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Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2007
Silver Jubilee World Cruise - Hong Kong to UK Part 1

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Chan May (Da Nang and Hue), Vietnam

The first day in port was in Vietnam where we docked at Chan May. The QE2 is a large ship and in many parts of the world can not dock very close to major towns and in some cases has to anchor and use tenders. On this trip we will be docked most of the time but often 20 minutes or more from 'civilisation'. Many countries are adding cruise terminals to their existing cargo and container ports and free shuttle buses and taxis are available. In this case the port was equally spaced between Da Nang of Vietnam War notoriety and Hue, the old imperial capital which is now a world heritage site alongside Dubrovnik.

We had not been to Vietnam before and had no idea what to expect as we knew little about it. It seemed logical to take one of the organised tours to give us an introduction. We had little interest in Da Nang although the ship seemed to have a large (or vocal) number of American Veterans who wanted to revisit old stomping grounds. We instead booked a tour to Hue which promised visits to a number of important heritage sites. It is 45 miles from the port at Chan May to Hue.

The tour we chose involved some long coach journeys which we do not usually look forwards to but this time the initial view of the country was so different to our conceptions that it was almost the highlight. Within the first few minutes we had cleared the port area and were passing lakes where there were tiny round boats which appeared to be like coracles made of skin stretched over a wooden framework. There were water buffalo in rice paddies and Egretes standing fishing in the flooded fields. Children stood up to their waists in the water. The tour guide explained that 80% of Vietnam is agricultural and they supply rice to a lot of the world. They get two crops a year in the area we were driving through and an amazing three crops per year in the Meekong Delta.

Once we reached the main road, the Highway 1, we were passing a continous line of roadside stalls and markets - the local women keep no stocks and bargain for fresh produce before every meal. There were many shrines and most houses had small ones on a stand outside. The bicycle is the standard method of transport and we watched one wobbling down the road with what looked like a full oxyacetaline cylinder across the back - they stand nearly six foot tall and are too heavy for a normal person to lift!

The driving style is interesting - drivers just overtake forcing the oncoming bicycles and motor cycles onto the verges whilst communicating with the lorries they are overtaking with a complex code of horn blasts. We rarely seemed to slow up and our driver even overtook the other tour coaches. Bends are no problem, they just involve more time with the horn. On the return we came over one brow on a hill to find an articulated lorry overtaking another lorry straight towards us - everyone just came to a halt a few feet apart and after much communication by horn the muddle was slowly unscrambled and everyone drove on.

We got views down of the lagoons and sea from Cloud Pass and the Elephant Rock, before we drove past the lagoons - they are half salt, half fresh water and are full of fishing nets permanently laid out. The traffic got more and more dense and gradually the number of bicycles was overtaken by motor cycles as we approached town, again horns were in use as often as the throttle with much swerving but little braking - crash helmets were a rare sight.

Our first visit was to Emperor Minh Mang's tomb, which is some 12 kilometres to the south of Hue, at Cam Ke on the west bank of the Perfume River. It is one of several tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty, which was founded in 1802 by the 10th Nguyen Lord who pronounced himself Emperor Gia Long. Minh Mang was the fourth son of Gia Long and became the Nguyen Dynasty's second king in 1820, and he built the Imperial City. A visit to his tomb was a good starting point for learning about this part of Vietnamese history. The construction of the tomb was begun in 1840, just one year before his death in 1841. The tomb is built in an elaborately Chinese style. There are restful lakes and gardens. His actual burial place is not known, although it is somewhere within a large circular walled plot.

We continued towards Hue, stopping to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda, the Heavenly Lady pagoda. which is on the north bank of the Perfume River. It was built in 1601 by Nguyen Hoang, and is Vietnam's most revered and visited Buddhist shrine. The seven tiers of the temple's octagonal tower, Phuoc Duyen, each represent a different reincarnation of Buddha. There are six large and colourful guardians at the pagoda.

