Haydn and Drew's Holiday Blog

Join us on our trip around South East Asia. Details of our plans and updates on what we are up to will appear in the blog, so make sure you pop back regularly.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Air, Land and Sea – Travelling in Cambodia

Thursday 14th of September

Today was a day when we experienced the whole range of travel options, land, sea and air.

The morning began after yet another lovely night in the hotel in Siem Reap. We had breakfast at the Hotel. At 8.30 we were on the bus to the airport. The journey was only 30 minutes and we were back at the Siem Reap International Airport. We had a hours wait here, half the group had left the hotel an hour earlier than us and had flown to Phenom Penh, so we had to wait for the plane to return to take us to Phenom Penh. The place was a fascinating site. It was a 54 seat propeller driven plane that even I had to bend down to enter. It looked about 50 years old. Things got even more worrying when we took off, apart from the plane shaking as it took off, we then had what looked like steam entering the cockpit. Apparently this was an old fashioned style of air-conditioning, but it was quite scary The guy in the front seat almost disappeared entirely.

On arrival at Phenom Penh we were given a brief tour of the town, past a number of the historic sites and then we were taken to the Royal Palace area. This was well worth a visit, the palace area included a range of buildings which reflect the development of Cambodia from the time the capital moved to Phenom Penh, through the French occupation and beyond the Khymer Rouge days. The palaces were astounding. The Silver Pagoda, names as the floor is entirely tiled in silver, were great sites. All the time our guide reminded us how these objects had been saved from the Khymer Rouge only because the king remained held here in house arrest during the time of their government.

The guide had horror stories to tell us about the Khymer Rouge, the whole of Phenom Penh was cleared and people forced to go back to the agricultural areas to try and make a living. University Lecturers and other “non-contributing” members of society were killed. The guides own family lost six or seven members during this tragic period.

Following the palace we went to the Independence Monument, reflecting the independence from French colonial rule, and travelled to the Central Market, which is the busiest nosiest market I have ever seen with the exception of the Arab market in Jerusalem. (Incidentally this market is going to be in an episode of Casualty this weekend!)

Phenom Penh is a busy friendly city, not as modern as Siem Reap, but still somewhere I’d be happy to spend some time in the future.

We had lunch at a hotel in Phenom Penh and then drove the four hours from the Capital to Sihanoukville, where the Ship now was. The journey showed quite a lush well watered land, apparently it is like this during the monsoon (which we missed today) but not during the dry period. Many of the houses are build on stilts to avoid the floods that the monsoon brings.

On getting on board it was time to shower, change and be ready for the Martini time and Dinner, this was followed by drinks in the Casino Bar and bed at 12.30.

Food and Drink

Breakfast was a lovely buffet. Today the juice and fruit was followed, for me, by two eggs, bacon and ham with some lovely rye bread. Drew opted for sausages and bacon.

Lunch – yet another Cambodian Buffet, these was some lovely fatty pork dishes and yet again a range of noodles soups. Mainly however the food was similar to that mentioned yesterday. We both had glasses of Angkor Beer to wash it down.

Since our last visit to the Club Bar a new Martini had been added to the list as a special. This was Pometini, which as the name implies is vodka, dry vermouth and pomegranate liqueur, something I’ve not tried before, but was very pleasant. Drew and I both started with this. I then had a Flirtini, one I had tried before and Drew had a Mimosa – Champagne and Orange juice.

Dinner – Tonight I had a Prawn Cocktail, with an American hot sauce, to start, Drew had asparagus spears in puff pastry with tarragon butter sauce. Drew then had Oxtail Broth and I had Lentil Puree, again both of them were tasty. I then had a rack of lamb with green beans, garlic mash and sautéed red onions. Drew had opted for the Chicken Kiev with beets, pea pods and parsley potatoes. Both Drew and I finished off with Stilton. We drank a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with the meal and had a glass of port with the cheese.

We finished off in the Casino Bar where I had three large brandies and Drew three large Tawny Ports, I think we slept well!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Angkor – The heart of the ancient Cambodian/Khymer kingdom

Wednesday 13th of September

Having got to bed around 11.00 p.m. last night we woke up at 6.30 a.m. this morning in the lovely Sokha Hotel in Siem Reap. After showering (what a lovely powerful shower) and dressing We went to Breakfast at 7.00 a.m. (1.00 a.m. BST) in the Lotus Restaurant in the hotel (see food section below).

I must admit that when we agreed to pay the extra money to do this three day trip it was because I had heard of Angkor Wat but knew very little about it. Little did I know how much there was to see, or how impressive things were going to be here.

The Khymer Empire was at its height between 802 and 1220 A.D. a time when Europe was in what history has called the dark ages. The well developed, culturally rich, empire was at the time at the height of civilisation while we were going backwards.

The Angkor city includes over 200 stone buildings which represented the capital city of the empire including palaces, public buildings and accommodation for the king, his ministers and their support staff. At its height the city was 15 miles long by 15 miles wide but much of the city was wood construction which has not survived.

Angkor Wat is one of the temples in the City, more details later, where the ruling kings had their primary temple and palace. Hence the confusion in my mind that we were going to see one big building, not a whole range of sites until going to Angkor.

Angkor was overpowered by the growing Thai power in 1431, when Thai armies attacked and the Cambodians moved their capital (it took another decade to finalise the move to Phenom Penh then in the centre of the country) and kings palaces, in the following year they abandoned Angkor which was left to decline. The name of the current town in this area, Siem Reap, means Siamese (Thai) town. What happened between the end of Angkor and start of Siem Reap is best told in the words of this website

Angkor was forgotten for a few centuries. Wandering Buddhist monks, passing
through the dense jungles, occasionally came upon the awesome ruins. Recognizing
the sacred nature of the temples but ignorant of their origins, they invented
fables about the mysterious sanctuaries, saying they had been built by the gods
in a far ancient time. Centuries passed, these fables became legends, and
pilgrims from the distant reaches of Asia sought out the mystic city of the
gods. A few adventurous European travellers knew of the ruins and stories
circulated in antiquarian circles of a strange city lost in the jungles. Most
people believed the stories to be nothing more than legend however, until the
French explorer Henri Mouhot brought Angkor to the world's attention in 1860.
The French people were enchanted with the ancient city and beginning in 1908
funded and superbly managed an extensive restoration project. The restoration
has continued to the present day, excepting periods in the 70's and 80's when
military fighting prevented archaeologists from living near the ruins.

The temples were places not for the worship of the kings but
rather for the worship of god. Precisely aligned with the stars, constructed as
vast three dimensional yantras and adorned with stunningly beautiful religious
art, the Angkor temples were instruments for assisting humans in their
realization of the divine.

Jayavaram VII, spoke of his intentions
in erecting temples as being:

“full of deep sympathy for the good
of the world, so as to bestow on men the ambrosia of remedies to win them
immortality….By virtue of these good works would that I might rescue all those
who are struggling in the ocean of existence.”

