China to Singapore
Tour - Cruise
China, South Korea, Japan,
Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
Tour Cruise - Princess -
Sunday November 20, 2005
A Sunday WITHOUT sunlight! James and I flew to Los Angles on
Saturday and saw the sun setting over Texas. It was Saturday night when we
met Steve and Claudia at the international terminal. The 747 took off just
after midnight on Sunday AM for our 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. About halfway we
crossed the international dateline where it turned to Monday AM and was
still dark. We saw the Monday sunrise while we were flying over Taiwan on our
approach to Hong Kong.
Monday November 21, 2005
Airport - The Hong Kong international airport is a vast structure with
separate levels for arriving and departing passengers. A doorbell sounds
followed by computerized announcements in English as well as many Asian
languages echoed throughout the airport. Duty free shopping features high
end brands in clothing, chocolates, jewelry and liquor. Small luggage
carts are abundant and available for free. Each cart can hold a small
carryon bag with a basket for a personal item. The airport has one of the
largest collections of 747 jumbo jets that I have seen at any one airport.
Mountains are close by across the water with high rise apartments along
the shoreline. The sunny day has a haze that softens the mountains and
gives them a blue gray tint. People movers stretch as far as the eye can
see carrying travelers to their gates. Fresh flowers in mass plantings,
especially orchids, are spaced throughout the airport and softens the
industrial high tech feel. Our eight hour layover was made painless at the
Traveler's Lounge at the Hong Kong airport. It provided us a place to stow
our luggage, a bed with a quiet place for a short nap, a shower and snack
at the buffet. We are ready to continue our trip on into China.
- The city lights of Beijing came into view as we approached on our flight
from Hong Kong. There was what appeared to be a light ground fog in the
cool 50 degree night time air. After we went through customs, claimed
baggage and exited the conditioned air of the terminal to curbside to wait
for our bus we noticed the fog was flavored with a sulfur smell. From our
experiences, Beijing shares a trait with many large cities outside of the
US, the air is bad. Our Chinese guide Charlie welcomed us to China and
proved to be a very gracious host during our stay providing us with many
facts and descriptions. The Sheraton Great Wall, located on the Third Ring
Road was comfortable and made us feel like we were at home. James had a
Budweiser while Steve and I had a Tsing Tao beer in the lobby lounge while
we listened to three female performers singing popular US hits. I can’t
believe we are in China.
Tuesday November 22, 2005
good nights sleep on a real bed and a great shower in the morning, the two
criteria I measure any hotel room by, we went off to have breakfast and
meet the other travelers of the tour-cruise. Because it was a little past
6 AM, we were the second two of about ninety to the buffet room. We met
Gloria and Norm who are from Canada and have been on several cruises. As
other couples arrived the bragging and port city name dropping began.
James and I have traveled around the world a good bit and this was to be
our first big cruise. We were among the professional cruisers. It was what
I imagined it would be like to be a beginner nudists wearing clothes among
completely naked people.
We were to begin our tour in the central part of Beijing starting at
Tiananmen Square. It was a bright sunny cool morning in late November.
Thousands of tourists, mostly Chinese, had already assembled in the
square. To the south was the Zedong Memorial Hall where a very long line
was already formed to see the embalmed body of Mao Zedong. To the north
was the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the entrance to the Forbidden City
where Mao‘s portrait is proudly displayed. Young Chinese military honor
guards were at attention at strategic posts. Many vendors pestered
tourists with their wares. One of the most popular trinket was a Mao watch
where his waving arm is in motion with the second hand that displays a red
star. James bought a watch for $2.50. Mao’s hand waved for about the next
three hours during the tour, then it stopped. Tiananmen Square was a great
place to people watch and take photos. We proceeded through the Gate of
Heavenly Peace and into the Forbidden City. Beijing has a rich history and
culture that overwhelms the visual senses.
Wednesday November 23, 2005
Wall of China is a big checkmark on my list of things to see. We arrived
in the mid morning sunshine to realize there was a drastic chill in the
windy cold air on the wall. Vendors were selling gloves for $1, Olympic
stocking hats for $1, scarves for $1. Steve got a complete ensemble for
$3. We were at the Badaling section of the wall, with the easy climb to
the right and the tough climb to the left which offered better photo
opportunities. We went left. James and Claudia made it through the first
guard tower. Steve and I continued up to where the incline and steps were
almost vertical. The view was GREAT and we did take many photos.