We left our bus here, and took a dragon boat from the moorings in front of the Thien Mu Pagoda for a cruise on the Perfumed River. It is supposed to have got it's name from the scents picked up by the pure mountain water as it passed through the rain forests and gather up the scents. Others say that in the Imperial era attars and essences were added to perfume the river. A range of silk blouses, skirts and dressing gowns were for sale and Pauline enjoyed trying on various items. She was disappointed to find that her size was XL in their sizing system. It did not compare well with being size S with her trousers from Rohan, and expecting to gain some weight while on holiday. Eventually she bought a nice dark purple silk two piece. Our cruise ended at the landing stage for the Century Riverside Hotel, which has a stunning view of the Perfume River. We were welcomed with green ginger tea, and walked through gardens to the main entrance. The extensive luncheon buffet featured local dishes from the formal 'imperial Cuisine' and was accompanied by local music and singing.

By now our bus had joined us and we set off for the Imperial Citadel, which was built from 1804-45 by the first Nguyen Emperor Gia Long and is loosely modeled on Beijing's Forbidden City. The interior comprises three concentric walled cities: the Capital, the Imperial and the Forbidden cities. We entered the Capital through the Thuong Tu Gate, crossing a wide moat. Here were the Nine Deities' bronze cannons, Sung Than Cong. The four near us represented the four seasons and the five in the distance, towards the Chuong Doc Gate, represent the five primary elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

In the centre of the south wall is the 120 foot Flag Tower, Cot Co. We entered the Imperial city through the nearby Ngo Mon Gate, the south gate, which was reserved for the king. The Gate is topped by the Ngu Phung, the Five Phoenix Watch Tower. From here the Emperor used to preside over formal ceremonies and rites. We walked across the Golden Water Bridge, Drung Dao, over the Thai Dinh Lake, to visit the Thai Hoa Palace, or Palace of Supreme Peace. This was the most important place in the Imperial city because it was here that the Emperor received the high dignatories and foreign diplomats. It was built in 1805, then renovated in 1924 and again in 1024. It is in very good condition with its ceilings and beams decorated in red lacquer and gold inlay. Part of the building was being used as an Art Gallery, and souvenir shop. The Purple Forbidden City was beyond us. There were two single storey buildings, one on each side, and called the Left and Right Houses. On our right we visited the building now a Museum which included a model of the Imperial Citadel, as it was before being damaged by fire in 1947. American bombing then did an enormous amount of extra damage during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam war in 1968. Some buildings still remain, and there is restoration work in progress. We visited the Reading Pavilion, Thai Binh, as well as the outside of another palace, under restoration, which we think was Can Thanh, or Palace of Celestial Perfection. We just had time to climb to the top of the Ngu Phung, to get a view of the overall site, before retracing our steps to the bus.

Our final visit was to the Dong Ba Market. Our guide offered to show people through the market but we preferred to explore on our own. Most of the market were stalls and undercover, but there was also a large outdoor fruit and vegetable market. There were stalls selling everything, from cheap shoes to nice gold jewelry, from fresh fruit and vegetables to large sacks of rice and other staples. Produce was displayed on the floor, with scoops and bags for people to collect the amount they wanted. Everywhere we walked we met local people who asked if we were American, we denied it vigorously. The old people must still remember the Americans, and we saw disabled children with missing limbs begging.

Laem Chabang (Bangkok and Pattaya), Thailand

We had two days at Laem Chabang. Many people chose to take the day trip or two day overnight trip to Bangkok. Laem Chabang is between Pattaya and Bangkok, and it was over two hours by bus to visit Bangkok. We decided that was too long to spend travelling. Others who did the trip to Bangkok said the journey was very tiring. Pattaya is described by guide books as the Costa del Bangkok, making it similar to Costa del Resorts worldwide.

After the simplicity of facilities at Chan May, the new cruise terminal at Laem Chabang, with its selection of tourist stalls, was a temptation for shopping. Pauline bought a pretty watch to wear in the evenings and an armful of cushion covers made from the beautiful Thai silk. For passengers who could not manage the walk down the gangplank officials from the local Bank and Post Office came on board, and also sold postcards and souvenirs.

