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World Cruise 2010 - Part 4
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
Singapore has been a British Crown Colony from 1867 until 1959 when it achieved self-governance. We have visited Singapore several times, including in 2001 when we joined the QE2 there and travelled back to Southampton through the Suez canal. The choice of activity depends on weather and it was good and not too hot so our first target was the Botanic Gardens. The QM2 docked much further from town than the QE2, so it was a long shuttle bus journey to the Singapore Cruise Centre at Harbourfront, followed by 7 stops on the MRT to Orchard MRT. Unfortunately we were early, it was a Saturday, the ticket office was not open until 1000 and the machines only gave limited change. We had to buy a bottle of water. Arriving at Orchard MRT we caught a taxi from outside the Marriot Hotel and were soon at the Botanic Garden. Taxis have a flag fall charge of S$ 3.20 and then .20 per 365m - we were worried when it cost over S$ 3.00 to leave the hotel but overall it was only S$ 5.40 and it was worth saving a half hour walk in the sun. Shortly will be a new MRT station at the Botanic Gardens which will make the trip much easier.
Entry is free and we entered through the Tanglin Gate, collected our free map and set off. The Gardens were first established in this area in 1859 and contain precious historic trees and colonial buildings. Our first highlight was the Swan Lake, completed in 1866 and home to mute swans, turtles and lots of well-fed fish.
There are a lot of beautiful trees and flowers but the main aim was to visit the National Orchid Garden, for which there was a small charge which is even cheaper for old folks. Orchids have always been closely associated with the Singapore Botanic Gardens, and their orchid breeding programme began in 1928. The permanent showcase has the largest display of orchids in the world. Our first stop was the Cool House, because we were suffering from the heat. It contains orchids and carniverous plants, but the occasional mist spray can be a problem. More rare orchids were in the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House. Then outdoors there were three hectares of orchid terraces as well as the wild orchids in the Orchidarium. There was one area of VIP orchids, named after special visitors; Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela both have their personal orchid. The National Flower of Singapore, chosen in 1981, is the orchid Vanda Miss Joachim and was discovered by Miss Agnes Joaquim in her garden in 1893. It is a hybrid between Vanda Hookeriana and Vanda Teres. The map marked its locations, and we looked around and then discovered it was a very tall orchid; we were looking for something normal size at ground level whereas it was much taller than Pauline.
We collected another taxi at the Visitors Centre to go back to Orchard MRT and we had to make the choice between Little India and Chinatown; there was not enough time to do both. This time India lost so we went to Clarke Quay MRT and walked along the waterfront, then crossed the pedestrian bridge and returned on the other side. Everywhere was very quiet, which was expected on a Saturday afternoon. Most of the waterfront cafes were closed and there were few tourists other than off the QM2. The boat trips only had a handful of passengers. Everything was decorated with pink flowers; Valentine's Day is going to be the same time as the Chinese New Year and so there will be a double celebration. If we had been staying in Singapore into the evening there would be a lot to do. We continued east to the Civic District with the Parliament House, the Arts House and the Raffles Landing Site. The statue of Sir Stamford Thomas Raffles (1781-1826) marks the part of the riverbank where he was said to have first landed on 29 January 1819. Next was the Supreme Court, City Hall and St Andrews Cathedral in the distance. We passed the Singapore Cricket Club and crossed the Fullerton Road Bridge to reach the famous symbol of Singapore, the Merlion. It was impossible to ignore the enormous gate which will be the Marina Bay Sands Resort, almost completed. The Singapore skyline changes so quickly.
From here, Chinatown is only one stop on the MRT so it was walking distance, and we knew there were refreshments at Lau-Pa Sat Market on Raffles Quay. The cast-iron 19th century structure was a produce market but is now full of food stalls. We went to our favourite dessert stall but she had just closed. The other dessert stall in the centre of the market hall had a better choice of local specialities. Pete had a strawberry milk ice while Pauline had the same but with durian; they each cost just over 1 but were excellent. The milk in question is normally condensed milk which blends with the ice. We were just too early to sample the satay stalls outside the market. The surrounding area is being rebuilt and it is a mess. Next door to the Jamae Mosque, the Sri Mariamann Temple was covered in scaffolding with building work inside, and we did not recognise it.
Far East Square was very empty. Redevelopment and restoration work of the area was completed in 1998 and it spans 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. Since our first visit in 2001 it seems to have become much more comercialised and lost a bit of the character now that it contains fast food outlets rather than street stalls.
In contrast the rest of Chinatown was very busy and we did some shopping - two pairs of wraparound long trousers for Pauline and a tray of jackfruit for breakfast, both in the shadow of Chinatown MRT. Everyone was busy shopping for presents for the Chinese New Year on 13-14-15 February, the following weekend.
The harbourfront MRT is inside a large shopping mall, and there were more red and gold New Year decorations for sale. After a few mistakes we finally found the shuttle bus pick-up back to the QM2.
After a relaxing day at sea we were ready for another day ashore. The QM2 had first visited here in 2009, and we had been here on the QE2 in 2007. Pauline remembered the cruise terminal and its indoor market and was disappointed to find we were berthed elsewhere and only an outdoor tented market was on the dockside. She had bought a cheap watch in 2007 which worked well and hoped to buy another. Souvenir sellers came onboard, and we bought a big bunch of orchids for $3 and a couple of soaps carved as orchids in a heart shaped box ready for Valentine's day. We hoped to do more shopping outside later. Costa Allegra was berthed at the cruise terminal.
