Photos to be added Apr 2019
Far East Discovery – Asia 2018 / 2019
It is not unusual for us to take until well after a trip to post a newsletter; therefore, this is a first for us. For this journey having effective Internet was problematic and rather expensive, so we decided the service when we arrived home was the answer; hopefully better late than never for this edition.
Tuesday 18 December 2018
We began this new adventure with a flight from Canberra, an overnight stay at Sydney Airport ready for our 9am flight with Singapore Airlines. The flight left on time and we were soon up and away to Singapore and then Hong Kong. After breakfast the cabin was closed down as though it was nighttime; some people slept while others read or watched TV during the eight hours. At Singapore Airport I was met with a wheelchair that turned out to be a very good idea – the distance to the lounge and then the aircraft was beyond my energy levels at that time.
Terminal Three at Singapore Airport was the largest, most spacious building I have seen in quite awhile. With glass used as the walls and roof, it was light and bright with extra wide walkways that allowed the crowds to move freely. Even though we flew out of the same terminal, it required a train ride and another long walk (ride) to reach Gate 38.
The flight from Singapore to Hong Kong was four hours. Thankfully, another wheelchair was waiting when we arrived; once again the distance from the aircraft through customs to the luggage carousel and then our car to the hotel was a long way. The drive around the water’s edge and then through the tunnel under Kowloon Bay to the Kowloon Hotel took half an hour. Around the Bay, the majority of buildings had Christmas light displays ranging from simple strings on lights through to the entire 70 floors of the tallest tower becoming a sound and light show. As we neared our hotel, the shops, hotels and street all were adorned with Christmas decorations including an abundance of pots of large red Poinsettias. By this time it was 10pm (1am Sydney time) and we were ready for a cup of tea and bed; accessing milk for the tea turned out to be a challenge that took some time to achieve.
At Sydney Airport there was lots of people walking about looking at / playing with their mobile phones; in Singapore and Hong Kong the majority of people were absorbed with their phones and less than mindful of what was happening around them.
Wednesday 19 December
After a leisurely breakfast we set out to explore the local area; we were met with crowds of people, the majority of whom were carrying shopping bags from high-end stores that lined the waterfront. The opposite side of the street consisted of small retail shops that look as though they had been built many years ago and not seen too much in the way of paint or repairs for quite a while. Pedestrian traffic was prolific, many of who crossed the streets with scant regard to the traffic or traffic lights – paying more attention to their phone rather than cars and people.
The streets were virtually devoid of rubbish and a street sweeper (lady with a broom) was busy sweeping up the leaves. There was a large park in the next block that provided some respite from the traffic and noise as we strolled along the pathways among the clipped hedges and formal garden beds. There were very few flowers, but the myriad of ferns, palms, bromeliads and shrubs were all the shades of green that you could imagine. The name, Victoria Park, was a reflection of plants, layout and statues from the era in which it was constructed.
Our Pearl of the Orient Tour began at 5pm when we collected from our hotel; we then spent nearly an hour driving around the area four times collecting more passengers for the tour. We finally arrived at the wharf for a Harbour Cruise on a Chinese Junk. Let’s just say, boarding the vessel on Kowloon side and alighting Hong Kong side of the Bay was made rather challenging by the swell; we had to step from one surface to the other when the crew decided it was safe enough to do so. Thank heavens we did not make the return journey over the Bay. The Christmas lights on the harbour-side buildings made dazzling displays.
From the Bay we were back on the bus and then meant to ride the Peak Tram to the Sky Tower; however, there was a 60-minute wait so the bus drove us up the steep roadway, having to wait for traffic coming down to give way so he could take most of the corners. Once we reached the Sky Deck we were able to walk to walk around and look out over the city from above; once again, the Christmas lights were quite a spectacle.
Our Tour ended when we were delivered to the Sky Tower, so we had the choice of taking the Peak Tram or a taxi back down. The queues for both were similar so we waited 60-minutes for the Tram in the hope of being able to have the view for the 7-minute ride down. Even though we were at the head of the queue, when it was our turn to board, we were pushed aside by those who decided they needed the left side seats of the Tram. We never learned to push people out of the road and we are unlikely to develop that skill set.
From the Tram stop, we caught a cab via the harbour tunnel back to the hotel rather than face the choppy conditions on the Bay again. A quick bite and then bed.
Thursday 20 December
We were collected from our hotel at 12.30pm for the transfer to the ship. Following the half hour drive from the hotel, we sat for two hours until it was our turn to board the Westerdam. The walk from Check-in, through the Terminal Building to the vessel turned into more of a marathon than anticipated. By the time we reached our cabin one of cases had arrived so it was time to unpack and then find some lunch. The blue suitcase was finally tracked down about 8pm – all cases are scanned as they are taken onboard and held if they contain any restricted items. My small electric jug, used to fill the hot water bottle, was confiscated for the voyage, but I was able to keep my surgical scissors; apparently there is a rule somewhere that restricts the blades of scissors to 2cm (not sure where that’s written).