Wat Yanksangwararam and the Viharn Sien Chinese Pavilion

We took an organised tour in the afternoon to the Wat Yanksangwararam and the Viharn Sien Chinese Pavilion. It was a slow journey because we had to go around Pattaya town, and then continue for 10 minutes drive further south. There are a number of Pavilions from different countries on the same lakeside and we passed some small Pavilions, including a miniature copy of something resembling Big Ben, as well as a chalet which appeared to have Swiss ancestry. The Chinese Pavilion is very recent, having been opened by His Majesty the King of Thailand on 24 December 1993. The local people love their King very much, and this year is his 60th year on the throne and everywhere we went there were flags flying and people wearing yellow T-shirts confirming they loved their King.

On the way to the Chinese Pavilion we saw the site of the replica of Buddha's footprint which was unfortunately at the top of a hill reached by some two hundred steps and they would not let us off the coach in temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit to climb up and have a look. I think we would have been lynched if we had succeeded in getting a chance for people to walk up if the other passengers could raise the effort to do so. Everyone was very hot, and reluctant to even get out of the nice air-conditioned bus. The Chinese Pavilion is really a place that gathers together both Thai and Chinese arts and cultures. Thailand and China have a very long historical relationship.

The founder of the Pavilion was Mr Sa-nga Kulkobkiat, who was born in 1925 and passed away on 22 August 2003. The name is Anek Kusala Sala (Viharnra Sien), which means multi-purpose pavilion, abode of the gods. It holds a stunning collection of exhibits of Chinese art and antiquities including a small number of the famous Terracotta statues of soldiers found in Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb in Xian province. They were a special gift of the Chinese Government to Thailand. In addition two sets of bronze chariots were given, that were found in the same tomb. These are all found on the ground floor. On the next floor we admired the statue of Lu Dongbin, before going outdoors to look at all the statues.

After the Chinese pavilion we stopped for a photo opportunity at the Khao Chee Chan Sculpture - the 380 foot sculpture was created in honour of the present King of Thailand's coronation. It was clear from what we saw and what we heard from the guide that the King is still held in high esteem and affection by the population and there were many pictures of him at the roadside and in all the buildings, rather a contrast from the views of many on our own monachy. There are currently extensive preparations for his 60th jubilee celebrations. It is not so clear to us how his role in the political scene has changed since the recent military coup.

The Khao Chee Chan sculpture is actually an outline in Gold tiles added to a sheer rock face and has some lovely gardens and lakes at the foot which the ten minute stop did not give much opportunity to investigate. There were elephant rides on offer and some people managed to do that within the short stop. Then we had the hour and a bit drive back to the ship through the heavy traffic round Pattaya. The locals were all out with many piled into the backs of pickups, some informal and some modified for transport with seats and a tubular cage. The roadsides were lined with basic shops and local markets contrasting with the tall new blocks and hotels exploiting the reputation of Thailand to provide everything and anything at night and the three mile long sweeping golden beach in the day.

Pattaya

The second day we thought we should take the shuttle bus into Pattaya despite what we had seen in passing on the coach. We were late starting after going down the gym and having breakfast and at 1030 the queues were big so Pauline spent an hour washing by which time we could just walk onto a shuttle bus without the pain of queuing with irritable Americans on reflecting concrete in the full sun in temperatures approaching a hundred. The ride took much longer than the twenty minutes initially spoken about - closer to three quarters of an hour but we had one of the old but recently reupholstered and brightly decorated coaches with working airconditioning. We were deposited outside the Marriott Resort and Spa, sidestepped the many offers of a taxi, and wondered where to go next. The one way system in Pattaya meant that our shuttle bus had already done a guided tour of the waterfront along Beach Road before turning away and dropping us in Pattaya Road.

