Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GROUNDED- and confined to cabin!

I have been struggling with a gastro-intestinal problem since Singapore
- not too serious, but after 5 days, it seemed to be getting worse and
not better. So, I finally had to submit myself to the Doctor. Yes - you
guessed it -- confined to my cabin for a time yet to be determined. We
will be in Mumbai tomorrow - so may have to miss it. Christine is not
all that keen on going ashore there anyway and if we miss it I won't be
heartbroken. We have been warned that it will be very "challenging" for
us and will be a great cultural shock. I already knew that - but in
spite of it have booked shore tours. We will have to wait and see what
happens. In the meantime, I can't even post these blog posts.

I am not sure where I caught the bug - possibly on Ko Samui. I broke my
own "Golden Rule" of making sure I wash my hands BEFORE I eat anything.
However, whether that was the cause or not, we will never know.

Chocoholic's buffet

One thing about this cruise is sure - we have absolutely no complaints about the food. It has been excellent! And just in case any chocoholics onboard were feeling a little left out or deprived, the chefs put on a Buffet where everything was made out of chocolate. The food definitely has a British edge to it - sometimes this is even a little "quirky" - eg Calf's liver at a Captain's gala dinner (which, I hasten to add, was delicious). We have been surprised at the quality and freshness of the vegetables - considering that the ship is a long way from home. We are unclear as to the extent of re-provisioning at the various ports we have visited.
We have visited the Oriana Rhodes on one occasion for an evening meal - we thought it was very good and worth the extra. We are intending to book dinner on "the Terrace Grill" on the night that we are in Port Said (after we have transited the Suez Canal.This is going to be a big and long day for us). The Terrace Grill is set up in the open on the aft deck of the ship - on one of the tiered terraces. We noticed a small number of passengers dining there as we were preparing to leave Hong Kong - what a fantastic dining backdrop they had!!

Contemplations at sea

As I write this, we are in the Indian Ocean right at the southern tip of Sri Lanka - only a few miles offshore, so close that we can see what appears to be a large white Temple of some kind in the hills. To me it looks like the shape of a Buddhist bell. Over the last two days, I have noticed a "relaxation" amongst the passengers - people are rising from their beds later, or at least staying in their cabins longer and not rushing to breakfast. I believe this is because we have nine days at sea with just one stop in Mumbai in between and people are recovering from the rather hectic pace of this cruise over the past 2 weeks. We
have been two days sailing a direct line between the top most point of Sumatra and the bottom most point of Sri Lanka. This is the main shipping route between Europe/Middle East and and what the British call "the Far East" of South East Asia and Japan. (their Far East is our Near East). We have seen a constant stream of cargo ships and oil tankers in both directions along this route. The wide Promenade deck on Oriana with it's comfortable chairs, tables and sunbeds is ideal to watch this passing parade. Exposed to the vastness of this ocean and despite the fact that we have only recently visited six major Asian cities and one Asian tourist island, I cannot help but realise that even a "World Cruise" such as we are on only allows us to catch a fleeting glimpse of a very small part of the World. A person would have to live the life of every other human being on the face of our Planet to experience it all - clearly an impossibility. So we can only do what we can. However, it is always a temptation, when we are living in a comfortable cabbage patch, to not want to venture outside into a world which is clearly much less comfortable than ours. For us, this is a temptation to be avoided - not that we are particularly adventurous. In fact we are not and our travels have mainly been fairly conventional and protected, like this cruise.  But even these are hard work

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kuala Lumpur

WOW!! What a pleasant surprise we got yesterday. The last time I was in KL was 37 years ago with the Australian Navy - I vaguely remembered some significant things like the huge National Mosque, but my overall memory was of a "typical" Asian city. So much so that I was a little disappointed then when we subsequently visited Singapore (which was modern and, to me at that time, boring). But KL has definitely changed and is a very attractive Asian destination. It reminds me of Singapore in it's modernity - but is very green and much less chaotic than other Asian cities that we have visited. There is much to see and do here and combined with visits to other parts of the country (such as the Heritage listed towns of Penang and Malacca and the Genting Highlands) makes me think that we could definitely come back to Malaysia sometime. We saw the big train station in KL - and I think that I can recall reading something somewhere about train based holidays in Malaysia - must research it when we get back home.

