Ilocos (Salomague) Philippines

June 9, 2023

I am not sure how many cruise ships come to this port, but they certainly put on a nice show when we arrived. This fireboat sprayed water – and it was on our side of the ship so we got to watch for about 10 minutes.

There was a large group of dancers on the other side of the ship, but by the time we got off they were resting. Another group gave us these necklaces as we disembarked.

Our tour today was the Ilocos Norte Culinary and Heritage Tour.Our guide was Albert. He gave us a lot of information about the area which is in the northwest of the country. They rely mostly on agriculture here including products such as tobacco, garlic and both yellow and white corn. In his sense of Filipino humor he said that they have yellow corn and white corn but no unicorn. Groan. He also said that a lot of people (including his mother) think that garlic will keep evil spirits away. He also mentioned that is is the National Flag day and Philippine Independence day is next week so that explains the large number of flags we see everywhere. The drive through the countryside was quite beautiful, with the mountains in the background and lots of fields with goats, buffalo and cattle grazing in them.

Our first stop was the Basilica of Juan Bautista which is a Catholic church built in the 1700’s. It is constructed in bricks with no metal and with very thick walls. This, according to Albert, makes the building earthquake proof since the bricks can move with the movement of an earthquake. He said that there are always steps outside which allowed people to climb up to the roof.

You can see the brick construction on both sides of this stained glass window

We visited the home and museum of the artist Luna. Many of his works were on display there, but the real reason for the visit was the first of two food tastings. We had two types of sticky rice wrapped and cooked in banana leaves, a crunchy corn, a coconut drink with fresh coconut shredded into the drink, another large rice cake, a roasted banana with syrup on the outside and skewers of a sweet sticky dough. I liked everything!

Next we visited the Ferdinand Marcos Museum and had a chance to learn more about his early days and his political career. There was an area that highlighted his 11 day courtship of Imelda and their marriage. No mention of later shoe escapades.

Our last stop was at a food court where we ate the empanadas that are famous here. Usually they are made with vegetables, egg and meat but mine was just the vegetables. They were very big, and delicious.

Empanadas are popular, but just down the street was a McDonald’s!

Our bus was parked right next to this sign!

This is an armored car, Philippine style and one of the side car type of cab.

We had about a 45 minute ride back to the ship and it did feel good to be in air conditioning. Tomorrow we arrive for the first of three days in Taiwan.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, June, World Cruise #4 | 1 Comment

Manila, Philippines

June 8, 2023

Yesterday we had a cooking demonstration with our newest guest chef who I had seen on a previous world cruise, Christian Delouvrier. And our own executive chef, Farid, returned to the ship in Bangkok, so both of them led the demonstration and took many questions.

Today is the first of a 14 day stretch of port stops with no sea days in between! We arrived in Manila at 7 AM to the smell of smoke and this landscape. Probably not as bad as the the northeastern US right now.

Our tour was Old Manila by jeepney. We have been in Manila 3 times before and did see a lot of old Manila in 2015, but the jeepney experience was new for us. Our guide was Alvin and he was very good. Nice that he had a headset and microphone so we could hear him as we did our touring.

The jeepney is a vehicle that was repurposed from the jeeps that the American soldiers used during WWII. It is now kind of a small bus with the front built on a jeep chassis. To our surprise, ours was air conditioned, which wasn’t the case originally and some still are open air. Each is decorated according to the interests of the family that owns it. Alvin showed us the different ways that people let the driver know where to stop. One is tapping a coin on the metal bars.

Manila is a huge and overcrowded city with parts that are shabby and run down but other parts that are very much like other booming Asian cities. The population is about 14 million in a country of 113 million on 7641 islands! The Manila traffic is crazy, not unlike other cities we have visited.

Our tour today started at Rizal Park. Dr. Rizal is the national hero in the Philippines. He was multifaceted intellectual and a political activist, best known for his political writings that inspired the Philippine revolution and ultimately led to his execution by the Spanish. Rizal park is a tribute to him and his life. It is also the site of his death by firing squad. We noticed many police as we toured the park and later found out that it would close at 10 due to a visit of the ambassador from Singapore. So we were lucky to get there early.