We explored the streets of Beijing around the hotel on our free time
away from the schedule. A young Chinese man stating that he was “Chinese
Picasso” offered to show us his small gallery. We went to a back alley and
entered a closet sized room with paintings from floor to ceiling and
stacked in piles leaning against the walls. He quickly went through the
various categories of art in his “ching-lish” which was quite good. He
built credibility, established a bargain price point of $200, defined a
sense of urgency but took the high pressure edge off by stating he did not
need the sale, yeah right! After a few minutes in the small room we
realized that he actually was an artist, a con-artist. We exited in search
for a cold beer.
The cold beer was found in the basement of a building, an Irish Pub
displaying the name Durty Nellies. It was indeed a pub, complete with
Irish tunes, Guinness on tap and a pool table. Gina our bartender was glad
to have us as customers. Steve talked with Roger, a Brit, the only other
customer, while James and I played a couple games of pool. Again, it did
not seem like we were in China.
The street merchants had set up their blankets with treasures for sale
from Tibet. James bartered for a necklace and bracelet through an
attractive Chinese woman who talked to the Tibet people that seemed to
grunt instead of speaking. I bought a religious dagger called a Purba that
I saw the night before. After the transaction I was offered the services
of the Chinese woman for a massage. I declined.
Thursday November 24, 2005
Thanksgiving greetings were exchanged as our bus pulled away from the
hotel for a tour, lunch and then the trip to the cruise ship. The tour was
a wonderful park like setting that was used for the summer palace. The
large lake had a slight mist that softened the Chinese bridges and pagodas
on the other shore. The willow trees and silhouettes made a perfect
Chinese setting for photos. Our Thanksgiving midday meal was a visit to
the famous Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. Groups of about 10 were seated
around round tables with lazy susans. We started off with China Red Wine
(not Red China wine) served in a small stemmed glass, a glass of Chinese
beer and six different cold appetizers. The duck was carved at a central
location into bite sized pieces and served on platters. Our hostess
demonstrated the dining technique by dipping each piece in a dark sauce
and placing several on a flat crepe and rolling up for eating. Several
other entrees were included including beef, vegetable and chicken dishes.
Duck bone soup was served, fresh fruit ended the meal. WOW what a treat.
The two and a half hour trip to the Xingang Port was on an Interstate
like toll road from Beijing to the sea. Many large nondescript trucks
carried load that looked too big and heavy and were covered with tarps.
Many trucks were stopped along the way with their drivers attending to
what appeared to be tire problems. Small farm plots and tree nurseries
covered the landscape for most of the trip. We arrived at the Tianjin port
city that was opened to western industry in the late 1970s after Mao died.
Today the port area is a HUGE industrial complex with a few thousand
companies represented. The surrounding town sprung up to provide for the
workforce and industry. The Xingang Port was cluttered with dark
silhouettes of monster cranes hovering around dark hulks of ships. The
cold damp air in the port was heavy with caustic smells that burned your
eyes, nose and chest. The Princess Diamond left port and headed to sea but
the smell lingered along with us most of the night.
Friday November 25, 2005
A day at
sea, time to rest, catch up and get the diary updated.
I am watching as I turn into my dad‘s image. I decided that I would not
shave during our trip. Now about a week into the beard growth, the itchy
part has passed while the mostly gray hairs grow longer. I am becoming
distinguished looking, like my father. I tend to sound more like him too.
