Koh Samui, Thailand

 Ko Samui

Saturday, March 12 – This island was a tender port and once again, the weather was hot and humid.  We decided to explore it on our own and after arriving in the town, we did the walk through all the cab drivers waving maps in our faces, which is of course to be expected.

Seasoned travellers that we are, I have found the best way to get through is not to make eye contact and just keep walking!

So we grabbed a map and walked through town so we could buy some souvenirs and get our bearings and do a bit of bargaining before deciding where to venture to.  Once out of the melee, we found a lone cab driver and began bargaining for what we wanted to see.  It worked well.  Pen and paper is good to write down the price you agree on, making sure it covers two people and very importantly, is a 2-way fare!  The driver’s wife was there too, as her English was not too bad and she and their little daughter came along for the ride.

I thought the town a bit shabby but then we drove through beautiful scenery – this island is 90 percent virgin rainforest, surrounded by great granite mountains and lovely stretches of white sandy beaches.  Very popular with backpackers, Kho Samui (or Samui to the locals) also has many resorts, restaurants and shops.

Our aim was to visit the Na Muang waterfall, very pretty with water cascading down a natural rock staircase, Big Buddha (Wat Phrayai), a massive 39-foot sitting Buddha and Wat Plain Laem which is home to a superb statue of Kwan Yin, the 18-armed Buddhist avatar of Mercy.  Along the way, we stopped at a market and our very friendly cab driver bought us a cold drink each (it was pink, no idea what it was) and a bag of a crunchy fried treats – some were banana and others were sweet potato.  Delicious!

Considering that we had never heard of this island before, we had a memorable day and great value for money!  The islanders also enjoyed it, as our sister ship, the “Sun Princess” came in at the same time, so the island was inundated with tourists.

Ko Samui (3)Ko Samui (2)Ko Samui (5)Ko Samui (7)Ko Samui (6)Ko Samui (4)Ko Samui (8)

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Good Morning, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived at the port of Phu My which is the gateway to Ho Chin Minh city on Monday, 14 March.

Hot conditions prevailed as we made our way to the coach at 7.30am for our first excursion – Best of Ho Chi Minh City.   We drove through the Mekong Delta, the “rice basket” of Vietnam.  It took about 1-1/2 hours, following the Saigon River where we had a very enjoyable full day’s tour.

 

Droves of bicycles and motorbikes are everywhere and you cross the road at your peril!  The air is filled with the sounds of honking horns.  When you cross in the pedestrian crossing, they swarm all around you, so you raise your arm and don’t stop walking!

The first stop was at the Minh Phuong Lacquer Factory where we saw the art of the lacquering process, one of the country’s most popular exports.  We watched a man using tiny pieces of duck shell to make a pattern.  Amazing!  Of course we had to buy a piece to take home.   We then watched a performance of Vietnamese water puppets and visited various other historic sights.  We enjoyed some time spent in Cholon (Chinatown) historically filled with opium dens and brothels.  Today it is filled with restaurants, temples, jade stores and medicine shops.  Lunch was a delicious buffet at one of the city’s top hotels.

Lunch HCMWater Puppets HCMLacquer factory HCMLacquer factory 2 HCMHCM5HCM6

By the time we got back at 5.15pm, we grabbed a quick pizza and had an early night!

 

Nha Tran

Tuesday, 15 March and we are now in the south central coast of Vietnam, 256 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Just a half day excursion today, the highlight of which was a visit to see the artisans at work at a Silk Embroidery workshop.  The girls begin their apprenticeship at 13 years of age and after 7 years they are qualified.  But they spend the next 5 years with an experienced sewer before they are on their own.  Each one sits under a strong light (most wear spectacles) and work a 10-hour day in silence.  Their work is exquisite; after copies of original drawings are made they start with an outline and each person designs their own work.  If an error is made, they start again.

We purchased a framed embroidery at what we thought was a very reasonable price of $US49, but the larger works cost thousands of dollars.

Nha Trang (11)Nha TrangNha Trang (7)Nha Trang (8)Nha Trang (10)

Apart from the workshop, we were a bit disappointed with this tour.  The tour guide did not speak good English and we lost a lot of time at the first stop which involved a 70 step climb to the Cham Tower.  We also did not realise that there would be 90 more steps to see the Long Son Pagoda.  We probably need to read the fine print a bit closer on future tours!  Anyway, to make up time we were a bit rushed towards the end and we were nearly trotting to keep up to get to the Cho Dam Market.