As I said, the city is very green with many gardens and natural greenery along the highways (bananas grow like weeds here). The city has a British Colonial heritage and, despite the nation's independence, seems
to take great pride in this heritage and are positively preserving it. Our shore tour here was very good - had the usual 5 Star hotel lunch in the city's oldest hotel, but this time we had some traditional Malaysian food. Amongst other things, I had some very nice Mutton Curry, Fish Curry, Beef in Pepper sauce and an  bsolutely delicious (and HOT) Laksa.

It is surprising just how tiring these shore visits can be - and now after now visiting 7 Asian cities in 11 days, I think that many onboard (including us) are looking forward to some quiet sea time. We now have 4 days to get to Mumbai and then 5 more to get to Sharm El-Sheikh in the Sinai.

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Kuala Lumpur here


The last time we went to Singapore was 5 years ago. After we returned home, I felt like writing to the Singaporean Government and inviting them to come to Australia to run our country. After our visit  yesterday, I still feel the same. It is amazing what has been done with this small island over the last 50 years - and the advances seem to get greater as time goes on. The map we had with us was one that we had gotten from a Tourist Information Office on our last visit - it was almost useless to us on this trip as there had been so many changes in the meantime. This mostly related to the Marina Bay area where an amazing Casino complex has been built - plus the Singapore Barrage. We only really saw these things from a distance so I will have to do some Internet research on them when we get back home.

Our visit was marred a little by some illness and the pervasive heat and humidity. But we managed to do most of the things we wanted to do. It is almost worth going to Singapore simply to ride on their fantastic Underground - and to see the cleanliness of the city. No graffiti anywhere!! I have heard people speak disparagingly about Singapore because, politically, they are a one Party State, quite rigid in their approach to many things and impose a strict regime on their people. For me it seems to work for them, and is benevolent - and I wish we could import some of their methods. I guess it would not work too well in our hedonistic, "it's all about me " society. The main reason we like Singapore is because of the Singaporean National pastime - eating!! Especially the cheap Asian eating available in the Hawker centres. You can have the most enjoyable Asian food (all Nationalities) for $3-6. On this occasion, because of my illness and the heat, the only things we had were an "Ice Ka Chang" each and a Sour Plum Lime drink. Both were delicious and really suited the hot climate. We recommend the LAU PA SAT hawker centre in the city ( but try not to go at lunch time) - but for a more relaxed and civilised (read airconditioned) atmosphere, try the FOOD REPUBLIC at the top of the big TISMA centre in Orchard Road.

You can easily spend a week in Singapore - a day-long cruise visit by cruise ship can't even scratch the surface. I have attached a quick photo (taken from the bus) of a new highrise apartment complex - all the buildings are curved -- AMAZING!!

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Singapore here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ko Samui - Monkey see, monkey do.

Yesterday we spent the day on the Thai island of Ko Samui - situated on the eastern side of the Thai peninsula. We have never been to the popular island of Phuket - on the western side - but we suspect that this island is similar. Perhaps it may be a little less developed as it has only become popular in the past couple of decades, so there is a lot of building going on. This building work tended to make some areas look a bit "messy" - and recent very heavy monsoonal rains had caused some disruption and messed some areas up - but all in all, it was an interesting day and we could certainly come back again at some time as part of a tour of Thailand.

Apart from the general overview of the island given by driving around it, we saw a number of specific tourist "attractions". The first was a visit to a coconut farm (some millions of coconuts per month are exported from the island) where we saw the use of monkeys to harvest the coconuts. It was actually quite interesting seeing this large Macaque monkey doing it's work - and the signals coming from his handler to indicate which coconut the handler wanted to be brought down. It was only a short visit - but interesting. Secondly we visited ANOTHER Buddhist Temple (apparently there are approximately 30,000 of them across Thailand) - but this one is different in that it has the undecomposed body of a former temple Abbot on display in a glass case.  The story goes that when he died, his body did not decompose and this, combined with the fact that he had predicted the exact date of his death 20 years before has caused him to become a significant local  religious identity. I don't know how this all fits in with traditional Buddhism - but this visit to Thailand has taught us that there are a number of forms of Buddhism, with variations depending on the country.

