Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 42 - South China Sea

We have been cruising since last night out of the Thailand gulf, around the south end of Vietnam, and north into the China Sea.  Tomorrow morning we will get to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  Ray has been looking forward to this with both anticipation and trepidation.

Today was a peaceful day.  I did some laundry this morning.  Have I mentioned that Regent has a laundry room on every floor for guest use?  It's the first cruise line we have been on that provides this valuable benefit.  On other ships we have had to pay to have it done for us.

This afternoon Sandra Bowren gave another lecture, this time on Vietnam history.  I am continually amazed at how little I learned in high school about this area of the world.  We studied lots of American and European history, but other than hearing about Marco Polo and the silk road, I learned very little about the far east.  This area has a very complex history and I am learning more with each passing day.  Sandra's lectures are amazing.  I don't know how she has managed to amass so much knowledge about so many areas of the world.  We have listened to her lectures on New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam so far.  I don't know how long she was on the ship before we boarded and how many other lectures she has given.  She appears to have traveled to all these ports before and pronounces the names of people and places in each country impeccably. 

The captain announced that the weather is supposed to deteriorate tonight, so we're expecting a rocky night.  At least it didn't get rough before we finished diner and got back to our room.  We should get to the mouth of the river where we pick up the pilot about 4AM tomorrow, so it should calm down then.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 41 - Laem Chabang (Bangkok)

We stayed overnight here last night so anyone who wanted to could spend more time exploring Bangkok.  We had no plans for today and I'm glad.  Looking out our balcony this morning we saw a thick blanket of smog covering the area around the port. 

Local merchants had a market set up in a large room in the cruise terminal, so we decided to spend some time this morning shopping there.  They had a nice collection of silk and hand embroidered clothing, wood carved objects, as well as an assortment of local souvenirs.   I found 2 lovely silk tops, an embroidered t-shirt, and a ceramic elephant wall hanging that will look great on our patio wall.
No photos today.  We watched a movie in our room this afternoon and enjoyed a lovely diner in the main ship restaurant tonight.  We sailed out of port a little after 4pm tonight.  During diner we noticed a lot of green and white lights out the window.  There are a lot of fishing boats in the Gulf of Thailand tonight.  I'm not used to seeing that many other boats so close to our ship.

Tomorrow is another sea day as we head towards Saigon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Day 40 - Laem Chabang (Bangkok)

Today was more fun than I expected.  We are docked at Laem Chabang, Thailand both today and tomorrow.  When we looked at the tours available, we were a little disappointed because all but one tour was either listed as strenuous or involved a 8-10 day.  Most of the tours involve a 2 hour bus ride each way to get to Bangkok from here.  Spending 4 hours on a bus is not our idea of fun.  I really like elephants, so even though yesterday's tour included an elephant show, we booked the tour to the "Pattaya Elephant Village" since it was only a 45 minute drive.

Woman feeding bananas to an elephant
When we arrived, we found out a little about the history of the place.  Asian elephants used to be used to drag logs out of the forest.  Pattaya originally was the location of an elephant hospital to care for injured animals.  When the government outlawed logging, the elephants were out of work and their owners brought them into the city to try to make money giving tourist rides.   The city is obviously no place for an elephant.  The owner of the hospital bought some land outside the city and established Pattaya Elephant Village as a retirement home for elephants.  Here they have room to walk around in an open environment and use the skills they learned to earn their keep entertaining the tourists. 

As we entered the park, we were given a chance to purchase bunches of bananas to feed to the elephants.  A number of people did this and it was fun to watch.  The elephants really seem to love bananas and eat them whole, skin and all. 

Elephant wading out of the stream with their riders
All but 2 of the elephants at the park are female.  We were told that the males are more difficult to handle, especially when in heat.  They can only be worked with 6 months out of the year. 

Visitors were then told that we would have 3 opportunities to actually ride the elephants.  For the first chance, 6 volunteers were offered the chance to "bathe" with the elephants.  Volunteers were told to remove their shoes and mount the elephants from a platform.  The elephants then proceeded to walk into the nearby stream and bathe.  It was fun to watch. 

I got to ride this lovely girl

The next part was the highlight for me.  Since I was a little girl, I have loved elephants.  I don't know whether it was seing Dumbo when I was little and having the book read to me, or going to the circus, but I always loved these gentle giants.  When I was a little girl and people asked me my name, I would answer Lois Ann Elephant.  But now, I had a chance to not only get up close to one, but to ride an elephant, and I did.   It was very easy to mount the elephant from the platform and just as easy to get off.  The problem was keeping my balance as she walked around.   It probably takes a little practice, so of like learning to lean the right way on turns on a motorcycle.   I did really enjoy riding on one of these beautiful, gentle creatures.  This may be the highlight of this trip.