Having got onto the tour bus at 8.00 a.m. we first went to the temple of Ta Prohm.

In many ways Ta Prohm is more striking than any of the temples. Unlike the other temples at Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left as it was found, the tropical forest and the building have become so linked over the years that to move one would lose the impact of the other. I hope this is shown in our photos where the link between the live trees and the old stone is magnificent. The temple was built in them late 1100s by King Jayavarman VII in honour of his mother’s death and was a Buddhist Temple and significant university in the city.

The second temple we visited was Bayon which is another built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII but this time later in his reign in the mid 1200s. The most significant thing about Bayon is the many faces inlaid into the building. The guide told us these symbolised the four faces of life (but I didn’t get what those four characteristics were. They may well have been designed to represent the face of the king. This was also designed during the Buddhist period in Angkor, but some of it was amended early in the next century by one of the Hindu kings.

As we moved through the temples the temperature in the 80s is less of an issue than the Humidity - 93% - which means that even your sweat starts to sweat!!

Next it was on to the Terrace of the Leper King – this is named for a statue that was found on the site in the 16th century and made people think it was of a leper. However the original statue was of the Hindu God Yama which had deteriorated over the time that Angkor was empty.

Next to this terrace was the Terrace of the Elephants, this is where the king would oversee his armies and meet with overseas visitors. The details of this part of the complex of Angkor Thom (the great city) is known because Chinese diplomats visited the king here and wrote a detailed account of the decoration which was finer than any of the cities known to the Chinese. The stone that remains is nothing like the decorated and embellished home and palace fit for a great king that this diplomat records.

Having passed through the gates of Angkor Thom we went to the Angkor Tonie restaurant for lunch. The monsoon arrived soon after we got into lunch.

This afternoon it was out to see the most famous of the sites at Angkor – Angkor Wat:

Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaram II,
honours the Hindu god Vishnu and is a symbolic representation of Hindu
cosmology. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its
five inter-nested rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and
the cosmic ocean. The short dimensions of the vast compound are precisely
aligned along a north-south axis, while the east-west axis has been deliberately
diverted 0.75 degrees south of east and north of west, seemingly in order to
give observers a three day anticipation of the spring equinox.

For more on Angkor Wat see the Wikipedia entry. While the rain poured down, we hardly noticed due to the amazing sites of this temple. I would put this on the must see list of anyone who is planning a holiday in the next few years. Its impact is phenomenal.

At about 4.30 we headed back to the Hotel for an evening meal and Apsara dancing. The Cambodian version of the dance mixes the Thai and Indian styles of dancing

A brief visit to the bar and it was bed at 10.30 p.m.

Food and Drink

Breakfast was an excellent buffet, with a wide range of European and local dishes. I opted for Orange Juice, Grapefruit Juice and Pineapple Juice followed by fresh fruit (papaya, water melon, melon and pineapple) and then Bacon and Sausages. Drew had a little less juice than me, but added Hash Browns to his cooked food. As usual this was supplemented by Coffee for Drew and Tea for me.

At lunch we were at a Restaurant in the Angkor complex. Yet again it was a buffet – there was nothing special about the food at lunch. The dishes were more like Chinese food than Cambodian food, but as we had had a good breakfast this didn’t matter. Drew washed it down with a ‘Angkor Beer’ I had a water.

The restaurant at Angkor was not brilliant and the toilet there was even worse, not only was the flush intermittent, but the toilet roll was so thin it was unusable. I’m so glad that from the age of 7 my mother always got me to pack toilet roll for my travels – while as I’ve got older it has migrated to kitchen roll – it came in very handy indeed this lunch time!!!

Dinner this evening was amazing. The range of food, including a whole cow cooked in a clay oven, was amazing. Having had a starter made up of Cambodian Spring rolls (very spicy like the Vietnamese version yesterday) and some noodle salad with chilli and ginger, I decided to try the noodle soup. This is managed like an Omelette station. i.e. there is a large pot of stock boiling away, you then select vegetables (I went for bean sprouts, pak choi and cabbage) and meat, beef for me, and this is then put in the stock (in a device, which I’ve seen in kitchen shops but did not know the use for, which has a handle and is like a thin pointy strainer) to cook. It then is served with some of the stock and spices can be added. Wow this noodle soup was beautiful. Drew had the same with a slightly different mix of ingredients. I couldn’t resist having some of the beef from the whole cow, how tender it was. This was accompanied by oyster and shitake mushrooms, fried rice (again a lovely spicy Cambodian version of the dish) and stir-fried noodles. I joined Drew in an Angkor Beer for the meal.

We had three G&Ts in the bar before bed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Safely out of Thailand

Just to confirm to those of you following the blog that we left Bangkok in the early hours of Tuesday. Thus we were not there at the time of the Coup. Indeed last night everything was entirely normal with no troops on the streets even though we passed close by Government House last night on our way to the airport.

More updates on the last five days will appear between now and the weekend, but I thought it was worth letting people know we are now safely back.

Good Morning Vietnam

Tuesday 12th September

After an extra hour in bed caused by turning the clocks back an hour to arrive at Vietnam time we got up at 6.00 a.m. (Midnight UK time) and after a shower went to Breakfast at 6.30 ready to leave the ship at 7.30 for our day’s tour followed by travel to Cambodia.

As someone for whom the Vietnamese war is ancient history and who only has an old memory about people flying out from the US Embassy, now demolished, on the last day of the war in 1975 (when I was 17), Vietnam is not as clear a memory as it was for instance for the guy in our neighbouring cabin on the ship served with the US army in South Vietnam, as the US puppet state, created to try and halt the onward movement of Communism, was called.. For me it is the images of ‘Full Metal Jacket’, ‘Rambo’ and ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ that informs my limited views of the history of those days.

The current Peoples Republic of Vietnam has, with China, that strange mix of one party rule in an otherwise highly capitalistic social model. So communist party by Government, but very unmarxist in the survival of the fittest model used in economic development. This was very evident when we arrived in the country with a large number of small competing stores and services.

The ship docked at Phu My, where the Mekong river meets the South China Sea. This is about two hours down river from Ho Chi Minh city, Saigon. This part of Vietnam was from the 9th to the 16th century firmly part of the Khymer Empire (now Cambodia) the town, later City, at the last easily crossed section of the river before the Mekong delta becomes a swamp was called Funan, which with the gradual arrival of Vietnamese people moving south into the area became known by the name it is still called by the locals – Saigon.

The French arrived here in the 1850’s and created a city centre which looks and feels like the wide boulevards of Paris. It was at this point that Saigon formally became part of the French providence of South Vietnam. Only in 1975 did the city come under formal Vietnamese rule, and was renamed Ho Chi Minh city after the founder of the Vietnamese revolution. While formal documents call it Ho Chi Minh city all its inhabitants refer to it as Saigon.