Once again as in Bangkok, it was quite busy with tourists on the island.  We have been in company with another cruise ship since Bangkok - the German ship AIDA AURA. Apparently in March next year, there will be 3 cruise ships visiting on the same day. We were not very impressed with the well known Chewang Beach. This place is touted as being "very popular" in all the tourist books - but like elsewhere (even in Australia, Byron Bay) it causes too many tourists to gather in one place and too many locals trying to make a living out of the tourists, all vying for the same trade. For us it is the worst thing about visiting Asia and one of the reasons why we have never been to Bali. The very best part of the day was the lunch we had at a 5 Star hotel, right on a small private beach. I though I had died and gone to Heaven. The photos I have attached don't do it justice- I think my camera is being affected by the very high humidity. It was called the Imperial Boat House Hotel http://www.imperialboathouse.com

You can see a Youtube video about our visit to Ko Samui here

"My Palace is bigger ......

........ than your Palace" ,  said the King of Siam to the King of England!!

I have visited and been very impressed by a number of things - the Taj Mahal in Agra, Versailles in France, the Forbidden City in Beijing , and others --- but today we visited the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I had seen
pictures of it and was looking forward to seeing it - thinking that it would be very nice as it's pictures showed it to be. But I was "BLOWN AWAY!!!". I have attached some photos - but it is "un-photoable" - not able to be photographed, if photography is meant to show people what it looks like. No amount of individual photos could clearly illustrate the grandness, the size, the magnificence of it! It is actually not that ancient - built from around the late part of the 18th Century - but what it lacks in that respect, it more than makes up elsewhere.

Our day visiting Bangkok did not start all that well - it has been hotter on this trip than we expected or would have liked - 34C and VERY high humidity was forecast for Bangkok, which I thought was a bit strange because although we are close to the Equator, we are on the Winter side of it and we had thought that it would have toned the temperature down a little. There were 50 large Motor Coaches waiting to take us into Bangkok when we berthed at 7AM. The 99 klm road up the highway from the port for Bangkok (Laem Chabang) was much superior to that in Vietnam - but actually not as interesting. The entry into the outskirts of Bangkok revealed a very modern city with many huge "flyovers" - and nothing scenic at all. Our first stop was at the Temple of the famous "Golden Buddha". This was quite interesting as we had never seen 5 tons of pure gold in one place before - much less as a wonderful statue/work of art in a huge Temple. But it was very busy (Is it tourist season now??) and the temperature and humidity had increased to ridiculous levels. This was all very interesting - but Bangkok itself was not looking all that appealing.

Then we arrived at the Grand Palace - well actually we arrived at a place to see the famous "Emerald" Buddha, which is essentially the most important religious place in Thailand - and discovered that the Buddha was to be ceremonially dressed for winter by the Crown Prince of Thailand later in the day. This was an amazing complex - and I came to understand that we were actually inside the Grand Palace. After about an hour of looking around and trying to photograph, we came to realize that we had not even entered the Grand Palace yet - that was to come!!

These cruise ship shore tours leave a bit to be desired for a number of reasons, one of which is because you don't get much time for sightseeing - the trip into Bangkok from the port was 60 minutes and another 90 to return. But in spite of that, and in spite of the heat/humidity, this was a marvelous day - and we think that we would definitely like to come back to Thailand (but in cooler weather if possible, and in a less touristy time if possible). From the fleeting glimpses we had of the river and Chinatown, there is obviously a lot to do here - tomorrow we go to a beach resort island of Ko Samui, which is another side to the Thailand experience.