There were some flyovers and this dog which had blinders on and was presumably being trained to smell bombs.

After the park, we visited Fort Santiago which is now a memorial to the victims of WWII and the sacrifices of the Filipino people in pursuit of freedom. In 1950, Fort Santiago was declared a Shrine of Freedom and restoration began the following year. It forms one corner of the walled city of Intramuros. The site is well preserved and quite somber to visit as many people were imprisoned by the Spanish in the dungeons and more than 600 are buried inside the fort. It was the seat of the Spanish government in the 14th century and the country was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years.

One of the entrance gates
Does that look like dignity and respect to you?
We saw this lovely woman being photographed as we left the fort area.

We went on to visit the St. Agustin Church and museum. The Agustinians set up missions and then the Jesuits arrived here in 1581 and set up more missions which contributed to the cultural, political and religious transformation of Philippine society. 81% of the population is Roman Catholic.

St. Augustine in the center of the altar not Christ on the cross as is typical in most churches

The San Agustin Church was the only building left intact after the destruction of Intramuros in WWII. Built between 1587 and 1606, it is the oldest church in the Philippines.

The museum is very well done and interesting. It contains many artifacts, vestments and statues from the history of the church. The statue’s faces are made of ivory and are truly beautiful.

Only the very rich and well connected could be buried here.

These are all burial markers
These shutters are made of wood and capiz shells

We visited a handicraft shop which had beautiful items. If we didn’t have to take a flight back in San Francisco, I would have bought a basket or two.

Our last stop was the historic Manila Hotel where we had a chance to walk around and see the impressive lobby. Norm took some pictures of these sculptures in a hallway art gallery.

Many dignitaries have stayed here and General MacArthur was one of the guests during his time here. Take a look at the conferences being held today.

We saw the wedding party being photographed – lots of cameras taking their pictures.

It was another hot and humid day (91) and it felt good to return to the cool ship after a full day of Philippine history.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, June, World Cruise #4 | 1 Comment

Nha Trang, Vietnam

June 5, 2023

Last evening we had another Captain’s Cocktail celebration. We had dinner with Marilyn and Charlie and although we rarely have dessert at dinner, we had these good ones last night. Norm had the Cappucino parfait and I had the 20th anniversary macaron.

One of my friends on board had this picture from Cambodia and the two young boys with their mom, the one who makes the beautiful cards.

Nha Trang is a new port for us and is our last port in Vietnam. It was a nice sail in.

Nha Trang has a beautiful bay and lovely beaches. The American soldiers came here for R & R during the Vietnam war. The bulk of foreign tourism now is Russian and signs in Russian in the main tourism area are more common than English. There are also many Chinese visitors. Gambling is also illegal here, like in Cambodia, and casinos are visited by foreign visitors. The Vietnamese also love to gamble and they visit other countries to do so legally.

The crew member on board raises the Vietnamese flag as we approach the port.

I have written about the role of the pilot as we approach different ports. We have learned that the pilot comes on board to guide the captain around any dangerous or problem places as they approach the port. The pilot is not actually sailing the ship. The only place in the world that the pilot is in charge is in the Panama Canal.

Our tour was called Life on the River. Our guide was Thang, which he said means Victory in Vietnamese language, so he said to call him Victor! Nha Trang has a population of 300,000 and has 7 km of beach. He told us that he swims there early in the morning and later in the evening. As we have heard before, the Vietnamese people cover up in the sun and you never see them at the beach during the day. It is not unusual to see people walking and on their motorbikes being completely covered with clothing and masks.

And the temperature was 95 degrees!

We had a 30 minute bus ride to get to the river and the boats. Victor told us about Vinpearl, a resort on the island that is their Disneyland. In Vietnam, prices are much less than in the US. In a 4 star hotel, you would pay about $50/ night and that would include breakfast. When he visited San Francisco, he was shocked by the price of a hotel room – and without breakfast.

Some of the sights we saw on the way to the river.

The governor’s building. We had a brief rainstorm on our ride to the river

As we walked from the bus to the river, we saw how some of the local people live. This is a picture of the locals who are contracted to collect the trash in their neighborhoods.