Having travelled along the river towards Saigon. The first thing that strikes you is the hustle and bustle of small shop-keepers and garage owners along the route. That and the ubiquitous motor-bikes are the memorable sounds of Vietnam. The friendly people, ready to wave at passers-by, were radically different from the glowering communist peoples of countries in Europe (former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, USSR etc.) that I had visited in their Communist days.

The second thing that came to me as a surprise is that the Vietnamese language, though similar in sound and tone to Chinese and other South-East Asian languages uses a Latin alphabet. We found later in the day that this was because when the language was first written down, this was undertaken by a Belgian philologist who used Latin characters to transcribe the language. Therefore unlike some of the other places we visit on this trip, we have a better chance of guessing the pronunciation of Vietnamese words.

Our guide, Hai (pronounced like the English Hi), proved a fount of knowledge and personal experience. His own family had fallen apart due to the Vietnamese war, with his father being a member of the support team at the US airforce base in Saigon, and his mother being a nurse who was a strong, though silent (for fear of her life), supporter of Ho Chi Minh and the liberation movement of the Viet-cong. Post liberation his father had left for the countryside, and later died, and his mother became an active supporter of the Communist parties effort to reform South Vietnam. Disillusioned she is now an active member of her Buddhist Pagoda (Temple) and prays for long periods every day for her family and country. Hai, the eldest in his family, supports his younger brothers and sisters as there is no ‘social security’ for elderly or children in the country.

We arrived in Saigon and were taken to the Vietnamese National History Museum. Unlike the national history museum in KL a few days ago which focussed on representations of live styles, this museum was much more like a traditional museum telling the history of the Mekong Delta from the early stone and bronze age inhabitants right up to the recent Vietnamese history. The history was repeated in Vietnamese and English and made for a great overview of a fascinating development. One of the specialities of Vietnamese culture is the pageants of Water Puppets, during our visit to the museum we had thirty minutes of this puppetry, which sounds pretty naff, but turns out to be entertaining, and to tell the story of river peoples life without the need for words. Well worth the visit.

From the National History museum we went on to a photo opportunity outside the former South Vietnamese Presidential Palace, now called the reunification palace, which included the original tank which broke into the palace grounds on the last day of the war.

Next we travelled to China Town, a bustling part of Saigon where we visited the Thien Hau (Sea Goddess) temple. It had started to rain, so we were given pac-a-macs, given that Chinese temples have areas where the rains can fall (a blessing from god in their culture)n it was equally wet inside and outside the temple. Having seen similar temples in Penang and KL this one was not significantly new or different, but still worth a visit to see the impact of Chinese people and communities across the whole of this region.

From China town we went to a Lacquer factory to see the production process of this significant export item for Vietnam, this allowed the American’s among us to spend lots of money on artistic items. We just looked and walked on.

This was out first encounter with another feature of Saigon the street merchant. Getting off, and back on to, the bus we were greeted by adults and kids of all ages trying to sell postcards, books, cheaper lacquer products. The sound of ‘one dollar’ only ‘one dollar’ or two for a dollar, or as you were just to get on the bus ‘mister even three for one dollar’ was a feature it was hard to block out of the experience in Vietnam and in the following days in Cambodia.

Leaving the Lacquer factory we drove past the old US Embassy, now demolished, and on to the old French centre of Saigon for pictures of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is a mirror image of the Cathedral of the same name on the Seine, and the Post Office which is in French colonial style.

We then transferred for lunch to a lovely five star restaurant where the Vietnamese food (See below) was accompanied by a lovely dancing group doing traditional Vietnamese dance. To the untutored eye this looks more gentle, elegant and somehow fragile compared to the more robust dancing seen in the Thai/Khymer versions of such dancing.

After lunch the torrential rain continued and therefore the two post lunch photo-ops (City Hall and Binh Tay Market) were skipped. The guide hoped that the heavy monsoon rains, which had now come in the afternoon in the last three stops, would finish before we had to leave. However it seemed to be in for the night. He did take us to a liquor store, where one of the American couples asked him to buy snake wine for them, the photos tell the story, luckily we did not have to drink it!!

We were however able to visit the Rex Hotel, where for most of the years of the war, the US military press would give positive updates about the war, and then got very drunk. We only had one drink at the Rex, and while some of the American tourists got wet getting out to the surrounding shopping district, we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed the views.

From the Rex we went to Saigon airport, built by the US and another famous site of the Vietnamese war, and travelled on Vietnamese Airlines to Siem Reap in Northern Cambodia. The flight was 45 minutes and the plane was a modern airbus plane, so the flight was without incident.

Reflections on Vietnam, a much nicer place than I or Drew were expecting, with lovely people. Both of us think we would like to visit again with a little more time to stay to get even more into this gentle friendly society.

Having arrived at Siem Reap we got on to another coach with a new guide, Paul, who would be with us for our trip around the ancient city of Angkor (of which the modern town of Siem Reap is a part). We were all astounded to see the large number of modern hotels as we entered Siem Reap, you could have been on the strip in Vegas! I was not the only one who had expected the hotel to be basic, to describe it at best, but it turned out to be fantastic. The hotel we stayed in was the Sokha Hotel. A chain with two other hotels in Sianouckville (where the ship will dock in two days time) and Phenom Penh. For me it was nice to have a bed which didn’t move up and down in the night. While I had got used to sleeping at sea, I was still finding it hard to get off to sleep, as you would think the bed was moving away from you and jerk thinking you were missing it. The only nights I got to sleep quickly on ship were those where alcohol aided the sleep process. So these nights on solid ground were welcome.

The greeting to the hotel was fantastic, the room superb and the bar staff astounding. In particular the Cambodian staff seem to have thighs and calves that are super human. In delivering a drink to a table them get down on their haunches and service the drink from a posture below the eyeline of us sitting at the table. While I had seen Thai people doing this by getting down on their knees I had never see it with someone balancing on their calves and thighs. I don’t know what was my greatest temptation – to ask to help them up, or to poke their foreheads to see how well balanced they were. I managed to refrain from both.

Food and Drink

Given the early departure we could not have breakfast in the Club Restaurant, so went to the Panorama Buffet instead, this was our first visit to the Buffet for Breakfast, there is something not as nice about making your own selection as there is about ordering from a menu, so instead of our exciting breakfasts we had a glass of juice each and some fruit. While there was cooked breakfast items available they were swimming in grease in their pans, so we didn’t have any. We didn’t even bother with tea or coffee.