Saturday November 26, 2005
All during the day at sea and into the night
we passed pairs of fishing ships in the Yellow Sea. When we arrived in
Pusan, South Korea we visited the famous fish market where the
bounties of the sea are unloaded all neatly packed in short rectangular
crates covered with ice. As the conveyors brought the fish to the dock,
handlers quickly stacked them for loading onto small trucks or to be taken
directly to the market area adjacent to the docks. Fresh fish of just
about any kind, color, shape and size are available for sale. Men worked
around the boats while women worked in the stalls preparing the fish for
sale and making pitches to the local Koreans looking to buy their daily
meal. Other merchants had aquariums filled with live fish, crabs and other
creatures from the sea that would be cooked, served and eaten in their
small restaurants. The Korean people we met were friendly and several
wanted their picture taken with us. The photo opportunities were
The skyline of Pusan was modern and interesting. The downtown
waterfront buzzed with container ships being loaded and unloaded by huge
cranes. Semi trucks swarmed around attending to their needs. Our Princess
docked in walking distance of downtown and was a significant addition to
Concerns about the Norovirus and other communicable diseases are taken
very seriously on the cruise ship. An advisory was handed to each
passenger on the outset as how to avoid spreading germs. Directives were
made to wash hands many times a day for a duration of at least 20 seconds
each. Chemical hand sanitation stations are present at the ships entrance,
dining halls and other locations where the bugs are known to thrive and
spread. We are now cautiously aware of not using the hand rails on stairs
and hallways, not being the one to press the elevator buttons and
generally avoid any contact with anything living. By the end of the cruise
I imagine that I will want to be confined to the isolation of our room
letting my fingernails grow.
Sunday November 27, 2005
A lightning storm moved across the sky as we were
escorted by tug boats in the predawn hours of Nagasaki, Japan. The
Princess Diamond daily bulletin, the “Princess Patter”, stated that our
cruise ship is again berthed at it’s birth place, Mitsubishi at Nagasaki,
Japan. The huge Mitsubishi industrial complex sprawls up and down the
shore across the water from the dock at city side where we disembarked for
our adventures in Nagasaki. We walked a few blocks to the electric trolley
car where we caught #5 that took us to stop #19 Matsuyama Machi, otherwise
known as “ground zero“. A park displays many statues in remembrance of the
atomic bomb detonation, many symbolizing mothers holding their children.
The remains of a prison and church foundations are about the only original
structures left in the memorial. There is also a glass encasement
revealing the ground strata that shows the scorched earth and objects that
are barely recognizable. I saw no mention as to why this second atomic
bombing took place, only the mention of the “innocent” lives that were
I am amazed at how much Japanese I knew before arriving at this port
destination. Common every day Japanese words roll off the tongue
including: Mitsubishi, Honda, Fuji, Mazda, Nissan, Canon, Kawasaki,
Toyota, Fujitsu and many more. Another very visible word in the Japanese
landscape is Coca Cola. It sounds southern to me.
When we were exchanging Yen for Dollars we ran into a fellow at the
pursers desk from Cincinnati wearing a sweatshirt that had Negro League on
it. He looked at Steve and then at me and said that we had the same eyes.
We stated that we are brothers. The fellow said that we DID NOT have the
same nose though. Steve jokingly said that I am the elder, since I am
grayer and balding. The fellow said “I’d rather be bald than have a big
hooked nose”. We all laughed.
Monday November 28, 2005
at sea anticipating our trip to Shanghai on Tuesday. As Monday progressed
the seas got rougher with winds whipping at 45 to 50 knots and the seas 12
foot waves being sprayed by the high winds. Our entry into the Shanghai
port was scheduled for 4 AM, allowing the Chinese government to process
the ships manifest. The captain came on the public address system around 9
PM stating that the rough seas would delay our entry into port and
processing would take approximately 3-4 hours after our arrival. The
motion of the ocean rocked us to sleep while dreams of Shanghai danced in
Tuesday November 29, 2005
We finally disembarked at 3 PM and boarded one of
the 75 busses for the one and a half hour ride to the Shanghai, China
central business district. The port bustled with container ships being
serviced by huge cranes. The container yard went on as far as the eye
could see with semi trucks darting between the container rows, like ants
servicing their hill.
Shanghai, WOW what a skyline! Every building was more architecturally
spectacular than the next. Arches, points, spans, swoops, reflective glass
and stainless steel all contributed to a modern and prosperous skyline. As
night fell the buildings came alive with color and action as the lights
pulsated to the beat of the city. We walked a few miles in search of the
treasures from shopping. We only ended up with ROLEX watches. It is
amazing how inexpensive fine jewelry is in China.
While in Shanghai were all provided with a cheat sheet of 14 common
phrases both in English and in Chinese characters for local taxi drivers.
