African adventure – Cape Town, South Africa – part 2

Friday morning and we were delighted to finally see the mountain without any cloud or wind – so quickly checked – and the cable car was open. Hurrah!

So we quickly booked some fast track cable car tickets on line and then booked an Uber to take us up there. There was a cruise ship in town so there were lots and lots of people around….luckily we had the fast track tickets as the queue was over three hours long at this point! Was fantastic and the scenery was just beautiful. Will let the pictures do the talking……

Coming down in the cable car we realised that the traffic was at a standstill and that we may have a long wait for an Uber – so decided instead to get on the hop-on hop-off tourist double decker bus and see where it took us. We purchased 48 hour tickets and set off. There are a number of routes and we knew that the blue scenic route was going to be closed on the Saturday because of a marathon so decided to do that first. By now we were running low on cash and the weather was heating up so returned to the hotel via the ATM.

We got back, changed into shorts, and then headed back out on the bus to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. We enjoyed walking around and doing the canopy walk and spent some time just enjoying the scenery and views. We were there for a few hours – particularly enjoying the abundant bird life – so decided to call it a day and returned to the Waterfront where we enjoyed happy hour in Time Out.

We then returned to our hotel room, having navigated more African groups of dancers and singers entertaining the tourists, sorted out some laundry and then went out for dinner. We find the Grand Cafe and it was absolutely superb. Fantastic food and ambience. Great fun. Finally it was time for bed.

Saturday we headed back out after breakfast – this time we were going to try out the red route. We got off in the middle of Cape Town and joined up with a walking tour guide. This was 90 minutes long and we certainly wouldn’t have done this on our own without a guide. These guides work purely for tips so a great service. Was fascinating to learn more about the history of Cape Town and enjoy some very familiar architecture along with some even more familiar faces.

Back on the bus we decided to take some time out and got off at Camps Bay beach. Here we were met by dancing groups of kids and lots and lots of vendors who wanted to sell us something. Richard wanted a wooden monkey so we got that with our last few Rand we had left in our pockets that day. It wasn’t peaceful on the beach as we were constantly being pestered – in a good way not aggressively – but enough was enough so we headed across the road and found a nice restaurant for lunch which was lovely, just enjoying the sights and sounds of this beautiful area.

We then returned towards the waterfront and walked towards Grand Africa which is billed as a beach bar – well it was kind of, but the seating was grubby, the drinks were expensive and the service was definitely lacking – and that was after walking through a sketchy area to get there. This place was listed as one of the top places for sundowners – it was mega busy – but we didn’t feel it so decided not to wait for the sunset and left. We obviously walked a different route back! We decided to return to Time Out which is really a food hall with lots of different offerings and a few bars – very popular place. We had a snack and a bottle of wine and chatted to a couple from NYC who were in Cape Town for a few months filming a TV series along with their cute kid Rusty. We then went back to the hotel and had another glass in the lounge but this was absolutely empty and quiet so decided to take the glasses back to our room and finish off the night there. By the time we got back the laundry had been delivered – what a great service! So the final glass was in front of the TV and so to bed.

Sunday we had a leisurely start and checked out what we wanted to see for the day. Decided that we needed to recharge our batteries and the sun had come out so went to the pool (which was located in a sister hotel across the road) for the day. We relaxed, enjoyed a fab lunch and great wine, before returning to our room to get cleaned up for a night out – and yes we were the only people there so had a very personal service from the fantastic waiter. We headed back to the Grand Cafe as it had been so good but sadly it didn’t live up to our expectations this time. Oh well, never mind. We returned to the hotel for pontoonies and called it a day.

Monday morning we packed our bags in preparation for our departure the following day and headed back to the pool. And relax……smashing. Another great lunch too…. Later on we returned to our room to get ready for our last evening in Cape Town which was on a champagne sunset sailing cruise – sadly the monohull schooner we were booked on was not operating so we were moved onto a catamaran. Bit of a shame that. But the guys were great and promised they would get the sails out – and they did – and they served us lots of sparkling wine with nibbles and they even allowed me to helm, although I wouldn’t recommend this with a glass in one hand LOL. We enjoyed a fantastic sunset on the water and was sad to get back to dry land again. We decided we weren’t hungry so had a few drinks on the waterfront before returning to our hotel for a pontoonie and to bed.

So that wraps up the Cape Town part of our African adventure. I will be blogging the rest of the trip later as I’m having a total hip replacement tomorrow so will be out of action for a little while. So in the meantime bye for now.

Jan

African adventure – Cape Town, South Africa – part 1

Monday 8 April finally arrived and we excitedly left home mid afternoon to make our way around the M25 towards Heathrow Terminal 5. As it was a train and tube strike day we expected very heavy traffic but actually it wasn’t too bad. We were pretty early so the check in and security were easy and fast – best ever experience with British Airways. We then found somewhere to have a snack and a couple of drinks before heading to the gate at 9pm – which was a very long walk – and that’s when the experience completely deteriorated – it was absolute chaos! Eventually we got boarded and of course we were next to some screaming kids…. Just what you need for an eleven and half hour flight, not! We were seated in the exit row to get more leg room but that wasn’t quite such a good idea because, of course, this is against a bulkhead which is where the bassinets reside… Never mind, lesson learnt!

The flight itself wasn’t too bad after the kids finally quietened down. We both dozed on and off and had the most terrible dinner ever but at least the wine was good. Soon it was time for a reasonable breakfast before we arrived into Cape Town on Tuesday morning. We got off the plane and joined the queue for immigration. This was worse than Miami – a complete horror – with a couple of bored and uninterested officials chatting away to themselves. Don’t think we even got a welcome to South Africa. Finally, an hour later, we were cleared in and went to the baggage carousel – which was on a go slow allowing about six bags through at a time. Another hour later and we were reunited with our bags….phew! We were very grateful that we had tracker tags in our bags at this point so we knew that they had arrived with us, not sure how calm we would have been otherwise LOL.

