the fact that they drive on the left. The date they became a democracy was given as perhaps 1939 and there is a King and Queen in
permanent residence in a local hospital. And there endeth our token history lesson.
It was on this drive that I became aware of an odd discrepancy
that stayed with me the entire trip. This is the capital city and it is far inland, we were informed for protection and security. The main cities I’m familiar with have been located on waterways of some sort for the purpose
of trade – I shouldn’t say “all”- and I was also unaware of the river Bangkok sits upon - this needs thought, but how very interesting.
The second miracle of the day –with dread I received the message we were about to make the feared pit stop - or as the Asians, for the benefit of the tender ears of the tourists I bet, have it, - ”the “ happy place”: To my wondering eyes did appear a “handicap” potty which I took advantage of with no hesitation,
another discomfort…averted, yeah, and in which we were introduced to the concept of the European vs the native style of toilet…no TP comes with the latter but that’s definitely no big deal. We always go equipped with Kleenex
although the effect on the plumbing is notoriously severely detrimental. This reminds me of the small sign in the cabin’s bathroom which bears a horrifying warning: “ no Kleenex” – I suppose they figure
everyone was intelligent enough to know anything else was a given –“ which could result in stopping up the ship’s plumbing”. Can you imagine being responsible for such an onerous thing? Eventually I got the distinct
impression that the facilities were well vetted . I can’t tell you what a huge relief this is – I have in the past had nightmares about some I’ve encountered and I figured this area was a lot more fragile in this respect.
“Holes” just never have done much for me.
We approached the city on an elevated mini freeway which allowed us a good view of the city streets below.
There were modern skyscrapers in the distance and immense golden Buddha soaring above the surrounding landscape, along with massive apartment blocks which seem to be indigenous to the entire area.
The tour: this is a good example of how I manage to read between the lines to come up with my ideal tour. I assumed that I would be floating along the highly publicized and pictured klongs
but… first the Temple actually the Palace I later learned, and the “so called emerald Buddha which is actually jade, is small, and is draped in appropriate robes according to season which in this case seemed to be winter
regardless of the 90o temperature- winter?, and more people than I’ve almost ever seen in one place. (I’m happy. I think I’m surrounded by people of Asian descent- very neat). All this involves numberous
highly ornate and colorful structures of multiple eaves, towering colorful demons, enamel mosaic building tiles, brilliant colors, gold leaf and most notably for me, human-sized gold leaf chickens and slithery- style snakes
also gold leaf: the whole lot.
Lunch was an elaborate buffet featuring Thai food (of course) in the premier hotel of the city. It was here we were privileged to
encounter the delightful dental couple –( both dentists) from Seattle, and a few others with whom to extoll the virtues of Seabourn. Again I was relieved there were as yet no squat potties. ( Obviously
there wouldn’t be in a five star hotel but I think I was basking in relief). All this sharing of ideas being a major distraction, and the fact the buffet arrangement was totally confusing,(and I don’t do very well with buffets
anyway) meant I really didn’t do justice to this excellent example of a Thai menu. Oh well.
And then we were finally off to the anticipated
and desired “Klongs”. We had been warned that we’d missed the action which had by then packed up for the day, and there was a distinct paucity of houseboats which were presumably THE attraction
of the Klongs…. Oh well, I guess I missed that one. The river itself reminded me of a shabby Bosporus.
This city no way resembled what I had been led
to expect from my reading. Considering what that has been it’s just as well as the descriptions were not of a tourist (the polite kind) kind of haven.
return to the ship gave us an opportunity to experience rush hour traffic Thai-style. Seems it is the same the world over… but I really enjoyed seeing the countryside.
Tourist Torture – can we plausibly count this sitting in traffic as making up for the fact that we are, being on Seabourn and padded/protected and essentially bereft (deprived) of hardships?
Just a thought.
THURSDAY – DAY 4 - KOL KOOD , THAILAND
This was the stop on the itinerary listed no tours which certainly had me puzzled.
This was also the stop
at which I thought they were going to toss us off the back end of the ship for a dip.
I was told the water looked like the Seychelles
so I was lured into the possibility that I’d have an opportunity to satisfy my wish to snorkel.
Au contraire, and much
to my relief. It seems this is their privately owned tropical island and what actually happened was that they packed us all on to tenders and ferried us off for a day of BBQ and water sports. Alas no snorkeling - no fish.
What we got instead was a performance of the ships waiters standing waist high in the surf dispensing champagne and caviar - (they feature this event in their publicity offerings as this “Caviar in the Surf” as being a “Signature”
event. I don’t actually understand what the appeal of this arrangement is – I have no idea what the purpose was nor did I understand the appeal and my first reaction was that it was horrifyingly sybaritic, but -----).
