Up at the crack of dawn for journey to airport – very little traffic, plane on time and arrived in LGW then on to Travelodge. Back to LGW for flight to Dubai, where I had a 2.5 hour stopover and met up with Marie. Good flight to Singapore and then transferred to our hotel. We went out for a meal and as we were both shattered from the long flights, we had an early night.
Next day we went to Bugis Street Market – a huge undercover place sellling absolutely everything.. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Bugis Street was famous for its nightly parades of transvestites/transexuals, and was very colourful and attracted many people to the spectacle, but no longer occurs. Then we visited the Gardens By The Bay and enjoyed fabulous floral displays. Then as it got dark we watched the Light Show.
Next morning we transferred to the ship, arriving at 11.00am, was checked in by 11.15, and in our cabin just before midday – the most seamless embarkation ever! We headed straight for the library to borrow some books (no tedious queueing to sign them out and later back in – Princess trusts us!). Then we had a quick explore round the ship before going for a buffet lunch – as we were first on board, it was not too busy at this time. I was familiar with the layout as it was identical to P&O Ventura, on which I sailed last year.
Two sea days passed pleasantly reading and sunbathing and on the first night there was the Captain’s Cocktail Party before attending the evening shows. I usually like to attend the morning lectures, but these were on astronomy and black holes, which didn’t appeal. Likewise I found that the timings of the daily quizzes didn’t suit me – the morning one too close to breakfast time, the afternoon one would have meant rushing lunch, and the evening one was whilst we were at dinner. So no goodies amassed on this trip!
I had pre-booked an excursion in Bali or the two of us, (6 hours for £21), so we had a comfortable car. The day was slightly cloudy which was ideal for sightseeing as not too hot. We exchanged a small amount of cash for drinks and tips, etc. The currency is Rupiah and the rate on the day was $1 = 13,550R (Mickey Mouse money!), Our driver was friendly and chatty and told us primary and junior schooling was free, but they had to pay for secondary and university. Health care not too good – those who could afford it went private as although there was a public care system it was tremendously over subscribed. The rich went to Singapore for their treatment.
We visited the usual Batik factory, then Tirta Empul, the Holy Water Temple which is a very important religious site. Everywhere there were tiny baskets of offerings, comprising flowers, leaves, sweets, bread and in some cases small denominations of money. Next was a coffee plantation, which produced many varieties including their speciality ‘cat poo coffee’. The beans are ingested by a particular type of civet cat (like a cross between a domestic cat and a raccoon in appearance, very cute) then excreted and washed (hopefully VERY thoroughly!!) before being processed in the usual way. Next we went to see the Tagalalang Rice Terraces, then we visited Penglipuron, a traditional village of 500 families, with all the houses (mainly one-roomed huts) leading off a central walkway with grass verges each side. We were invited inside one. There was a small front garden dominated by a large – I suppose you could call it a sort of mausoleum. There was a door in the middle of the room, (which was abut 10-12′ square) with a double bed to one side and an open wood fire with a ‘hotplate’ on top for cooking on the other. There was shelving at each end for holding what few possessions there were. No windows, no lighting, but rather incongruously there was a small TV above the bed!
Two sea days followed with our usual regime of sunbathing and reading, me in the sun, Marie in the shade, with us meeting up for lunch. One of the perks of being Elite was a free Wine Tasting, so I went along one afternoon and spent a boring hour or so. Thee were 5 offerings (each about half a teaspoonful) – prosecco, 2 red and 2 white and before each serving we had the pretentious twaddle about how the vines had been planted at midnight on the north-east slopes under the watchful eyes of 12 nude virgins dancing in a clockwise direction, and subsequently harvested on a cloudy Thursday afternoon by specially chosen left-handed peasants. Before instructed to swirl, smell and sip we were told what flavours to expect, like ‘I’m getting oak and coconut and crisp apple’ – they might just as well have said ‘I’m getting wet dog with a hint of Domestos and an underlying tone of belly button fluff”……. They cost bet $48 and $64 a bottle, but I’d have been just as happy with the cheap plonk I like back home! To all you wine buffs out their, to each his own, and I respect your right to your opinions, so please grant me the same courtesy!!! The invitation I received for the second week, I generously (!) passed on to Marie. The first of the shows was the Crew Talent Show, which I usually enjoy as there has been a lot of hidden talent there, but on this occasion not so, and it was rather embarrassing. The following evening was a guy with a guitar who sand and played well and also interacted with the audience very amusingly.
In the early hours of 2nd March we crossed the Equator, so there was the usual King Neptune Ceremony held around noon. If you haven’t made the crossing before, you are known as a Pollywog, and thereafter as a Shellback. There was the usual antics of daubing willing participants with eggs and flour before being dumped in the pool. And of course – not to be missed – the kissing of a large dead fish.