We then picked up a local SIM, met Francois our driver, and were driven to the Victoria and Alfred hotel on the waterfront. There had been a horrendous storm over the previous weekend and the front was still moving through so we arrived in drizzly rain. Check in was very fast and we quickly unpacked and rested up before heading out to the waterfront – checked out the dancers and bands entertaining the tourists – before deciding to have dinner in the pub. Absolutely fantastic fillet steak and beautiful wine, amazingly cheap price too, so we returned to the hotel where we had a final drink before heading to bed.

Wednesday we were supposed to be going out with Francois for the day but the weather was still rough and the Chapmans Peak Road was closed because of some landslips – so deferred this to the following day. All sorted we headed down to breakfast – the cold buffet was good and the hot offerings were average so we needed to consider our choices going forward.

After breakfast we walked (in the chilly drizzle) to the Aquarium which was huge and had some interesting scientific displays. So enjoyed that although it wouldn’t have been high on the list of things to do. At this point we still had not seen Table Mountain as it was cloaked in a tablecloth of clouds. But excited to be here all the same….

Afterwards we headed to the Victoria Mall and into Woolworths (think M&S) for some supplies for our room. Back to the hotel we stashed our goodies and got changed as the weather had got warmer and drier – yay. We then booked an Uber to Bo Kaap – checked out the museum and wandered around admiring the brightly coloured houses. We then continued with the aid of Google Maps to find Charles Cafe which had been recommended by our Hayes and Jarvis concierge Meghan (who was amazing throughout the whole trip). We had to walk past an encampment of homeless people so I felt a bit vulnerable but only carrying a bit of cash and no jewellery Richard was absolutely confident that we would be fine and we were, thankfully, but I didn’t enjoy the experience! We found the Cafe and settled down to have a Cape Malay curry lunch – OMG absolutely fantastic. Not hot in spice terms but absolutely laden with superb flavour. Was great.

We then headed back to the hotel in another Uber for a relax before returning to the waterfront for a few drinks. We started off in the Irish pub – because it had live music – but it was skanky, absolutely horrible and filthy dirty, so we moved on. We then went back to the pub from the night before – again because they had live music – but the service was rubbish and the band not good so we called it a day (without even having a drink after a 30 minute wait) so we returned to the hotel and enjoyed a drink and then to bed. Had been an interesting first full day in Cape Town.

Thursday we headed out to meet Francois after an improved breakfast experience and we drove down towards the Cape of Good Hope and admired all the millionaire residences along the way before finally reaching the Chapmans Peak Drive. This is listed as one of the most scenic drives in the world and we thoroughly enjoyed it with Francois knowing exactly where to stop so we could take photos and make the most of the experience.

We arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and as we entered the nature reserve we saw ostriches, some deer, wild tortoise and baboons along the way – wasn’t expecting that LOL.

We headed to the lighthouse and got the tram almost to the top – at this point I sat down and left Richard to do the walk alone. The steps were very steep and deep and my legs just didn’t want to play. So I rested up while he embraced the moment although he found it tough going too…. On his return to my level, we wandered around through all the lookouts and enjoyed the spectacular views. And yes there are two lighthouses here…the first one could not be seen from far enough away at sea and resulted in many shipwrecks on this treacherous coast, so another one was built.

Leaving the Cape behind we headed to Boulders Beach to see the penguins. We paid our access fee and walked to the beach but the tide was in and there were no penguins close by although some were swimming around. So walked the boardwalk around the headland and then we found them nestling in the sand – fantastic!

After that we carried on back towards Cape Town stopping off first at Hout Bay and checking out the hotel we had booked for the last part of our trip. Then it was to a fish village and caught up with a seal having a laze as the fishermen had finished for the day. Back to the hotel and relax….had been a long day. Oh yes and we came across this little fellow taking in the sun.

Later on after cleaning ourselves up we got another Uber to Gold for an immersive African dining experience. 14 course taster menu and we loved most of it – Richard’s favourite was the ostrich and mine was the pie. Sadly the seats weren’t the best as we were up on a balcony and although the dancers and singers came up to entertain us think the experience would have been better on the lower level. But never mind was great fun! Didn’t think we’d have to paint our faces though LOL.

So that brings to an end the first part of our stay in Cape Town. More to follow shortly.

Bye for now, Jan

Adventure to the Far East – Part 4 Singapore

Thursday 23 November was our last day at sea on the way to Singapore where we would disembark the ship and enjoy a few days in the city before returning home. We had a leisurely breakfast in our suite supplied by the butler then completed the laundry / packing and lounged around by the pool. We had a late lunch at the Grill then enjoyed the sights as we pulled into Singapore right next to Sentosa Island and under the cable car. There was a lot of ships and again, another very tight manoeuvre into the slip, but it was all done perfectly. Great job!

In the afternoon we had a snooze before getting ready to go ashore for our final excursion. We had to clear immigration first so went quite early to meet our group. We were then taken into the City and did a short river cruise – was lovely to see it all lit up.

After the river cruise we headed back on the coach to the Gardens by the Bay where we were wowed by the music and light show amidst their Supertrees – was absolutely fantastic! Leaving the magical trees behind we headed to the Fullerton Hotel for a Singapore Sling and then taken back to the ship. All the while we were in the coach we were treated to a cultural chat so that was very interesting too to find out how this island nation works.

Back on the ship we found that Christmas had arrived – the staff had obviously been very busy in our absence. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving Buffet dinner in the main restaurant before retiring to the bar to catch up with friends as we would be saying sad farewells to them in the morning.