The mandatory Emergency Drill at 7pm was a chat with basic information rather than the usual drill to demonstrate the passenger’s ability to correctly don a lifejacket. We were told not to bring the jacket to the drill. Given the time taken to ensure all passengers had assembled as required (a little like herding cats), I am pleased there was no emergency that required timely passenger reaction.
As suggested in the paperwork we received, John had spent hours and lots of $s trying to organise visas for each of the countries we were visiting. That turned out to be a totally useless activity and waste of money – the ship’s Tour Team organised visas on board once people nominated for the excursions or Boarder Officials came dockside and checked passports as we left the ship.
While cruising from Hong Kong to Singapore the “sea days” and “port days” tended to alternate, so rather than write a day-by-day recount of activities, we have concentrated on the highlights.
When we boarded, the ship was gloriously arrayed with Christmas decorations; trees large and small decked out in glorious ornamentation, hundreds of poinsettias larger than the ones we usually see, a range of gingerbread houses and figures baked and decorated in the kitchens. A number of guests had also placed small ornaments on their cabin door. We had taken some small items for our cabin that added a cheery note to our cabin.
Our Christmas Eve at sea was a lovely meal in the dining room followed by “A Night at the Ballet” at the Lincoln Centre Stage before going to the Mainstage to watch Katerina Rossi play her violin – an enjoyable performance. While walking back to our cabin we stopped at the “Billboard” Bar and listened to a beautiful rendition of “Bring Him Home”. After a cup of tea, it was back to Mainstage for the Ship’s Choir and their renditions of Christmas Music and Songs from their homelands. To complete our Christmas Eve, we attended Midnight Mass celebrated by a retired Naval Priest who had stepped off a plane and joined the ship half an hour before celebrating mass.
Our cabin was well set out with plenty of space, storage and seating; the balcony provided a lovely spot to sit and watch the world go by – when it wasn’t too hot to venture out there. Room service would bring pots of tea whenever requested, day or night. Our room steward made sure our suite was cleaned twice a day, our laundry was returned on time and we had fresh fruit every day. Each evening when we returned to our room we were greeted by an array of “animals” constructed using bath or hand-towels and a pair of eyes – a different offering every time.
What more could anyone wish for? This trip was a wonderful antidote to help recharge us both after recent weeks in Canberra.
To give passengers a range of options while at sea, different activities / Workshops were available; these ranged from sporting pursuits, swimming, gambling, music to suite diverse tastes, computer workshops, jewelry and souvenir shops, sightseeing options, insights to WWII in the Pacific, lots of areas for sitting and watch the world sail by, “Kids Club” as well as several bars that operated from 10am until late. You could be as active or inactive as you wanted to be.
Whatever food you could think of seemed to be available any hour of the day or night. The stern of the ship, on Decks 2 & 3, were beautifully appointed dining rooms offering an extensive a la carte menu with a comprehensive wine list. The Lido Deck consisted of several buffet stations arrayed with foods from around the globe. On the Pool Deck you could have pizza, pasta, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, tacos and salads from 9am to 11pm. Breakfast began most days at 7am or 6am if it was a “Shore Day” with Excursions leaving early. Lavish Afternoon Tea and Supper were served every day, just in case you were hungry between meals. In addition, there were two small “restaurants” that served Italian fare or steaks of any description. Needless to say, we ate well.
While wandering around the ship, I think we found six different bars all of which were open from early until late, usually with patrons imbibing all manner of concoctions. The Shops and Merabella Boutique (fine jewelry) were also open from mid-morning until late on the days we were at sea – the “Duty Free” prices were not really worth worrying about, so I saved my money. We needed to walk through the Casino when going to and from the Mainstage and it didn’t matter what time we passed through, there were always plenty of patrons utilizing the various options for losing and / or winning money.
The entertainment offered on the Westerdam was certainly diverse. The Mainstage held twice-nightly shows that were different each evening. The Ship’s Dance Troupe provided the show several evenings; these tended to have a theme e.g. “All for Love”, “Ever After” “Sound Stage” and “Playback”. Other entertainers included Katerina Rossa, Concert Pianist; Tomono Kawaamura, Violinist and Reuben Laurent, Vocalist.
Holland America in collaboration with the Lincoln Centre, New York contracted five classical musicians known as “The Piano Quintet”. The group and their instruments comprised of; Two violins (Sheng-Ching Hsu from Tainan, Taiwan and Marcin Makowski from Krakow, Poland), viola (Katie McKay from Perth WA), cello (Ruthie Cordray from Ohio, USA) and pianist (Pierre-Andre Doucet from New Brunswick, Canada).