We ambled down to the beach past local bars, simple restaurants and roadside stalls selling all manner of fascinating dish in a rather dubious manner, we refrained although they food was cooked and probably safer than the surroundings suggested. There were many vendors walking up and down the beach offering equally succulent looking fish and huge barbecued prawns as well as many dishes we could not identify. The beach had beautiful yellow sand but was rather disappointing as it virtually disappeared at high water with only close packed deck chairs and umbrellas remaining. We did not find out how much they cost as Pete only wanted a quick swim but a sunshade would be almost essential if one stayed. There was a small area reserved for swimming and the rest of the beach was kept for water toys - speed boats and water scooters were everywhere for hire.

We hid in an air conditioned Starbuck's café long enough to buy some local coffee and get it ground at an extortionate price, 495 Bhat is twice the price of coffee back home, but we could not face the walk to Tesco. Yes I do mean Tesco, who we understand are seeing off the main competition from the French Carrefour chain. The guide on the bus advised everyone to buy shares in Tesco, overall an interesting comment on the views on foreign firms invading local markets. Having done our duty and seen Pattaya we returned to the ship in time to grab a quick lunch in the Lido and then go and see the show by the kids from the local orphanage, which is one of the many charities which are supported by the QE2 World cruise.

Singapore

This was our second visit to Singapore. We had spent 3 days here in 2001 before joining an earlier world cruise. We therefore knew the area well enough not to need a tour and we will restrict what we write as it was covered well in A Stopover in Singapore 2001.

We caught the second Shuttle bus at 0835 without queueing. Indeed there were a dozen buses standing waiting. Singapore was taking QE2 shuttle buses seriously! The journey to the Hyatt Hotel in Scotts Road took 35 minutes, and enabled us to see a lot of the main sites as we approached on the East Coast main road, underneath the cable car to Sentosa island, then along Rochor Road, passing Little India before turning along Scotts Road. The Hyatt Hotel is only a couple of minutes walk from the Orchard MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) (Metro). To use the MRT you first need the right money because tickets can only be bought from a machine. The information desk provides change for large denomination notes, and then the machine provides small change if necessary. Ticket cost depends on the distance travelled. The shortest journey costs S$0.90 whereas we paid S$1 or S$1.10 for three or four stops, plus a refundable deposit of S$1 when you reinsert the plastic card in a machine at the end of the journey. Exchange rate in 2007 is that S$3 is about £1, and so the MRT is much cheaper than the London Underground, which is typically £3 per ticket. It is also much cleaner and more spacious. Every station we visited also had clean toilets.

The Boat Quays area.

We first went to an area we had visited last time which seemed a central place from which to explore, Clarke Quay MRT which is next to Coleman Bridge. The Clarke and Boat Quays are on the Singapore river and home to many small restaurants and bars. Since our last visit they seem to have replaced the higaldy pigaldy mass of waterside and pavement eating places on Clarke Quay with a set of rather strange looking plastic areas under an overall cover of gigantic sun shades although the Lotus on the River restaurant where we had a memorable meal last visit remained - it is sited aboard two beautifully restored Chinese junks. Boat Quay was much more what we remembered with hundreds of riverside areas across a narrow path from their home restaurants - one runs the gauntlet of incessant pestering all the way but we had a good meal last time at a Java restuarant. It was too early to eat but we recalled that the local crab was the dish to eat, washed down with locally brewed Tiger beers.

Chinatown

It was then only a short walk across to Chinatown. It didn't look familiar, but the market stalls in the Night Market were just awakening, so we strolled down Pagoda Street. At the end of the road we continued our exploration in Chinatown by visiting the Sri Mariamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore. We were impressed with the statues and decorations and last time we purchased a permit to use our camera and we have so many pictures that this time we just walked round. We continued by visiting the nearby Jamae (Chulia) Masjid Mosque. It is a national monument, built in 1827 and believed to be the oldest of the five mosques. Its design is a mixture of Chinese, Anglo-Indian and Malay influences. We were still searching for the entry to the Far East Square. This area has been completely redeveloped in 1998 and is enclosed by China Street in the west, Pekin Street in the north, Cross Street in the south and Telok Ayer Street in the east. The Far East Square is based on the traditional Chinese concept of yin and yang - in which the universe and life is kept in balance by the five elements : water, fire, wood, metal and earth. The Square has four Gates - the Metal Gate, Water Gate, Wood Gate and Fire Gate, and the Pavilion which represents Earth.