Lunch – This was a buffet lunch, but was completely Vietnamese in style this included Cha gio, which are a much spicier version of the spring roll familiar from Chinese restaurants, there was also Pho which is a rice noodle soup cooked with vegetables and plenty of hot chillies, both made for a very warming dish. Best of all is the range of noodle salads, all on the hot end of spicy which mixed a lot of fresh local ingredients together with chilli, black pepper and cardamom or coriander. One of the best dishes was made from lotus stems, prawns and peanuts – I didn’t catch the name, but both of us caught our breath when we realised how spicy it was. Drew had a bottle of the local beer (333) and I had a diet coke with the meal.

Drinks at the Rex – Drew retried the local beer – 333 while I had a bottle of sparking water.

Dinner in Siem Reap – This was again a buffet, and this time it had US style food for those who didn’t want to try local food, Drew and I were both wanting to compare Khymer food with that of Vietnam. Like Vietnam, the food is well spiced, and the flavours are not overpowering, but significant. The flavours used are different from Thai food with its emphasis on Lemon Grass and Ginger, and tends to use more individual flavours for various dishes, so none could be described as a curry, but many individual dishes would use Cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric and other curry spices, to add warmth and depth to the flavours. Cambodian food clearly likes using fresh ingredients and whether it was meat, noodles, pak choi, other greens or rice the food tasted fresh. We eat so well mentioning individual dishes would take to long. Drew had Beer (Angkor Beer) with dinner and I had a Perrier water. Afterwards in the bar we had a few (three) Gin and Tonics each, before heading off for a peaceful nights sleep.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The South China Sea

Monday 11th September

Today was a sea day, I guess you sub-consciously plan this into your system when drinking the night before. It was a heavy night meaning we waited until 8.00 a.m. to do Breakfast. We tried the internet to catch up on the previous few days, but there was a notice on the door saying we were out of range of the ship’s communication satellite. I suspect this may be weather related, as rain and thunder broke in to the day on and off.

At 10.30 a.m. (3.30 a.m. BST) we had a briefing meeting for the people who were going off on the Vietnam/Cambodia trip, this gave us a briefing on what we were able to pack, what weather to expect, whether to change money or not (not both countries welcome dollars). It also meant we knew what we were able to take in hand luggage – razors for example that we would not get on US or European flights. According to Mr Anh, the tour operator, this is because no one is trying to bomb Vietnam or Cambodia, so the security is less significant. He wasn’t joking, we only once had our bags put through a screening device, and I forgot to put my clock into my bag from my pocket and still got a all-clear from the scanning machine!! Still it was useful and avoided us having to take a heavy case just for three days change of clothes.

We don’t normally do lunch but Drew fancied a Hot Dog, so we went up to the Barbeque station at 1.00 p.m. (6.00 a.m. BST) and each had a Hot Dog with some soda water.

Much of the afternoon was spent lounging, sleeping and reading, Drew occasionally laid out on the Balcony. That was to hot for me so I stayed in the air-con and when the rains came Drew also came in.

At 5.00 p.m. when the laundry came back we packed for the trip tomorrow. Then at 6.30 we went down for cocktails. All of the gang had decided to visit Sabatini’s I’d assumed they were going while we were off the ship, so we had gone earlier, but they had planned tonight, so we agreed to join them. We enjoyed it so much last time we certainly were happy to go again.

Bed by 11.30 p.m. tonight as we head for Vietnam we get an extra hour in bed as Vietnam, though East of Malaysia and Singapore is an hour earlier than them. This new time will not be the time for the rest of the trip until we return home.

Food and Drink

Breakfast – The usual juices, fruit, tea and coffee followed by eggs and bacon for Drew and Huevos Rancheros for me. The huevos was essentially an Omelette with Monterey Jack inside, with a side of refried beans and tomato salsa, nice but needing some Tabasco to make it realty spicy.

Martinis – We met with Peter, Jean, Gareth, Hazel, Frank and Audrey for pre-dinner drinks. Following Lucas’ (the Martini bar man who was covering the other bar last night) advice that there was an even better cocktail – this one called the Beverly Hills Ice Tea, essentially the same alcohol as the other Ice Tea, but this time the drinks were all the classy versions, the ancho tequila, the best gin (Bombay Sapphire), the best Vodka (Grey Goose) etc, and finished off with a splash of champagne rather than a splash of coke. Very nice indeed. We then had a Cosmopolitan each before going up to dinner.

Dinner – I won’t repeat all the lovely food that Sabatini’s offers, you will find the details on the earlier Sea days. This time I opted for the Fish soup instead of the Minestrone, it was more fish than soup, very tasty. Both of us had a mix of langoustine, crab and lobster for our main course. Yet again a lot of food but this time we paced ourselves better, so were not as overawed by the quantity of food. Though the others had been warned at least two of them (you know who you are!!) were not actually able to eat their main course. Only one of us could manage a Dessert (well done Jean, hope you run it off before you do the New York Marathon). We shared 3 bottles of Gavi De Gavi and 6 Chiantis around the table. A lovely, lovely meal, with excellent service.

The Sling in Singapore (aka the day without the camera)

Sunday 10th September

A bit further down the Straits of Malacca and we have arrived at Singapore, this is the furthest South we go on this trip, now we are 214 miles south of Port Kelang and only 85 miles North of the Equator.

We woke at 6.00 with the pilot boat coming aside and the pilot climbing onto the ship, he was arriving on our side, so the noise woke us. We went down to Breakfast at 7.10 and by the time we got back to the cabin we had docked.

Having missed Mass last Sunday I’d tried to find out if it was going to be possible to get to Mass today. The problem with Mangalore last week was that I’d already booked a day trip, plus was not confident to get off the boat and try travelling on my own in a place I’d not visited before. This time I’d used the web to find that the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was very central to Singapore city centre, and therefore would be easy to get to. Given the mixed population of Singapore most of the Masses in the Cathedral were in English, so having seen there was a Mass at 10.00 a.m. that became my first objective of the day.

Drew stayed on board the ship and did the sunning and gyming thing while I got off at 8.00 a.m. as soon as the gangway had been opened. Having changed Money into Singapore Dollars at the Ferry Terminal I went to look for a detailed map of Singapore. Having found the Map I decided I had enough time to work out the Transport system of Singapore and not just do the tourist thing and get a Taxi back and for to Church. This was well worth doing as it gave me a greater feel for Singapore than I might have got in the back of a cab.

Having bought a underground ticket ($1.40 + $1 deposit, in Stirling that is 47p plus 33p deposit) I boarded the immaculately clean air-conditioned Tube. What a difference from the London system, the carriages are wider, so no one using the straps are close enough to stand on the feet of those sitting. The air-conditioning makes it a much more pleasant experience than any tube in London even the newest ones. Leaving the Harbour Terminal on the North-East line I had to change at Outram Park onto the East-West line and on to City Hall station. Coming up from the underground there was a great local map that made it easy to find out the direction I needed to walk to get to the Cathedral, actually it was just behind the Anglican Cathedral. The temperature at 84 degrees Fahrenheit was joined by 88% humidity, to make a three block walk a rather damp experience. It was lovely to get into the Cathedral, which though not air-conditioned was fitted with effective fans. It meant I’d dried out in the 40 minutes prayer time before Mass started.