The group provided a diverse range of music in a small performance venue, the Lincoln Centre Stage that seated about 120 people. These accomplished musicians presented three different sessions each evening; each a delight to experience. The first session we attended was “A Night at the Ballet” and began with the overture from the Nutcracker Suite – just perfect! We attended at least one performance each evening during the cruise. The final afternoon, the musicians held a “Meet the Artist” session where they answered questions from the audience. Such diverse characters, coming together from differing backgrounds (five different countries & three different first languages); making beautiful music together for the length of their contracts. Each member was selected through a different audition venue; once their contract began they selected the music and practiced until it was time to begin their time aboard the Westerdam.
On New Year’s Eve the premier of a BBC production “Planet Earth II” made shown in the Mainstage. The program had been produced especially for Holland America and seeing it on such a large screen added to the grandeur of scenery. This proved to be an enthralling hour of magnificent scenery and diverse wildlife across numerous settings. Rather than a commentary with the film, an original score played by the musicians from the Lincoln Centre as well as the Mainstage Band accompanied the spectacular story unfolding on the screen.
I managed to have a bout of dermatitis while on the cruise; fortunately, I had cream with me left over from the last bout. However, the skin irritation intensified and kept spreading, making it really irritating. A visit to the Medical Centre did not achieve a great deal Instructions from the Dr: Keep doing what I was doing and cut my nails so I don’t break the skin! It took me three visits and 10 days to convince the doctor to give me the tablets for a systemic solution rather than just a topical approach. Thank heavens for the tubes of Hydrocortisone cream I found in the shop; this was applied constantly during the day and night.
The day preceding each port, the Cruise Director spoke about the attractions of that port, gave information on accessing tours, currency and “words of warning” about eating and drinking while ashore as well as pick-pockets and agreeing cost of a taxi ride before the trip, rather than an inflated price at the end of the ride.
Another offering onboard was a range of Microsoft Computer Workshops – 40minute sessions that ranged from selecting an electronic device through to storage and photo enhancement. There were 14 sessions in total, with John attending more than half of them.
There was a range of options available at each port that were as diverse as anyone could wish for – strenuous through to more gentle activities. With the number of passengers participating in a vast array of excursions, the crew managed to send them all off with a minimum of fuss. No sailings were delayed because of stragglers returning late to the ship.
Excursions: Ha Long Bay Vietnam
After lining up in the theatre as requested, we waited for our number to be called; our group then made its way to the middle of the ship and down one deck to be loaded onto the craft that was taking us on the morning’s cruise on Ha Long Bay.
Thank heavens there was only a gentle swell so the step from the ship to the boat was not too challenging. Once boarded, we headed off in the mist to the caves. The number of water-craft made the area look like Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day; a large array of pleasure craft and working vessels all weaving their way through the traffic on the water. Many of the vessels were small to medium pleasure craft providing overnight cruises on the Bay and looked as though you could select a cruise from * through to ****** options.
The skipper of our boat miraculously made his way through the traffic without hitting another vessel, that was until we reached the unloading area. Dozens of similar vessels were all jostling to unload their passengers for the tour of the caves.
I climbed about a 100 steps up to the cave entrance and then a number down into the cave floor. The track through the cave was concreted and very easy, however there was a steep climb to get to the out door. The locals completed all the tourist facilities within 12 months, no lenghty DA process over here. We were able to pass through the dome cave with ease and had plenty of opportunity to take our photos.
From here we re boarded our boat and moved around the islands inspecting the different shapes and sizes.
I remained on the craft while most of the other passengers went ashore. The wait staff was rather persistent in their efforts to sell merchandise. After watching two women preparing chopped vegetable and prawn into rolls on one of the tables, I was grateful our excursion did not include lunch. Food hygiene standards left a lot to be desired and refrigeration did not appear to be available for the food.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon”. Administratively, the bay belongs to Ha Long City, Cam Pha City, and is a part of Van Don District. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone, which includes Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast, and Cat Ba Island to the southwest. These larger zones share a similar geological, geographical, geomorphological, climate, and cultural characters.
Ha Long Bay has an area of around 1,553km2, including 1,960–2,000 islets, most of which are limestone. The core of the bay has an area of 334km2 with a high density of 775 islets. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and seashore bio-system. Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.
Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistoric human beings in this area tens of thousands of years ago. The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhu culture around 18,000–7000 BC, the Cai Beo culture 7000–5000 BC and the Ha Long culture 5,000–3,500 years ago. Ha Long Bay also marked important events in the history of Vietnam with many artifacts found in Bai Tho Mountain, Dau Go Cave, Bai Chay.
500 years ago, Nguyen Trai praised the beauty of Ha Long Bay in his verse Lộ nhập Vân Đồn, in which he called it “rock wonder in the sky”. In 1962, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of North Vietnam listed Ha Long Bay in the National Relics and Landscapes publication. In 1994, the core zone of Ha Long Bay was listed as a World Heritage Site according to Criterion VII, and listed for a second time according to Criterion VIII.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Dau Go (Wooden stakes cave) is the largest grotto in the Ha Long area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th-century French graffiti). There are two bigger islands, Tuan Chau and Cat Ba that have permanent inhabitants, as well as tourist facilities including hotels and beaches. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the smaller islands.