By the way, we had another great lunch in a 5 Star hotel - but we are discovering that these hotels and the ship itself is catering to a "non spicy, bland western taste". Here we are in Bangkok, and we had no Thai food at all - only western food (very nice western food, but not what we were looking forward to. Even the so-called "famous" P&O UK curries onboard are proving to be a disappointment.

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Bangkok here

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Motorcycles and Ho Chi Minh City

Yesterday we saw a few motorcycles. More exactly we saw a few million of them! Apparently Ho Chi Minh City has approximately 6 million people and 4 million motorcycles - I think that we saw most of them during the day!

I am not sure where to start or finish any report of our visit to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as the locals still call it). It was all rather mind-boggling and by the time we got back to the ship, we were very tired. Not that it was really all that strenuous - we travelled in a comfortable air-conditioned coach and had lunch in a 5-Star hotel, so it think it was all the head swiveling that wore us out. The day started for us at 4.30 AM before Dawn. The day before in the South China Sea had been very wet with the North-East Monsoon bucketing it down onto the ship, so we were pleased to find early in the morning that it was fine and clear. We rose early to see the entrance into the bay and river leading to Saigon. But, the excitement started almost immediately for us. As we went up the river, heavy fog closed in - until we had a visibility of only about 50 metres. With lots of small boat traffic around even at that time, the Captain blew the ship's fog horn all the way until we docked at Phu My. We were met by about 50 Coaches, ready to take passengers on shore tours. Most went on an official ship's
shore tour here - because all were aware that there is absolutely nothing at Phu My except the dock.
I don't think I can describe the drive from Phu My to Saigon. It is the main highway between Vung Tau and Saigon - and to be fair, there were a lot of incomplete roadworks which when eventually completed will vastly improve the road. Anyway, with the roadworks and heavy traffic, the journey to and from Saigon is 99 klms and took us 2 hours in the morning and 3 hours to return later in the day. It didn't matter much to us because we were comfortable and enjoyed looking at the "sights" along the road. The traffic in Saigon is literally mind boggling. We had thought that our previous experience of bicycle traffic in Beijing was eye opening enough - but it is tame compared to the motorcycles of Saigon. We had been told that to cross the road, you simply walk off the footpath and the cyclists will avoid you - but we weren't prepared to follow that advice. We stuck very close to the tour guide. We saw the usual "touristy" things - so I won't bore you with details. We enjoyed a performance of a traditional Water Puppet Theatre - and had lunch in Saigon's only 5-star hotel, the Majestic. Probably, the highlight of the day for us was our young, intelligent and amusing tour guide. For those who have done tours before, he was not your usual tour guide. All things considered, we came away with a reasonably good feel for what Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon is all about. We retired early last night, so we are looking forward to hearing other passenger's experiences today.

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Ho Chi Minh City here

Friday, November 19, 2010

Public announcement

Let it be known that yesterday, Thursday 18 November, on the MV Oriana - Christine, my teetotal (almost) wife of approx 25 years - for the first time ever, spent more money on alcohol during the day than I did. I am posting this fact here because I believe that it needs to be recorded for posterity.

Perhaps I am making just a bit too much of this - because she did only have two Pimms No.1 - but they cost more than my two pints of Bitter.  Actually, it was a good investment - because I never realised how just two Pimms could make her so happy! Our "Name that tune" fun happy hour experience has ended - so a few of us now have to invent some other amusement. We have at this time decided to have happy hour each day at a different venue -yesterday was at the Terrace Bar at the stern - tomorrow we are planning a raid on "Andersons". Anybody who knows Andersons will understand that a bunch of boisterous Australians may not be particularly welcome in there, it's atmosphere always looks a bit "Funerial"!.

The sounds of silence in Hong Kong.

What do you think of when you think of Hong Kong?? LOTS of people, noise, buses, pollution, chaos?? Well, there is a place where it is completely silent - except for the sound of the wind in the trees above, the twittering of birds and the waves on the rocks below. It is called Ma Hang Park in Stanley, on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Many people go to the Stanley Markets as part of organised tours - but not many get out of the markets and explore the delightful surrounding area. The markets are OK - but similar to those found in Kowloon - so use your time in Stanley for other things. All it will cost you is about $25HK - about $3AUD (or US) for the day.