But floating in the lovely warm salt water of a small lagoon was a delight, and actually the (grilled) lobster was too. So with that we can deal with a bit of “sybaritic”.
Even after all my experience I don’t seem to have a clue what snorkeling conditions should be. The obvious basics; at least shallow might be good but I do know not necessary, and calm – I guess no reef
is absolutely necessary.
I shall return to this subject later.
FRIDAY– DAY 5 - SIHANOUKVILLE, CAMBODIA (port for Angkor Wat and Phnom Pen)….
city was named in honor of an erstwhile king. According to Wikipedia it is still suffering from ineffectiveness – lacking in essentials and in a forlorn condition following decades of war and upheaval from which this area suffered.
This is also THE main deep-sea port for the country.
Angkor Wat was a two day off -Ship trip and was rated the serious
“three people” in severity. I had no choice but to believe them. Aside from my horror at having to admit I went half way around the world and missed one of the premier world wonders, to be honest
I really wasn’t anxious or prepared for what I figured would be the huge jolt of disappointment and surely discomfort I anticipated. Let me live with my allusions intact and the knowledge that one really has to be sensible.
Getting to the capital Phnom Pen was not much better; a three hour bus ride each way, but nowhere near as grievous an omission. I was truly impressed by this
apparent difficulty in getting to the two main points of interest in the country. That seems an exceedingly overt evidence of a lack of accessibility in the area and which is a true detriment for the tourist business. An interesting
aside: the major museum in Phnom Pen has been judged as not advisable for kids – not surprising and I can assure you that means me too. This is a widely acknowledged and notoriously infamous prison ,
and to that we can add a few other equally horrific tourist sites there. No thank you.
I had hoped and planned to snorkel here, but when push came to shove
we really didn’t feel secure enough to try island hopping by ferry – which I gathered would be necessary. The language barrier alone is enough to keep us grounded. But apparently there were no fish? . A
Google search described its (snorkeling) presence but I think maybe for plastic debris. If fish need reefs – ain’t many of those around and with research I actually find only a sprinkling of reefs along the entire
peninsula. Whatever. Fish aren’t needed for resorts but the great weather, white sands and lovely aquamarine surf are first rate for that purpose.
to remain in Sihanoukville so we settled for a mini tour of the city, “ city” - where did they get that designation, followed by an afternoon of beach and BBQue at a fancy beach resort.
Sihanoukville proved to be a rural and an UNDER DEVELOPED environment; our first such encounter in probably ten years. It reminded me somewhat of
Greece in the 1950’s; dirt rock- laced roads, trash and litter, etc, etc… But To this I shall add the exceptional quality of appearing to be virtually UNDISCOVERED. I was astounded. I would
say this visit represents a double sided sword – I really am ecstatic to get there before It has been totally ruined.
Our first stop was the town market which proved to be an
amazing experience with all manner of unfamiliar seafood, vegetables, fruit on display and an intriguing collection of clientele to appreciate. It was delightfully colorful: and was where I managed to screw up the most pictures
of the entire trip. I am sorry about that – these pictures would have been worthwhile for a change..
This is a country known for its proliferation
of orange robed monks but I saw very little evidence of their presence aside from the few at the monastery. This is contrary to everything I’ve read which suggested they were more or less everywhere and highly conspicuous.
Maybe that was poetic license or wishful thinking or maybe even just during the hours they are out begging.
We visited a traditional local home – this is
an activity which in the past has caused me some distress, but I was quite satisfied with this experience It was a stilted, sturdily built wooden structure with living quarters upstairs – a design apparently meant to protect
the inhabitants from flooding as well as to catch welcome breezes. The house was positioned a significant distance above the water so they must experience quite severe flooding in order to be affected. Could this actually
be frequent tsunamis? What a horrible thought. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this possibility. The interior was outfitted with a combination of traditional and contemporary – photos and a TV, and a bit of visible
cut work decoration on the exterior. From there we carried on to a school and a temple complete with at least a few orange-clad monks and …begging not necessarily by the monks –I haven’t seen that since India.
The bbque was lovely grilled seafood perhaps not necessarily of Cambodian style. There were chairs under the trees and a fine surf but we opted
for the sunburn- safe shaded pool – it was beautiful and we had it virtually to ourselves. I loved hanging out under the dolphin fountains with their water-spouts massaging my head. As I was swimming around I was also happily
thinking that all this needed was a swim- up bar and sure enough there it was, but we were clueless about the money and the attendants were English clueless, so we had to take a pass.
There’s a major plan to develop this coast as a world class beach resort: apparently they’ve made a stab but it’s quite obviously in need of a whole lot more than just planning.