Items like “Please take me to Julong Handicratfs and Silk Exhibition Hall”
were spelled out, all we had to do was get in a cab and point at the
destination. Because there were 10 of us shopping in Shanghai we needed
three taxis for our return trip to the shuttle bus. The cab drivers were
secluded from the passengers by a Plexiglas partition. Handing the cheat
sheet to the driver and pointing to #2 was difficult. The first four got
into a taxi, pointed to their destination and they were off. Our driver
seemed to understand our intentions and within about 20 minutes of a white
knuckle ride, much traffic and sightseeing in this fascinating city we
arrived at the shuttle bus destination for the trip back to the ship. We
did not see our friends in the first cab at the bus location but ran into
them on deck the next morning. Apparently their taxi driver did not read
Wednesday November 30, 2005
We are on
our way to Hong Kong. The 874 mile trip will take two days. The morning
sun on our side of the ship warms the 60 degree air allowing us to have
our cabin balcony door open.
On board the ship there is plenty to do to
keep busy. First and foremost you can always stay in your cabin and take a
nap. I am not a nap person, but this is the environment for naps, no
schedule, the gentle rocking of the ship and the sound of waves outside
the balcony door, z-z-z-z-z-z-z!. Yesterday morning we took in a cooking
show by the head chef and maitre d‘, it was entertaining. The head chef is
Italian, so of course he cooked with garlic; penne all’arrabbiata (pasta
and garlic) and seared deep sea scallops (with garlic). The rest of the
day all I could think about was a nice Italian dinner with garlic.
Speaking of food, I think that is the main purpose of the ship, to feed
the passengers, 24 X 7. Last night we had a cold beer and played sports
trivia in Churchill’s cigar lounge and then had a lobster dinner in the
Savoy restaurant. Afterward we went to a show in the theater featuring
Jeri Sager performing her “Broadway’s Brightest and Best”. We then took a
stroll on deck around the bow and looked into the darkest part of the
night as the ship plowed through the East China Sea before retiring to the
comforts of our room from a busy day. We made reservations at the ship’s
Sabatini’s Italian restaurant for Saturday night.
Salt and pepper shakers are
removed from every table in the dining rooms. Individual serving packets
will be furnished by the servers. This precaution will eliminate the
spread of germs related to contact with the common shakers. A woman at the
table next to us at breakfast asked if they were sanitizing the slot
machines between gamblers.
As quickly as it all
started, the virus scare has passed. The spoons in the buffet are turned
toward the customers for self service, the coffee and tea stations are
again unattended and the salt and pepper shakers are returned to every
tabletop. There are still hand sanitizing stations at strategic locations.
They must have killed the big germs, now the little ones will take care of
Friday December 2,
The first thing I heard this morning was the blast of a ships
horn. I was awakened from my sleep to quickly realize that it must be the
sounds of the Hong Kong harbor. It was like being a kid and waking
early on Christmas morning to quickly remember the significance of the
James, Steve and I caught a shuttle bus to
Kowloon to visit Nathan Street. Claudia stayed behind nursing a cold, not
wanting to overdo it before Vietnam. We arrived before the banks opened at
9 AM. Most of the shops were still closed at this early hour since
shopping is mainly an afternoon and evening activity. We did make our way
to the open market to see the selection of fresh meats and produce
available for today’s Hong Kong meals. Dead animal parts rarely seen in
Atlanta are on display hanging on hooks in the open air market.
Unrecognizable vegetables and dried goods are neatly stacked for sale.
Locals bustled around shopping.
In 1987 James and I visited Hong Kong for the
first time. We stayed at the Kowloon Hyatt and have fond memories from our
visit. We found the hotel, restaurants and shops we remembered from almost
20 years ago. It was lunch time so went to the second story Typhoon
Shelter King Crab Restaurant where James and I ate before. We ordered
seven items off the dim sum menu including spicy duck tongue, chicken feet
with pork ribs, spring rolls and other tasty items. Everything was
delicious. Oh by the way, we found out that duck tongues do have a bone in
them. I will now look at the AFLAC duck in a new light.
