Singapore Botanic Garden - Photo Shoot

dress up hobby at Botanic Gardens in Singapore - primp time

Major Singapore highlight - building shape of ship on top triple skyscraper.

Caviar in the surf on Kol Kood Island, Thailand



Saturday 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.


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.

The 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.


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)….

This 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.

We elected 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)


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 know.

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.


So,  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?


  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 and write.

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.

THIS 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”?

Have 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.


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.


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 anyway.

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.

 We 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? 

I 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.

The 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.


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).

 We 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 morning.

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.   


Yes, we’re working in to losing an ENTIRE  DAY.

 We 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. 

  A 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.