SATURDAY ++ at sea
All those hours we gained – we’re
giving back in spades. We are backing up one hour a day- that’s extreme to the Max – enough to make you dizzy I’d say. And according to what I have read, losing is much more detrimental than gaining.
SUNDAY– DAY 7 & 8 -SAIGON
(HO CHI MINH CITY to be official and proper), VIETNAM (MEKHONG DELTA)
AND AN UNPLANNED INTERLUDE:
Another amazing thing happened to me that could logically be considered negative, but that wasn’t my read on the events at all.
THE QUARANTINE STORY: In the middle of the night, Saturday, something evil overtook me. The next morning, with the vague thought that due to a tidal fluctuation the
schedule for our arrival in Saigon was to be reoriented, and also due to a discomforting turn in the weather to winter and smog, I was left with an empty agenda, and having an active brain, and in the interest of authenticity,
I concluded that I should check out the medical facility. Admittedly I was also uncomfortable enough to think that a bit of medical assistance might be a welcome improvement . So we marched down to the clinic on deck three to do a bit
of surveillance. It proved to be run by two very attractive and chipper young female Nurses from New Zealand. The verdict was that I was suffering or was afflicted by gastroenteritis and I would have to be quarantined in my cabin
for 24 hours (– on second thought, being a food thing, how could I be contagious? Whatever). So obediently we marched off to the cabin fortified by a massive CDC form demanding to know what I’d eaten the last three
days, (to occupy my time and put me to sleep), some seasick pills (even though I insisted I’d have a fit if I got seasick), a strikingly bland menu, and instructions to sleep it off.
Not quite what I had in mind but…
I have come all the way around the world to visit the Mehkong* Delta. But to be on the positive side,
this is one way to avoid what I was fearful would be a flagrantly and nasty encounter with those undesirable toilet facilities I so feared. I was definitely in no condition for that.
I spent the day in glorious comfort alternately sleeping, filling out the form, lying in bed, and ordering what
with a little tweeking I considered positively delicious meals. In the meantime we were floating up what I thought was a portion of the delta but which was in fact the Saigon River, in my million dollar yacht. Not bad touring.
This room service thing I really dug. I had never had the need or actually desire to try this but now I had no choice and it was just GRAND. As I say, I did a bit of tweeking to include
the essentials; salad dressing, yogurt and ice cream, and actually my stomach wasn’t up to much else anyway. It came delivered by a tuxedoed waiter!! Who actually set the table with a tablecloth??? Better than home.
I acquired a taste for the consommé too. Yummmmm!
My personal diagnose of the whole thing: Aside from the one midnight episode of stomach backup, and a slight touch of uncertainty
in the schedule *** , personally I think I was suffering from the “GOOD LIFE” and I NEEDED A BREAK. Seven days of nonstop sociability and partaking of a whole lot of unaccustomed diet is actually more than I am normally
able to survive. I have a very low threshold of tolerance to overindulgence. Here’s another good example of there being a bad side to everything good.
The view I enjoyed
in my hour of quarantine, the view from my verandah, was exceptional… the black night, the full moon, the spectacular neon- lit city to my left , the strings of mini lights outlining buildings across the river and those of the the sail-like
structures surmounting the boats which were floating up and down the river – probably dinner cruises - and the mystical oriental music wafting through the warm air. This was just plain magical and was one of the high points of the tour.
We would not have experienced or seen this if we hadn’t been kept in our cabin. ACTUALLY THIS WHOLE EPISODE IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE DICHOTOMY OF THE GOOD
AND THE BAD.
Also this whole episode added immensely to my already strong appreciation of Seabourn. This could have been a disaster.
Obviously I totally missed the Mekhong* Delta but as I said I had mixed feelings about this. On
the one hand it is a world heritage site which is under siege and slowly disappearing thanks to global warming, is noted for its colorful scene of crowds of vendor boats selling flowers, produce, and much else, and
was to be one of the high points of the trip, Actually I gathered that by the time our passengers got there, all of that was had been packed up and was gone for the day like it was in Bangkok. This is quite conceivably
one of those negative exigencies one must expect while traveling. The fact that it was a long strenuous day with acknowledgeably very minimal toilets – definitely a consideration at best without counting my ailment, alleviated
some of my sadness at having missed the trip.
*Houston, we’ve got a problem here. I am currently reading a book by Colin Cotterill spells it MEKHONG. He not only specializes
in SEAsia but also lives there, , and has authored a number of books involving Thailand and Laos. I shall cite his mention of a village on the Mehkong River called Khong and where he says the name of the river had originated. The mother –the
“me” of Khong, dwarfed the little town which is situated at the confluence of the river. “Spell Check” and Google spell it Mekong and are giving me no end of grief over the issue. As he is English, this
could be the British spelling, but you’d think Google would know that. I am going with him. It is not possible Google is wrong - I don’t know about spell check. Shall I tell Wikipedia? Don’t
MONDAY - SAIGON (continued)
SAIGON: the city remains known as Saigon in the South but it is known as Ho Chi Minh City in the north and in world affairs.