Fisherman’s house, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
A community of around 1,600 people live on Ha Long Bay in four fishing villages: Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau and Vong Vieng in Hung Thang commune, Ha Long city. They live on floating houses and are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture (cultivating marine biota), plying the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes. Such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), Khi Islet (monkey), and Mai Nha Islet (roof). 989 of the islands have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and lizard also live on some of the islands.
Floating fishing village
Almost all these islands are as individual towers in a classic fenglin landscape with heights from 50m to 100m, and height/width ratios of up to about six.
After a day at sea I took the option at Da Nang to head south with our busload to the old town of Hoi An which was a fishing village over a 100 year ago and was an important trading post for visiting Chinese merchants. The Chinese built a bridge across the stream and it still remains today. The Old Town is now recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and little has changed over the past 100 years. Our tour group was taken over the Chinese Bridge to a local trading house, then the museum, a temple and the silk worm business that had everything from the raw silk worms to the finished garment. We were then given free time to wander the streets and be back at the bus by 11.15. Note all bikes are banned from the main street between 9 & 11am to make it easier to shop.
On the return journey we visited a marble business who manufacture every type of budder you could think of as well as table & chairs etc. The marble is quarried further north and brought to Da Nang for manufacture.
We stopped at China Beach on the way home to dip our toe in the water and witness the development. Soldiers here during the war would not recognised the surrounds except for the sand, the airstrip behind us is almost a waste land, long gone are the days when there were an average of 2,595 aircraft traffic operations daily.
The population of Vietnam is around 95 million and growing at a rate of 1 million per year. The average age is only 33 as a result of the war and the loss of many males, many of the aged female population find it difficult if they do not have families to look after them.
Da Nang is located on the coast of the South China Sea at the mouth of the Han River and is one of Vietnam’s most important port cities. As one of the country’s five direct-controlled municipalities, it is under the direct administration of the central government.
Da Nang is the commercial and educational centre of Central Vietnam, as well as being the largest city in the region. In addition to its well-sheltered, easily accessible port, Da Nang’s location on the path of National Route 1A and the North–South Railway makes it a hub for transportation. It is located within 100 km (62 mi) of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Imperial City of Hue, the Old Town of Hoi An, and the My Son ruins. The city was previously known as Cửa Hàn during early Đại Việt settlement, and as Tourane (or Turon) during French colonial rule. Before 1997, the city was part of Quang Nam-Da Nang Province.
On 1 January 1997, Da Nang was separated from Quảng Nam Province to become one of four independent (centrally controlled) municipalities in Vietnam. Da Nang is listed as a first class city, and has a higher urbanization ratio than any of Vietnam’s other provinces or centrally governed cities.
Most of the names by which Da Nang has been known make reference to its position at the Hàn River estuary. The city’s present name is generally agreed to be a Vietnamese adaptation of the Cham word da nak, which is translated as “opening of a large river”.
During the Vietnam War, what is now the Da Nang International Airport was a major air base used by the South Vietnamese and United States Air Forces. The base became one of the world’s busiest aircraft hubs during the war, reaching an average of 2,595 aircraft traffic operations daily, more than any other airport and airbase in the world at that time. The final U.S. ground combat operations in Vietnam ceased on 13 August 1972, when a residual force of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade stood down in Đà Nẵng. B Battery 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment fired the final U.S. artillery round and the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment finished their final patrols. This residual force was known as “Operation Gimlet”. After the US-withdrawal from the conflict, in the final stage of the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam, Da Nang fell to the communist forces March 29/30, 1975. Vietnam issued two special postage stamps to commemorate this event within its “total liberation” stamp set issued 14 December 1976
After another day at sea, I joined the tour group heading to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as it is still known by the locals. It was about an hour bus journey from our post Phu My which is an important dock servicing Saigon. A new twin road (I would not call it a motorway) has reduced the time by half an hour and only takes one hour now. We passed several rice paddies along the way and as we approached the city the building of sky scrappers was very evident. I am not sure how they service all this building with infrastructure of Roads, Electricity, Water & Sewage.
When we arrived in the city we were taken to the Museum to gain an understanding of the background & heritage of the country. A two story wooden building built around a water feature and with many windows in the old French style, was extremely well kept and all presentations were of a very high standard. I must say that it gave me great understanding of the culture of the people from the time when the north was populated by disaffected Chinese moving south. The people from around the delta of the Mekong River were from a different origin and farmed the rich delta area. Thus the distinction of North & South Vietnam.
After visiting the museum we were taken to the a local kraft shop for a presentation & opportunity to purchase items and then on to the top floor of a large hotel for lunch.
After lunch we were driven through the streets to the Cathedral and Post Office before a final visit to the Presidents Palace which was the Americans headquarters during the war. We were also given some free time to either visit the local markets or take a tour to the skydeck of the tallest building. I chose the building to take some photos of the city.