After lunch the people come out in droves. All shops were open and going
strong. When shopping, James and I try to talk in riddles and not point or
touch anything allowing us time to “shop” without being pestered by the
merchants. When we have identified something we are interested in we ask
the price. Instead of giving the price for a quick sale we now get the
pitch. Oh, very old, white color is sign of good luck, mouth closed shows
sign of wisdom and feet apart
strength… Their sales tactics bother me, it is either because I am a guy
shopping or just an impatient American. We made many purchases before our
When the ship left dock at 6 PM the sun had
already set. The captain came on with the afternoon announcement stating
that he had obtained permission from the Hong Kong port authority allowing
us to sail between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island which would provide for a
magnificent view of both skylines. Hong Kong has to be one of the worlds
best skylines especially at night from the water.
Saturday December 3, 2005
are at sea on our way to Nha Trang, Vietnam, having traveled 2,549
nautical miles since Beijing. The clocks are set back one hour so they
show the same time as Atlanta, only 12 hours ahead. We have now condemned
our warm clothes to the back of the closet and are wearing shorts from
here on (exceptions being formal occasions on board).
Sunday December 4, 2005
birthday was celebrated at our stop in Nha
The local fishing boats made a “putt-putt-putt-putt” sound as they were
going about their daily business of making a living in the bay.
So far our cruise ship has been able to pull up to a pier for
disembarkment from a gangway. This time the port was too shallow so we
anchored and were shuttled to the shore using the ship’s tenders which
held about 100 passengers for each trip.
shore a Vietnamese man approached us and stated that he spoke English,
introduced himself as Lac and offered to be hired as a guide. He produced
a brochure with pictures and descriptions of places we could visit. Lac’s
English was quite good and he seemed to have a pleasant personality. We
agreed to his price and told him of our desires to see venues that were
off the beaten path.
Our first stop was at a bridge separating the fishing village from the
ocean. The tide had gone out leaving some fishing boats high and dry. Lac
explained the large rock with a temple on it was for the fishermen to ask
for blessings of a good catch. We walked to the end of the bridge and down
the stairs where the poor lived in shanties. Under the bridge were several
men cutting bamboo stalks into strips while others made large baskets.
Houses made of what appeared to be discarded corrugated metal sheeting
clustered on the waterfront while children played on the dirty sandy
beach. We walked back to the van. After getting in Lac stated “people
shit!”. The beach was also a human litter box for the shanty people and I
had stepped in it! PEE-UUU-WEE. At our next stop I walked in every water
puddle I could find and wiped my feet on every clump of grass. This is
what we get for being off the beaten path.
remote village was next. The van took us down a muddy road to a large
metal train bridge. We got out as it started to sprinkle We sought refuge
under the bridge for the shower to pass and watched fishermen work the
water across the river from us. Lac stated that the bridge was built by
the Japanese and the three story concrete bunker alongside was from the
Americans during the war. Four young boys came down the path while we were
under the bridge. We carry candy for such occasions and gave them each a
piece. They had learned some English phrases like “Hello” and collectively
could ask a few questions like “Where are you from?”
After the rain stopped we climbed up to cross the train bridge just in
time to experience an oncoming train. The boys cautioned us to cover our
ears as the train rumbled across the trestle. The metal pedestrian
walkways on either side were busy with pedestrians as well as an
occasional bicycle and motorbike.
On the opposite side of the river we walked down a muddy pathway into
the tropical jungle. Steve and I imagined being loaded down with army
packs and weapon, being hot, wet, tired and homesick and looking out for
the ambush that could take your lives. We discussed that we both felt
lucky to have ONLY experienced this now and not during the war. Lac
pointed out ponds that were craters created by bombs during the war. The
four young boys followed along talking, laughing and just being boys.
Our last stop before lunch was at a home where the multi-generation
family engaged in mat weaving. The large colorful patterned mats were used
for floor covering while the small ones could be used on a table. Children
played around while the grandmother sat and watched the large Americans.
Lac pointed out that just last week the family had to take refuge in the
second story attic area when the flood waters came.
ate lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant that featured spring rolls that Lac
said were the best. When we got to the restaurant Lac said that he would
be back in a few minutes. When he returned he had a round hatbox that
contained a birthday cake personalized for James, complete with candles.