There is a Heritage Trail based around the Fuk Tak Chi Museum, which was the first Chinese Temple in Singapore built in 1824 with signboards explaing the history. The museum itself is quite small but interesting. The other original building still remaining from 1854 is the nearby Chui Eng Free School in Amoy Street. It housed a restaurant where last visit we had an excellent buffet lunch. This time we were disappointed to find it was under restoration but just outside we found a stall selling pillow cakes and we bought one, Mocha flavour, incredibly light in texture with an almost sweet taste.

Colonial Area

After indulging in a piece we felt ready to continue walking. We had glimpsed the Parliament House from the lower Singapore River, and wanted a closer view. Our map showed the Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple, which was on our route, and we found a lovely small traditional temple, surrounded by tall modern buildings.

It was then only a short distance back to Boat Quay and the central administrative area - with the Parliament House, the Old Parliament House now the Arts House, the Supreme Court, City Hall, and finally St Andrews Cathedral.

Little India

Our map showed the City Hall MRT station in the wrong place, and we walked around three sides of a square around the cathedral before finding the real entrance. We were going to Little India. Last visit we also went to Little India but only looked in one temple as the area was under reconstruction, in particular they were installing a new MRT station and the construction works split the whole area up. That was now finished and we no longer seemed to be the only tourists in the area, and the narrow streets full of stalls one had to thread between no longer seemed threatening, even if we did attract considerable interest from the vendors. We walked past the house of Tan Teng Niah. Built in 1900 it is one of the last surviving Chinese villas. Reaching Serangoon Road, we went to visit the HinduSri Veeramakaliamman Temple, which is dedicated to Kali, a powerful and destructive deity, whose black statue is at the centre of the temple, but found it was closed from 1200 to 1600. We looked along many of the narrow roadside 'markets' and shops and Pauline purchased a silk Sari. There is going to be a formal Raj Ball once we leave India next week, and a sari is the recommended dress for ladies.

Park and Market

Last visit we could see the Merlion statue - the symbol of Singapore which has the head of a lion and the body of a fish in distance as we left and had intended to take the Gondola across to Sentosa Island to see it. The statue is 37 metres tall, and has elevators so that visitors can visit its crown and its mouth. The views are said to be spectacular. The island has now largely been turned into a theme park with a series of amusement centres, so instead we decided to have a quick look in the Merlion Park at a smaller copy which we had seen from the coach as we entered town. We took the MRT back to Raffles Place and when we emerged we found the heavens had opened up, so we waited under a bridge until we could make a quick run out under our single umbrella and take some pictures.

As the rain continued to fall we discussed whether to continue sightseeing or not. We compromised by returning to Raffles Place MRT and deciding then. After a short wander around the market stalls, we found an excellent wine shop which had the Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc at an exhorbitant price of over S$50. QE2 usually stocks this, our favourite iconic New Zealand wine, but they had not got any left. We handed over our credit card and bought two bottles.

The rain reduced and we worked our way along Raffles Quay to Lau Pa Sat Market. We were looking for a stall which sold orchids in pots. What we found were dozens of different food stalls in a fascinating cast iron building with six arms. It is 19th century Victorian architecture, reminiscent of a major London railway terminus, and was originally a produce market. We could not resist trying some of the food on offer although it was more like tea than lunch time. The smoked duck was memorable as was a Durian Volcano sweet, washed down with local Tiger beer.

When we got back to the ship we found one of the local stalls at the bottom of the gangway was selling orchid flowers, so we bought a bunch. They should last well, although not as well as a proper pot plant.

The next part will cover firstly India where we visited Cochin, Goa and Mumbai then after three days at sea we spent a day in the island paradise of Mahe in the Seychelles

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