Another private tour was booked for Kuala Lumpur, this time with a small group. It takes about an hour from Port Klang to KL itself, so I enjoyed the information provided by our tour guide. Malaysia is now a Federation, along with Borneo and Sumatra, since achieving independence from Britain in 1957, with a population of around 36 million, mainly Muslim and Hindu. Rubber and tin were their main sources of income but now most of the tin mines are closed so now they import tin from Mexico. Therefore fuel, electronics and tourism now provide their revenue. The Malay language is a mixture of 5 different languages, and they are tolerant of religion and religious practices although burkhas are banned but headscarves permitted. There is free medical care up to the age of 12, thereafter they pay on a sliding scale according to their income. Education is free and compulsory, although those who go on to university in Australia or the UK are funded on the understanding that they come back and serve for 10 years. Retirement age is 55, with a pension usually around half of the last salary. There is full employment and a good work ethic.
We first went to a huge, ornate Chinese Temple where you could have your fortune told by dropping a big bunch of numbered sticks into a container, and the one stick that protrudes from the rest gives your fortune. I am glad that I am not superstitious as mine was no. 13 and read thus:- Between the Deep Sea and the Devil. “When ill luck is in possession of the field, one cannot change the course of fate, just like a sailing ship foundered in a sand bank. For the old, all efforts made in the past will most likely come to nought, whereas the future still holds good and promising for the young. Guidelines:- a) Honour and Merit – Slim hope of success for the present. b) Marimony – Time inopportune. c) Health – Need careful treatment. Cause for concern for the old patients”. So, basically, I’m ****ed!!!
Next we visited the National Museum and the famous cricket pitch on Independence Square, where the Union Jack was taken down and their red, yellow and blue flag was raised on the talles flagpole in the world, measuring 99.6’ And on the subject of measurements, the Petronas Twin Towers are the tallest twin structure in the world (Burj Khalifa in Dubai being the largest single), There is a walkway between floors 41 and 42, connecting the two towers. Before that we visited Little India for the famous Central Market, and after that Chinatown before heading back to the ship. That evening was a Production Show, most of which I found disappointing as it just seemed to be random singing and dancing with no cohesion between them. But perhaps that’s just me.
Penang followed, and again we took a private tour, this time with another couple whom we had ‘met’ on CruiseCritic Roll Call. Ilike Penang, it’s a very clean place and we visited Penang Hill, a White Chocolate Factory (with lots of samples), the huge Kek Lok Si Temple, which is on several levels, plus scenic stops along the way and also a Burmese Temple with a reclining Buddha.. Our guide in KL also did tours in Penang and was very enamoured of a particular dish there that he encouraged us to try – Char Kyew Teow – so we stopped off for lunch and I tried and enjoyed it. (Freshly made before you and it was a noodle dish with meat and prawns and very tasty – with a soft drink it cost around £2). That evening show was quite underwhelming….balloon art. Interesting or 5 or 10 minutes, but that’s about it…
I’d also pre-booked a private tour to Phuket, which came next, .and visited yet more temples, a Honey Farm, Cashew Nut factory and beach. A very hot and sunny day, as were most of them. That evening’s show was a guy who played the trumpet and sang (not at the same time, obviously). I have to say that the entertainment on this cruise was not as good as I’ve experience before.
We were glad of a sea day to relax after 3 days of excursions, so the usual formula was employed. That evening’s Production Show again seemed to be a bit of a mishmash. Next morning we were back in Singapore – it turned out that our 17 cruise was actual a 10 day and a 7 day back to back. This actually turned out to be in my favour as I got a second lot of free internet (250 mins.. first time, 150 this time), plus another mini bar. This comprised 8 miniatures – 2 brandy, 2 whisky, 2 vodka and 2 gin (these I had changed to all whisky) plus 2 cans coca cola, 2 cans Sprite and 2 cans of Tonic (which I changed to all tonic for Marie), 2 bottles of beer, 2 bottles of water and 2 bottles of Perrier. As I don’t drink beer or much water, she had all those as well. (See, I CAN be useful as a cruise companion!). The ship had retained our passports on embarkation, so now we had to queue to get them back. Then go through Customs and Security. We had intended to get the MRT into town, but the covered walk was closed and there was a torrential downpour. So after hanging about half an hour in the hope that it would stop, we reluctantly decided to go back on to the ship. Unfortunately, due to Immigration regulations, we weren’t allowed back on board until 11.30, so passed a boring hour in the waiting area. Bugger! As it rained most of the day, we didn’t do much except sit and read. The show that evening was a comedy juggler (their description, not mine!). Next day was bright and hot so again we sunbathed and read. As here was a new contingent of passengers, there was another Captain’s Welcome Party with free champagne. Another Production Show was a repeat of one from last week.