The place we boarded the boat is actually a residence of the man who builds the boats and his family. This is his kitchen.

And here is his boat building workshop
This is one of the boats He built that is like the one we traveled in
This is the outside of his home

The fishing boats have lights and they group in a circle at night which is when they fish. The lights attract the fish and because the boats are in a circle, they can easily catch the fish in nets. The fishing boats all have “eyes” painted on them which they believe brings the fishermen good luck.

The “eye” on the right side of the boat and the lights on top

Vietnamese folk religion is practiced in most areas of the country. In coastal villages, there is always a temple devoted to “Mr. Whale”. They believe that whales are guardian angels that protect fishermen. Here is the whale temple in Nha Trang on the Chi river.

Our first stop was to a local village where we saw this potter making the small fireplaces made of clay. Victor said it is a dying art because no one wants to do it anymore. This man has been making them for many years. The charcoal goes in the bottom and the pots sit on top. They are still used in restaurants and some homes, including his. Here his wife is making a lemongrass and chicken dish.

Even though gambling is illegal, they do find a way. Here is one of the chickens used in the popular cock fighting.

Some other sights along the river…

Many of the Vietnamese are Catholic

We saw these women making straw mats. Victor said that this is another dying art. We bought 2 for $3 each. The women make only about $10/day once they pay for the materials.

There was a woman selling chickens. People come and pick out the live one that they want, then she cleans it and bags it for the customer who returns later to pick it up.

This wooden bridge has metal stilts on the bottom and is made with wood. Only motorbikes can cross it. The bridge is taken apart every year during flood season (October – December) and rebuilt again after the floods. It costs about 25 cents per vehicle and no charge if you walk, but walking with those motorbikes is dangerous. I went far enough to get a picture.

The toll takers

We tasted some cashews which is a huge crop here.

Our last stop was to the home and orchard of a farmer. They grow all types of fruit here and we had tea and tasted many of them.

We got to see inside his home. There are three doors, the middle one always leads to the in home shrine, one is for the family (the one on the left) and the other is in case the King comes!

The owner of the home is standing

On our way back to the ship, Victor gave us more information about Vietnam. He was an interesting and enthusiastic guide. He told us that he is 45 and people always say he looks so young. He said the Vietnamese people look young and then all of a sudden at 65 they look old! He told us some funny stories about how people mispronounce Vietnamese words. Some of them look the same but there are 6 different tones. The word “ma” for example, can mean mother, graveyard, ghost, rice seedling, but or horse! Pho, the wonderful noodle soup, if pronounced incorrectly can mean prostitute.

Pepper is a big export here, 50% of the world’s pepper comes from Vietnam. They are second in coffee production and they export 6 million tons of rice each year. 50% of Samsung phones are made in Vietnam. The tiger shrimp or prawn, considered a high end, niche product, is produced here and Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of giant tiger prawns.

It was a fun and interesting day. We will have 2 days at sea before we arrive in Manila, Philippines.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, June, World Cruise #4 | 2 Comments

Sihanouksville, Cambodia

June 3, 2023

We were here in 2015 and I have a detailed post from that visit on the blog. We were eager to see how much had changed. I remember this city as a very dirty one but with lovely people. Here are some pictures from our sail in.

There was a local vendor on the pier. Her children spoke better English than most Americans and they were just delightful. She made cards with designs made from paper. They were beautiful and I bought several of them.

We decided to take the shuttle bus to the local market and the first one was already full, so I went back to our room to get the Hersheys candy to give to the kids. They were so thrilled – they gave me two more cards.

We took the next shuttle bus to the market. Some of the things I noticed on the way were the many unfinished buildings. Since we didn’t have a guide, I don’t know why there were so many but I assume that the pandemic had an impact here. There are also many casinos and it is illegal for the local people to gamble so I guess that is why they looked mostly empty.

The market was a typical one but one difference we saw was that there were many places that provided nail and hair services. It was unusual for me to see people getting their hair washed right among the other vendors. I was able to buy the nail glue that I was hoping to find.

Last time we were here, I noticed how many Lexus RX vehicles were here – and that is still true!

Here are some other shots of the market.