I was so pleased I managed to get to Mass, the cultural mix of the people at the Cathedral was like the United Nations, there were Indian, Chinese, Malay, Filipino, Korean, European and African people. It reminds you what Catholic (the Latin for Universal) really means, the mass was celebrated by an elderly Chinese priest with superb English, the choir (made up of 60 people from 5 to 30) made the celebration a real song of praise and joy, just like the best Masses are. All of the hymns were familiar to me, so I had a good sing, as well as a prayerful peace from the experience of the prayers of the Mass. The sermon was reflective and invited us to think about the impact we have on other people and how others might be able to see Jesus in us in the way we live our daily lives. An hour and a half later, yes it was a long mass with almost everything sung and with over 800 people going to communion, Mass ended, and it was hard to drag myself away from this prayerful, peaceful place. But up I got back into the Singapore heat and walked back to the underground station. Unknown to me, as I’d only been looking for directions to the Cathedral I was walking beside the famous Raffles Hotel, but as you’ll see I only realised this when I returned to Raffles in the afternoon.

The City Hall underground station has a large shopping centre above it, given that many people have said how good Singapore was for shopping, and I had time to spare, I walked around. It was definitely the kind of place that Janet and Martin would spend hours in, with famous brands like Timberland, Mount Blanc and even a Marks and Spencers. The boutique style stores were designed for serious shopping and even by Midday I could see some of the Americans from the ship deep in to their shopping tribe with eight or nine bags each!! I did actually do a little shopping, but only for Lithium batteries for the Camera. We had put out latest pair of Batteries in yesterday. The price of the batteries were about half what we had paid in the UK for the same brand.

I then made my return journey on the underground. Incidentally I should mention the reason for the ticket deposit, when you get off the tube you go back and put the ticket in the machine and it gives you the money back, thus avoiding the usual ticket piles on the floors of the underground stations. A clever idea, part of the effort to keep Singapore spick and span, and I have to day I can’t think of a cleaner city in the world. There are even litter cops who can give instant fines for anyone littering the streets!!

Back at the Harbour I waited about 20 minutes for Drew to come ashore, we met at 12.30 p.m. (5.30 a.m. BST). Of course Drew had heard me say I was going to get batteries for the camera and had assumed I had the camera with me. I had assumed he would see the camera on the table in the cabin. So sorry no photos of Singapore, although apart from the high rise buildings and the clean, clean streets, there were less photo opportunities than in other cities.

At 1.00 p.m. we joined our afternoon tour. We went first to China Town in Singapore, the Chinese are more than 50% of the Singapore population giving the town an even more Chinese feel than in KL or Penang which also had a large Chinese community. The China Town Museum provided a real insight into the way that the Chinese community developed in Singapore after the British had arrived. The challenging quality of life, and the way the clan groups worked to keep the traditions of the people from various parts of China was not only fascinating but also helped me understand the importance of the clan houses like the ones we saw in Penang.

After the time in the Museum we walked back through China Town to the large Indian Temple where we met with our guide who took us to the Pewter experience. After a bit of history about the role of Pewter as a product of Singapore and the founding of the Royal Selangor Pottery at the riverside in Singapore. Royal Selangor has stores now in London, Paris, New York and Tokyo as well as across South Asia. We then went on to make our own Pewter. Those of my family who know I was kicked out of Metalwork in School after only two weeks and sent to the Music class instead will know that putting me a hammer and some metal together is not a great idea. I could have easily lived without this part of the tour, but it was worth going for the Chinese Museum and for what follows at Raffles. Suffice it to say that I managed not to maim myself or any of the other people on the tour. I also renewed my promise never to wield a hammer again. At least I provided some entertainment to some of the better Pewter creators.

The next stop on the trip was to the Long Bar at Raffles, yes we had one of the famous Singapore Slings made for us, a pleasant drink. In the humidity it was even more refreshing than it might be in somewhere less warm. Drinking the drink in the place it was invented is really cool!

As we walked out of the Bar it was obvious to me that I had walked down the opposite side of the road this morning on the way back from Mass, so I guess I could easily have got to Raffles under my own steam, but the tour was still a pleasant one.

It was then back to the ship and after a shower and a lovely cup of tea I felt human again. As we headed out of harbour at 6.06 p.m. we looked back on a lovely day.

7.00 p.m. and it was Martini time (see below) then dinner and then more cocktails. It was about 1.00 p.m. when we went to bed, and even then the rest of the people from the table were heading up to the Disco – being the youngest two in the group doesn’t give us more energy than the others, but I guess we are more likely to be up for Breakfast than them!!

Food and Drink

Breakfast – You’ll be used now to the Cranberry and Orange Juice, Orange Segments and half a grapefruit, tea and coffee. Today in addition I had two eggs overhard, bacon and Canadian ham and Drew had scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes.

Martinis - Our effort to drink all of the martinis in the list was achieved tonight. Drew started with a Mambo Tini (Smirnoff, Dry Vermouth and Kahula) and I a Margaritini (Absolut Orange, Tequila and Orange Juice), then I had a Dean Durty Tini (Gin (there was a choice of Gin or Vodka) Dry Vermouth and Olive Juice with three olives – yum one of my favourites so far. Having completed the list Drew had on I had previously, a SunTini (Absolut, Gran Marnier and Contrieu).

Dinner – Tonight we had a Thai style meal, not with the richness of the Thai flavours, but a nice change having had very American dishes to date. Two of our team mates, Peter and Jean, didn’t like the food – they don’t do spices. But as mentioned before there are so many other alternatives that they had a nice meal anyway.

Drew and I couldn’t decide which of the appetisers to have, so we decided to order the three for the two of us to share. These were Seafood cakes in a light batter (Tempura like) with a rich dipping sauce, second was cucumber, peanut and chilli bites with coriander, garlic and onion in a sharp vinegar dressing, the third was chilled duck strips with pak choi and lychees – super yummy. We both went for the Tom Yam Gung for the soup course, given how much we like this at home, it was a bit disappointing that the soup was no where near as spicy as in the Thai House in Cardiff.

For the main courses Drew had Chiang Mai – Shredded Pork cooked with shallots, chilli and garlic while I had Khai Yang – Barbequed Chicken with lime and red chillies served with a mix of vegetables. Again nice, but not as spicy as I would have liked.

I had cheese for dessert and Drew had a Blueberry sorbet. We had drunk the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with this, as one of the wines we knew we would still be able to taste even if it had been spicy.