Back in the cabin with finalised our packing and put our cases out to be collected with the supplied labels – all in different colours – had a final drink on our balcony and retired for the night.

Friday morning we were up very early and headed to the main restaurant for breakfast. All the time we were waiting to be called to disembark – our tags were light blue – and then around 9.00 am it was our turn. We headed off the ship saying goodbye to the staff who had looked after us so well during our time onboard, collected our bags, cleared customs and immigration and got picked up in a very nice Mercedes. We arrived at the hotel and were completely blown away by it – the Parkroyal Collection, Marina Bay. OMG it was just stunning. For those of you that don’t know Singapore is known as the Garden City and, when this hotel had been renovated, they had decided to bring the outside in. It had to be seen to be believed!

We checked in – got an upgrade, an early check in and a late check-out, and went to our room to explore. Very nice it was too with spectacular views over the water.

We then decided to go and explore – not wanting to waste a moment of our time – so walked to the National Museum enjoying being in the sun, although the humidity made the stroll more of a trek LOL. We were lucky that there was going to be an English-speaking tour of the Museum within 10 minutes of our arrival so we waited for that and enjoyed being shown around. This took almost an hour and was very informative.

After the tour we walked to the tube station and picked up our travel cards which you can easily top up in machines at every station. Got a map and worked out how to return to the hotel which happened to be linked to the Marina Mall. In the mall we were tempted by the street food on offer so had a late lunch, and delicious it was too.

Quite tired now we headed back to our room and had a snooze before luxuriating in the fabulous shower and then got ready to go out again. This time we headed over to the Bay Sands area and wandered the crazy mall first – lots of Christmas trees and high-end shops – clearly where the Crazy Rich Asians go to shop LOL. Anyway we wandered down to see Spectra, the light and water show, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Amazing! After the light show we headed off on the tube again to China town and had some dinner before returning to the hotel for a last glass of wine before retiring for the night.

Saturday morning we walked to the Singapore Flyer and purchased tickets. We were then shown into our own pod – totally unexpected – and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the area. And of course we had to get a silly souvenir photo.

Afterwards we walked along the waterfront to Raffles and queued to get into the Long Bar. This had been renovated and wasn’t quite as authentic as before especially with the music being played – who goes to a 1900s colonial bar to listen to Guns and Roses?!? Anyway we enjoyed our Singapore slings and the peanuts were great. There is something very decadent about just dropping all the casings on the table / floor LOL.

After Raffles we walked to Clarke’s Quay and, of course, it started raining, hard! So we popped into an Indian restaurant and sat on the waterfront enjoying a very early supper of curry and Tiger Beers. Very nice it was too. After our time in the Quay, and in a break from the rain, we headed to the nearest tube station and headed back to the mall. We picked up a couple of bottles of wine and returned to our hotel and room where we watched the light show again over the Bay before settling down to a quiet night in with movies and wine.

Sunday morning after a nice hotel breakfast, we got a tube to Chinatown to explore more thoroughly, before then heading onwards to Little India. We enjoyed the sights and sounds very much but again got a bit defeated by the humidity. We then returned to the hotel by tube and spent a few hours by the pool and enjoyed just relaxing inbetween rain showers.

In the evening we headed out again and went to the Marina Bay Sands area – last time we were in Singapore we found a fabulous champagne bar on the top with great views. But, of course, the weather didn’t want to play ball so we just ended up in a top level bar and Richard braved the elements for the required photo!

Afterwards we headed to Satay Street for dinner – but, this time, satay didn’t appeal in the rain so we ate in the attached food hall and had an Indian Thali dinner. Looked great but sadly wasn’t that good…..oh well, never mind.

After dinner we returned to the hotel, had a drink in the lovely bar, and then returned to relax in our room once again before bed.

Monday morning was our last day so we spent the time by the pool relaxing and then returned to the room to finish packing up. We checked out at 3pm then relaxed in the hotel before being picked up to go to the airport for our late evening flight home to London. We had thought we’d return to the Mall for more street food but were completely blown away by the robot deliveries of food so decided to stay put and had our lunch delivered. Such fun!

Later on we headed down to collect our bags from the concierge and waited for our car – the time came and went and no-one was seen. Hmmmm….not what you need….so I decided to go outside and check on a couple of vehicles that were parked up. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, one of them was our transport. Don’t know whey he didn’t let us know he was there but never mind we arrived at the airport in good time. Checking in was a breeze as we had done it on line in advance, bags were deposited, and we took ourselves off to sit and relax in Changi Airport before boarding the plane.

The Singapore Airlines plane turned up promptly, we got a notification that our bags were loaded on (how good is that!), and we boarded. We had lovely seats and great service. What a way to end the most fantastic adventure. Hope you have enoyed travelling along with us.

Our next adventure is to South Africa and Zimbabwe so will blog again after that. So all there is left to say is Happy New Year to you all. Hope it is full of good health, happiness and love. Take care.

Bye for now, Jan

Adventure to the Far East – Part 3 Da Nang, Ha Long Bay and Nha Trang, Vietnam

Thursday 16 November was another day at sea. Sadly the predicted storm had materialised and it just rained and rained and rained….. In between biblical showers we did find some time to have bubbles in the jacuzzi but that was about it for the day in between chatting to cruisers that we had become friendly with. We had lunch in the buffet restaurant and later on headed for dinner in the Grill. We managed to get a table undercover but it wasn’t great – the food was good – but there was a chilly wind blowing. So we headed down to the fifth floor bar and enjoyed catching up with Robert and Nanette (Canada) and Craig and Leanne (Australia) along with others from time to time. The pianist / singer in the bar was great and we enjoyed listening to her quite extensive repertoire.

