During our evening meals, we shared tables with other guests, which was a nice way of meeting different people from all walks of life and places. Consequently, we talked about trips that they had already been on with the consensus that The Mekong Delta trip was preferable to the Ho Chi Minh city trip. We weren’t looking forward to the three -hour journey but as we probably wouldn’t be visiting this area again, this couldn’t be avoided. Expecting a coach, we were surprised to find ourselves in a mini-bus; unfortunately, this wasn’t to prove to be very comfortable with three people on each bench seat.
Driving into the city, we were surprised by the sheer volume of motorbikes and scooters. In places they weaved in and out of the different lanes; in other places they had their own lane separated by a barrier.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh, the skyline was dominated by the typical modern high rises but as we drove further into the countryside, we passed through shanty towns and rice fields before arriving at the river. Here we boarded a boat and had to wear life jackets, although drowning would have been the least of our worries, looking at the state of pollution in the water.
As we sailed along the river, we were treated to a variety of fresh fruits to try, which was refreshing after the journey there. Soon we stopped, so that we could transfer to a smaller boat, for a trip through the tributaries. The Vietnamese lady, on the back of the boat was meant to row but at first ours cheated by using the engine to avoid being caught in a traffic jam!
As the tributary narrowed, she stopped the engine and stood up, and using long oars she manoeuvred us through. Surprisingly here, as on the whole trip, we didn’t see any wildlife although, talking to other people on our return to the ship, they had seen two very large lizards about to fight over some food
After boarding the larger boat again, our next stop was a small market area, where we could see how different products were made from rice. It was an interesting short break watching them being made. We sampled rice paper, a candied rice sweet and rice wine, although I don’t think anyone was brave enough to try the snake wine. There was also a shop with a local artist displaying their work.
Another stop was at a villa that had been restored to how it would have been ninety years ago. As well as being interesting, we had the bonus of free Wi-Fi.
The highlight of the tour was to have been a visit to a local floating market! Having seen the pictures on the ships screen of sailing along with the small market boats coming up to us trying to sell their goods, we were looking forward to experiencing this.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. As we sailed along, we saw a few shops in the houses along the side of the river and some of these looked like they would fall into it at any minute, the small boats failed to materialise. A few large boats were moored in the river, but these appeared to be living quarters. It was certainly interesting though, seeing how the locals lived although some of there toilet habits, as we passed, were not as impressive.
Our stop for lunch was interesting as the food was based on local cuisine. As we sat down, we were faced with a fish that, in theory, was then taken away to be cooked. The food was not to our taste but was plentiful and enjoyed by the other members of our group.
We were soon back on the mini-bus with another three- hour journey, to look forward too!
Having talked to a few people, who had already visited Cambodia, and hearing about the beggars and conditions in the town, we decided to go on an organised Tuk-Tuk tour.
After travelling in a recent luxury Tuk-Tuk in Lisbon, this one proved to be slightly different; being drawn by an old motorbike that struggled to get up the hills. If the roads weren't bad enough, the traffic was just as chaotic, I will not be complaining about our pot holes at home as much!
The town was really run down in places but in-between the old houses, new hotels and casinos were being built by Chinese investors.
Why bother to invade a country now, when you can simply buy it!
Unfortunately, the locals were being forced out because of the rising prices caused by this and the driver showed his distain quiet openly. Another noticeable thing was the smell, with the sanitation sometimes leaking onto the road. Not a pretty ride for our senses!
Along the streets, there were several stalls selling food and several motorbike repair shops; a necessity considering the vast number being ridden everywhere. We did see some interesting landmarks such as the Golden Lion sculptures on the roundabout, which our driver circled twice to make sure we didn't miss it. I'm sure there will be more to enjoy, once the infrastructure of the place improves.
Then, we made our way through the traffic, closing our eyes at times as there didn't seem to be any road rules in p!ace. It was a case of set off and go-regardless of who was in your way!
We arrived at our first surprise stop, a local beach, where we were given nearly an hour to have a wander.
After a stroll along the pleasant beach, we arrived at the end of part and our fellow members of the Tuk- Tuk convoy, soon found bars for a refreshing drink and a chance to get rid of the dust in our mouths. Going to the toilet in these bars was also an experience. Luckily, we carried tissue and sanitized hand gel with us. The beach was very nice though and we could see why investors were showing interest in this area.
After another short stop, at another beach, where there was a nice hotel on one side, with its own private facilities, it was back to the ship. Unfortunately, the weather today was disappointing. Still very hot but cloudy, so the photographs we took didn't really show how nice the area was. Nothing can beat golden sunshine reflecting off blue waters!