Lac also had the numbers “4” and “5” for James’ age. It was a good guess,
James was 44.
We ordered Saigon beer which was served warm with a mug with a large
ice cube. This was a first, beer on ice, it was quite refreshing. We
watched Lac place lettuce, green vegetables and lemon grass on a rice
paper wrapper, put a piece of grilled meat on it (we think was pork), and
roll it up. Our Vietnamese host made his spring roll look like a fine
cigar when he finished, mine looked like a sloppy taco. These were then
dipped in a sauce and eaten. They were tasty. We all sang “Happy Birthday”
to James, clapped, laughed and ate cake.
After lunch we went to town to the marketplace. The shops were set up
in a circular maze-like structure where if separated from your group you
could easily get disoriented and lost. Most of the items we saw were for
tourists and were very affordable.
When we returned to the ship we had dinner with new cruise friends and
celebrated James’ birthday one more time before our return to the room to
find balloons and more birthday greetings from the ship.
Monday December 5, 2005
ship docked at Phu My, Vietnam, a
remote dock at a flour mill in the Mekong River Delta. This was our second
time in Vietnam in two days! On disembarking the local tourism board had a
questionnaire wanting to know if we had ever been in Vietnam before (YES)
and how many nights we stayed (ZERO). I am sure our answers have them
scratching their heads.
Again we hired a car to take us on a 2 hour ride to the Rex Hotel in
downtown Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This time our guide seemed to have an
attitude, but did speak English. After getting in the van he asked us to
wait 5 minutes, then he said that he would NOT go with us. The driver
spoke no English, only Vietnamese. Since it was the last van we decided to
go anyway. We chatted amongst ourselves with no interaction with the
Most of the roadway to Saigon was on a divided four lane highway.
Trucks, cars, motorbikes and bicycles all shared the same road. It seems
the rules of the road is to yield to the largest vehicle which primarily
drives in the left lane. If you want to pass you honk your horn many
times. The center line is only there to straddle if you are being passed
and there are two wheel vehicles to your right. It all seems to work, but
only for the Vietnamese pros.
Saigon streets were choked with thousands of motorbikes. Police kept
traffic moving around the popular tourist destination, the Rex Hotel. When
we arrived we split up, James and Claudia went off power shopping while
Steve and I took pictures and were approached by the street vendors. I
think my brother Steve was actually a Vietnamese baby that my parents
acquired at birth. Steve bought a Vietnamese phrase book, practiced
phrases on the local police traffic control officers and then carried on a
dialogue with our driver on the return trip to the ship. Uncanny,
speaking the language came natural to him. They were best friends by
the time we got back to the ship 2 hours later.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
day of cruising and a much needed day-at-sea. Being on vacation is a tough
job. The daily temperature is in the 80s, humidity 90+ percent with water
temps in the mid 80s. We are on our way to my favorite country, Thailand.
E-mails from home state that winter is in progress in Oregon and
Wednesday December 7, 2005
monsoons that dampened our two stops in Vietnam gave way to the
Thailand dry season as we entered the Gulf of
Thailand. The early morning and evening temperatures were pleasant with
the sunny mid day being quite warm.
Laem Chabang, our port of call in Thailand was a 2-3 hour drive south of
Bangkok. Since we have already explored Bangkok several times we decided
to take the day off and stay near the ship. We did visit local merchants
selling their goods nearby.
During dinner the captain came on the public address system with his
greeting prior to leaving the Thailand port. He jokingly stated that he
had never heard of let alone been to the next port of call Kemaman,
Malaysia but was confident the crew could get the ship there.
Thursday December 8, 2005
Day at sea. Disembarking luggage tags were distributed and instructions
on preparation of Singapore were announced. The cruise ship is going into
a 10-day dry dock for “spring cleaning” when we arrive so everyone must
Friday December 9, 2005
did in fact find the way to Kemaman,
Malaysia (4 degrees north of the equator) early in the morning.
The television displayed a readout of distance traveled and distance to go
to port. This morning it read -34 miles (yikes, we went too far) to go to
Kememen. I guess they need to update their televised port info.