We then decided to call it a day – the weather had certainly put paid to lots of fun this evening – so headed back to our cabin where we did a storm watch. We had 50 knots of breeze and the waves were crashing over our balcony and up to the sixth floor above so we got soaked but thoroughly enjoyed it! It was a pretty bumpy night overall to be fair. And yes everyone thought we were mad when we said we had a great time LOL.

Friday we pulled into Da Nang and yes it was still raining….sigh…. We had an excursion to Marble Beach but cancelled as there was no point sitting under an umbrella on the beach getting cold LOL. We had a leisurely breakfast and morning and, finally, the rain stopped around 11 am. So we hopped on a shuttle bus into town and went for a wander – we enjoyed seeing the statues / the Dragon bridge and the local markets. But we were pretty worn out in the very high temperatures and humidity so stopped at a local pavement cafe for lunch. We were the only ‘almond eyes’ in there and luckily they had a menu with pictures so we could pick something out. We had two dishes to share and you could see the gazes of the locals on us. Clearly this was not a place that saw tourists very often but they were very friendly and we were given lots of nods and smiles as we ate. Was really good food. The bill was a ridiculously cheap £5 so we tipped the guy and OMG you would have thought they had won the lottery. He showed all the staff and they all smiled and bowed to us as we left. Was a humbling experience and we were certainly glad to get off the beaten track.

Back on the bus we headed back to the boat for a rest. We went to the 5th floor bar before dinner and headed to the Show Lounge to watch the Vietnamese show put on by local artists. This was fun and then, with Robert, Nanette, Craig and Leanne, we all headed to dinner in the main restaurant. We had a lovely meal and enjoyed socialising with them all. We then headed back to the bar for more after-dinner drinks before heading to bed. So what had started out as a bit of a damp squib turned into a good day.

Saturday was another day at sea. The day started cloudy so we headed to breakfast having first put some clothes in the washing machines. We then put it in the driers and headed back to our room to hang it all up. By now the sun had eventually come out so we spent the rest of the day by the pool. Sadly I had stomach problems at this point so guess that meal the day before hadn’t been so good after all…..

This was not advertised as a formal night on the ship but, as we were booked into La Dame (the up-market French restaurant on board that had an upcharge) we decided to go for it. On arrival in the bar we met up with Robert and Nanette – don’t we all scrub up lovely! We then rendezvoused with Larry and Elaine (from Kent) who we had met previously in Singapore and Bangkok whom we had arranged to have dinner with.

Anyway to La Dame – we had very high expectations of this restaurant, particularly as the service on the ship was so good, and this was supposed to be the best of the best. Well we were sat down by the French Maitre’D and immediately given the menus and served champagne and water whilst we perused them. The first thing we all noticed was the upgraded linen, glassware and cutlery to the rest of the ship so all good so far. When we disclosed we were happy with the ship’s normal wine list and did not wish to upgrade by hundreds of dollars a bottle the service suddenly changed. Hmm……wonder if he gets commission on how many bottles he sells? Anyway we chose our meal from the fancy menu and settled down to enjoy it. It was lots of theatre with cloche-covered food being delivered and then all the cloches being removed at once by four waiters. So great in that respect.

But the Maitre’D spent all his time schmoozing the others guest who had clearly purchased very expensive wine while we waited to be served with more….. Oh well, never mind. Overall we had a good time – the food itself was excellent – and we had great company but this lack of attentive service was a real disappointment. Oh yes, the dress code was strictly adhered to everywhere on the ship – the main restaurant even had a supply of jackets for men that turned up without wearing one – but not here. It seems that the more money you have and the higher status of your suite entitles you to do just what you like….. Rant over!

Sunday we knew that we would be pulling into Halong Bay and this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip. So we got up very early and watched as the ship made its way through the fantastic scenery as the sun came up…. Words cannot describe how beautiful this was.

Having tied up alongside a behemoth cruise ship we got ourselves ready to depart the ship. We walked the dock and got onto our allocated Junk Boat – along with Craig and Leanne who were also booked on this excursion. We motored around this stunning area until we arrived at Sung Sot Cave along with hundreds of other tourists.

The entry to the cave is one way only and up a very steep row of steps – so Craig sat this one out on the boat – whilst we got up and started the trek. It was very tough but actually the tourists slowed down the procession so I didn’t feel too rushed to keep up as I picked my way carefully. Felt a bit like climbing Everest – check out the queue LOL.

The cave did not disappoint – absolutely beautiful – and the views from the exit point were amazing. We then got back on the boat and headed back to the ship through the stunning scenery. So I’ll let the photos do the talking….

Back on board we spent the afternoon by the pool and then decided to sit on our balcony for the sailaway. At this point others that had been on different excursions returned and took some photos of us so we have this moment captured for prosperity LOL.

Most people were back on board by now although there were a few that cut it very fine in terms of timing with some anxious crew pacing the dock. Finally the ship’s gangway was pulled up and we were ready. At this point a gaggle of influencers turned up and started their poses, videos etc. Clearly trying to make out they were getting on the ship and departing. Was hysterical to watch – check out the weird outfits too.