After seeing the town, we were pleased that we hadn't gone out on our own; although we never felt threatened in any way, there were very few pavements to walk on and the whole area near the ship was very run down. A place that in a few years time will probably be completely different, which in some ways will be a shame as the local, traditional ways of life will most probably be gone.
Back on the ship, sat having afternoon tea, it was fascinating watching the small fishing boats sailing out for the evening. There was also an interesting small peninsula jutting out with small houses on it. There was even a building with a full sized aeroplane on top of it. An interesting day.
Following a long day in Bangkok, we decided to look for a more relaxing time; settling for getting a taxi to the nearby beach area of Pattaya. We went down to destination services to find out a little more about the area, just as a man, we had met the day before, was trying to cancel a trip into the town. It suited us both to negotiate a deal for these tickets and we rushed back to pack a few things, as the coach was soon to depart.
Although, we would only have about three hours in Pattaya, it would give us a chance to have a walk around and look for some presents, as our daughter likes a few small gifts when we return. This has become a little tradition in the family.
The town was a complete contrast to the busy capital. We were dropped off outside a state of the art shopping centre, with many well known stores selling clothes etc. at prices you would find at home. Wandering through this we emerged into the older part of the town. Here we ambled around a local market, where you could buy items at a much lower price. It was one of those places, where a little bit of bargaining earned you some worthwhile discounts!
The beach was a pleasant area with the normal sections of sunbeds you could hire. As you sat several vendors would approach selling a variety of goods or cooking food to sell, as well as offering foot massages. Although we saw a few of these, they didn't seem over intrusive. We sat here and had a snack before finding a Costa Coffee for our internet fix, and then it was time for our coach back.
One of the most interesting observations from the day, was our guide's relaxed attitude to the things on offer in the town. He told us about the Ladyboys who frequented the streets at night, as well as the ladies whose job it was to make you 'happy'. Massages were also readily available and the further you got from the centre, the more interesting these would become, with what he described was a 'Happy Ending'. He did mention the image of the town was now changing with upmarket hotels replacing the seedier establishments, attracting a different type of clientele, which he thought was better for the town's development.
We had already had a couple of eccentric guides, on previous trips, and on arriving back on the boat and talking about our trip to other guests, they were surprised or maybe disappointed that their guides had only talked about the temples etc. We certainly can choose them!
In the whole we were very impressed with Thailand and it certainly is an up and coming area where prices are still reasonable and there are a lot of interesting places and beaches to visit.
When we booked the cruise, we didn't realise how much travelling we had to do in order get to destinations from the ports. Although, only two hours from Bangkok, we were told to expect long delays because of traffic. Here we decided to get our cultural fix out of the way and visit some temples.
An early start again wasn't welcome, but we were soon on our way and our guide was a real character telling us all how to be healthy and leading us on a series of exercises on the coach. He even went around offering back massages, before trying to sell the herbal medicines he assured us would solve all our aches and pains. Not much information about the places we passed on the way though.
Our first stop was the Grand Palace. On previous tours, we had borrowed cover ups before going into temples and hadn't realised we needed to bring our own on this cruise. Fortunately, they sold trousers and tops for a couple of pounds outside the entrance. Suitably attired, we entered and joined the ensuing throng of visitors. The palace was impressive and the decorated shrines were awesome. We expected a commentary from the guide but he just told us where to meet him and left us to find our way around; not ideal but a chance to explore on our own.
One of the most famous artefacts within the Palace was the Jade Buddha. This was a tiny statue situated on top of a decorated shrine. No photographs were allowed but it truly was an impressive sight.
We left the Palace and followed our guide down to the river, where we had a short boat ride to visit a Hindu Temple called the Wat Arun Temple, which again was amazing. We were able to have a quick look round the market area on the riverside whilst we waited for the boat to collect us. Once on the boat, we sailed along the Chao Phraya River; we were off to visit the Wat Pho Temple, which was the home of the giant supine Buddha. Walking around the statue, you couldn't help admiring the workmanship and wondering about the amount of gold used to cover it.
,Back on the coach we set off for our return journey. It was a long, tiring journey, with the first two traffic lights, leading out of the city centre, taking one hour to pass through!
Arriving back on the ship, we reflected on our impressions of Bangkok; an interesting city with its traditional historic and religious sites, intermingling with the modern skyscrapers and not forgetting alongside the river, the old sections of city with ramshackle, decaying houses. A city worthy of a longer visit!
Apparently, at one time it had been like Venice but now most of the canals had been filled in for a road network, but this has created something that feels like a large car park that takes ages to drive through.