Elephants rolling a log

Next they showed how the elephants helped in the logging industry, by either pulling or pushing the logs.  They also demonstrated how the elephant can lit down to go to sleep.  Later, they brought out an elephant who had been trained by a circus.  She did some special tricks, like sitting. 

At the end of the show, one elephant came out dressed as it would have in war, with 3 soldier/riders.   At least that's what the announcer said.  The soldier uniforms looked plausible,  but I thought the elephant was dressed in brighter colors than I would have expected for war.  But then, I really don't know Thailand history.  When I studied history in school, it was always European history.   There is a rich history in Asia that I never learned in school.  I hope I am making up for some of that now.  There is so much to learn.

We got back to the ship about 4:30PM.  This gave us plenty of time for a shower and change of clothes for diner.  Today is Valentines Day.  We had a reservation at one of the specialty restaurants on-board - Signatures.  This is a French style restaurant, more formal service than the others.  The food was excellent and the mater d gave me a long stem red rose when we entered.  It was a great day and a lovely evening.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Day 39 - Ko Samui

Ko Samui means Samui Island.  It is part of Thailand, but sits off the southeast coast.  We arrived about 9AM this morning and anchored offshore.  This port does not have a dock big enough to accommodate a cruise ship, but it is a popular tourist destination.  There are lovely beaches and most signs are in both English and Thai.  Their main income used to be from coconuts, but now that is diminishing and the main source of income is tourism. 

2 Spirit Houses and offering alter

I was feeling better today but Ray felt like he was getting my cold.  He doesn't care for having to use a tender to get to a port anyway, so he stayed on-board and I took the tour "Ho Samui Highlights."  After a 20 minute boat ride to shore I boarded the bus and was on my way.  Our guide's name was Zen.  He gave each of us a little fish made of pink ribbon on a pin for us to wear to identify us as part of his group.  He explained that it is the custom in Thailand, if a couple wants children, they make a large version of this fish for each child they want and hang it outside their house to bring good luck in adding to their family.

People also place "Spirit Houses" in front of their homes or businesses to keep evil spirits away.  The traditional ones are on a pedestal like the one on the left here. Only one is required, but it seems many businesses place a smaller one with a ladder to invite the spirits in next to the main one.  We saw these all over the island.

Elephants Play with Hula Hoops

Our tour took a circle road around the island.  The first stop was at the Young Elephant Show at Island Safari.  Elephants used to be used here to help with logging, but logging in the forests is no longer allowed.  Also, there are no elephants in the wild here anymore, all elephants here are "domestic."  Two young elephants performed various tricks for us, including giving "massages" to several volunteers.

Big Buddha

Our second stop was to see "Big Buddha", a 12 meter (about 39 ft) statue at the top of 72 steps.  I decided not to climb the steps, but did explore the surrounding market.

We drove up to a high point along the beach next and stopped at a local restaurant for soft drinks and a bio break.  There was also a lovely view of the water and rocky coast below. 

Monkey rolling a Coconut

The next stop was at a Coconut plantation where we got a demonstration of how monkeys are trained to climb up tall coconut palms and pick ripe coconuts.  The monkeys are first taught to roll the coconuts between their legs to separate the coconut from it's stem.  Then they are taught how it distinguish a ripe coconut by feeling it's shell.  Once the have learned these lessons, they are sent up the tree to pick the coconuts.

We made one last stop before going back to the pier.  This was to visit the Kunaram Temple, where the petrified body of Ko Samui's most famous monk is on display in a specially designed box. 

It was a slow ride back to the ship on the tender.  The boat was filled to capacity and the waves were rocking.   Tonight is Block Party night were we get to meet our new neighbors who joined in Singapore, as well as share a glass of wine with some who have been on the ship with us on prior segments as well.  I like this Regent tradition.
Monk "Luang Phor Daeng"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Day 38 - Cruising the South China Sea

I  have cleared my cache and restarted my browser, so I hope to have better luck with the Internet now.  Today we have another sea day on our way to Thailand.  It's a good thing too, since I have developed a head cold and need the day to recuperate.  I went to the ship doctor this morning and got some cold medicine, so I should be ready for touring again by tomorrow.

This is the photo I was trying to upload yesterday.  The Merlion statue is shown at the right and the crazy, the 55 story Marina Bay Sands hotel/casino on the left.  This 3-tower building with the ship on top is quite a distance across the water from where I was standing, so size is deceiving. I've included a link to the best article I found about it.

Our last stop yesterday was at the Singapore National Orchid Garden.  They claim this is the largest display of tropical orchids in the world.  The gardens were started in the 1860's.  We saw lots of beautiful varieties of orchids, framed by wonderful palms.