Finally we set sail so got cleaned up and headed to the main restaurant for dinner and, sadly to say, this was the worst meal of the trip. Or rather I chose badly. We absolutely loved the soup so had that for starters then I chose a Vietnamese dish off the ‘local’ menu. OMG it was so strongly flavoured with ginger it nearly made me cry….got Richard to taste it too just in case it was me and he said he couldn’t eat it either. When I put my spoon and fork down the waiter rushed over to check and I said, sorry, not to my taste. At this point he wanted to feed me so bad but I resisted everything on offer (it took a couple of glasses of water to even get rid of the taste) but eventually gave in to some hand-made chocolates at the end of the meal LOL

Monday was another day at sea where we backtracked down the coast of Vietnam towards Nha Trang. We had a leisurely breakfast in the main restaurant and then spent the day by the pool – but it was very windy and chilly although, thankfully, it had stopped raining. But we perserved and, when we got too cold, we just went and sat in the jacuzzi for a while to warm up LOL. We had a Chinese buffet lunch and then gave up on our sunbeds – by which time we had bumped into Robert and Nanette again (not difficult on a ship with capacity for only 392 guests) – so spent a very jolly time in / out of the jacuzzi and in the pool bar keeping hydrated. After resting up in our cabin we had a few drinks in the bar before taking ourselves off to the main restaurant for dinner again. This time I played safe and had a beautiful steak whilst Richard enjoyed the lobster. Again the food was fantastic.

Tuesday morning we awoke to the sounds of the anchor chain being deployed as we had arrived into Nha Trang. As we had to go ashore by tender – the first and only time on this cruise – and needed to be ashore by 8am we decided to have breakfast in our room. So ordered it for 6am and, on the dot, our butler was there with our order. Such a great service, certainly takes the pressure off when you need to be somewhere.

The excursions were very organised – as we were going off via tender – we had to meet up in the show lounge so we could all be taken together and filled up a whole tender with the same tour group. Worked really well. Ashore we met our tour guide, got on the coach and were taken to a local place to pick up our Pedi-Cabs. These are individual (motorised) cycles ridden by locals who took us through the sights and sounds of Nha Trang. OMG it was so funny watching the locals react to us as well as trying to keep an eye on Richard who was ahead of me – most of the time – as his driver was speedier than mine. Although, at the end, he was puffed out and my driver had to push him along instead LOL. Was a real fun excursion.

After getting off our respective pedi-cabs we visited a local market and had a soft drink whilst waiting for everyone else who was clearly spending the last of their Vietnamese currency on anything they could get their hands on LOL. Back to the boat we got the tender that was organised and waiting for us. Back on board we had lunch and sat outside on the deck at La Terrazza for the sailaway (and yes it was raining again). As we pulled away we said our sad farewells to Vietnam. Had been an amazing experience and we definitely would like to return to explore another day.

After lunch we were going to sunbathe and enjoy the pool area but, guess what, it rained hard again. So we decamped to the pool bar and chatted to others while we tried to stay dry. The weather certainly hadn’t been our friend on this trip…..

That evening we went to our final dinner at The Grill and, this time, we used the Hot Rocks to cook our food. Richard’s steak wasn’t too good – think he chose the wrong cut – but mine was fabulous especially twinned with a jacket potato and some salad. Sometimes you just want simple fare!

We decided to have an early night and headed back to our balcony for another night watch before turning in as the ship moved towards our final destination, Singapore.

Wednesday was a sea day – another lumpy one with big seas. We had a leisurely morning doing a bit of packing and planned an afternoon by the pool but, unfortunately, it rained again. Oh well, never mind, time for more laundry LOL. This was our final night at sea and was another formal night – so we headed to the bar and then to dinner with Mo and Jo at La Terrazza. This was lovely and we then headed back to the Observation Lounge for an evening of frivolity. Mo and Jo were determined that we were going to keep the bar open late so we joined in with the karoake and continued partying and dancing to the DJ’s tunes. Was a lot of fun!

And that’s the end of Part 3 of our Far East Adventure. Come back soon for the next instalment.

Jan

Adventure to the Far East – Part 2 Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

On Friday 10 November we had boarded our ship, the Silver Whisper, and after a very nice buffet lunch we explored the ship for a little while particularly liking the statues and the orchids which were in abundance everywhere. We were then called to Muster Stations, a legal requirement for all passengers to attend. This was well organised and, luckily for us, the station was on our deck so we didn’t have too far to go.

After a few drinks in the observation lounge – watching the biblical rain hammer down on the commercial ships around us – we retired to our cabin for a few hours before getting ready for dinner (and we may have tested the complimentary champagne while we were at it LOL). Our butler had asked us what we would like supplied in our cabin and this had miraculously appeared by the time we got back. A very good first impression of the service.

For dinner we had our first restaurant reservation at La Terrazza, a small Italian restaurant. The menu was extensive (although fixed throughout the voyage) and I enjoyed the pasta with Richard opting for the beef dish as both of us had already eaten our body weight in Thai food so far on this trip. The wine flowed, although not by the bottle on this ship (which is ultra all-inclusive), but the servers were so attentive that wasn’t a problem as we were constantly topped up – they only stopped pouring when we told them to LOL.

After dinner we headed off to the Show Lounge where local Thai musicians and dancers had come onboard to entertain. We enjoyed the show before we headed off back to the Observation Lounge where we watched the ship manoeuvre out of the very tight dock without the use of tugs (although they were in attendance). Was pretty impressive! After that we headed back to our cabin and enjoyed watching the departure from Thailand from our cabin’s balcony in our robes sipping on more wine. This seemed to be a feature most nights LOL.

Saturday was a sea day so we had a leisurely start and wandered down to the main restaurant around 9 am. We were surprised that there were very few people around – it seems that most guests had butler service breakfast in their suites. We enjoyed being served a la carte from the very extensive menu, rather than visiting the buffet, and this became our preferred breakfast option.

Afterwards we took ourselves off to the pool. We found a couple of beds and proceeded to enjoy the jacuzzi and lazing around most of the morning along with a few glasses of bubbles. We had a salad lunch poolside from the buffet and then continued to relax including a dip. We met quite a few other Commonwealth cruisers – from the UK, Canada and Australia – and it was quite the mix with some Germans, Italians and Americans making up the rest. Sadly the weather had other ideas for us and showers forced us back to our cabin for a snooze in the afternoon.

