Update from the Indian Ocean
For all those who may be wondering, your intrepid travelers are still going. After leaving Manila we spent two days in Hong Kong. The first day was gray, cold & drizzly. We rode the Hop On Hop Off bus, after a 25 minute shuttle ride from the egregious Kai Tak cruise port to the perfectly located one next to the ferry terminal for Hong Kong island. We visited Stanley, which has a famous market and a beautiful harbor, and Aberdeen Harbor, which was once full of families living on boats packed together but is now mostly a fishing harbor. It also has the largest floating restaurant in the world.
The weather was better on the second day in Hong Kong & we took a tour to Lantau Island in the New Territories. Highlights here were the Big Buddha sitting on a mountain top above the Lo Pin Monastery & a suspended cable car ride over a mountain and down past the new airport.. We also visited O-Tai, the oldest fishing village in Hong Kong, sitting on stilts above an inlet..
The ship was docked a 1.5 hour drive down the Saigon River from Ho Chi Minh City. We took an excursion bus that would drop us off in town with about 4 hours to walk around on our own (we had been here once before). This is a huge city with a population of many millions and there is construction everywhere. They are building a subway from the middle of town to who knows where (with Chinese financing). We visited the usual sites: the old French Hotel D’Ville (now with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in front), the Opera, the post office, etc. We had a good time mostly walking around the streets of the city, where they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive that was so important in the war.
We had two days in Singapore, a diverse city of strong contrasts between old and new. Our first day there was spent perusing fabrics on Arab street, a world famous emporium, and visiting the mosque. But we also walked around many of the streets of Singapore and up to Fort Canning Hill.
The second day we walked from the ship to the Gardens by the Bay, a huge horticultural park. It has two large pavilions, one called the Flower Pavilion and one called the Cloud Garden Pavilion. Outside they have built a grove of giant artificial trees that put on a light show at night that could be seen from the ship. After exploring all this we walked over the helix bridge to the Merlion fountain (the merlion is an artificial animal created to be the symbol of Singapore) and had lunch by the waterfront. Today was Mary’s birthday, so a large group of waiters came to our table at dinner to sing the Indonesian birthday song and deliver a birthday cake. A good time was had by all.
In Phuket, Thailand we went on a boat trip to some islands. One was a tiny & very pretty island jam-packed with tourists, mostly Chinese. The other was mostly deserted by tourists & we had an excellent Thai meal near the beach.
Our visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka was a bit of a disappointment. We took an excursion to the town of Galle, which was an important seaport during colonial times with a large fort that changed hands several times. We visited a tea plantation and saw some stilt fishermen (they used to do this for a living but now these guys are only here for the tourists). We had an outstanding Sri Lankan lunch at a nice hotel. But because the tour guys managed things poorly we had virtually no time to explore the Galle Fort (just 10 minutes in a maritime museum). Calling this an excursion to Galle took a lot of gall.
So that’s it for now, as we cross the so far placid Indian Ocean toward the Seychelles Islands, hoping we don’t encounter any of the pirates against which the ship has instituted defensive precautions.
Update from the South China Sea
If memory serves, the last time we posted an update we were sailing through hurricane force winds toward western Australia. We have now seen a video taken from the Crow’s Nest on the top of the ship of waves splashing on the window there, about the height of a 10 story building (although I think the ship was leaning over at the time). We were not allowed out on deck, so we could only take photos through the windows & from a distance, and they don’t really convey what it was like.
We made it to Kangaroo Island, though too late for our excursion, and we haven’t missed any more ports since. Right now we are sailing from Manila to Hong Kong through the South China Sea, and it has been pretty rough again for the first time since Australia. In between, in Bali & the Philippines, the seas were calm but the temperatures & humidity were very high.
In western Australia we visited Albany & Fremantle, two towns long associated with whaling, and Adelaide, which looks like a better place to live than to visit. Fremantle’s prison for convicts transported from England was very interesting as was Albany’s museum to the Anzac (Australia & New Zealand Army Corp) troops, who left from there to fight in World War I.
So far, our best port has probably been Bali in Indonesia. It is a most beautiful island with a Hindu culture that is very different from everyplace else we have visited. We rented a van with a guide along with all of our tablemates for two days there & we saw several beautiful temples, visited a forest full of friendly monkeys & had a day devoted to art & craft studios.
Our three days in the Philippines were hot & muggy. Puerto Princesa is a small town without a lot to see & Manila is a very big city with too much to see. Both felt overcrowded & the fellows wanting to be your guide were plentiful & dogged. Nevertheless, we saw some interesting sights, particularly those associated with World War II.
So now its on to Hong Kong for two interesting days. That’s it until next time.