Alex found a shirt, so we had some fun doing some bargaining, but other than that, there was not anything else worth buying.  Lots of cheap trinkets and just more of the same!

Vietnam is a good holiday destination, as long as you don’t mind the high humidity.  Great value for money.  Very friendly people.

 

Around the Ship

Seasickness Cures

This list comes from conversations (seriously) discussing how to combat seasickness – always a favourite topic on cruise ships.  I will let you be the judge!

  • Special bracelets
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Look at the horizon and don’t lie down
  • Eat green apples
  • Tape your second and third toes together
  • If you are left-handed, put a finger from your left hand in your left ear;  if you are right-handed, put a finger from your right hand in your right ear

Singapore

Singapore

Thursday, March 10 saw us in Singapore.  Having been here several times, we decided to do our own thing.

So after breakfast we braved the hot, humid weather to grab a cab for Chinatown.  To our amusement, the cab driver very helpfully dropped us off at the jewellery store, then we were taken to the camera store.  We know what they do, but you can always say no!

As it turned out, Alex bought me a lovely jade bracelet and he purchased a new lens for his camera which turned out to be a very good deal, compared to the price in Australia.

Chinatown is fun and you can find some very nice souvenirs.  We were very happy to sit down for something to eat and a couple of Tiger beers.  Up to our usual thing of checking out the beers in every country!

After lunch we made our way to the highlight of the day – Gardens by the Bay.  This was still being constructed last time we were in Singapore, so we were looking forward to seeing it.

 

Gardens by the Bay consists of two glass conservatories and towering supertrees covered with dramatic, vertical plant displays.  The tour started with an audio shuttle tour which took us around the huge expanse of gardens.  There was so much to see – lots of themed gardens with many sculptures and the range of plants was breathtaking.  We even saw cherry blossoms in bloom.

Then there were the two cooled conservatories to explore – in the Flower Dome we saw thousand year old olive trees and unusual Baobobs as well as wonderful flower displays.

The Cloud Forest had beautiful orchids, pitcher plants and ferns amongst many others that we did not know the names of, all growing happily together as well as a man-made 35-metre mountain and waterfall.

This is truly a diverse plant display from the world’s four corners with lots of info along the way about the intricacies of plant life.  We spent about 3 hours just exploring the two domes.  A very enjoyable day!

 

 

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

On Wednesday morning March 9, we witnessed one of nature’s great spectacles.  A total solar eclipse from the Sea Princess.  We were fortunate to have an astronomer on board who gave an interesting lecture yesterday on what to expect and was on the bridge today to give a commentary as the event occurred.

Having set ourselves up on the top deck at around 8.30am we saw the sun rising higher as the moon progressively covered the sun.  We were provided with special viewing glasses, and even then, were warned to only look through them for 10-15 seconds at a time to avoid permanent eye damage.  We were also advised to avoid using our cameras to as not to damage them, so we are relying on the ship’s photographers this time, as they had the correct filters.

Unfortunately, we had some cloud cover so we were not able to see the moon when it covered the sun, however we were able to observe other things that occurred during totality.  Where it had been humid, suddenly it felt very cool.  The light began to disappear like a fast forward sunset, and the ship’s emergency lighting came on.  We were opposite a small vessel and her lights came on also.  At that point, had we not had the cloud cover, for a few minutes it would have been safe to look up without our safety glasses to see the moon fully obscuring the sun.

After exactly 2 minutes 16 seconds, the sea changed colour as the sky became brighter, it suddenly felt quite humid again and things returned to normal.  The whole process took two hours from when the eclipse began.  The captain did a great job, doing his best moving the ship to get us into the best position and stopping for the duration of the eclipse.  However, he could not control the cloud cover!

Even though we did not get to see totality, it was still quite eerie and a once in a lifetime experience.  We were told that, on average, there is a total solar eclipse somewhere in the world around every 16 months.  If you simply stayed at home, on average you would wait between 360 and 410 years.  So we think ourselves very fortunate to be here, and being in the middle of the ocean was a great place to be part of the experience.