James and I ventured ashore while Steve and Claudia got ready for the trip
into town. There were vendor tents set up along the dock with a
representative sampling of the regional tourist goods. There were many
fabrics that looked like cotton with block prints, bamboo woven baskets,
fans and sandals. The region is known for the sea turtles that migrate
through the area in mid year and the clear sea water which is excellent
for diving. James found a pair of slippers, he asked how much? The
merchant said $5, then quickly said $4, and before we could react she was
$3.50. Another woman at one of the shops wearing her Islamic clothing
offered a statue of the Petronas spires in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of
Malaysia, she characterized them as “the twin towers”. It rubbed me the
The bus ride from the dock to town was about 10 minutes. Our bus hostess
who took our fare notified us that the day was Friday and many places are
closed for the religious holy day. We were also told that banks were
closed and that the best way to get local currency was through the ATMs
since most local merchants that were open only traded in the local money.
Steve went to an ATM and got the equivalent of about $20. We did not spend
it. On the return bus trip Steve tried to pay the bus fare with it, NO
they only wanted US dollars.
When the captain said that he had never heard nor been to Kemaman we
should have realized it might not be a hot spot. Afterward we wondered why
the cruise ship stopped there at all. The town was not ready for us and we
were not ready for the town.
Saturday December 10, 2005
were in Saigon I bought a paperback book about
Singapore. It described points of interest, history, walking
tours, where to eat and local entertainment. We studied the book prior to
our stop in Singapore to plan our visit.
As instructed by the ship, we had our luggage packed and picked up before
our Singapore arrival. We vacated our room by 8 AM and camped out in the
dining room until our departure color was called for the bus trip to the
local terminal. Singapore is another container port, however one visible
difference is that it seemed to be more organized and cleaner. Our ship
docked next to a barge that contained the delivery of four new monster
cranes for the container port. I saw a program on television once that
featured the manufacturing and delivery of these monsters. The part that
seemed so incredible was that they delivered the cranes essentially fully
constructed and welded to the deck of the barge. They were a sight to see.
By 10 AM we said our good-byes to Steve and Claudia who were on their way
to the Singapore Changi Airport for a week in Bali. We were off the ship
for the last time, thank god. The Singapore terminal processed the
cruisers in a somewhat orderly fashion by limiting bus flow. We caught a
taxi to the Marriott Hotel at the corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road.
We realized that this is one of the busiest pedestrian corners in
Singapore since the area has many restaurants, fantastic shopping, big
name hotels and an entry point to MRT, Singapore‘s transit system. A large
arch was erected over the intersection decorated with “Merry Christmas”
and a big red bow. The sidewalks and storefronts were decorated for the
holiday season as well. Christmas music was playing from many different
locations. The calendar says Christmas but the tropical weather and locale
made it a confusing message for us.
After checking in
and getting settled into our 21st floor room we planned the
afternoon. We would figure our how to take MRT to the Raffles Station and
go on a walking tour of China Town. Just outside our hotel the Saturday
afternoon pedestrian traffic was brisk. Freestanding sidewalk storefronts
sold fresh baked cookies, exchanged currency and sold news magazines.
People were everywhere, many were young and the average age seemed to be
in the early twenties. Cell phone use was common with conversations, text
and photos. Major stores had young associates working the crowd, profiling
for their best candidates for shopping inside. James and I were never
were swallowed up in the crowd that went down the escalator to MRT. We
bought a credit card type pass from a ticket office that was good for
multiple round trip rides. The pass was electronically read by the
turnstile. We stood back away from the crowd and studied the signs for the
correct escalator for our trip to the Raffles Station. On the platform the
trains were behind a glass wall. When the train arrived doors opened and
the crowd pushed in. Several stops later, most of the crowd exited
allowing for a more comfortable ride to our destination.
Our walking tour took us past the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore.
Large cone shaped incense hanging from yellow ropes burned in the
courtyard while many
made their way into the temple. What a great setting for photos. In
addition to this temple we saw Hindu temples, Mosques, thieves market and
the old rickshaw station in a neighborhood setting that has not
significantly changed for over a hundred years. James and I did take a
break and stopped in one of the food court buildings and got a Big Mac at
the miniature McDonalds.
Our next tour was to go through the adjacent area, the Colonial District.