Koh Samui was our next port of call and on this occasion Marie had tried her hand at booking an excursion, which was joined by 4 other couples we had encountered on Cruise Critic Forum. Not a promising start as our driver was not waiting at the appointed place. However, after a few frantic phone calls he duly arrived, saying he’d been waiting at a different place (allegedly!) We visited a couple of Temples – Wat Phrayai with the big Buddha and Wat Plai Laem, some look out points for photo opportunities, the temple of a mummified monk who had not decomposed, a lovely waterfall with a large pool suitable for swimming below it. This was also the starting point for the Elephant Safari and I was very saddened to see one large and one medium-sized elephant tethered by a chain with no more than 6″ leeway, and both showed their unhappiness by continually swaying their heads from side to side. If I had have been interested in an elephant ride, I certainly wouldn’t have, after seeing them like that. .Finally we spent time on an almost deserted beach before heading back.
Next day was Bangkok. I wasn’t particularly bothered about going there as had been twice before, but Marie hadn’t so I agreed to go along with her, and again booked a private excursion with a reputable tour company who guaranteed to get you back to the ship on time. It’s about 135km from the port, so a 2-2.5 hour journey. Our guide regaled us with facts and figures such as it was founded in 1782 by Rama 1 (current ruler is Rama 9) temperature usually 35-42 degrees, population of 9 million comprises of immigrants from China, India Burma and Laos. Housing is free for police, firemen, military and teachers. Particularly for traffic offences palms are greased and ‘no parking’ is ignored. We visited the Royal Palace, which is also a Temple, the 46 metre long Reclining Buddha, totally covered in gold leaf. In a different temple there is a Buddha made from 5.5 tons of solid gold. When it was discovered, 700 years ago, on the border with Myanmar (Burma) it was covered in plaster, but in transit it was dropped and a small amount was chipped off and then the gold was revealed. We had a short break for lunch then a boat trip along the river to see the Emerald Buddha, which was quite small. As parking for coaches is not allowed in the temple areas, it was a long, fast walk to our coach and I was totally knackered at the end of it. Traffic was horrendous we crawled for almost an hour until it cleared and our driver put his foot down. He was stopped by the police for speeding, but a ‘small brown envelope’ took care of the problem. We should have been back on board 18.30 but that time came and went, although we were assured by our guide that he had been in touch with the ship and they wouldn’t leave without us. (There were 20 in our group, don’t think we would have had the same leeway if on our own.). In the event we got back at 19.05 and we set sail shortly afterwards, Phew! Quick shower and change, then dinner. We decided to give the show, a comedy juggler, a miss and so had an early night.
I was glad next day was at sea, so I could relax as I was still tired from the ‘enforced route march’ of the previous day. Another posh frock night for the Captain’s Cruise Circle Cocktail Party, where I wore my Vietnamese outfit, and then another repeated Production Show.
The following day we arrived in Phu My, where most people took a trip to Ho Chi Minh City – still known as Saigon for many locals – but as we’d both been there before and didn’t fancy the 2 hour drive we gave that a miss. A independent complementary shuttle bus was provided to a nearby market called Ba Ria 45 mins. drive away, so we opted for that, but it wasn’t particularly exciting so were back on board by lunchtime.
A final sea day, then back to Singaporre where disembarked at around 10.30 (was up at 7.30) and took a taxi to Changi Airport. We did debate whether to leave our luggage their and go back into town but in the end decided to stay although our flight wasn’t until 9 pm. We went on the free internet, and looked at all the roof top gardens and then went to the free cinema, so the time passed quite well. There was a bit of a cock up with my requested assistance. I only wanted a buggy/wheelchair for the long walk from Departure Lounge to Gate. When presenting myself at the appointed place I was informed I had a wheelchair from the Gate onto the plane (about 20 yards!!!) but had to undertake the long walk to the Gate under my own steam! The person on the desk insisted this was what they had down for me so I had to make a bit of a fuss and explain there was a mistake. In the end a buggy and guy with wheelchair arrived. So there I am, sat on the buggy, with the guy holding the wheelchair sat beside me, until we reached the Gate and then buggy went of and he wheeled me on to the plane. Madness!
It was a hour flight to Dubai, then a 3 hour lay over, where I parted company with Marie as she was going to Manchester, then a 8 hour flight to LGW. There I had a 4 hour wait until my flight back to Spain, where Fred was waiting. Got back home at 18.30, so all in all I had been in transit for 39 hours, had a bath, quick meal and was in bed by 20.15 and slept until 10 am next day. As usual, another very enjoyable cruise, and here’s to the next one.