These girls wanted me to take their picture with their balloons
One side has the ingredients, the other side is used for cooking. You see these everywhere in the market
Gambling is illegal but they find a way with games like this
There are lots of vendors that do custom alterations
They love crabs

The shuttle went from the market to the beach. We had a huge rainstorm while we were in the market so weren’t interested in going out at the beach. It looked pretty deserted.

Cambodia’s living standards for most of the population are basic in the extreme and none of its beaches would qualify as Asia’s finest. This city was hacked out of the jungle in the late 1950s to create the country’s only deep water port which meant that the trade no longer had to pass through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta – strategically vital to the country. The city was named in honour of the then head of state.

When we returned to the port, we saw this group of children who came to see the ship! One of our friends gave them the chocolates we get on our pillows every night.

We have a sea day on June 4 on our way to our last port in Vietnam, Nha Trang.

Posted in Asia, Food, May, World Cruise #4 | 1 Comment

Bangkok, Thailand

June 1 and 2, 2023

This is our 5th visit to Bangkok- a huge and bustling city of 12 million people.  We have seen so many sights here so today we decided to go local and we took a tour by tuk tuk to the Klang Toey market.  We are lucky – as a small ship we can come into the river and dock much closer to the center of the city – the bigger ships dock more than 2 hours away since they cannot come into the river and under the bridges here. This building we saw from the ship looks like it is crumbling from the top!


Our tour guide was Gina and she was very good.  We were a group of only 16 people. We arrived after 2 and it was already almost 99 degrees.  We went by bus to the area where we met the tuk tuk drivers – we got into our tuk tuks (named for the sound they make when moving) and headed through the traffic to the market.


The market was a lot like the many we have seen around the world. This is not a tourist area and it is where the local Thai people purchase their food.  It is open 24 hours a day – and you see almost anything here. The first thing we saw was many cages full of live ducks and chickens.  The market has wet floors in many places due to the ice used to keep the food cold.


Here are some of the other sights in the market. There are lots of food stalls and all kinds of food.


Gina bought me some mangos and she bought mangosteen and sticky rice with mango wrapped in banana leaf for us to sample later.

After the market, we went to a local coffee shop called  Café Amazon (no connection with the Amazon we are familiar with).They are a chain that is quite well known here.  I had an iced tea and Norm had an iced coffee.  We sampled the sticky rice and the mangosteen.


We wanted to go out to dinner near the river, so we asked if we could just stay with our tuk tuk instead of going back to the ship and Gina arranged it with our driver.  We went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel which was absolutely beautiful. It was quite a distance from the coffee shop to that part of the city, and interesting to do it by tuk tuk.


The dining area on the river was lovely but we found out that after 6:30 Norm could not go in wearing shorts.  They do have trousers for patrons but they are made for Asian bodies, not “European” as they say there.  Dress codes can be strict, no sleeveless tops, no flip flops, etc.  So we took the river taxi across the river to the Peninsula Hotel and had dinner at their Thai restaurant also outside on the banks of the river.  It was beautiful and delicious.


As it got dark, the lighted boats were so nice to see.  And there was a woman playing music at the restaurant.


We took a taxi back to the ship, relaxed and got ready for a second day in Bangkok.

Today we took the shuttle to the Central World Mall.  It is an amazing mall, 7 stories and just huge.  I wanted to buy some shoes, and the store had areas with at least 20 different shoe brands. Very confusing and a bit overwhelming.  But I did find a pair I liked. They had Aunt Anne’s pretzels so of course I had to have one.  We stopped for a coffee and continued shopping – well, really mostly looking in amazement.  Many of our familiar stores were there but there were also more than 100 restaurants and some local stores too.

We had spring rolls for lunch, and when we were ready to go back to the ship, I found out that if you spent a certain amount of money, you could choose one of these adorable elephants!


Today was the beginning of the new segment, Bangkok to Tokyo, so there were many new passengers when we returned to the ship.  I got to say goodbye to a favorite casino dealer, Hitesh, who was leaving for his vacation.  I went to the spa raffle – didn’t win anything – then I re-did my Ko Samui post and composed this one. Now we are watching the sights along the river as it gets dark before dinner.

Tomorrow we arrive in Cambodia about 1 PM.