Phu My The real draw of the port of Phu My is actually 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, in bustling, frenetic Ho Chi Minh City. Here, motorbikes hurtle down the wide streets and crossing the road is like a real-life game of Frogger. Its hectic pace is somewhat tempered by tranquil parks, peaceful pagodas and timeless alleyways.
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating mix of high and low, old and new. On its streets, French-colonial architecture vies for attention with glistening modern skyscrapers; sleek designer malls sit alongside bustling local markets; and glamorous fine-dining restaurants are just around the corner from street-food stalls.
The best way to explore the city is on foot. Most major tourist venues are in compact District 1, which is easy to get around. Or hop on the back of a xe om (motorbike taxi) to see the city like a local. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll be swept along in the pulsating energy of it all.
Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of French Indochina from 1887 to 1902 and again from 1945 to 1954. Saigon would later become the capital of South Vietnam from 1955 until its fall in 1975. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after revolutionary leader Hồ Chí Minh (although the name Sài Gòn is still widely used).
Ho Chi Minh City is the financial centre of Vietnam and is classified as a Beta+ World City by Globalization and World Cities Research Network. It is home to the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange, the largest stock exchange by total market capitalization in Vietnam and the headquarters of many national and international banks and companies.
Ho Chi Minh City is the most visited city in Vietnam, with 6.3 million visitors in 2017. Many of the city’s landmarks which are well known to international visitors include the Bến Thành Market, Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, Independence Palace and the Municipal Theatre. The main passenger airport serving the metropolitan area is Tan Son Nhat International Airport, it is the busiest airport in Vietnam handling 36 million passengers in 2017.
After yesterdays excursion to Siagon I decided to have a quiet day and not leave the ship on this day, Gae was also staying onboard.
Some passengers took the short bus trip into the local markets and a lot of them just stayed on the bus and returned to the ship. They said it was too hectic & hot at the markets with far too many people to weave between.
Sihanoukville, also known as “Kampong Som”, is a coastal city in Cambodia and the capital city of Sihanoukville Province, at the tip of an elevated peninsula in the country’s south-west on the Gulf of Thailand. The city is flanked by an almost uninterrupted string of beaches along its entire coastline and coastal marshlands bordering the Ream National Park in the east. The city has one navigable river; the mangrove lined Ou Trojak Jet running from Otres pagoda to the sea at Otres. A number of thinly inhabited islands – under Sihanoukville’s administration – are near the city, where in recent years moderate development has helped to attract a sizable portion of Asia’s individual travellers, young students and back-packers.
The city, which was named in honour of former king Norodom Sihanouk, had a population of around 89,800 people and approximately 66,700 in its urban centre in 2008. Sihanoukville city encompasses the greater part of six communes (Sangkats) of Preah Sihanoukville Province. A relatively young city, it has evolved parallel to the construction of the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which commenced in June 1955, as the country’s gateway to direct and unrestricted international sea trade. The only deep-water port in Cambodia includes a mineral oil terminal and a transport logistics facility. As a consequence, the city grew to become a leading national centre of trade, commerce, transport and process manufacturing.
Sihanoukville’s many beaches and nearby islands make it Cambodia’s premier seaside resort with steadily rising numbers of national visitors and international tourists since the late 20th century. As a result of its economic diversity, the region’s natural environment, and the recreational potential, an increasing number of seasonal and permanent foreign residents make Sihanoukville one of the most culturally varied and dynamic population centres in Cambodia. Sihanoukville’s future will largely be defined by the authorities’ capability of a successfully balanced management in order to protect and conserve natural resources on the one hand and the necessities of urban and insular development, increasing visitor numbers, expanding infrastructure, the industrial sector and population growth on the other.
Despite being the country’s premier seaside destination, after decades of war and upheaval the town and its infrastructure remain very much disjointed and architecturally unimpressive. Infrastructure problems persist, in particular related to water and power supply, while international standard health facilities remain limited.
Sihanoukville also faces challenges related to crime, security, and safety with the city frequently being the focus of scandals linked to serious organized crime, petty crime, and corruption.
In recent years, Sihanoukville has seen unprecedented levels of Chinese investment into the city with numerous casinos having opened. Demographically, the city’s ethnic makeup has changed with thousands of Mainland Chinese workers, developers and investors settling in the city much to the resentment of the locals. Mandarin signage is increasingly replacing Khmer and English signage in the city and crime in the form of drunken violence and organized crime are increasing. Sihanoukville is one of the major cities on China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.
Laem Chabang is a port city in Chonburi Province and the closest port to Bangkok, Thailand. It includes tambon Bang Lamung of Bang Lamung District, the tambons Bueng, Surasak, Thung Sukhla, and parts of Nong Kham of Si Racha District. The town has grown up around the port, but also serves as a major stop on the coastal highway linking Pattaya and Bangkok via Sukhumvit Road (Hwy 3). The town is also known for hosting a Japanese retirement community with specialty stores geared towards them.