As you can see from the photo of the Merlion and Marina Bay Sands, the sky was overcast all day.  We got sprinkled on a little and the guide handed out ponchos for everyone, but it never actually rained.  We got back to the ship about an hour later than originally planned, but well before departure time.  A few people opted to get off the bus in Chinatown and explore more on their own.  I'm assuming they got back on time too, since we sailed away from the harbor on time at 9PM.

We had dinner sent to the room last night because I couldn't stop sneezing.  That gave us the added benefit of being able to watch a gorgeous sunset from our balcony, looking out the harbor.

Regent cruises just came out with their schedule for Spring-Summer 2014 and they have a Norwegian cruise.  We have decided to cancel the Norwegian cruise we were going to take on Holland America in August and book the Regent cruise instead.  That will give us more time to settle into our new home.  We are going to talk to the on-board cruise consultant this afternoon.

Day 37 - Singapore

The Reflections Towers as seen from our balcony
Singapore is a beautiful, modern city.  We spent a lovely day visiting the highlights in a tour called "Spirit of Singapore."   Our tour was scheduled to begin at 9AM, but we had to wait for all the people who were getting off the ship here before we could go out, so it left  little late.  That wasn't a problem. It was planned as a 4 1/2 hr tour and we didn't have to be on board again until 8:30PM at the latest.

Once on the bus we drove to the  observation point on top of Mount Faber to get a panoramic view of the city.  It's a good thing the road up & down is one way, because the road was packed with tourist buses.  Our bus let us off by the top, but we then had to search a little to find where it was able to park.

From there we drove to the famous Raffles Hotel. This is the oldest hotel in Singapore and the place where the Singapore Sling was invented.  Only hotel guests and patrons of the restaurant or bar can actually go inside.  We were told that in order to "experience" a Singapore Sling in the place of it's invention, you would have to pay $26 for one drink.

Sultan's Mosque

Our next stop was ar the Sultan's Mosque in the Arab sector.  Singapore was originally divided into sections by ethnic group and some of these artificial boundaries are still loosely maintained.  There is an English, a Malaysian, a Chinese, and an Arab section, surrounding the business district.

Restored Shophouses in Chinatown

One of the unique architectural forms you will still see in Singapore is the Shophouse.   This was designed so that a shop owner could live above his store.  The 2nd floor also was designed with a 5 foot overhang, so shoppers could walk down the street and stay out of the rain and sun.

From there we visited Chinatown and the "Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum" We arrived in Singapore on the second day of the Chinese New Year, so today was a holiday in Singapore.  Many of the shops were closed but there were many people worshiping at the temple.  There were many alcoves along the walls, each containing a different large Buddha statue surrounded by many small ones.  In the center was a large altar.  Devotees were walking around the temple with small bowls filled with what appeared to be dimes, although I do not know

We made a short photo stop at the Merlion statue/fountain next.  This is the symbol of Singapore.  From this site I was also able to get a photo of one of Singapore's many unique buildings. This is actually 3 towers with a structure shaped like a long boat connecting them at the top.  I have been told there is even an infinity pool on that top level.  Can you imagine swimming in that, overlooking the city from that height?

I am having trouble uploading that photo. The Internet has been spotty since we left Singapore.  I wil try to include the rest in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day 36 - Crossing the Equator

We are cruising the Indian Ocean today, on our way to Singapore.  Sandra Bowren gave a lecture this morning on the history of Singapore.  It appears to be a very interesting city/country/island. For a small (274 sq. mile) country, it is relatively rich.  It's economy is not based on any real product, it is based on trade. 

Singapore is also the end of this segment of the cruise, our second. I've heard that almost 600 of the 700 passengers on board will be getting off in Singapore.  That means a whole lot of new faces on the ship tomorrow night. 

Last night was a "formal optional" night.  We decided to get dressed up (tux & long gown) for dinner, just because we could.  The restaurant offered a nice lobster dinner as one of the choices, and a great chocolate mango volcano for dessert.  That and a little wine started the evening off right.  Later we went to the show for a change.  The performance crew put on a South American music themed song and dance show.  One of the dancers, who I'm guessing was the understudy for the woman who died last week, stepped up to sing 2 of the songs.  She didn't do too bad.

This afternoon we crossed the equator and the ship's crew performed the ceremony of Crossing the Line on the pool deck.  We started to go up and watch, but every elevator going up was full.  We've seen the ceremony before on another ship, when we were going in the other direction, so we decided to go down to the coffee cafe instead.

We got our tickets for the tours on the next segment of the cruise - Singapore to Hong Kong, and have been reviewing them this afternoon. There were a few new options presented so we went to the destination services desk and made a few changes. The next segment will take us to Thailand, Vietnam, and China. We are both looking forward to this, me because I have never been to Asia and Ray because he would like to see what Vietnam has become.