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Ko Samui, Thailand

May 31, 2023

I had this whole post on my iPad when it went fluky, froze  and the whole post disappeared, so I am doing this one again on my laptop…

On May 30, we were invited to dinner with our chief engineer, Ned Tonchev, and our captain, Maroje Brajcic.  Erin and Mui were invited as well.  We had a wonderful evening!


On May 31, Wednesday, we had a tour with Sonia and Boris. This port we are anchored and we were about a 30 minute tender ride away from the port.  We were lucky to have shoreside tenders which were large and open instead of using the usual lifeboats we use in other places. Later we heard that ships have to anchor so far out because a few years ago one ship’s anchor cut into an undersea cable which caused many problems.


We were picked up in a 4×4 vehicle by our guide, Tukky.  Good thing he had us fasten our seatbelts because this was an adventure tour around the island of Ko Samui and it consisted of many bumpy dirt roads interspersed with some paved parts and we went way up into the mountains for the beautiful viewpoints. On the way Tukky often stopped to show us different trees and fruits that grow in the jungle.


The views were really beautiful.  At the first stop we had to walk over rope bridges to get to the viewpoint.  We were scheduled to also see the waterfall but it is dry now.



We saw many banana trees but Tukky told us that they are being cut down in many places to plant durian trees (that smelly fruit that is prohibited in vehicles, airplanes and hotels).  Apparently it is more lucrative to sell that and it is in great demand in China. Here is a banana tree, a durian tree and a betel nut. We also learned about the two coconuts harvested here, one for the coconut meat and the other for milk. They are two completely different trees.


The next viewpoint was just as beautiful.  We saw homes and restaurants so far off the beaten path we wondered how people live and how others find the places – but then we found them as tourists.  Tukky told us that Ko Samui was hit hard by Covid, everything shut down and since tourism is the main source of income, it was devastating.  It is now coming back. There wasn’t much illness here and there aren’t many Chinese visitors either since it is a small island and they like to travel in large groups – there aren’t enough accommodations for large groups.

This frog was a visitor in my stall in the rest room.  And these puppies were so cute!


Next we visited the Lamai Temple area where we saw the temple and the museum from the outside and had our pictures taken with the animals representing our birth years (Tiger for me, Ox for Norm).


More wonderful views from here.


Our next stop was at the Secret Buddha Garden or Magic Garden where we walked into a beautiful wooded area with lots of statues.  The walking was a bit treacherous as there were slippery places and many rocks to navigate.  But it was serene and quiet.


Our last stop of the day was at the Crystal Bay Beach resort where we had a beautiful beach, a lovely pool and a delicious lunch.  We told Tukky we wanted to spend 3 hours there before going back to the ship. 

beach club


After lunch and a beach walk, Sonia and I had Thai massages (60 minutes for $10!) right along the beach.  So relaxing.  We just got finished when a huge black cloud and fierce rainstorm hit, tree branches came down and sand sprayed everywhere.  Tukky had ponchos for us but we got soaked in the 4×4 vehicle.  Wheeee!



A great day all around.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, May, World Cruise #4 | 2 Comments

Ho Chi Minh City – addition

May 28, 2023

Norm read my post and he reminded me that I forgot to wrote about the main thing I wanted to do on Sunday in town. And it was important- for me….To have a dip powder manicure which they do not do on the ship, and also a pedicure. In the shop we looked for the shirt for Norm, we asked about a nail salon and there was one right next door. So we went up the stairs to find it. The young woman didn’t understand about the dip powder and by the time she read what I wrote on Google translate, she had already started the pedicure. Turns out that they don’t do the dip powder. So after my $10 pedicure, she took me by the hand and we crossed the street about a half block down to a nail salon that did the manicure I wanted. She knows how to navigate those motorbikes!

All in all, a very fun and successful two days in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

May 28 and 29, 2013

Yesterday (May 27) was the Jewish holiday Shavuot which is the celebration of the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. It also commemorates the grain harvest of the early summer. Our friends and fellow passengers Bruce and Karen, who conduct the Friday night services on board, arranged with the ship to have a Shavuot breakfast in the Grand Dining Room. Harvest festivals featured dairy dishes because cheese was produced in that season. So the food consisted of all dairy items. There were three tables of passengers and each table shared the reading of the Ten Commandments. Here’s the lovely food that the chefs prepared. We could also order anything from the regular menu.