Our trip to Bangkok began with a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride into the city. Our bus hurtled along the highway at great speed; three lanes of traffic all trying to make their journey as quickly as possible in or on a range of vehicles that would probably not pass a road worthiness inspection, carrying more people than was probably safe. The rubbish along the highway was similar to what was in the waterways. People on motorbikes must have thought it too hot to wear any protective gear and the loads they carried often impeded clear line of sight. The road toll must be staggering.
Our elevated highway gave us a good look at the city with its shanty town in the foreground & high-rise in the background. And then the narrow lanes with all those power/data cables.
Lunch at the Ramada was followed by a visit to the Golden Buddha that required a climb up three flights of steps, then the removal of our shoes before we were allowed to enter the temple.
Our next stop was the flower market; enormous sheds containing innumerable buckets of fresh flowers that are renewed everyday to supply the local fresh flower market.
From the flower market, we walked across the road to the river for a River Cruise. Rather dirty looking water with all manner of river craft, many of which were sitting very low as they roared up and down so the water was constantly choppy. We spent the next 45 minutes up and down the river having many of the passing structures of significance pointed out with some history added.
Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres in the Chao Phraya River delta in central Thailand, and has a population of over eight million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over fourteen million people (22.2 percent) lived within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region at the 2010 census, making Bangkok the nation’s primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand’s other urban centres in terms of importance.
Bangkok traces its roots to a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century, which eventually grew and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of the modernization of Siam, later renamed Thailand, during the late-19th century, as the country faced pressures from the West. The city was at the centre of Thailand’s political struggles throughout the 20th century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy, adopted constitutional rule, and underwent numerous coups and several uprisings. The city grew rapidly during the 1960s through the 1980s and now exerts a significant impact on Thailand’s politics, economy, education, media and modern society.
The Asian investment boom in the 1980s and 1990s led many multinational corporations to locate their regional headquarters in Bangkok. The city is now a regional force in finance and business. It is an international hub for transport and health care, and has emerged as a centre for the arts, fashion, and entertainment. The city is known for its street life and cultural landmarks, as well as its red-light districts. The Grand Palace and Buddhist temples including Wat Arun and Wat Pho stand in contrast with other tourist attractions such as the nightlife scenes of Khaosan Road and Patpong. Bangkok is among the world’s top tourist destinations, and has been named the world’s most visited city in several rankings.
Bangkok’s rapid growth coupled with little urban planning has resulted in a haphazard cityscape and inadequate infrastructure. An inadequate road network, despite an extensive expressway network, together with substantial private car usage, have led to chronic and crippling traffic congestion, which caused severe air pollution in the 1990s. The city has since turned to public transport in an attempt to solve the problem. Five rapid transit lines are now in operation, with more systems under construction or planned by the national government and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
Bangkok’s districts often do not accurately represent the functional divisions of its neighbourhoods or land usage. Although urban planning policies date back to the commission of the “Litchfield Plan” in 1960, which set out strategies for land use, transportation and general infrastructure improvements, zoning regulations were not fully implemented until 1992. As a result, the city grew organically throughout the period of its rapid expansion, both horizontally as ribbon developments extended along newly built roads, and vertically, with increasing numbers of high rises and skyscrapers being built in commercial areas. The city has grown from its original centre along the river into a sprawling metropolis surrounded by swaths of suburban residential development extending north and south into neighbouring provinces. The highly populated and growing cities of Nonthaburi, Pak Kret, Rangsit and Samut Prakan are effectively now suburbs of Bangkok. Nevertheless, large agricultural areas remain within the city proper at its eastern and western fringes. Land use in the city consists of 23 percent residential use, 24 percent agriculture, and 30 percent used for commerce, industry, and government. The BMA’s City Planning Department (CPD) is responsible for planning and shaping further development. It published master plan updates in 1999 and 2006, and a third revision is undergoing public hearings.
The Royal Plaza in Dusit District was inspired by King Chulalongkorn’s visits to Europe.
Bangkok’s historic centre remains the Rattanakosin Island in Phra Nakhon District. It is the site of the Grand Palace and the City Pillar Shrine, primary symbols of the city’s founding, as well as important Buddhist temples. Phra Nakhon, along with the neighbouring Pom Prap Sattru Phai and Samphanthawong Districts, formed what was the city proper in the late 19th century. Many traditional neighbourhoods and markets are found here, including the Chinese settlement of Sampheng. The city was expanded toward Dusit District in the early 19th century, following King Chulalongkorn’s relocation of the royal household to the new Dusit Palace. The buildings of the palace, including the neoclassical Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, as well as the Royal Plaza and Ratchadamnoen Avenue that leads to it from the Grand Palace, reflect the heavy influence of European architecture at the time. Major government offices line the avenue, as does the Democracy Monument. The area is the site of the country’s seat of power as well as the city’s most popular tourist landmarks.
The Sukhumvit area appears as a sea of high-rise buildings from Baiyoke Tower II, the second tallest building in Bangkok.
