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Cruise Diary: Visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam and Indonesia

HAL guest blogger Sharon Wilhelm is currently sailing aboard Amsterdam’s 75-day Grand Asia & Australia Voyage. While aboard the ship she will chronicle her cruising experience for us on the blog. Enjoy!

Notes: Since leaving Seattle on Sept. 21, 2012, the ms Amsterdam has traveled 11,471 statute miles. We continue to be fully engaged in on board activities all day long while we are at sea. We continue to attend every possible session of Tai Chi, the Guided Meditation and Qi Gong, as well as presentations by Lifestylists Daniela and Danube.

October 20 (Day 29) – Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, People’s Republic of China:
We did Hong Kong on our own. We took the Star Ferry (started in 1898) from the cruise terminal on Kowloon to Hong Kong Island with the intention of seeing the local markets and The Escalator. The escalator mode of transport is unique as it is the longest covered outdoor escalator in the world (2,598 feet) connecting the higher residential area with the lower SoHo (south of Hollywood Road) and Central areas. It operates in a downward direction for commuters in the a.m. and reverses direction in the p.m. The side streets adjacent to the escalator are alive with shops selling vegetables, fruits, pastries, dried goods of all kinds and “wet” markets that display an amazing number of products from land and from the sea.

Peel Street Shops on Hong Kong Island.

Peel Street Shops on Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong Island’s Wet Market.

Hong Kong Island’s Wet Market.

In the afternoon we walked around Kowloon to see the Peninsula Hotel, Nathan Road and the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront – we found a Shanghai Tang store for good measure. The much anticipated 8:00 p.m. laser and light show which we watched from the Sports Deck certainly did not live up to the publicity issued by the Hong Kong Tourist Bureau. Perhaps the time of the year was responsible for what appeared to be a limited showing. The evening concluded with a very interesting Hong Kong Cultural Arts Show in the Queen’s Lounge. The show highlighted the culture, music and dances of China.

October 21 – Hong Kong
We took the tour entitled “Hong Kong Highlights”: (a) after going under Victoria Harbor by bus in the Harbor Tunnel, we took the funicular tram to the top of Victoria Peak for the sensational view of Kowloon / harbor below (b) a very interesting sampan ride in Aberdeen Harbor including a close “sail by” the Jumbo Floating Restaurant (c) driving around Repulse Bay to see how the other half lives – apartment rentals start around the equivalent of $17,000/mo. USD (d) a visit to the Stanley Market for shopping (much better selection and pricing than was anticipated) (e) visit to the Aberdeen Jewelry Factory for additional purchase opportunities. This was an excellent tour that combined several tourist destinations in a relatively short amount of time.

October 23 – Nha Trang, Vietnam
As advertised it was HOT and HUMID!! We were “saved” by our use of battery powered hand-held fans and misters that we purchased prior to departing from Seattle. I’m sure the local vendors were disappointed that we had these devices with us as it made their offering of fans to us a real tough sell. Actually, the locals were amused when watching the fans providing a cooling breeze for us.

Our hand-held fans.

Our hand-held fans.

Prior to the start of our morning tour, I took the opportunity to explore an extensive market set up at the pier featuring a wide range of local and imported products. We took the tour “Nha Trang Highlights”: (a) a drive through the city perimeter that followed the beautiful white sandy beach and we were shown the fishing fleet as well as fishing villages built out over the water near Xom Bong Bridge (b) we visited the Po Nagar Cham Towers, a temple complex build between the 7th and 12th Centuries by the minority Chan Hindu sect. It was fascinating to observe the locals (females) bringing food on trays (all vegetarian) to the temple to offer in accordance with their beliefs (c) the next stop was at the Long Son Pagoda, currently home to a small number of Buddhist monks. The main attraction is a huge, white Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom. The platform hosting the statue is reached by climbing 152 stone steps. On the way down to ground level, a massive downpour fell on us – apparently we unknowingly did something to upset the main attraction ☺ (d) we visited the XQNHA TRANG arts and crafts center – this was the most impressive school of and demonstration of embroidery that I have seen. As a side note, Laura Bush was here visiting in the not too distant past.

Buddha on the lotus blossom in Nha Trang.

Buddha on the lotus blossom in Nha Trang.