We also had another cooking demonstration – this time it was with the Oceania corporate culinary director who is on the ship for a short time, Tino Daab, and the Toscana chef, Lorenzo Favero. The dishes were Malaysian Fish Curry with Coconut Risotto and Risotto Ai Funghi Porcini.

We didn’t book any organized tours in Ho Chi Minh City as we have been here several times before. We decided to explore on our own. Much of the fun in being here is in the simple pleasure of absorbing its flurry of activity. It is full of sights and sounds and is growing rapidly. And…the motorbikes! You almost take your life in your hands when you try to cross the street! There are a few more traffic lights now but it is still pretty treacherous. You see everything on these motorbikes…eggs in a huge stack, dogs, mountains of stuff for sale, fruits and vegetables and sometimes entire families or animals bound for market. Truly a unique sight.

The city is Vietnam’s center of commerce and the country’s biggest city but the administrative capital is in Hanoi. While the name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, many of the millions of people who call it home still refer to it as Saigon.

The Insignia is a small enough ship that we can sail right into the center of the city, on the banks of the Saigon River. Here is the city as we arrived about 10:30 AM.

Our ship is across a bridge from District 1 which is the center of the city. On our first day, we made plans to have dinner with Erin and Mui, so we set out in a taxi across the bridge with the plan to go to the Ben Thanh market. We walked around the city, went to the market where there is just about evetything for sale, went to Saigon Center where we cooled off and had drinks. I have had a right hip issue which bothers me only when I walk up stairs, so I bought a new pair of walking shoes since I suspect that the ones I brought with me got too worn down and that is causing the problem. I also bought a new charm for my Pandora bracelet (guess what it was… a motorbike!) Norm had seen a shirt in Hoi An at a shop but they didn’t have his size. We went to the branch of the shop here, but they didn’t have the same one. No luck there.

We took the pedicabs to the Saigon Center. The heat is oppressive and we had already walked a lot.

The Saigon Center has a very cool robot that keeps the floors spotless!

On our way to the restaurant, we went to the Opera House for a photo. There was a promotion going on for a product called Varna which is apparently some kind of nuritional supplement. They took my name and phone number and gave me an envelope of it (the photo on the package looks like dried fish to me and of course I cannot read the ingredients.) I have to plug it in to Google Translate, but I don’t think I will be trying it!

But they had 6 stations set up and if you went to all 6, you would get a prize. I went to three of them, here are two pictures! I don’t know what they do with the pictures…

Here are the pictures of the Opera House and City Hall, both have a French influence and are very beautiful.

We met Erin and Mui at the Hoa Tuc restaurant which was recommended by Lindsay, a fellow passenger who has friends here. It is in an area known as the Manufacture Courtyard. At the end of the 19th Century, the Governor of Indochina decided to exercise control over the refining and sale of opium and this building became the warehouse for opium and later, the Red Light District. In 1975, the buildings were split into housing and now feature several restaurants.

Here is the menu of what we all had for dinner. It was delicious and the only non Asians were some other people from the ship.

For dessert we all shared a creme brulee with black rice and durian ice cream with mangos and black rice. We all liked both but agreed that we might not order the durian ice cream again! It doesn’t smell bad like the fruit – which is banned on public transportation- but it wasn’t our favorite.

We took a taxi back to the ship – we were pretty tired and hot.

Today (Monday, May 28), Norm and I went out early, walked across the bridge and had a few goals in mind. A haircut for him, fresh flowers for me and finding mangoes. I am happy to say we met all of our goals. We have a fairly early departure – 2:30 PM – so we wanted an early start and a good walk.

My new shoes felt great. We walked all over the area. We stopped at the Rex Hotel for drinks at the Rooftop Garden Bar- the iced coffee here in Vietnam is quite famous. It is very strong and has added condensed milk which makes it very delicious!

We found a wonderful flower shop and watched as they created a bouquet with the flowers I chose (with some help from one of the staff).