Further odd bits acquired on the tour: It is number 13 in population (I checked this. In the “ list” of countries – what countries? All countries? ), is shaped like a letter “S”,
is a country with one political party so there’s no conflict, the people are satisfied , it is one of the safest countries in the world, and the New Year’s celebration, based on the lunar calendar as is that of China, is celebrated with as
much fanfare but in Vietnam is known as TET.
I almost missed the city. Monday morning I got sprung, but unfortunately the tours had departed for the day.
BUT, please to be noted, this is an excellent example of how very far Seabourn will go to keep its passengers HAPPY. I have had the
impression that they will do anything for you - and here we need a round of SEABOURN APPRECIATION .
They went through a good deal of effort to make
arrangements for us to see a bit of Saigon. I am very appreciative.
We were privileged to be chaperoned by a delightful young man from the Saigon Cruise
office: We toured the city to enjoy a bit of local color.
They the people were energetically in the process of in preparation for the celebration of the new
year which was proceeding at a dizzy pace all of it exhibiting the hand crafted artistry and whimsy of a gay and genuine atmosphere. There were mammoth blue and yellow flowers arcading over the thoroughfares, small trees
hand decorated with mini yellow flowers lined the streets, pots of live flowers were being jammed in to screen supports, and there were large very decorative papier mache figures – mostly monkeys - visible everywhere.
Occasionally all this flamboyance was joined by slender lovely young ladies elegantly dressed in traditional costume. The French colonial architecture was as glorious as I had expected. the city teemed with activity:
hordes of motorcycles, people lunching on very short tables and chairs along the curbs, all very energetic and full of activity. A bit of serious: With pride we were shown the Parliament building where In 1975, 40 years ago,
a tank – poised mid lawn for visual appreciation - crashed through the gates which officially heralded the fall of Saigon, and became emblematic of reunification of the country as the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese
troops prevailed over Saigon.
We spent some of our time moseying around another very colorful market admiring the profusion, variety, and the unfamiliarity
of items displayed. The contrast between this environment and Walmart was out of this world appreciable- awesome and much appreciated – although I’d have to admit I’d find more to buy at Walmart. As
I strolled along I was attracted to a lovely silk, of the polyester variety, tunic. I took a glance at the price in anticipation of a good fun round of bargaining, 750,000 or so and was floored. Zeros
are not my thing. The price sprouted so many zeros I almost zoned out. How on earth was could I deal with this? There is no doubt in my mind that bargaining was expected in Vietnam – and in Vietnamese to boot. Now I ask
you. No problem: The salesgirl whipped out the handy calculator and we were on our way. Not quite. 750.000 whatevers translated into TA DAH $7. Back to square one - I’m sorry, bargaining or no bargaining - I simply couldn’t see anything there to bargain with. So I shamed everyone i and simply forked over the cash.
Sorry, I did what I could.
Now wasn’t that fun?
TUESDAY – DAY AT SEA
Alas, this is a Beach Cruise– more vacation. There’s hardly more than a tinge of serious
travel. And I decide now it is time to commence worrying. How likely am I to get sick again?
Suddenly there’s too much nature for me. I’m
happy sitting in my cabin – MOTION IN THE OCEAN. I actually had a nightmare last night involving a shipwreck. There is even surf, maybe even waves, in the pool. I’m obviously using all this pent up energy busy
getting that much more bang for the buck.
It’s 72o and predicted to get cooler: I’m afraid the weather has settled in. I think there shall be no
more pool. The tour guide informs us the climate of North Vietnam is indeed different from that of the south; January and February have the worse weather of the year with an average temperature of 55o and
rain. How cute of us to pick just this time to enjoy “Halong Bay” -- The beauty spot of the cruise.
So I sat in the cabin with time to contemplate
and to write. My first contemplation was : This is not a safe environment - open for discussion
– and I’m not talking about the rocking and rolling. We’re back to the ocean resort style and I’m getting tired of reading.
So I’m going to think
We started out at 90o, now it is 72o, and it is predicted to go to 61o. I would say that I made a massive miscalculation about weather. I checked
Singapore which just happens to be on the Equator and simply left it at that. Sitting here later I can readily understand that. Not one bit of all that I have read even breathed a word of COOL weather even. South China Sea
and Malaysia? Hmmm. I’ll bet the weather patterns are very unpredictable and inconsistent in the area. I’ll have to watch for “why”. And in the meantime I shall have to do a creative job of layering which
I’ve never been good at. So who cares what it looked like? I survived very handily and maybe even learned a smidge or two..