Later on we headed out to dinner at The Grill – another restaurant reservation – an outside restaurant on the pool deck. We enjoyed our dinner here and were surprised that, already, the waiter had worked out our wine preference and a bottle was on hand nearby to keep us topped up continuously. Very dangerous LOL. This is a casual dress restaurant but it was formal night everywhere else on the ship so we dressed up accordingly. In fact, the ‘casual’ dress still required men to wear a shirt and jacket but no tie – and most women were pretty ‘dressy’ most nights. No jeans after 6pm on board either. All very grown up!

After dinner we headed to the Show Lounge and watched an Australian comedian. He was really funny and we enjoyed his humour. After the show we headed to the lounge and listened to the DJ and joined in with the dancing. Was a fun night – eventually we retired to our cabin for more pontoonies on the balcony before turning in.

Sunday was a bit miserable so I took the opportunity to do some laundry (there is one on every other floor and are all complimentary). Back to the cabin we hung everything up and headed to the Italian restaurant which was the venue for the main buffet lunch and enjoyed the variety of dishes on offer.

In the afternoon we hung out by the pool and chatted to other cruisers enjoying the warmth if not the sun. Later on we got ourselves cleaned up and headed to the main restaurant for dinner. The menu was huge and you can have as much as you want in any order – literally! Two pages of staple items stayed the same throughout the voyage but the rest changed every three days – so no worries about getting bored. Oh yes and caviar was available at any time on demand…..

After dinner, and a few more drinks in the bar, we headed back to our cabin as the weather was picking up. We had 35 knots and big seas – so we had a bit of a stormy night shift on the balcony – was fantastic!

Monday morning we pulled into Ho Chi Minh City having traversed the river and pulled up around 6am. During the night I went to the loo to find our bathroom flooded – oh dear – so as we were going out very early for our first shore excursion we reported the problem. We just dumped all the towels on the floor to soak up the water in the meantime to avoid it spilling over onto the carpet.

For the first time we had breakfast in the buffet but the egg service was very slow and it was pretty busy as a lot of people were getting ready to go on their first shore excursion. We had to wait for eggs and tea – this ship doesn’t have tea / coffee stations so you have to wait for the servers to bring you pots etc. You don’t even make your own toast! Not quite the buffet experience we are used to LOL. Anyway, breakfast over, we headed down to reception to collect our Vietnamese landing cards and copies of our passports – they hold the originals for the duration of the cruise – to enable us to go ashore for our first excursion. This ship really is all-inclusive and that includes the excursions…not something we are used to…but it was nice to have it all organised for us.

Being a small ship I had visions of small numbers on this first tour but we were on a coach with about 24 other people – including Mo and Jo, two Canadian girlfriends who had come on this cruise whilst their husbands had gone hunting. Craig and Leanne (Australians we had met the previous day) were on this trip too. So all very social and jolly. This trip was the Saigon Street Food Experience and the first stop was the food market. This was interesting with a real diversity in the goods on offer – check out some of the fish offerings! Apparently there is no tax if you buy in the market but there is in the shops so people prefer the market for meat, fish and vegetables. But for everything else they buy it all online LOL.

We then headed to the Street Food market and enjoyed tasting some of the items there before being taken to a very nice restaurant for lunch. OMG they just didn’t stop feeding us. It was all delicious but way way too much… And all this food / drinks were free of charge and included in the excursion which was pretty impressive.

After lunch we boarded our coach back to the ship and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool as the sun had come out. Many of the cruisers stayed in the City and came back on the shuttle buses later but we had had enough so decided to make the most of the pool area. Was lovely, especially sipping bubbles whilst sat in the jacuzzi.

We headed back to our room and the leak had been fixed – and we were visited by an endless stream of officers to check we were happy with the service – yep no problems. The funniest thing was that Richard had left his best shoes by the side of the bed rather than putting them away in the dressing room – and has a result they had been polished for him whilst we had been out. Seriously LOL.

After relaxing for a while we couldn’t be bothered to go out again – especially as we weren’t really hungry – so we ordered room service. At this point the butler turned up and brought us a cheese board and champagne to enjoy in our room whilst we waited for dinner. So we sat on the balcony and enjoyed that. Then dinner was served by our butler who had set up our coffee table with a ‘topper’ and white linen – the works. OMG how amazing. Didn’t think I would enjoy being pampered like this but I could certainly get used to it. Richard tried to help the small Indian female butler but she shrugged him off – the table top was very heavy – so he eventually had to give in and let her do her job….. She was very happy with us – apparently because we used the magic words ‘please and thank you’. That made me sad that there would be people who wouldn’t even have the decency to be polite to her.

The ship stayed overnight in Ho Chi Minh city again – and we had another excursion the following day to the Mekong Delta. So Tuesday morning we had another buffet breakfast in prepration for an early start. At 8am we were off the ship and meeting our guide. This time it was in small minibuses and there were only eight of us on this tour. There were multiple other minibuses following a similar itinerary but we were kept apart and only bumped into familiar faces at the ‘rest stops’ where we got to use Western toilets LOL.

Anyway we had about two hours on the bus heading towards the Mekong Delta and it was interesting coming away from the sky-rise prosperous city into the country where the more familiar paddy fields came into view. Our guide was amazing and actually came from the farming area so gave us a real insight into their culture.

Arriving at the Delta we boarded a private boat just for our tour. Again there were other boats but they were all following slightly different itineraries so we would not invade any particular venue. We experienced lots of things getting on and off this boat during the day. This was precarious in places climbing onto the steps built into the river bank which were steep and without hand rails. I was quite cautious – you know my history LOL – and Richard made sure I was safe at all times. He was very attentive and I was grateful for his concern.