We then, having gone to bed early last night, went to sit in the Casino Bar with the people from the table. I decided to try a drink I’d heard of but not tired – a Long Island Ice Tea (Vodka, Gin, Rum, Triple Sec, Tequila, sweet and sour mix topped up with Coke) – it tastes a lot, lot nicer than it sounds. Drew was on a Cosmopolitan (details already in the blog) five of these later it was certainly time for bed at 12.30 a.m.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

KL – The centre of the world?

Saturday 9th September

Leaving Penang saw the first occasion when we travelled with land on either side of us. The Malacca straits have part of Indonesia on one side and Malaysia on the other. It meant when waking in the night you could see lights on both sides of the ship, up to now it had always been on the Port side or not at all.

Another dawn, another Port, this part of the cruise is quite busy, whole day tours followed by drinks, dinner and bed. But for me this is the essence of the cruise, while some of the people we have met at dinner keep talking about the things that they have done on the ship, for me this is a comfortable hotel taking me to new places, not a resort of its own. While it is a nice hotel and a good place to come back to in the evening, i.e. I’m enjoying the cruise experience as a traveller, the idea that the cruise itself is the holiday is lost on me. Some people come on and stay on for most of the journey, popping off for an hour or not at all in the various ports, this does not appeal to me. But nor do the volleyball, quoits, quizzes, roulette, blackjack, stage shows, that seem an essential part of the some of the passengers experience. Still the good food, the cocktails and the good wine is all positive.

We docked at Port Kelang (or Klang as it is in the original language) at 8.00. We had breakfast at 7.00 (Midnight BST) so that we could be on the Balcony to watch the docking procedures, after tendering yesterday, we thought we’d like to see the whole process again. Soon after docking we were going on our trip. The temperature was in the early 90’s Fahrenheit, and the humidity (a much more important comfort indicator in these climes was 86% - sticky!! One of my colleagues, Esyin, is a native of KL she told me how nice it would be, but hadn’t prepared me for the amount of humidity. It was definitely a three shirts, three pairs of pants day, and a three pairs of socks for Drew, wearing sandals meant I only had one pair to wear to dinner. Thank heavens for the free laundry service that comes with the state room on the ship. We brought less clothes than we usually pack, but had enough to use 3 sets a day and have time for them to be washed and dried before we needed them again!!

We had booked today as a Walking Tour of Kuala Lumpur, but a few days a go we got a note in the Cabin saying that this tour was under subscribed, no wonder as even in my late 40’s I’m in the bottom quarter of the passengers age group, so we were invited to make another selection. Given how muggy it was in KL I was more than happy that we didn’t have to walk, I might have downed in my own sweat, at least on the tour we had time to dry off in the air-conditioned tour bus. I asked Drew to pick from the other options and he selected the “KL” experience, and it turned out to be a great trip.

We left the ship in the West Port area of Klang and passed a lot of empty houses. Many of these were built in the boom years in Malaysia, before the collapse of the Asian currencies in 1999. So many of them have never been occupied though they appear to be completed.

Having left the port we went to the Blue Mosque, the largest Mosque in Asia, this was only for a photo stop, but it was very beautiful, though the mistiness of the air made it hard to take distant photos. The air is apparently often misty at this time of the year. The guide suggested it had to do with the burning of rubber trees in Indonesia which throws the smog into the air. He said it would clear after it rained later in the day, we had to take that on trust as it was still raining when we left Port Kelang. We then went to the Royal Palace for a photo op, the guards where changing their duty as we were there so we saw the new ones arrive and the old ones move off. The next stop was the National Museum, this was designed to show the culture of Malaysia over the years, with some effective use of manikins to show family life and dress in Malaysia over the years. The more modern section read a little like a former communist diatribe about the wonders of what the Government has done to bring prosperity to Malaysia, so we went a bit faster through that section.

We then went to the war monument which was an impressive site. Not only did it have the same style monument as our cenotaph but also a statue of the government forces beating the communist insurgency based on the Washington monument to the Japanese part of WWII. From there it was on to independence square for a photo opportunity, as you will see from the photos I stayed on the bus and Drew did the photography.

The next stop was the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, this is one of the largest in the world, it ranks fourth amongst the tallest towers in the world at 421m. The three taller ones are the CN Tower in Toronto at 553m, Ostankino Tower in Moscow at 537m and the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai at 468m. The one in KL was built in 1996 and was the tallest for a brief period.

The tower provided magnificent views, though on such a misty day these were not good photos, though the fact it is bigger than the neighbouring Petronas Twin Towers (the largest twin tower in the world) makes for excellent photos. The 112 story lift ride takes just under 60 seconds, which is astounding. Drew, even though he is nervous of heights managed to get up there, but stood quite far back from the windows when we were doing the viewing around the tower. The view shows KL to be a modern high rise city which, though some was obliterated by fog/smog, is really pleasant.

We then were taken to a five star hotel for lunch. It was a Chinese Style buffet lunch, details below. Incongruously a group of singers entertained us for lunch singing Mexican(!) songs!! As the bus we were on had 15 Latin Americans from our Cruise they really got into the event. Amazingly the singers who were word perfect in the songs couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, as soon became apparent when the cruise passengers tried to speak to them.

After lunch we drove to the bottom of the twin towers to take photos from there and then it was on to the shopping - apparently every trip you take with Americans must have shopping built in. We had managed to persuade our Trishaw to miss it in Penang and had stopped on the bus and read our novels in Phuket, hence no previous mention of it. They really do buy lots of junk that they are likely to throw out before getting to the plane, unless they want to pay large excess baggage fees. But it is astounding to watch. As it happens we were happy to be at the shopping centre (Batik and Pewter and big items in KL) when the rain started. We had managed to miss the Monsoon, which comes to these parts up until the end of October, in India and the two earlier stops on this peninsular, but not today. Wow, I thought it rained a lot in Wales, but never with this force and intensity. The whole building shock with the thunder and the rain overflowed from the drain pipes in about three minutes. The bus was undercover, so we got in and waited for the others to finish shopping. We then drive the hour and a half back to Klang down a road which was now closer to a medium size river than it was to a road, astounding. Luckily the rain hadn’t reached the port by the time we got there, so we got up the gangway (I think I’ve been calling this a gangplank earlier!!) before the rain hit.

We were exhausted, the amount of sweat created in the day prior to the monsoon must have been enormous, even being able to dry off in the bus only meant you had just got dry before you were out in the rain again. Still I would not have missed seeing KL for the world.

We got into the cabin and rang down for tea for two, we’d not used this facility before (room service is free) and it was lovely to refresh ourselves with a cuppa before watching the ship leave the port at 5.40 p.m. and going down for cocktails and dinner at 7.00 p.m. we were still quite exhausted, so it was early to bed for us at the end of this day.

