On many longer cruises, the ships stay at port overnight on select calls during the voyage to give guests an opportunity to explore the city, experience the nightlife and perhaps go overland to a destination unreachable by cruise ship. Some guests even choose to book a hotel for the night and stay ashore.
On a recent Zaandam cruise in Asia, journalist Michelle Newman took advantage of an overnight call at Laem Chabang, Thailand, and spent the night in Bangkok — a two-hour drive from the ship. This enabled her to visit all of the sights she wanted to see, get an in-depth taste of local cuisine and even take time for a Thai massage.
While most Bangkok tourists flock to the Grand Palace, with its splendid temples and dazzling deities, many overlook another crown jewel – Wat Pho Temple. Seasoned travelers know for the last 400 years, Wat Pho Thai Massage School, birthplace of Thai massage, located on the temple grounds, is the best place for an authentic traditional Thai massage, where an hour of Nirvana can be yours for $12.00.
A veil of mist hovered below the ceiling like a low-lying cloud. The sharp scent of eucalyptus and other pungent medicinal herbs permeated the air and nearly knocked me over. Rows and rows of abutting massage tables looked like one continuous platform. Limp bodies in deep states of relaxation lay there like corpses and zombies – some moaning, some sighing in ecstasy as massage therapists pulled, twisted and stretched their bodies and limbs. Other customers sat trance-like enjoying their foot massages.
The next morning, Michelle was able to indulge in a traditional Thai breakfast at her hotel.
Breakfast is not just fried eggs over easy – oh no, not by any means at the contemporary Centara Grand Hotel in downtown Bangkok. A traditional Thai breakfast is an elaborate event in The World Restaurant on the 24th floor with a spectacular panoramic city view. The breakfast buffet is quite a lavish spread. Of course you can opt for standard Special K or Wheaties, or even a full English breakfast – but why? I chose the traditional Thai breakfast, a culinary extravaganza. Tempting food stations served noodle and fishball soup, assorted dim sum, dumplings and exotic tropical fruits. The fire engine red dragon fruit was so perfectly pretty, they looked artificial, but the dark purple mangosteen was my absolute favorite.
Before returning to the ship, Michelle still had time in port to take a cooking class on Thai food by a local chef.
Bangkok is world renowned for its fine cooking schools – some more formal and structured than others. I opted for an intimate authentic Thai cooking class. Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon’s Amita Thai Cooking School is located on the lush grounds of her family’s traditional Thai compound situated on the bank of a narrow canal in a residential neighborhood. The only way to get there was by a traditional Thai boat.
Our boat ride provided a glimpse into everyday life in Bangkok “burbs” with their bustling waterways and canals. Where else can you spot a monitor lizard sunbathing on the dock of a rickety wooden house on stilts? Or be approached by a “floating shop” vendor who paddled frantically to catch up with our longboat and sell us ice cream, chewing gum, sunglasses and little toys?
I didn’t want to “miss the boat” and I was disappointed that I had to leave my cooking class early to get back onboard Holland America’s ms Zaandam. I felt just like Cinderella leaving the ball before midnight.
Guests who want to stay overnight in port but prefer to have an organized itinerary can book a Holland America Line overnight shore excursion, such as this one in Bangkok that includes the hotel, touring and dining.
Other overnight calls in Asia include Hong Kong, China; Bali, Indonesia, Phu My, Vietnam, and Singapore.
All photos in this post by Michelle Newman.