Oriana docked at the very well located Ocean Terminal - we were very happy with that as we were not sure that we would dock there. Sometimes cruiseships dock elsewhere - but the Ocean Terminal is very central to everything in Hong Kong. We walked out of the terminal and caught a Number 973 bus in Canton Road which is right outside the Harbour City shopping centre (where the ship berths). The bus stop is opposite the large Marco Polo Hotel. These buses are double deckers - so go to the top deck and sit in the front seats. The ride to Stanley is worth the fare alone ( $13.60 HK). It takes about an hour. When you get to Stanley (stay on the bus to the very end of the ride) , walk down to the waterfront and head for the wharf (pier) - walk past it and you will see the entrance to Ma Hang Park.  I think that I would recommend that people who only have a day in HK should spend all their time in Stanley - there is a lot to do there (beaches, forest walks, beachfront restaurants/bars, Maritime museum, squatters shacks, markets) - none of the hassle of Kowloon or HK Central.  You can either return to Kowloon on the 973 service - but we caught a Number 6 bus back to Central and then walked to the Star Ferry Terminal, to catch the iconic Ferry back to Kowloon ($2.50HK) . The only thing to watch with this is that it is "challenging" to find your way from the bus terminal in Central to the Ferry Terminal - look for the overhead road walkways to do this.

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Hong Kong here 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Yesterday we visited Manila in the Philippines. By the end of the day we were very tired but we enjoyed the experience. Manila is a very interesting but "challenging" Asian city, with a unique character. I guess that in some ways, all of the larger Asian cities could be called this - but perhaps Manila has some characteristics that others don't. It is somewhat chaotic and I was told that it's traffic was a little like that of Bangkok (which of course does not have the famous "Jeepneys") - but Beijing has it's bicycles and Ho Chi Minh City has it's motorcycles.  We noticed a level of poverty in the streets with persistent vendors vainly trying to sell us trinkets and some begging by children - but when we visited a very large shopping Mall in the city in the afternoon, we noticed the very many prosperous looking people, young and old, enjoying themselves there. I would not call them "rich" by our standards - they looked just like the people we see in our own shopping malls in Australia, but they would have been much richer relatively speaking than the street vendors and the beggars.

We finally did our first official shore tour on this cruise - in fact, the first on any cruise. It was called "Charms of Old Manila". It was a little rushed as it covered a lot - but It was worth it as I don't believe we could have seen what we did by ourselves with just one day available. I did not know before this trip that there is a 16th Century walled Spanish city in Manila (called Intramuros) - we found it to be fascinating. We visited "Casa Manila" - a typical Spanish/Asian house of the period, the church of San Augustin (which was like visiting a major church in Europe - except it was also going back in time and visiting it 500 years ago) and Fort Santiago (which was basically the beginnings of Manilla - after the Spanish invaded). We also had quick visits to Rizal Park (named after the Philippine's National hero) and the Catholic Cathedral. All in all we felt that the shore tour was good value and we look forward to others in places like Ho Chi Monh city and Mumbai - which we feel are a little too "challenging" for us do do alone

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Manila here

Another day! Another Formal outfit!!

With a bit of "mixing and matching", I reckon that I have 6 Formal outfits to wear before I have to start over. With 19 Formal nights on the way to Southampton, I will need it. I can't speak for Christine - so far I haven't seen her in the same outfit twice, but even she will have her limitations.

We arrive in Hong Kong tomorrow and we are losing quite a few staff, including our very good cabin Steward Cruz, our evening Dining Room waiters and our excellent Deputy Cruise Director, Dom. Dom does try very hard - he turned up for our thoroughly enjoyable "Name that Tune" quiz during the daily Happy Hour dressed in "Tropical Black tie" (for those who don't know what that is, Google it) - inside a full gorilla outfit. We thought the gorilla outfit was amusing enough - and very brave considering the tropical conditions we have been experiencing even with onboard airconditioning - but then to later strip that off and reveal his "James Bond - For your eyes only" white jacketed outfit earned him the absolute maximum in brownie points amongst the passengers.