And I shall aver I
was right when I asserted traveling was a frustrating pastime – in my previously mentioned essay. But I also remember that I made a positive case out of these negative eventualities.
Stop right here. The obvious solution is staring me in the face anyway: IF IT’S SEABOURN IT DOESN’T MATTER. Ahha, another slogan.
IS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU SEASICK. I wonder why. I do not believe in being seasick, or so I told the Nurse as she handed me those seasick pills. I am feeling bilious (actually I think this is a left over and I was just getting antsy). Unfortunately
I threw out the seasick pills when she declared me cured (that is my routine action with any suspect or prescription pills – I do not keep them). Perhaps I could be using them. Too late. I’ve made a note to travel
in the future with Maalox or peptobismol just for safety.
Pair that with the trots and “ain’t we got fun”?
you any idea what we’re supposed to do tomorrow besides get older? DANANG…one of those places I had no idea I wanted to go to. The war left it with a rather negative reputation.
It was apparently at this point I picked myself up by the heels and did what I should have done in the first place. The obvious solution for antsyness: embark on a further investigation of the ship.
I started by going up to the exercise oval for a walk but again – I stopped at the top of the stairs to get my breath and I got no further than the 10th deck pool
bar and a visit with the lone lovely young bartenderess. I expressed an interest in encountering the 11th deck and so up we went. We arrived at the
spot I had discovered and so enjoyed on the Regent tour; with the lovely gentle warm breezes wafting by me and just as we slipped through the straits of Gibraltar with Africa on my right and the Rock on my left. That was indeed
a very special interlude. The effect this time wasn’t quite the same as the chilled wind was whipping but it’s still a delightful spot to be experiencing , standing overlooking the prow and experiencing the progress and
passage of the ship through the sea.
This outing absolutely made the day… and I was happy once again.
WEDNESDAY - DAY 10 - DA NANG , VIETNAM -(HUE, HOI AN as the projected side tours)
This was a tour day – grey but fortunately no rain. The ancient city of Hue, although an enticing consideration, was quite a distance. Hoi An was recommended by my Vietnamese hairdresser.
It too is an ancient city of world heritage renown but is perhaps more likely to be more visually exciting in its general native appearance and amount of news years decorating in indulges in. so we chose Hoi An.
The ship offered a tour by bike – that would have been a splendid way to enjoy this town – but alas, I can’t bike anymore. TRAVEL WHEN YOU ARE STILL YOUNG.
We went by bus north to the vicinity of Hoi An where we visited a “rural – I suppose it was village where we visited a small local temple, an elementary school
full of adorable toddlers, and the local market. We continued on a short way to the village of Hoi An to explore ancient buildings and a noteworthy bridge and small river. The drive provided an excellent quick view of rural Vietnam including
the rice fields and workers, water buffalo, rural villages and also evidence of resort style development. Danang was really very attractive with a magnificent beach, perfect surf, and a waterfront lined with very modern very attractive
resort hotels. The US Army used this city for R&R and is associated the China Beach, the story of which more or less evaded me. Something about china or porcelain funerial shards, remnants of burial urns, strewn upon the beach.
THURSDAY– DAY AT SEA
I’m given another unfortunate opportunity to think.
OK, I suspected this would be too much “at sea” time ALTHOUGH I did not however,
take in to account the “GREAT WEATHER and POOL STUFF” which was now absent. I’m not too surprised I didn’t think of it as it has never become part of the equation on previous trips. I don’t imagine
it ever on river cruises, and our more current sea trips have offered few at sea days or were too chilly. So I didn’t give it a thought. I’m thinking about it now because obviously, although we’re here, the weather
isn’t. Too bad.
FRIDAY– DAY 12 - HALONG BAY, VIETNAM (HANOI as a side trip)
An alternative was Hanoi with its high profile being more of a profile than
I care for, and its 3 to 4 hours each way by bus over probably rotten roads.
However, Halong Bay was a major goal on this trip so there was no way I would consider going to Hanoi
I started out with all sorts of misconceptions about the location of this site. For many years I’ve been admiring photos showing a landscape of karst(limestone)
type islands - the same type of formation which is visible in Quillin, China which I’d love to visit. These were presumably along the coast of Vietnam. Distance and location can become a figment of one’s imagination when
one is only vaguely familiar with the geography of an area, and as I was only familiar with Saigon I naturally assumed the islands would be in the same vicinity. Actually there is a good chance they may be strewn along the entire coast, but in
reality the tourist destination is in the far north - notice North….winter….rain fog….surprise! The positive slant to this latter situation was that the inclement weather would create a more dramatic, mystical atmosphere
as the islands were shrouded in mist. I’ve seen pictures of the area on a clear sunny day and I think the hands on winner was as we were privileged to see it.
were to be transported through the area in what were supposed to be reconditioned junks but I didn’t recognize much junk in them. This could be: they’re just not the same design as the Chinese junks we are familiar with. They
were seaworthy, enclosed, and sported thoroughly respectable potties, surprise, so no worries.