Laem Chabang is Thailand's largest port, and is the gateway to visit Bangkok. We preferred to take the free shuttle bus and visit Pattaya, just 25 kilometres to the south. The weather was beautiful and we packed towels and our swimming togs, and when we reached Pattaya we could just see the QM2 at her berth in the distance. We intended to go to Tesco (Yes, the Tesco Lotus supermarket chain has several shops in Pattaya) but not at the start of the day. The shuttle bus took us to the Siam Bayview Hotel, and we walked through the hotel directly onto the beachfront road. Our map showed a park, King Rama IX Royal Park, to the south of the beach with a panoramic view of Pattaya Bay and nearby the Big Buddha Image.
Distances were deceptive, and as we strolled along a quiet narrow road with bars advertising evening shows we wondered whether we were lost. At the end of the road was a sign proclaiming it was International Meeting Street, with a large picture of the King and Queen 'Long Live the King'. Our map did not reflect the real roads. and it was not easy to find the entrance to the park. Eventually we climbed up to the top and still could not see the Big Buddha. When we asked, we were given directions but that led us to another Temple, which was very interesting, but was not what we were looking for. Finally we reached our destination. At the little shop we purchased a small jade seated buddha, to remind us of our journey. Then we started back, but saw a sign to a viewpoint. After walking in a climbing circle we arrived at the Royal Thai Navy Office, which had a superb view of the whole beach.
The area was open to visit the statue of Admiral Krom Luang Jumborn Khet Udomsakdi, recognised for his great contribution to the development of the Royal Thai Navy. The Navy Shop also sold Magnum icecreams. Opposite the gate there was yet another temple, with gold leaf offerings adorning the statues. We climbed down the hill and back to the beach and its row of shops; silk shirts and ties were a good price. After renting sunbeds and an umbrella, and with a short swim and cold beers we were human again. Our final purchases were exotic fruits, jack fruit and pomelo, before catching the shuttle bus. The little tented market did indeed sell watches, and many other things, and the man Pauline purchased from previously was there so she bought another watch from him, and bargained for another pair of silk wraparound trousers.
Ho Chi Ming city is the largest city in Vietnam and was the main port for Cambodia before being annexed by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Previously called Saigon after the river which passes through the city, it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. We like Vietnam and have previously visited Chan May, the port for Hue and Da Nang. The QM2 was scheduled to visit much further south, for tours to Ho Chi Minh city. The original itinerary had been to be at anchor at Vung Tau, a seaside resort overlooked by the 100 foot statue of Jesus Christ on the top of Nui Nho Mountain, built by American soldiers in 1970. However it was a long and tedious drive from there to Ho Chi Minh city, 2.5 hours as well as the need to get to the shore by tender. It was going to be 4 hours from the ship to the city, and we decided to take an organised tour. It was a truly mad idea. (Guess who booked it!) But we usually book a tour when the ship is an anchor so we can get off earlier than the independent travellers. The itinerary was changed and the QM2 would now be berthed at the port of Phu My, just inside the Mekong River mouth. This was good news because our tour now departed at 09.30 instead of 08.00. There was the added bonus of getting a small glimpse of the Mekong River Delta. It was still a long journey and the bus stopped at a rest area where we were confronted by supersize artificial fresian cows. The breed was imported into Vietnam so they can produce their own milk. As we stepped down from the bus swarm of hawkers descended offering T-shirts, lacquer boxes, postcards and other tourist stuff.
The first impression on the road was the enormous number of motorbikes, some carrying impossible loads. Not only were there lots of bikes, but they wove in and out between the traffic getting into very small gaps. We would never want to hire a car here. Being close to the Chinese New Year, 14 February, there were bunches of yellow flowers and yellow plants for sale everywhere on the side of the road. Small vans overtook us carrying enormous bushes covered in yellow flowers. It is supposed to be good luck to have yellow flowers on New Years Day. We passed paddy fields where people were working, and there were cables hanging everywhere from poles.
It quickly became clear this was going to be a 'stop, take photo, drive on' excursion. Our first stop was outside the Reunification Hall where we found more hawkers. Originally the Presidential Palace it was here that the gates fell on April 30 1975, to end the Vietnam War. The tank used on that day is on display in the grounds. We drove on to the Post Office and Notre Dame cathedral, followed by the same hawkers on their motorbikes. Another quick photo stop and we were on our way - next stop was the park with the Museum of Vietnamese History and the Zoo. There was no time for the zoo, but we did have an intersting guided toour of the museum, and watched a show of the typical vietnamese water puppetry. The centre part of Ho Chi Minh city is compact and we seemed to go along the same streets several times; we passed the former US Embassy several times. We assume our routing had to match our scheduled arrival times, else having thousands of people arrive in one place simultaneously is a disaster.
It was now getting late, and it was time for our buffet lunch, at the Nha Hang Him Lam restaurant. Our private dining room was on the second floor, with a view of the Saigon river, and was clearly a room usually used for weddings and conferences. Traditional music and dancing accompanied lunch. We enjoyed tasting all the local food, and unusually for Cunard the meal included one local beer. Our next stop was at a lacquer factory. We do not like visiting tourist shops but it was very interesting to see the stages in the manufacturing process and to watch the craftsmen at work. The decoration is painted, or uses crushed eggshells, or is inlaid with mother of pearl. We bought a tray, and got close to purchasing one of the large 4-part wall decorations. There were some beautiful inlaid dining tables and chairs. The prices, for tourists and only in US$, seemed very reasonable considering the work that went into them and the quality of the end product.
Finally we stopped outside the Rex Hotel to admire the pink and white City Hall and the formal gardens in front before continuing towards Chinatown. We passed, at speed, the Ben Thanh Market and Huyen Si Church. We commented that the streets were festooned with hundreds of hanging electric cables, such is the current state of their technology. Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown is dedicated to the sea Goddess, protector of sailors. So it was a fitting end to our tour around Ho Chi Minh City. We drove back along the canal before joining the main roads back to Phu My.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
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