October 24 – Phu My, Vietnam:
Phu My is the port of call for excursions Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Drive time is a bit more than two hours each way. We took the tour “The Best of Ho Chi Minh City”: (a) attended a performance of Vietnamese traditional water puppetry – a really unique display by puppet handlers that are located behind a screen in water up to their waist (b) a visit to the adjoining and interesting History Museum (c) shopping at Minh Phuong Fine Art & Handicraft Manufacturing factory specializing in lacquer ware (d) Notre Dame Cathedral, Rex Hotel and Hotel de Ville – sights demonstrating the French influence of years past (e) Western style buffet lunch (e) a detailed tour of the beautiful Independence Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace) – it was at this location that in 1975, two North Vietnamese tanks drove through the fence surrounding the palace as the final blow to the South Vietnamese army / government.

The water puppet show in Saigon.

The water puppet show in Saigon.

Typical traffic in Saigon.

Typical traffic in Saigon.

October 26 – Singapore (overnight):
We took the tour “A Taste of Singapore” including: (a) visit to Little India ) (b) a very interesting tea making appreciation /demonstration at the Yixing Xuan Teahouse conducted by Mr. Vincent Low, the co- owner. He is a former banker who has an MBA from a London university and had extensively studied all things tea at Taiwan’s famous Lu Yu (“university of tea”). Unlike the Japanese tea ceremony, this experience focuses on showing the elaborate process to extract the flavor and point out health benefits of tea consumption. Mr. Low was a big proponent of drinking white tea for its combination of taste and healthiness – of course, following his recommendation, we purchased Yinzhen Baihae White Tea that was harvested in the summer of 2012 (c) we were driven to the Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling at the Long Bar were served (actually a replication of the original but none the less impressive) – the guide provided a short walking tour of the property (d) the Indian Curry Buffet Lunch served in the Tiffin Room was both delicious (best black dhal curry ever) as well as providing a beautiful dining experience in a location reflecting the British influence in architectural design when Singapore was a British colony (e) we did a self-tour of the Raffles Museum providing an interesting historical review of this famous landmark (f) the next stop was near China Town at the Sri Mariamman Temple, a fascinating Hindu complex with a brightly colored multi – deity tower above the front entrance. A most colorful Hindu ceremony was being conducted while we were there (g) a drive near the gold domed Sultan Mosque completed this tour.

Tea appreciation event in Singapore.

Tea appreciation event in Singapore.

Shoes at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore.

Shoes at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore.

October 27– Singapore:
We booked the “Singapore Highlights” that featured a tour of the Singapore Botanical Gardens / National Orchid Garden, a beautiful place even if one does not have an affinity for such things; a drive past many local buildings and landmarks; an Esplanade Walk that also provides a good view of the iconic symbol of Singapore – the Merloin; a walk past the Sultan Mosque and down Arab Street; and a drive through Chinatown.

October 29 – Semarang, Java, Indonesia:
Semarang is the port of call for excursions to the world famous Borobudor Temple – just say that one has to experience this site in order to begin to appreciate its significance. It is difficult to capture the essence of this temple by just a photo. What also made this tour something one will never forget was the bus ride from the port to the temple. The journey is accomplished in approximately in three hours only with the “help” of a multi – vehicle police escort, complete with the sound of sirens as well as flashing blue lights on top of each vehicle. Our escorts simply moved into the oncoming lane of traffic in order to allow us to continue to move forward. In addition, in every city / village we passed through, the local police were at each cross street to prevent cars from entering the road that we were using. Often times the oncoming traffic was required to move completely onto the shoulder of the road in order to make room for us. Once again you just needed to be there in order to “appreciate” this incredible experience. Just for some perspective, on the return trip from the temple, there were 12 tour buses that were in the caravan! The return trip also included the “compulsory” stop at a souvenir shop.

Bus caravan in Semarang.

Bus caravan in Semarang.

Escort vehicles in Semarang.

Escort vehicles in Semarang.

October 31 – Lembar, Lombok, Indonesia:
We decided to stay on board.

November 1– Slawi Bay, Komodo Island, Indonesia:
For most individuals the Komodo Dragons are well known but this tender boat approach to their home was filled with anticipation. The rangers conduct guided tours along a 0.6 mile trail through a portion of the island. The path leads to a place where the monitor lizards have been previously fed prior to tourists arriving. I thought that was a good idea! On the day of our visit, there were five dragons in a small clearing. The guide informed us that all were males as the females were sitting on previously laid eggs. One of the dragons became somewhat aggressive. His movement provided a great photo op as he began to waddle toward me. It is interesting to note that the only deterrent to keep an aggressive dragon away were the forked sticks carried by the Park Rangers and guides – remarkable. Once again, relative to the heat, we were “saved” by the use of our fans and wet towels.

Aggressive dragon at Komodo Island.

Aggressive dragon at Komodo Island.

Park Rangers on Komodo Island.

Park Rangers on Komodo Island.

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