This is a most incredible landscape – just beautiful
. I do love rocks anyway.
We were presented with a full scale meal, Vietnamese style of course, prepared entirely on hot plates. I sensed a great deal
of activity going on behind the scene and between the boats which made up our fleet. This whole effort/operation , food service as well as the purveying of souvenirs, appeared to be a feat of extraordinarily intricate coordination.
Obviously it was a terrific example of the ingenuity of the Vietnamese and I was very impressed indeed. It was here also that I finally started to gain a bit of insight in to the formation of
an eastern style meal . I was showered with a veritable avalanche of dishes which I dutifully downed – and then came the rice? I was very puzzled until it finally occurred to me that all of that foreplay was in fact appetizer.
A lovely and unexpected addition was a visit to a fishing village. This area has been made a national heritage area and the
fishing villages were grandfathered in so that they could continue fishing but forget that: the fisherfolk readjusted their income base to consist of ferrying tourists around anyway. (I don’t say “men”
because most of the work seemed to be done by women. Maybe the men were actually out fishing. Who knows.) I was very curious as to how they could sustain or erect a village. These islands are shaped like fangs standing straight
up with little or no beach. Luckily there is no surf or only little wave action which was explained as due to the area being “a bay within a bay”, so the water was mostly motionless. We were shifted into skiffs
from the junks (not easy) and off we went. The small structures of the villages floated on oil drums? There were even dogs - don’t they need dirt?
am so glad we got here before it was totally ruined. We were sorry to see the evidence of the future – they were In the process of and were very proud to show us an enormous theme park cum tourist destination which was almost
ready to be opened. It appeared to me and to my horror I think the surrounding hills are strewn with tourist facilities: amusement parks, high rise hotels, shopping centers , entertainments like the vast Ferris wheel
towering above one hill which is hooked up with the amusements over on the other hill by an enormous web of cable car. It seems they’re well on the way to being a mammoth tourist DESTINATION. OH, SO sad. Such an incredibly
beautiful natural area will just be overrun.
cable cars seem to be ubiquitous – Singapore, Hong Kong, Halong Bay, and I’ll bet that’s just a drop in the bucket. I must add Barcelona here as well – I guess it’s a requirement for a proper tourist destination
and maybe meant to be a stand in for things like the TajMahal?.
This was one visit that did live up to expectations…. This was certainly a major highlight
of the entire trip- if not the.
SATURDAY -another DAY AT SEA , and a day of no pool.
This day at sea was saved a bit by the occupation of packing
in response to a gentle reminder we received upon our return from breakfast: the special bed cover they appeared to use for packing was on the bed. It was gentle and not jarring so it was ok.
So we took the hint and emptied the drawers in to the bags and voila, we were packed. That seemed to be enough exercise until -
our final cocktail hour Martini time which made
it notable in its own right but we had a most astounding and a most unusual experience.
We were joined on our usual banquette by a huge joyful and celebrating friendly
crowd - of fellow imbibers. All this fellowship was especially exuberant in recognition of the importance of the evening - our last of this eventful cruise, so our usually unshared banquette became cozy as we all snuggled
together and shared a moment of Fellowship. As the others chatted I overheard mention of Philadelphia and I simply couldn’t resist from butting right in with a bit of interrogation on the subject. It’s not that I really expect
everyone in Philly to know my family but why not? Turns out not only did one of the men know my family, he was my aunt’s godson. And to assure that the fact was well established –he added a few times that
she was the one who slapped him on the butt to start him breathing. This did sound a bit farfetched to me, but who knows?
Who would have thought of the chance of
this kind of thing happening? It strongly brought to my mind the quote, the play and finally the movie starring Stockard Channing which asserted that all humans are separated by a mere six degrees of separation. I believe there could be a good
bit of truth in this thought – fortified very well be this bit of coincidence. Pretty neat anyway and certainly another example of a fortuitously delightful encounter on Seabourn. I think
this, the plausibility of friendly, casual and frequent encounter between passengers is another attribute of a smaller ship. The larger the ship the more you lose a sense of recognition and familiarity which might in turn result in
people keeping to themselves and remaining aloof.