What was my general impression of KL? It was much more commercial than anywhere we have been to so far. It looked more like one of the smaller European cities rather than the Asian cities we have seen. By that I mean it really looked like a first world city, and indeed compared to other parts of Asia it is, but a slightly seedy one, the occasional dirt and run down areas would be much more of a shock to a European eye if we hadn’t seen much worse in our visits to India. Still well worth a visit to feel the vibrant nature of the city. A real mix of cultures from various part of Asia living happily together.

Food and Drink

Breakfast is settling in to a bit of a routine. As usual I had two glasses of Cranberry Juice, a pot of tea and Orange Segments while Drew had his usual two glasses of Orange Juice, cup of coffee and half a grapefruit. The variety emerged here when Drew had a plain omelette and I had an Italian Breakfast with two very tasty Italian Sausages and scrambled eggs with onion and garlic, really nice.

Lunch – We started with a rich chicken and corn soup, better than any I’ve tasted before. We had a lovely mix of Chinese salad next, good use of chillies, lime and lemon to make it very tangy. The main course was fried rice, Tofu (Bean curd to the Americans), mange touts in a Oyster Mushroom sauce, Beef with Shitake Mushrooms and fried chicken. Drew and I had similar dishes, Drew washing his down with a local Tiger beer, and I with a bottle of Perrier water.

Martini hour – Drew had a Tropical Tini (Absolut, Dry Vermouth and Malibu) and I had a Sun Tini (Absolut, Gran Marnier and Contrieu), then I had a Flirtini – Smirnoff with Champagne) and Drew had a Scarlet Tini (Smirnoff, Blue Curacao and Blueberry Juice).

Dinner – I started with Escargot, something that had been on the lunch-time menu, but which some of our table mates had arranged to be available tonight as well (real flexibility), Drew had a Ginger and Lime drizzled Fruit Salad. I then had a lovely Roasted Duckling Broth and Drew went for a Mimosa salad with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette. Main course for both of was Risotto con Pollo e Asparagi (Chicken and Asparagus). I then went for a lovely mix of cheeses (sage derby, parmesan and gouda) and Drew had his cheese cake. We had a bottle of Pinot Grigio with that, but for the first time ever didn’t stay up to have another drink afterwards.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Malaysia -Truly Asia

Thailand is six hours ahead of UK time, Malaysia is 7 hours ahead. So though we had quite an early night last night we lost an hour of sleep during the night. Though we arrived feeling quite fresh into the island of Penang on the northern part of Malaysia.

For about six years now any time you turn on BBC World or CNN or Sky News anywhere in the world there has been a series of beautiful adverts for Malaysia as a Tourist destination all of them ending with the jingle 'Malaysia - Truly Asia' and being in Penang today we could see why, Malaysia seems in many ways to be the confluence of the various cultures which make up Southern Asia, there are Indian, Chinese as well as British influences (the Malay Peninsula having been a colony of Britain for 300 years.

Having left Phuket we travelled for 160 miles with the Thai and then Malay mainland on our Port side and a series of islands on our starboard side. When we woke at about 6.30 we were already seeing the built up areas of Penang on our right (starboard) out of the porthole in our bedroom. Unlike Thailand where the Government has a policy of making hotels and other buildings on the shore no taller than the tree line, giving it superb visage, it was clear the
Malaysia had a different approach with a lot of high rise buildings that we could see before we drew into port.

Today, for the only time on the trip, instead of coming in to a berth in the Port, our Ship is weighing anchor away from the land and we are being tendered (to travel from ship to shore on a Tender boat) into Tanjong City Marina on Penang. We watched the arrival of the Ship into the port from our balcony and then went down to breakfast at 7.20 a.m. (Midnight 20 UK time).

We saw the first tender, incidentally these boats are the ones that operate as life boats in an emergency, going to shore at about 8.30 a.m. and by 9.15 we were on the one taking us the short distance to land. The reason for the tender is that they are renovating the port and improving the area where cruise ships come to shore at present meaning that it is not available. However though the cause of this was out of our control, I'm really glad it was the case as the experience of getting down from our huge ship into a smaller boat (it sat about 30) was really quite exciting. We then arrived on the shore in Penang and had the next great experience of the day - travel by Trishaw.

For the uninitiated, of which I was one until today, the difference between a Trishaw and a Rickshaw is that a Rickshaw is pulled while a Trishaw is normally powered from behind. i.e. someone is on a bike with a place for passengers in front of them. They suggested that, at no extra cost, Drew and I should take separate Trishaws. I think this was because of all the extra weight that Drew has put on during the holidays :-) You, my friends, may choose to put a different interpretation on this!!

Georgetown, the main town in Penang, named for King George the Third, is a lovely mix of different architectural styles, from clearly British style that would not be out of place in London, to buildings that were based on Chinese and Indian architecture. Indeed it is the juxtaposition of these different styles that makes the place so pleasant.

Georgetown became a British Colony five years before Sydney was founded, so was one of the early sites of British colonial activity in these parts.

The architecture also showed an astounding religious mix, within ten minutes we had passed a Chinese Temple, a Hindu temple, a Mosque, an Anglican Church and a Catholic Cathedral. The whole of life in Asia, indeed the world seems to be mirrored here in Penang.

Travelling at Trishaw level in the open air also means you see more than you would in a Coach or in a Taxi. We visited an ancient Chinese temple and then drove into China Town, this was followed by a drive through Little India, it was amazing to think that only a few days ago we were in India and now we are seeing a mirror image of it. Though to be fair the Penang version is somewhat cleaner and less dusty than what we saw in the real India.

We went on to a Temple that was one of the major Chinese Clan houses in Penang. This was called Khoo Khongsi after the Khoo family who were one of the first to settle in this part of the world. Six generations of the family are remembered in the temple with an indication of where the children and grandchildren have gone on to study.

Indeed many of them went to Welsh and English Universities, I couldn't find one who went to Glamorgan though!!

At the time the implications of the Clan houses was less clear to me than the impressive images in the temple, you will have seen the pictures of them, though when we got to Singapore the importance of these community buildings in keeping the immigrants in contact with their own culture and in support of each other was as significant as the St. Patrick Society was in Irish New York, or indeed the Mafia was to the Italian Community. Having an identity that provided social aid and support and a sense of belonging could be crucial in an alien land.

We travelled back through the central part of Georgetown and on for a Fruit Cocktail at the Eastern and Orient Hotel (E&O), which in its time was almost as famous as Raffles in Singapore.

The Trishaw took us back to the dock and I returned to the ship and completed the last blog entry, which seems a long, long time ago now. But watch for more frequent updates for the next few days.

Then it was Martini time and in to dinner.

Food and Drink

Breakfast - Juice and fruit as for each of the last few days was followed for Drew with Blueberry Pancakes with syrup and for me with a lovely scrambled egg and smoked salmon dish entitled on the menu - 'Alaskan Salmon'.