Just as a footnote, after spending all of the journey to the city, telling us how to stay healthy and the benefits of exercise and herbal medicines, the guide gave us a long talk about his illnesses. This then led on to the cost of health care in the country and how he was struggling to pay for all the medicines he needed. He also told us how previous members of tour groups, often offered to let him stay for free, when he holidayed in their countries! Needless to say, after these subtle hints I'm not sure if anyone gave him their email; we certainly didn't!
What to do was the question? The idea of going to a beach appealed but we were not sure we could last several hours in the sun. We had never done a 4x4 experience and the idea of visiting a local waterfall clinched the deal.
What we hadn't realised was that we would have to be up at 6am because it was a tender to shore.
Arriving at the harbour, we were escorted to our vehicle and along with six other people we were soon on our way.
The first stop was described as a visit to a rubber plantation but proved to be a couple of stalls by the side of the main road. Here the traffic noise drowned out what could have been an interesting talk and demonstration. Interestingly, the man did all the talking and the woman all the hard work setting up the machines.
After this, we left the main road and went up the tracks, half concrete and with sections of rough ground. This proved to be quite amusing, in our vehicle, as we were bounced around, not so in the vehicle we saw in front of us.
Our next stop was at the highest temple on the island, as well as being an impressive place there were excellent views over the area, including another temple that was being rebuilt. We also had a chance to sample, or buy, some of the local fruit from a couple of small stalls. I won't mention the toilet facilities here!
After another bumpy ride, we arrived at the waterfall; a superb natural area of beauty. I didn't have time to sketch this but did manage to collect some interesting images that I could use later. You could swim there, but we decided to explore further, as there was only a small swimming area and not many of our group decided to bathe there.
This was another mode of transport crossed off our list! On the whole, an interesting experience. The 'rubber plantation' was a disappointment as we expected a tour of one. The temple was a unexpected treat and the waterfall was impressive. You could probably do these sites a lot cheaper by local taxi but the off road experience enhanced it for us.
Getting back to the boat I decided to have a play with a sketch of the waterfall. I had used salt with watercolour before but had forgotten how messy it could be and it didn't seem to want to come off the paper when the paint dried. It did intertest one of the waiters though who then followed my sketching exploits later on in the cruise.
After a long flight and three busy days in different ports, we were looking forward to a restful sea day. Not being great sunbathers any more, we weren't fussed about getting out early for a sun bed.
After a lie in, we found a nice quiet table by the pool and relaxed there either reading or in my case sketching as well. The beauty of this area was the wide range of people to draw.
About two o clock, some people had started to go in and beds became available so we could then sunbathe as it was very slightly cooler. A nice way to relax and prepare for several more trips over the next few days.
An interesting day as we had already stayed in Singapore for several days last year and seen most of the sights. Arriving early to collect our passports, it was interesting to realise that there had been rain on our journey to the port. and the sky was still overcast.
We had already decided to visit the Botanic Gardens, as this was the main place we had missed last time. Buying a day ticket for the MRT proved more difficult than it should have been, as there was only one booth open and a long queue. Eventually, we set off and were soon at the garden and found, surprisingly, it was free to get in.
Wandering around the grounds was a pleasant, relaxing change from the busy schedule so far. We are always enthralled by the patterns found in nature and after viewing some artwork, inspired by leaves, on display in the café, I decided to collect some and try out some ideas.
My idea was to use the leaves to print on the page and then use some of the shapes of leaves and flowers, I had seen, to draw on top. Using watercolours meant that the prints weren't as I would have liked, but it would be impossible to take all the art materials, you may need, on a cruise. Still its good to just play with ideas now and again.
Next, we went to see if the famous Raffles Hotel and bar were open, as it was being renovated last time we were here. On arriving, the queue lining up to go in was too long, so we settled for a picture outside it.
After a long walk, and then a quick break for some refreshment at the still impressive Circular Quay, we arrived at the Gardens by the Bay, via the Marina Bay Sands Mall. This was a little disappointing, as the sky walk was closed and the buzz of excitement we felt last time was missing. Still, it's a fascinating place to wander around and stunning when lit up at night, which was a shame as the ship left before this happened.
Deciding to get the MRT back to the ship we made the mistake of thinking it was a circular line, when in fact it only went one way. This then took an hour as it went all the way around the city. Fortunately, we had left plenty of time to get back to the ship.
The sail away was impressive as the city lit up on one side and Sentosa Island on the other.
Singapore is a stunning city and a complete contrast from many of the other ports of call. A place that definitely warrants a longer stay.
Some of my Blogs from my previous visit to Singapore giving an idea of all the things to see.
When going to a new place, we always try to look for something different to do. Lots of the excursions here featured city tours and we decided to go on one that featured the #BatuCaves, before it went into the city.