SUNDAY JANUARY 31 - HONG KONG
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL. I WASN’T POURED OFF THE SHIP so I’m not sure where this sentiment came from –yes I am… that was a condition
associated with “Pride”: we all got off needing rehab. (That all may sound good but it actually was just an episode of kidding).
disembarked in an appropriately sedate manner and were gently wafted to our most glamorous accommodations: the Hotel Shangri-La, with which we were familiar having stayed in one in Istanbul. Would you not agree the name is a bit more appropriate
here – well, maybe not. They were equally luscious accommodations but – whoa – this one didn’t have the TV imbedded in a mirror at the foot of the bathtub. I’ll bet that’s an upgrade thing – the Istanbul
hotel may be newer.
This day we had breakfast and an afternoon tour. We were scheduled to fly home the next morning at 10:00 am
Touring Hong Kong –….I truly was afraid I had selected another Viatour Chinese style - my tour horror from the Riviera as well as Istanbul - as we commenced picking up other guests
at other hotels but it was handled with amazing efficiency and agility with a clever tourist shuffle resulting in the correct tourists on the correct tours and with no lost time or hesitation… yeah!
First order of business was to “the top of the Peak” by tram with a special trip to a “sky terrace” on top of that. Unfortunately the city was a bit shrouded in fog and the atmosphere was
grey but that was ok. I passed on the additional level as the number of escalators involved was not for me- too high, too tricky- too many scurrying people. The level we were on was quite satisfactory—you’d see the same amount of mist.
We boated in the harbor which according to popular fiction was a jumble, a maze, a labyrinth of fishing boats, and a notorious den of iniquity housing the criminal population
and all those people seeking anonymity. It has since undergone – an unfortunate – cleanup/housekeeping/fumigation/all of the above. The fishermen, here again, have mostly switched to the more lucrative
pursuit of the tourist industry. The fishing boats. , the fishing boats are air conditioning, and the rest of the harbor has been converted to a fancy marina housing the humongous yachts of the rich and famous.
We continued on to explore the rest of the island – as differentiated from the other famous section of Hong Kong being Kowloon, with further evidence of the presence of the rich and famous. That’s
where Jacky Chan, being a popular figure and familiar to most, made an appearance- not literally of course- just mention of his residence. Hong Kong’s Disney presence was dutifully noted and pointed out mostly in the form of a
view of a system of cables heralding the presence of an immense and extensive cable car system. I woke up when I heard the mention of pandas – one of which seems to have been presented to them by either China or England as a token
of their return to China and which is now “the oldest in captivity” – huh, but we ( D.C.) have four. Below us were beaches. Their presence elicited a tour guide joke for my collection (I’ve been remiss
this trip by neglecting keep frack of these although I’m sure they existed. It could be I wasn’t feeling particularly humorous of locale). Anyway, visible in the water some distance from the beach there were nets –
apparently there to divert/preclude/impede or prohibit the sharks from dining on the swimmers. It seems that if there were two swimmers under attack by a shark, one being a nice rotund delectable body and the other being
Chinese, they always go for the Chinese. Why? In revenge for their use in Shark Fin Soup of course.
A Jewelry Factory was next on the agenda, the
guide asserting this was not his choice but he’d get fired if we didn’t stop there. Being Sunday there were no artisans but there was a cadre of severely assertive sales ladies to make up for that lack. I was very
sad to have been unable to play an active part in this exercise as I have with fervor and enthusiasm indulged in some pretty fancy impulse shopping of the jewelry variety in the past BUT, as I do virtually nothing with what I’ve
acquired accept occasionally play with them, I am unable with honesty to justify buying any more. Unfortunately I wasn’t t even permitted a casual glance because “casual” was not on the agenda -
this was HARD SELL of the first order.
I am very fond of these people, and the merchandise on display was luscious. There was a lot of stunning jade
– multi colors I actually wonder if that actually is natural, and was extremely expensive. I have some beautiful jade I bought in Beijing 10 years ago. I had no idea it was so valuable. There’s a good chance
that maybe I would have liked to cooperate at least a bit but I had to cut them off with no uncertainty. That approach could possibly be considered a mistake on their part: I could very well have fallen, and very lucratively-
that’s what I do, but there really wasn’t enough time anyway.
The visit proved to be interesting however as it provided me with a bit of very interesting information.
It seems the main industry besides tourism in Hong Kong is the manufacture and sale of jewelry. The the raw product is imported from the mainland, the finished product is created in Hong Kong, and the clientele come in turn
primarily from the mainland. That would seem to be a very efficient use of natural resources.
There was a shop displaying extravagant jewelry and the
like on the hotel mezzanine. The pearl earrings in the window - I would certainly like a pair of larger pearls to go with the necklace I bought ten years ago- on sale for the price of $9700.00 That’s the problem with associating
with these luxury venues – the shopping is lousy.