This morning -as I write this - we are crossing the South China Sea from the Phillipines to Hong Kong. For the first time since leaving Brisbane we are experiencing some largish seas. I reckon that the swells are about 3-4 metres at the moment - but the Captain has warned us that they will increase during the day to around 5 metres. It is only 24 hours to Hong Kong from here and it is probably good that we are getting some seas, because it has been so calm until now that we have not been able to grow our sea legs. One night I got out of bed to have a look out of the window because I thought we had stopped. But we were getting along at 21 knots and the water was so calm that the ship felt like a city building - it has been like that since Brisbane

You can view a Youtube video about "what to do" on seadays while cruising here

Sunday, November 14, 2010

OOH!! My head!

Two major onboard events today. As we sail along through the Indonesian archipeligo and enter Phillipino waters, life onboard is starting to assume a character that reminds me of the tales that I have heard about life onboard the immigrant ships's line voyages to Australia from the UK in the 50's and 60's - the time of the "10 Pound Poms". It is exactly this character that I have been looking forward to experiencing and have done so for many decades. It gives this voyage a completely different feel about it to the shorter holiday cruises we have enjoyed in Australia. Of course, the ships, the food, the standard of entertainment of today is much more sophisticated than that found on those old line voyages - but underlying all that modern sophistication are all the basic human things like new friendship's, the need for human companionship and the desire for having simple fun. I think that when this voyage is all over, it will be these things that we will remember most.

The first event today was the crossing of the line ceremony. The ship already had one on the way to Australia under a different Captain - so today's was advertised as " CROSSING THE LINE 2 - NEPTUNE'S REVENGE". It was all a lot of fun and it was difficult to get close enough to all the action for good photographs. It was held on Oriana's aft tiered terraces - we found the day to be very hot, but the Brits can't seem to get enough of the tropical sun.
The second event was a "Brits vs Aussies" musical quiz, titled "The Ashes" - held in the Pacific Lounge to cater to the numbers that have been building up in the afternoon musical quiz held in Lord's Tavern.  The Deputy Cruise Director Dom is a very hard working staff member who seems to have the knack of getting people to do ridiculous things in public. The photo attached shows the Lounge before everybody arrived -
it was impossible to get any decent photos of the chaos that the event descended into afterwards. I think I need a quiet day today!

The Spice Islands

Since leaving Cairns, we have been settling into the routine of sea days - breakfast at 8AM, dancing class at 11, lunch at 12, movie at 2PM, Happy hour at 3.30, dinner at 6.30, Show at 8.30, bed at ??. Of course there are many other things for passengers to do - so mix and match those activities at your own desire. I have been trying to get to the Library for a couple of days now.
We had another Formal night last night - our second of 19 on the way to the UK. The great majority make an attempt to dress themselves up. As you can see from the photo, I have changed my personality for the
duration of this trip. Yesterday we had an interesting time with our Captain. He is an amateur historian and had put together for us a presentation of an area that he intended to take us through on our passage through Indonesian waters - the fabled "Spice Islands". We have never been on a ship before where the Captain presented an hour long lecture for the entertainment of the passengers - and he obviously enjoyed the experience as much as we did. He took us very close to the tiny Spice Island of "Run" in the Banda Group. During the 17th Century this was the only source of Nutmeg in the world - at a time when Nutmeg was worth more than gold. Then we passed close to the Island of Ambon, which produced Cloves. His historical lecture started at the time when these spices came to Venice, via Constantinople for distribution throughout Europe - and the source of these spices was unknown in the west. Thus started the search by the Europeans for the "Spice Islands" of the East Indies. His lecture contained information that he had personally acquired in various European museums - and it was obvious that he was keen to complete his study with photos of the islands themselves (as seen in the attached photo)