The caves are a vast limestone area. carved out millions of years ago, which were converted into a place of worship for the Hindu religion and there are temples around and inside the caves. The 350 steps going up didn't give us much of a problem but coming down you had to be careful not to slip.
The vast cavern was impressive with its ornate temples and there were small monkeys living in it. It was fascinating watching people arriving to worship in their finery and seeing the traditions involved.
The next stop was a short drive into the centre of Kuala Lumpur; the KL Tower,which the guide told us was now the 7th highest in the world, but is slowly going down the rankings as more are built. We proceeded up to the viewing platform where we could walk 360 degrees round looking over the city. The views were good, but I have seen better in other cities, although it was a shame we could not go right to the top of the tower, as this would have been more interesting.
After a stop for lunch, we were taken to view the #PetronasTowers; a standout piece of modern architecture. We would rather have had the chance to go into this impressive building and go across the walkway, if this is allowed. On a side note the local youths did a roaring trade selling clip on, wide angle lenses, for your phone, so you could capture both towers in one picture.
Summing up the day, the guide could talk in an Olympic event, as he talked for the full journey there and most of the way back, giving us a headache! Having said that, he clearly loved his country and even tried to get us to retire there.
The trip was advertised as the 'Best of Kuala Lumpur' and although we did stop in a couple of places there must be more to see; trip advisor lists 105 things to see or do! A drive round the main centre of Independence Square, to see the colonial architecture would have added to the day out.
However, the caves were well worth a visit and one of the highlights of the holiday, whereas the city tour only gave us a brief glimpse of some of the sights, which was a shame.
Looking at pictures, Kuala Lumpur, certainly seems to come to life when lit up in the evening. A pity we couldn't experience it!
After sleeping-in the next day, we eventually set off to explore Penang. After getting a map from a tourist counter on the way out and negotiating the throng of taxi drivers etc. we set off not knowing what to expect.
We were soon surprised to find a narrow street filled with artwork and for a change it was possible to interact with these, which several tourists, including ourselves enjoyed doing. We soon realised that this was a theme of the area and set out to find more.
This seemed to be a new trend in several cities. As some of the old industries disappear, this simple idea creates interest and a chance to find a new identity. It also creates a tourist attraction, and one, which looking at the number of different nationalities viewing them, was a really successful idea, These pieces of artwork, being interactive, gave a novel approach to the idea and was appreciated by visitors as well as now being listed as a heritage site.
After finding several more artworks, and having a tour of a Chinese market, where the art walk was featured on several buildings, we also managed to take a look at some of Penang's landmarks. Then, after a hot, busy day, it was back to the ship .
Talking to other guests, who had gone on the rickshaws, they would recommend the activity, as they had enjoyed the adventure round the busy city. We were sorry to have missed this but finding the artwork was an added bonus for us.
To save the planet's resources, Marella have stopped giving out paper maps of the ports that they visit; instead they suggest you take a picture of one on an interactive screen, on board ship, which is not ideal. Although we applaud their good intentions, we were surprised that we received about ten information sheets on trips alone, and also one leaflet each night called Cruise News. If you were being cynical, you could wonder if, by not providing a map, the company would hope that passengers wound be more likely to buy their trips, rather than travel out into the unknown on their own.
If we had known this before arriving on the cruise, we could have printed our own maps, or as a lot of cruise information is now on their Navigate App and on the interactive screens, a map could be added as a downloadable PDF.
In a couple of ports, they had welcome desks and you could get a map there; one guest went into the nearest hotel, as most receptions have a tourist map on their counters. The Cruise News leaflet that you receive every night, could have included a small map, that you could take out with you.
We weren't the only passengers who felt this way; it was one of the main topics of conversation round the destination service area!
As we set off for our cruise, we weren't looking forward to the twelve hour flight but it wasn't as bad as expected being slightly shorter than we had been told. However, after watching four films, I was beginning to feel tired but as we flew into the early sunshine and new time zone, the cabin was flooded with light and so I had no time to get some sleep; so time then for another film!
Arriving in Langkawi, boarding the ship was the quickest we had ever experienced, as arrivals were spread over two days. After a quick meal, our cases had arrived, so we got changed and went for a walk.
The port was very pleasant and we walked as far as the nearby beach, passing a hotel with open Wi-Fi, an added bonus! However, after not sleeping for 24 hours, the heat soon got to us, so we went back for a short sleep before the evening meal and the first of the nightly shows that are popular on cruise ships. We did a little exploring, as this was the first time on the Discovery. Then time for an early night, after two long tiring days.
Lots of small Islands. This reminded me of a skull.
We set sail into the Sunset. Our adventure begins.