We first ended up at a honey manufacturer and, of course, Richard had to hold the bees! No way I was doing that….I just purchased some Royal Honey instead LOL. We enjoyed tasting the different products – and rubbing them into our skin – along with a delicious green tea.

Moving on we next went to a Snakewine producer and, of course, Richard had to try that too. I don’t know how his stomach manages to cope with the stuff he is willing to try on these trips LOL.

This was also an artisan workshop and we greatly admired some of the mother of pearl inlaid products they produced here plus the skill involved in using egg shells to make artworks. Just amazing.

Next stop was seeing how rice paper – for spring roll wrappers – was made. Very interesting. Then it was rice sweets, popped rice (think rice cakes) and popped noodles (think noodle cakes). Really interesting and informative. And we enjoyed tasting all of it LOL.

Then it was an artisan workshop primarily dealing in paintings and ceramics. Absolutely beautiful stuff. Then finally we went to an old house and our guide explained about the placings of the photographs – linked to status – and the significance of the shrines.

Afterwards we headed back down the river to a fantastic restaurant (which was part of a tourist resort) and had the most amazing lunch. Lots and lots of food, again, and all of it very good although I have to admit to passing up on the ‘special’ river fish.

After a leisurely late lunch we then headed back in our minibuses towards Ho Chi Minh. The traffic built and we got used to weaving in and out of all the motorcyclists. They carry everything on them, from fridges, to family groups, to pets, in fact just about anything you could think of. We even saw a washing machine going along…. There are special motorcycle lanes and it was scary! Can’t imagine how there aren’t more accidents – they buzz around inside and outside of each other with no signals or even brake lights. Just phenomenal to witness! The methodology for crossing the road in Vietnam is to walk straight and don’t make eye contact with them – they will go round you, but if you make eye-contact then it becomes a challenge to see who will wimp out first. I can guarantee that it will be you LOL.

Back on board, after a long day, I was struggling a bit after all the climbing up combined with the most uncomfortable minibus seats because they are built for small Asian people not Westerners LOL. Anyway, small price to pay for such an amazing experience! So I rested up for a while and then we got ready for dinner in the main restaurant which was just fantastic. Was fabulous along with great service and an abundance of our favourite wine LOL.

After dinner we headed back and had a pontoonie on the balcony before calling it a day watching the brightly lit dinner boats plying their routes up and down the river. Absolutely spectacular!

Wednesday morning we were ashore for the 8am excursion start. This was billed as the Saigon Discovery and we did enjoy the sights such as the historic French buildings, the Post Office, a Buddhist temple, the Opera House, and the splendid Hotel Rex rooftop bar. So here are a few photos of the day to whet your appetite. Thankfully this was on a full-sized coach so no problems with the seat sizes that day LOL.

Sadly it was over all too soon and we were heading back to the ship to prepare for an afternoon departure from the port. But not before we enjoyed more motorcycle antics which just made us laugh on our journey around the city. Ho Chi Minh city blew us away – wasn’t sure what we were expecting – but certainly not a buzzing metropolis with high rises (including one with a helipad) and a lively night scene…. It had been a real eye opener and a fantastic introduction to Vietnam.

Back on board we sat in the Panorama Lounge and enjoyed a sail away drink as we headed back out to sea. We then had another meal in La Terrazza before returning to the lounge and joined the sail away party and even indulged in a bit of dancing to the resident DJ. At this point we had a warning from the captain that we were going to be heading into a storm and to hold on tight….oh goody, looks like it might be fun! As we left the shelter of the river and turned left towards Da Nang the seas picked up and got quite lumpy. This was already proving to be a challenge to some of the other guests so the party ended quite quickly after and we headed to our balcony to enjoy the sea (and the rain)…

And that’s the end of Part 2 of our Far East Adventure. Come back soon for the next instalment.

Bye for now.

Jan

Adventure to the Far East – Part 1 Bangkok and the River Kwai

At 4am on Tuesday 7 November we left home and made the journey around the M25 towards Heathrow Airport. We arrived in good time and checked in on arrival with Singapore Airlines.

We then headed through security and had a good breakfast to set us up for the day. We boarded the first plane of the day at 8.30 am and settled into our nice premium economy seats and settled down for the 14 hour trip. Sadly the immediate neighbours were pretty inconsiderate and took up all the overhead locker space so we ended up with our hand luggage (admittedly not that big) under the seats in front. Never mind…. We had a good flight with great food (having utilised the amazing ‘book the chef’ option prior to departure) although the drinks service was quite slow – but we were happy to request more LOL.

We finally arrived into Singapore on Wednesday morning and found our way through the transit route towards our next flight to Bangkok admiring the indoor rainforest on the way.

We boarded at 9.30 am and found that the plane layout had been changed and our booked seats were different than expected – so we didn’t have great ones – and it was packed. We were relieved that this was just a short two hour hop so we just got on with it. At least the food and drink service was good. We arrived into the madness that is Bangkok airport and quickly cleared customs and immigration sighing with relief that our luggage made it through with us. We were supposed to be picked up by a private taxi but couldn’t find the driver with our name on (as expected), so made our way to the main taxi hub and there was our name on a long list. Eventually after lots of phone calls by the Thai taxi staff we were supplied with the private transfer that had been booked for us – which was a very nice Mercedes so all good.

We arrived at the Shangri La hotel in Bangkok and it was very nice indeed – we were very happy albeit very tired after such a long haul.