Our final stop was at a street market where I purchased earrings for $28 – somewhat more than
I paid for my necklace but that was in Shanghai ten years ago and also I had run out of bargaining energy. No matter. Now I’ve just got to make a point of wearing them.
And at that we were duly delivered back to the central hotel to be appropriately reshuffled. Good day.
I discovered a major must- see in Hong
Kong, a light show which is world famous but simply as a nod to intelligence, we had to pass on this one and had dinner at the hotel. We were way too tired to do another thing and we had a very early wake- up call in the
MONDAY FEBRUARY 1 - AND HOME
- 6:30 and we’re off to the airport
Another of my favorite things of this trip was the Hong Kong airport. I was truly stunning architecturally
– a monumental open space in the form of a great big airplane hangar and was light, bright and airy and incidentally loaded with people speaking Mandarin. (For entertainment I highly recommend checking it out in Google – it includes
shots illustrating the actual situation at the old airport which was in the city and the basic reason they constructed this new one. There are neat shots of airplanes appearing to be superimposed on the city and one in which the
nose of the plane actually seemed to stick right in to the passenger area.) In Hong Kong I was bemused because I failed to recognize the sound of the language that was being spoken. Turns out what I was hearing was Cantonese, an entirely
different dialect from that I was used to hearing I was relieved to hear the sounds that I have always enjoyed being spoken at the airport.
Our first reaction
however was that of bewilderment as we walked in the door to be confronted by an announcement board which was entirely in Chinese. Remember, we had become spoiled and were no longer prepared for peculiar travel exigencies thanks to Viking and Seabourn.
This reaction was only momentary as a very nice person witnessed our bewilderment and came to our aid actually about the same time I spied the proper check in window in English.
THE FLIGHT HOME;;;;;
Yes, we’re working in to losing an ENTIRE DAY.
departed Hong Kong at 10 AM February 1 and arrived home – after a 24 hour flight, at 3:30 PM THE SAME DAY ###
That’s a weird thing. We will be alive, kicking and in the same plane but it won’t count. How do you explain a missing 24 hours? ‘course living one day
twice is pretty interesting too. I have had to accept the fact that, as wildly intriguing as the thought of the International Date Line is, it really has no significant effect…aside from the fun I get out of thinking about it, and taking
it into account when you are arranging your date of arrival at each end . You could obviously arrive at your ships departure location a day late but everyone is prepared for that and acts accordingly- it’s a given. The dates and the number
of days you are away are a bit screwy too.
Other than that… mess with my mind, amuse me, keep me occupied – LOVE IT!
This time I was hit by a particularly malicious form of jet lag on my return home. Jet lag is a fact of life and when it happens we all usually tend do a bit of hypothesizing, and
then forget all about it. But this time it was so bad I figured it was time to find out exactly what was going on.
It occurs as a result of being precipitated
across time zones at jet speed. Our normal daily physical rhythm is knocked out of synch but worse of all our sleep pattern is disrupted. This prevents the necessary replenishment of melatonin (a hormone)
which is essential for a healthy body.
The common symptoms are an unpleasant mental and emotional condition,
physical exhaustion, and fatigue. People are affected differently, with some even having trouble with the one hour change of daylight savings time. Athletes are probably the most adversely affected
as their occupation not only involves a great deal of travel but also requires an optimal physical condition on arrival.
The International Date Line, as impressive as
it sounds, has no affect. Traveling from east to west therefore gaining hours proves easier than going west to east and losing hours.
rate of adjustment exists which can be used to calculate how many days of disfavor might plausibly be expected: east to west (the easy way) is only worth ½ day per time zone crossed, while the dreaded west to
east, which got me so bad this time, goes at 2/3 of a day per time zone and I hurt every minute of it. But then again, we were suffering the consequences of probably the ultimate in time zone passage – 12 of them (if we’d
kept on going we wouldn’t be eliminating time zones -. And its at this point that the whole thing gets too much for me and I give up.
There are various
remedies and/or methods available to circumvent the discomfort: although frequently suggested, neither diet nor exercise is of any value - I’m going to assume the alternate may be considered true and eliminating booze
is of no use either -that’s good – booze is one of the few enjoyments of flying; carefully monitoring ones lowlight situations, sleeping a full eight hours even if it is noontime, adjusting ones schedule to include only daytime travel,
and never arriving at ones destination during daylight hours are suggestions. They do seem highly impractical to me. There is light therapy. There are drugs: but those athletes who are the most in need of assistance
are also generally prohibited from the use of those drugs.
Actually I think that the bottom line here is that it’s just another interesting joy of travel.
I would like to have it on the record e that It wasn’t jet lag I was suffering from : I was also a victim of separation anxiety and culture shock – as
can be expected when returning from a two week sojourn (there it is again) in paradise.