This is Singapore’s central business district which is located along the
river walkways. Whimsical statues are displayed in a park-like setting. We
observer several wedding parties celebrations during our tours. The
Esplanade Theatre is a recognizable landmark with its roof that looks like
the local Durian fruit.
That evening James and I were in search of a cold beer and conversation
with locals about their Singapore. We ended up in a Karaoke Pub near
Chinatown where a hostess seated us at the bar and offered the special, a
bucket of Heineken. Eve introduced herself and talked with us as we
enjoyed the cold beverage.
Sunday December 11, 2005
morning after a good nights sleep in a real land-based bed we were ready
for another walking tour of Singapore. Today would be the botanical and
orchid gardens. From time to time we would comment about still feeling the
ship’s movements. We still had sea legs and sea inner ear.
Our walk down Orchard Road started after a hearty breakfast at the hotel.
At 1 degree north of the equator Singapore is tropical. The humidity was
high since it had rained during the night and still sprinkled lightly
during the morning. A block away from our hotel the Singapore Environment
Council had a sidewalk photo gallery that featured beautiful photographs
with an aerial perspective. France sponsored the gallery and of course had
a political bend that bashed the USA. We enjoyed the free photo viewing,
drew our own conclusions and reinforced our opinions of France.
When in a foreign country it is recommended that you carry your passport
on your person. I had mine with my cash in a pouch that hung around my
neck. On our walk we made a wrong turn and realized the mistake after we
had gone a mile or so out of our way. The walk was interesting so we
didn’t mind it too much. Since the humidity was high and the light rain
came and went both of us were getting drenched. My passport and money got
soaked, the individual ink stamps bled and blurred between pages.
botanical gardens were impressive with gazebos for picnics, ponds with
fish, plants and turtles, a island structure for the symphony to
entertain, and specimen plants everywhere. One notable plant was the
Talipot palm tree that was 80 years old. It was in bloom and seeding for
the first and only time in its life cycle. The main feature of the
botanical gardens is the National Orchid Gardens of Singapore. James and I
spent a couple of hours enjoying the amazing display.
That evening we had our farewell meal at the Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant at
the hotel which features Cantonese cuisine.
Monday December 12, 2005
Singapore Airport is a remarkable place. We had read that it is one of the
favorite airports among travelers. Now we know why. Included on the
concourse is an extensive shopping mall with plants and fountains. It is
the only airport that I have been in that includes amenities like pool
tables in lounge areas, small seating areas around flat screen televisions
for personal viewing and smoking areas that include both inside and
We are now ready to start our return trip to Atlanta. Like our beginning
day-long flights without sunshine to start our vacation, our return
flights included TWO Monday night red-eye flights at 11:30 PM. The first
11:30 PM red-eye flight was Hong Kong to LAX, the second 11:30 PM red-eye
flight was the LAX Delta flight to ATL, both on the same day!
There are many
nationalities represented by the ships crew. It seemed that there were
many Romanians, primarily in food service and housekeeping jobs. Our cabin
steward introduced himself as “Diamond“. I asked if it this was a nickname
name he changed as he worked on different ships, since this was the
Princess “Diamond“. We met Clod and Georgeta in Churchill’s Lounge who
were both from Romania. We asked if they knew Diamond. Clod said “Diamond
that is not Romanian name“. Georgeta asked if he was a Filipino since
Diamond was a common Filipino nickname.
When traveling from sea port to sea port we observed many very busy
container ports. We all marveled at the shear magnitude of the operations
and wondered at logistics and inventory control in what appeared to be
One of our ship routines was to visit Churchill’s Lounge around happy
hour. On an early stop we were exposed to the sports trivia. On one of
these nights James and I won the International sports trivia contest.
We exchanged greetings with a fellow American passenger a few times during
our cruise. We first noticed him in Churchill’s lounge smoking cigars
during happy hour but more notable in the mornings he always had a bucket
of beer with a cigar on the aft deck. We overheard him tell another
passenger that he was currently living in Iraq and had bought a hammock
that he planned to string between two palm trees he would plant when he
returned to Iraq.
We also met Patrick and Brian from Vancouver that had gone on over 70
cruises each. If we were to go on three trips a year, every year, for the
next 20 years we would still not catch up with these pros.
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