Another staff member was designing this beautiful bouquet
They wrapped it beautifully and had a way to keep it watered inside the wrapping.
The bouquet in our room

Then we found a place for Norm to have a haircut, and I had a wonderful foot massage with an additional head, neck, shoulder and back massage. Norm also had the head and neck massage. Delightful! They gave us Jasmine tea and a kind of chewy cake while we were there.

Foot soak before the massage

We are back on board to sail at 2:30. We have a day at sea and then we will have a day in Ko Samui Thailand.

Posted in Asia, Food, May, World Cruise #4 | 1 Comment

Chan May, Vietnam

May 25 and 26, 2023

We arrived in Chan May on Thursday at about 4 PM. There is really nothing much near the cruise port so we just went to the small tourist shopping area on the port itself. We had fun looking but didn’t buy anything. Still very hot here. We had a dinner reservation in Polo Grill tonight, so relaxed and had a wonderful dinner.

Our plan for Friday was a full day trip to Da Nang and Hoi An. Although we have been to Vietnam many times, we had not visited Hoi An. It was a favorite for our son and daughter in law when they came on their honeymoon, so we wanted to experience it. Last time we were here we went to Hue and enjoyed that very much. Both are quite far from the port, it can take up to 2 hours each way. It took us about 90 minutes.

Our guide was Tuan. He told us lots of interesting facts about Vietnam and this central area. From here, it is only about 30 miles to Laos. He was born and raised in a small village near here. He told us that 9% of the population is Buddhist and about 8% is Catholic. The rest have no religion but worship their ancestors. They don’t celebrate birthdays (the first birthday celebration he ever experienced was when he was at college and his peers had a party for his 18h birthday). On the anniversary of a loved one’s death, the family buys cherished items made of paper (could be clothes, food, items like phones, etc) to “give” to the departed. Then they burn the items. You see these paper items in all of the markets.

He talked about tourism which has really suffered during covid and is still only 30% of what it was before. Since 1995 when the relationship between the US and Vietnam normalized, the country has grown and modernized a lot. Tuan said they can talk about anything now and that the only thing they are prohibited from doing is to form another political party. It is a one party Communist system but in reality the country is quite capitalistic. They do vote in local elections but national is ruled by the single party.

Almost everyone has a motorbike here. They cost about $1000 US (which is about the price of a water buffalo, so sometimes they trade them!)And you just have to cross the street and hope they stop for you. You cannot wait for a break because there aren’t any. It is far worse in the big cities but still treacherous here.

The population is 100 million. We stopped in Da Nang on our way to Hoi An. The population there is 1.2 million and it is the third largest city after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). He said there is no homeless problem at all. If anyone sees a homeless person, they are instructed to call the police. You are paid $10 for the call and the police take the person to learn a trade and they provide a place to live during the training in a training center. He also said that local governments are very responsive to social media, phone calls and email and answer within 24 hours. The minimum wage here is $368/month US and at that level there is no income tax. Otherwise there is a 10% income tax here. Of course, as soon as you exchange enough US money for Dong, you become a millionaire because 1 million Dong equals $42 US.

The scenery is quite beautiful on the way to Da Nang. You go through a 4 mile tunnel under the mountains which are on one side of the highway and the ocean and river is on the other side. We passed a few fishing villages.

Once in Da Nang, we went to the Cham museum which has sandstone carvings dating back as early as the 7th and 8th century. It is a small but very well done museum with amazing carvings from the Cham dynasty era. First I tried to get a good shot of the famous dragon bridge but it was hard to get the whole thing in a single shot. I heard it is amazing at night.

I will post some pictures from the museum and try not to overwhelm you. Each one seemed more interesting than the last.

After the museum we startted toward Hoi An. We stopped at a marble factory mostly to use the rest room because we wouldn’t get another chance until lunch time. The marble carvings were pretty spectacular. Tuan said there are 5 colors of marble and it is mined on the other side of the mountains from here. Here are some of the large carvings. They also have small ones there.

These are $26,000 US including shipping. We didn’t buy one.