In contrast with the low-rise historic areas, the business district on Si Lom and Sathon Roads in Bang Rak and Sathon Districts teems with skyscrapers. It is the site of many of the country’s major corporate headquarters, but also of some of the city’s red-light districts. The Siam and Ratchaprasong areas in Pathum Wan are home to some of the largest shopping malls in Southeast Asia. Numerous retail outlets and hotels also stretch along Sukhumvit Road leading southeast through Watthana and Khlong Toei Districts. More office towers line the streets branching off Sukhumvit, especially Asok Montri, while upmarket housing is found in many of its sois.
Bangkok lacks a single distinct central business district. Instead, the areas of Siam and Ratchaprasong serve as a “central shopping district” containing many of the bigger malls and commercial areas in the city, as well as Siam Station, the only transfer point between the city’s two elevated train lines. The Victory Monument in Ratchathewi District is among its most important road junctions, serving over 100 bus lines as well as an elevated train station. From the monument, Phahonyothin and Ratchawithi / Din Daeng Roads respectively run north and east linking to major residential areas. Most high-density development is within the 113-square-kilometre area encircled by the Ratchadaphisek inner ring road. Ratchadaphisek is lined with businesses and retail outlets, and office buildings also cluster around Ratchayothin Intersection in Chatuchak District to the north. Farther from the city centre, most areas are primarily mid- or low-density residential. The Thonburi side of the city is less developed, with fewer high rises. With the exception of a few secondary urban centres, Thonburi, as well as the outlying eastern districts, consist mostly of residential and rural areas.
While most of Bangkok’s streets are fronted by vernacular shop-houses, the largely unrestricted building frenzy of the 1980s has transformed the city into an urban jungle of skyscrapers and high rises of contrasting and clashing styles. There are 581 skyscrapers over 90 metres (300 feet) tall in the city. Bangkok was ranked as the world’s eighth tallest city in 2016. A result of persistent economic disparity, many slums have emerged in the city. In 2000 there were over one million people living in about 800 slum settlements. A large number of slums are concentrated near the Bangkok Port in Khlong Toei District.
We docked early and waited until 9am to be called to disembark. After quite some confusion we finally located our transport and made the journey to our hotel. As it was too early, we decided to walk down to Orchard Road and explore Big Bus options for the next day.
After checking-in and finding that in our room we had a shower over a very deep bath, we changed to a lovely room that had a separate bath and shower as well as sitting area in a larger room.
The first day on the Big Bus was to go Sentosa Island and spend a wonderful three hours at the SEA Aquarium.
Venture through the fascinating world beneath the sea as you explore the ocean realm of S.E.A. Aquarium Singapore, home to more than 100,000 marine animals of over 800 species, across 49 different habitats, each one as fascinating as the next. Get acquainted with the marine habitat as you meet magnificent hammerhead sharks, come face-to-face with bottlenose dolphins, discover sea life up close at the Touch Pool and watch the colourful fish, rays and sharks surround you in the panoramic Open Ocean.
Walk through tunnels while bull sharks and giant manta rays swim alongside you and over your head. Other interesting tanks contain cute seahorses playing in coral gardens and a selection of bizarre deep-ocean jellyfish. Children especially enjoy seeing the two bottlenose dolphins gliding through the water. The shark zone contains over 200 different types of shark, including endangered species like the scalloped hammerhead.
The S.E.A. Aquarium (South East Asia Aquarium) was the world’s largest aquarium by total water volume until overtaken by Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, China. It contains a total of 45,000,000 litres of water for more than 100,000 marine animals of over 800 species. The aquarium comprises 10 zones with 49 habitats. The centrepiece of the Aquarium is the Open Ocean tank with more than 18,000,000 litres and 50,000 animals. Until 2014 when eclipsed by China’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, it had the world’s largest viewing panel, 36-metre wide and 8.3-metre tall, which is intended to give visitors the feeling of being on the ocean floor. They also have a conservation group called Guardians of the S.E.A.A., which supports research, education and public engagement efforts to protect the marine environment.
The S.E.A. Aquarium houses the world’s largest collection of manta rays, including one of only a few giant oceanic manta rays in captivity. It also showcases 24 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, scalloped hammerhead sharks, the Japanese spider crab, and relatively uncommonly-exhibited species such as the guitarfish and the chambered nautilus
Some marine animals living in the S.E.A. Aquarium include:
|Strait of Karimata and Java Sea||Comprises marine fishes such as pompano, threadfin trevally, batfish, Napoleon wrasse housed in a shipwreck that sinks beneath a simulated Strait of Karimata on the lower-eastern side of Sumatra.|
|Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea||Features sea creatures such as leopard wrasse and blue flasher wrasses.|
|Bay of Bengal and Laccadive Sea||Includes endangered plants and animals along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, as well as garden eels, clown fish and reef lobsters.|
|Ocean Journey||Allows face-to-face interaction with the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. It is also home to the giant spider crab and many different species of jellyfishes.|
|Open Ocean||The open ocean is a big home catered to gentle giants such as the leopard sharks and manta rays.|
|Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea||Consists of a variety of marine life belonging to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, including the bluespotted stingrays, eight-armed seastar and sally lightfoot crab. Includes the Soft Coral Garden inhabited by reef fish.|
|Red Sea||Home to corals and many warm water fishes, like the fairy basslet, orange-lined triggerfish and longhorn cowfish.|
|East Africa||Simulates two freshwater lake habitats of Africa, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, which feature sea creatures like the frontosa and African tigerfish.|
|South China Sea||Comprises lionfish, an array of lobsters, squirrelfish and soldierfish. Specially featuring the moray eel habitat.|
|Shark Seas||Consists of various shark species such as the silvertip shark and the sandbar shark – one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.|
From the Aquarium we went to Gardens by the Bay and spent four hours exploring the Gardens as well as the Flower Dome and Cloud Dome. It was hard to realise that the Gardens were built on reclaimed swampland that took four years to construct and only opened in 2016
Gardens by the Bay is a nature park spanning 101 hectares of reclaimed land in the Central Region of Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The largest of the gardens is Bay South Garden at 54 hectares.