In our effort to work our way through the Martini menu tonight I had a Ricky Martin-I, which was Grey Goose Orange, Cuantro and Orange Juice, while Drew had an Emerald Tini, Stoly, Dry Vermouth and melon liquor, we should have taken a photo of it, as it was very emerald! I then went on to a Violet Tini (Smirnoff, Blue Curacao topped off with Cranberry juice) and Drew a Black Tini (Absolut, Chambord (the raspberry liqueur) and Blue Curacao).

Dinner - Drew started with Air Cured Beef Bresalola with Parmesan followed by Albondigas Soup and then Gamberi Saltati all'Aglio (prawns with garlic and herbs) with almond rice. As I wasn't impressed by any of the starters I went with two soups (the ability to mix and match courses or have main courses served as a starter or add one of the vegetarian meals into a non-veggie one and vice versa is one of the amazing things when they are dealing with so many people in the restaurant). So I had a lovely baby corm chowder with red pepper, followed by the Albondigas Soup, then the Veal Parmigiana with scalloped potatoes and broccoli. I had Danish Blue for dessert and Drew stayed with his Cheesecake option.

I know my brother asked some time ago about Veggie food, today a vegetarian could have had:
Tropical Sunrise Fruit Smoothie, The Baby Corn Chowder I went for, a Green salad with shredded cheese and walnut, a timbale of rice and aubergine with baby lima beans and of course all of the desserts.

I think this is an amazing selection for a American ship given our experience of the absence of vegetarian food in the States.

We had a lovely bottle of New Zealand Savingnon Blanc with the meal. Then we went into the Casino Bar with the people from the table and had the sense only to have two Cocktails - the 24K Rita mentioned in previous posts and to get to bed by Midnight.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Traveling with Jennifer Lopez

No not that Jennifer Lopez, but a thirty-five year old Thai lady who was our guide for our visit to Phuket.

Apologies if you have been waiting with bated breath for this update on the holiday, but for some reason the ship's server went down on Wednesday and did not get restored until late today Friday.

We started the day with breakfast in the Club Restaurant, for details see the food and drink section below. I then did my last blog entry and would have sat on the Balcony, but since we came into the Andaman Sea it has been pouring with rain. Still it had eased by the end of the morning and by Midday it was crystal clear again. We eased in to Phuket harbour by 12.30 p.m. we had a beautiful view of the island as we approached, it looked lush and green.

Having disembarked from the Ship we joined our coach for a scenic drive. Most of the people who know about Phuket are aware of the west coast, most famously for the beaches at Patong, but we stayed on the Western side of the island. Port Phuket where the ship was berthed, is also on the west of the island.

Phuket, a large island off the coast of Thailand, was badly hit by the Tsunami of 20 months ago. Our guide, Ms Lopez, was keen to highlight how quickly Phuket had restored its hotels and resorts and how we should tell all our friends to come to the island not just for cruises but for longer holidays. Do you know folks I think she is right. Not only is the island clean and well presented, but the relaxed nature of the Thai people and the lovely Thai food makes it an absolute most for anyone who can manage to get here. The villages with all their local stores, small restaurants, and quaint bars, are well presented. The locals have worked hard to make this place an idyll of sunshine and relaxation, and I think they have succeeded.

The first stop on our trip was to the Southern most part of the island, called Phromthep Cape, it provides a lovely view of the myriad of small islands which surround Phuket. Including the delightfully named Phi-Phi islands (pronounced pee-pee). The camera had a small incident with a bottle of water which, given to us cold, was heating up and dripping onto the lens, so some of today's photos are fuzzy, though the weather was really sunny and the sky beautifully clear. The temperature was in the early 90's Fahrenheit and humidity about 86%. Very sticky as my three shirts in one day indicated!

After the cape it was on to a fantastic Thai temple called Wat Chalong. Again the pictures can speak for themselves, but Jennifer talked to us about the way the Thai people love to give more and more to Buddha to celebrate their own wealth. This they evidently did at this temple. There was gold leaf everywhere.

We then went to a cultural centre called Wang Talang where dancers, both male and female did a superb demonstration of Thai culture, using dances from each of Thailand's regions. Following the exquisite dancing, four of the men took part in Thai boxing which is also well worth seeing. A final celebration of the local culture followed, then we walked out through the performers, who are all trained in a local Arts and Dance College, and being able to thank them, as they thanked us for the celebration.

The bus took us for the usual shopping stop, I stayed on the bus and read my book, and then back to the ship where, as usual we watched the ropes being untied and pulled back on to the ship from the Balcony, as we left the beautiful crystal clear Andaman Sea and made our 160 miles journey towards Penang.

As we moved south we saw an explosive thunder and lightening storm, but while this raised the winds it did not effect the stability of the ship.

Food and Drink

For Breakfast we had the usual juice (cranberry for me, orange for Drew), the fruit (orange segments for me, half a grapefruit for Drew) I then had a Cheese Omelette with Bacon and Canadian Ham and Drew had a strawberry yoghurt.

We had another, at home with Haydn and Drew, tonight. Another group we had become friendly with, two people from Liverpool (Paul and Mary), Fred from Toronto and two New Yorkers (Rich and Russ) had been on a few of the day trips with us, so we had got to know them well. They came up for drinks and nibbles. Which was as pleasant as those we had, had yesterday.

Tonight for Dinner we decided to have a night away from our 'gang' and eat at Sabatini's the Italian specialty restaurant on the top deck of the ship (we had a great view of the Thunder and Lightening from here).

This is a fascinating restaurant where they only allow you to choose your soup course and main course and serve you all the rest. And I mean ALL the rest. It sounds gross but it is really, really lovely.

We began with some tiny piece of Brusetta with tomatoes, onions and olive oil. There was a lovely red pepper bread and olive bread to nibble on. We then were given little dipping plates of Olive Oil and Balsamic vinegar, to use up even more of our bread. Then it was time for the Antipasto, this included deep fried cheese, cockles, aubergine, crab cakes, Salami, proccittio, melon, bresola, cooked ham, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, cheese, olives and Parmesan. Then came the pizza dish - this had four types of, small, Pizza we had margarita pizza and a olive and coriander pizza, then came the soup course I had a lovely Minestrone Soup while drew had fish soup that also looked nice. Next followed a median course of artichokes, prawns (shrimps to the Americans) and courgettes (zucchini to the Americans). Then the main course arrived. I had Poisson in Rosemary sauce, with carrots and potatoes which was delightful. Drew had the largest plate of Langoustines I have ever seen cooked in garlic and cilantro. Wow we were almost fit to burst. Though while I declined desserts (even a cheese course) Drew did manage a small piece of Tiramisu.

This was washed down by a bottle of Gavi De Gavi and a Chianti and plenty of San Pellegrino!!

No bar for us tonight, full to the gills, it was time to check the Internet (it wasn't working) and to head to bed at around 11.30, the earliest night so far!!