Sadly our room wasn’t ready so we headed down to the pool terrace bar to have a few drinks while we waited. At this point I realised that I was missing my jacket – I returned to reception who kindly checked the CCTV to find that I didn’t have it with me on arrival. Damn! Luckily we had the car driver’s number so the manager called him and asked him to return the jacket – yes it was in the car, and he would return it, but only if we paid for the privilege. This left a bit of a sour taste as we had tipped him generously on arrival and, although we would happily have paid him to return the jacket (for fuel / tip etc) but demanding a fixed sum was a bit much. I asked the manager what would happen if I refused to pay and the answer was, well you won’t get it back! Hmmmm….so we had no choice but to pay….and finally the jacket was returned. Not a great start!

While waiting for our room I tried to book the hotel’s riverside Thai restaurant for dinner but it was fully booked according to the app. So I walked to the restaurant – as I saw a woman organising the place for the evening – and managed to get a dinner reservation for 8pm. This turned out really well as they had local dancers performing in the restaurant that evening. Oh yes and did I mention it was raining?!? Really hot and humid with showers…. Never mind…..

We finally got to our room which didn’t disappoint especially the view over the pool and river – so had a restorative sleep and got cleaned up.

We then walked down to the restaurant for dinner and had an excellent meal and enjoyed watching the dancers. After dinner – as the rain had finally stopped – we wandered the riverfront and admired the views and the river traffic. But our bed was calling so we headed up and called it a day.

Thursday morning we had a fantastic breakfast – so much choice, particularly for Asian palates. We were picked up at 7 am by Tiger, our tour guide, and the driver. We were whisked off in our private minivan towards the River Kwai, enjoying the views along the way. Quite different in the country once you escape the madness of Bangkok. We visited the Jeath War Museum (Kanchanaburi) which was built on the site of one of the PoW camps and this was quite eye-opening. The terrible and brutal conditions these poor guys endured – it was amazing that any of them made it home. We also found out about the local Thai guys and their terrible losses too at the hands of their Japanese slave masters. Approximately 30,000 PoWs were involved in the construction along with 200,000 impressed labourers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singpore, Burma and Thailand. Of these more than 16,000 PoW’s and 100,000 impressed labourers died. An interesting start to our adventure but very sombre and moving, especially so close to Remembrance Sunday in the UK.

We then (carefully) boarded a boat (private again which we were surprised by) and motored down the river towards the famous bridge. The boat was pretty uncomfortable – no seats so sat on the floor – but we enjoyed the views as we meandered down the river.

Then the bridge came into sight and I admit to feeling quite emotional at this point.

We then disembarked the boat and walked the bridge. This is the original bridge built by the PoWs (from Ban Pong, Thailand, to Thanbyuzayat, Burma) and covers a distance of 258 miles. It is said that for every railway sleeper laid at least one person lost their life – a sobering thought – and explains it being known as the Death Railway (officially the Burma Railway). The bridge was bombed towards the end of the war and the flat section in the middle is the only new piece recreated – the rest is the original although the foundations have been encapsulated in concrete since. This is still a working railway and the trip was timed perfectly for us to watch a train cross the bridge. This was an amazing experience and we felt very grateful to have been able to visit.

Leaving the bridge we headed off to the Erawan National Park and had a local chicken lunch – which was very nice – and paid for by Tiger. All refreshments were supplied as part of the tour, including cold water, which was very welcome! We then got changed into our swimmers and started hiking up to the waterfalls. This was steep and tough – there are seven waterfalls in total – and we asked Tiger which was the best one. He said number three so we walked directly there. It was a tough hike for me (as I need the second hip replaced at some point) especially in the heat. But we made it and then went to get into the water and the minute we put our feet in we were being bitten by the fish! OMG… We found an alternative (and precarious) entry and made it towards the waterfall itself and enjoyed it but the biting fish darting at us left me slightly underwhelmed so we didn’t stay in the water for too long LOL.

We then headed back down and visited number two and number one waterfalls, enjoyed the views, but decided not to get back into the water. Arriving back to the car park we had showers and got changed back into our clothes in preparation for the next stage of our tour.

We then headed back to Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (DonRak) which is the main prisoner of war cemetery for victims of Japanese imprisonment while building the Death Railway. So many young men who are laid to rest here….very sad…. We left a Poppy Cross on the main monument and paid our respects.

After this we headed back towards Bangkok and rejoined the crazy traffic. Back at the hotel we got ourselves cleaned up again and headed to Jacks Bar on the waterfront which had been recommended by one of Richard’s friends. As we took a seat I realised that this may be a cash only place and we were out of Thai Baht at this point! So I asked whether they took cards and they didn’t – so we went for a wander and found a nice restaurant called Mazurro near by. We had a good dinner and then returned to our hotel for a nightcap (stopping at the ATM on the way). We went into the lounge and there was a singer and pianist entertaining the guests so we sat for a while and enjoyed the show before returning to our room for the night. Had been a very long day.

Friday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Our private transport from the hotel to the ship was at 12 noon so we got ourselves ready and headed to reception to await our driver. There were lots of other Silversea guests but they were being whisked away to the ship in minibuses – but, as we had booked privately, again we had a lovely Mercedes taking us. Was a long drive in the pouring rain!

We arrived at Laem Chabang port about two hours later but the driver didn’t know where to go…..the ship is quite small (in comparison to other cruise ships) so wasn’t that visible in the commercial port. We drove around, got some directions, and then as we drove past a turning I spotted the ship so told the driver and he turned around and got us there. We exited the vehicle – tipped the driver much to his delight and surprise – and were immediately met by cruise organisers. Our bags were whisked off and we went to formally register, get our cruise cards etc, and then boarded the ship (in the pouring rain again sigh…)

Our cabin was ready immediately and we were introduced to our cabin steward and our butler (yes, really LOL) so we quickly unpacked and headed off for some lunch (in the rain).

And that’s the end of Part 1 of our Far East Adventure. Come back soon for the next instalment.

Bye for now.

Jan