Located next to Marina Reservoir, Gardens by the Bay offers breath-taking waterfront views. This multi-award winning horticultural destination spans 101 hectares of reclaimed land, and is made up of two main areas – Bay South Garden and Bay East Garden.
Bay South Garden is the largest of the gardens. Inspired by an orchid, the design resembles Singapore’s national flower, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’. You can’t miss the massive Supertrees here. These tree-shaped vertical gardens are between nine to 16 storeys tall. Walk on the suspended walkway between two Supertrees to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the gardens. In the evening, catch the sky show of choreographed lights and sounds at the Garden Rhapsody amidst the Supertrees.
A forest in the clouds
Unique to Gardens by the Bay is the Cloud Forest. Within the enclosed compound, a 35-metre tall mountain is veiled in mist and covered in lush vegetation amidst the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Here, you will find plant life from tropical highlands up to 2,000 metres above sea level.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 158-year-old tropical garden located at the fringe of Singapore‘s Orchard Road shopping district. It is one of three gardens, and the only tropical garden, to be honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Botanic Gardens has been ranked Asia’s top park attraction since 2013, by TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. It was declared the inaugural Garden of the Year, International Garden Tourism Awards in 2012, and received Michelin‘s three-star rating in 2008.
The Botanic Gardens was founded at its present site in 1859 by an agri-horticultural society. It played a pivotal role in the region’s rubber trade boom in the early twentieth century, when its first scientific director Henry Nicholas Ridley, headed research into the plant’s cultivation. By perfecting the technique of rubber extraction, still in use today, and promoting its economic value to planters in the region, rubber output expanded rapidly. At its height in the 1920s, the Malayan peninsula cornered half of the global latexproduction.
The National Orchid Garden, within the main gardens, is at the forefront of orchid studies and a pioneer in the cultivation of hybrids, complementing the nation’s status as a major exporter of cut orchids. Aided by the equatorial climate, it houses the largest orchid collection of 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids.
Early in the nation’s independence, Singapore Botanic Gardens’ expertise helped to transform the island into a tropical Garden City, an image and moniker for which the nation is widely known. In 1981, the hybrid climbing orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, was chosen as the nation’s national flower. Singapore’s “orchid diplomacy” honours visiting head of states, dignitaries and celebrities, by naming its finest hybrids after them; these are displayed at its popular VIP Orchid Gardens.
Singapore’s botanic gardens is the only one in the world that opens from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every day of the year. More than 10,000 species of flora is spread over its 82-hectares area, which is stretched vertically; the longest distance between the northern and southern ends is 2.5 km. The Botanic Gardens receives about 4.5 million visitors annually.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens has been developed along a 3-Core Concept: Tanglin, which is the heritage core that retains the old favourites and rustic charms of the historic Gardens; Central, which is the tourist belt of the Gardens; and Bukit Timah, which is the educational and recreational zone. Each Core offers an array of attractions.
The National Orchid Garden is located in the Central Core of the gardens. on the highest hill in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The three hectares of carefully landscaped slopes provide a place for 60,000 orchid plants consisting of 1,000 species and more than 2,000 hybrids. The design concept presenting the display of plants in four separate colour zones: the spring zone with its prevailing colours of bright and lively shades of gold, yellow and creams; the summer zone with its major tones of strong reds and pinks; the autumn zone of matured shades; and the winter zone of whites and cool blues. A careful combination of selected trees, shrubs, herbs and orchids (mostly hybrids) with matching foliage and floral colours depicts the colour combination.
The time spent wandering through the Botanic and Orchid Gardens was filled with so many delightful sights that I cannot adequately describe the colours nor the plants of such diversity that I will leave it to the photos to give you just a glimpse.
We left Singapore the following day, Saturday evening 5th January and landed in Sydney 7am Sunday. A flight to Canberra where Jil and Thomas met us before our drive home after another magnificent journey and wonderful memories that add to the richness of our lives.