So, who forgot to remind me to take the ginger tablets?
With all the exhilaration of Hanoi and Halong Bay, rushing to put pen to paper, once on board, I, well known to have been born without sea-legs, forgot to take my ginger tablets. Although it was quite calm and didn’t seem to bother anyone else, it bothered me. Enough said. Now eating copious amounts of crystalised ginger and, after a quick visit to the ship’s medical centre to see the charming and handsome doctor – may just need a second visit – am taking anti-motion sickness tablets. The pills are working wonders. I feel fantastic once again. Back in the gym with Branco and making progress!
First day docked in Denang we chose to spend on board relaxing. As most guests had left the ship it was pretty quiet. Mind you, it rarely seems crowded even when sailing, as there are so many areas we are still discovering. If you want company, you can have company. If you want quiet contemplation, that’s available too: particularly in the Drawing Room. Think mahogany panels, country-house library, elegant sofas and armchairs, large marble fireplace, grand piano and refined décor. Located on the 10th deck, right at the top of the ship, not many people seem to make it up here so you can always be sure of seclusion. This is where I often find him. Languishing in a large high-back leather chair, head in an interesting book, or doing one of the ship’s daily Sudoko puzzles, relaxing and in his element.
Some guests had gone on excursions; made their own way into Denang or gone to one of the many beaches in the area. We just enjoyed a very quiet day relaxing on the sun deck, as we had an early start the next day – and we are not good at early mornings on holiday – on an Azamara excursion.
The choice of excursions available is fantastically varied and seems to appeal successfully to a wide audience. In Denang, for example, no less than 8 excursions were offered, including: cookery class in a Vietnamese restaurant; day trip to the Imperial City of Hue (140 klms); Danang tour by rickshaw; various trips to AnHoi, a beautiful town that retains its Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European ancient architecture; countryside by cycle and walking tour of AnHoi. All the tours are graded to give you an idea of the level of fitness required and, feeling a bit punchy after a few more sessions with Branco, I opted for the cycling tour, billed ‘strenuous’. He’d just have to keep up.
Our tour started with a coach ride into the countryside where we collected our bicycles. The group was a little larger than I would have preferred for a cycle trip, around 25. However, after we had all successfully negotiated the inevitable motorbikes to get onto the narrow country lane, everyone cycled at their own pace and we soon filtered into small groups. Well, I say, everyone went at their own pace: nobody was going to get the yellow cycling jersey, but it was great fun and a good way to see the countryside.
We cycled down lanes through rice fields and lush vegetation, passed thatched-roof structures, small-holdings as well as the occasional rather grand house. We stopped for a ‘photo opportunity’ at a very old village house where several generations of the same family were keen to share their home with us, smiled patiently and posed for photographs. The small grandchildren politely expectant with outstretched hands for treats. Clearly, this was a regular stop, though an interesting one.
A little further down the lane, however, something much more interesting was happening. In a large thatched village house a number of people were gathered, all wearing white garments, including bandanas. The smell of incense and smoke permeated the air and the sound of a mesmerizing low, deep, booming sound echoed through the small hamlet as one man methodically banged a large gong. Just as I was dismounting the bike, camera at the ready, the guide appeared from nowhere to hurry me along and explained this was a funeral wake. As it wouldn’t be the first funeral wake I have inadvertently gatecrashed I was glad of the tip-off, otherwise who knows what could have happened!
After the cycle ride we boarded the coach for Anhoi, a beautiful small merchant town with much of its architecture untouched by the ravage of wars. Here we visited a local silk workshop before embarking on a walking tour of the town. Lunch followed in a restaurant that had hosted the cookery class, voted a great success by those who participated. The cost of lunch was included in the excursion, offered a wide variety of several courses and the food was, quite simply, excellent.
Vietnamese food has been an unexpected culinary heaven. Having previously thought it mostly hot and spicy, I have been impressed by the delicate flavours and huge range of foods on offer. Of course if you want hot, there is no shortage of chillies served on the side or in sauces, but the real gourmet delight is the fusion of so many herbs and spices, as well as the amazing array of vegetables and fish. As a pescetorian (not a new zodiac sign, but a vegetarian who eats fish) this has been a particular delight.
On the way back to the ship, we stopped briefly at China Beach, famously used by the US marines for R&R during the war, where the clean, white, sandy beach stretched as far as the eye could see. Vietnam apparently has miles and miles of beautiful beaches just like this, currently unspoiled and undeveloped. Catch it while you can!
A really great day out, that just would not have been possible under our own steam.
We returned to the ship, tired but happy, cocooned in the knowledge we would be met by smiling staff welcoming us ‘home’, offered a cooling flannel, a glass of lemonade and greeted by name. Our cabin, as usual, would be spotlessly clean, fresh fruit and flowers on the table and we could order a restorative cup of tea from Room Service that would be delivered very quickly.
It has to be said the Room Service on the ship knocks spots off the majority of luxury hotels I’ve stayed in. And, what’s even better, it doesn’t cost a penny extra. Yes, another big plus point and we are only half way through the cruise.
Read Chapter 1: Introduction: Is a cruise going to be the right choice for me?
Read Chapter 2: We’re on our way! Hong Kong
Read Chapter 3: Down time onboard the ship
Read Chapter 4: Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Read Chapter 6: Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Read Chapter 7: Thailand: Bangkok
Read Chapter 8: Thailand: Ko Samui
Read Chapter 9: Singapore
Read Chapter 10: Azamara Club Cruises: the verdict
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.