We arrived in Hoi An before 11 AM which Tuan said was good because buses are not allowed to drive there after 11. Hoi An has a population of about 120,000 and is noted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. It is an ancient town on the bank of the Thu Bon River which used to be the international port until it became too shallow. The town has Japanese, Chinese and European influences and is a well preserved complex of over 1100 timber frame buildings. The housees are tiled and the wooden components are carved with traditional motifs. They are arranged side by side in tight unbroken rows along narrrow pedestrian streets.

The buildings front the street for convenient customer access and the backs open to the river allowing easy loading and off loading of goods from boats.

The town is just beautiful, full of lanterns, colorful markets and buildings and historic 17th and 18th century townscapes.

We visited an ancient house with original carvings and furniture. The river floods almost every year and there are openings in the ceilings which allow a lift to move all of the furniture up to a higher floor during the rainy season.

These markers show how high the water has reached in past years

We had a long walk around the town, time for some shopping and then went to a lovely restaurant for lunch.

We stopped at the Fukien Museum and saw the site of the famous Japanese bridge. This mural covered the bridge because it is under renovation.

Of course, I have to take pictures of signs along the way.

50 Celsius that is….

We had a terrific lunch with plenty of non meat options for me.

For every course, they brought me something with seafood or vegetarian
Just the appetizer and salad
The local beer

It was a lovely day – still quite hot, and I did buy a fan from a local vendor.

When we got back to the ship we found that a pigeon had come to visit on our balcony! It stayed all night and left a mess on the floor. We chased it in the morning.

We have a day at sea on Saturday – lots going on but we can stay cool! There is a Facebook live filming with some of our friends and also our guest chefs and our enrichment speaker- if you want to see the recording, you can view it on the Oceania Cruises Facebook page. I will go to be in the audience.

Tomorrow we have the first of two days at Ho Chi Minh City.

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

May 24, 2023

It has been 6 years since we visited Ha Long Bay (on our 2019 trip we bypassed Vietnam to take our 10 day trip to Nepal and Bhutan) so we were eager to see how much had changed. On our sail in, I was reminded that I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I have not changed that opinion!

We have an Around the World event in the afternoon, so we decided to take a taxi for a tour around the city, stop somewhere for lunch and then be back to get ready for the afternoon event.

We got a cab out on the street after taking an electric cart to the port entrance. We can walk in the port since it is not a commercial port (that is in another location), but it is almost a mile out to the street. When we were here in 2017, we were anchored and had to take the tender to shore. I am not sure if that was because another ship was at the dock or if the dock wasn’t completed then.

The taxi driver was a young man who spoke English but not too well. He took us all around the town. We noticed how many new buildings there are, and they are mostly unoccupied. Our driver said that COVID made a big difference here but now more tourists and people moving in to the city are helping. He said that mostly Chinese and Japanese people buy here. Later we heard that people may not own land here but can buy houses or condos. But if the government later wants the land you must relinquish it. Here are some of the sights – you will see that the condos and even the storefronts are new and empty.

This is a huge hotel – not sure about occupancy but it looks amazing

There are beautiful beaches but they are mostly empty during the day. Vietnamese people are almost all covered up from head to toe with masks on because they don’t want to be in the sun. Our driver said that the beaches start to get busy about 7 PM.

We stopped at a market and browsed but didn’t buy anything. Yes, they had many bananas!

After our drive around town, we asked the driver to drop us off at a restaurant for lunch – one not too far from the port entrance. We were surprised and delighted that it was the SAME ONE that we chose to eat lunch at in 2017! I had a picture of the two women who were there then and the current staff knew them! I am no sure if they are still working there because I didn’t understand the Vietnamese.

We had a greaat lunch and the bill came to $10 in US money. We again gave them $20 (same as 6 years ago when the bill was $7 – different food and drink though) and the young man’s face lit up like that never happened before!

We walked the whole way back to the ship and got ready for our evening event.

Everything here is so much less expensive than almost anywhere else that we visit. One of our friends had a dental issue and went to the dentist here. She had full mouth xrays and they needed to pull the tooth. That was done and she was given a bag of meds for both pain and the antibiotics. The entire bill for everything was $71 US. She did have to be taken by motorbike to an ATM to get Vietnamese money – her first trip on that kind of vehicle!

When it was time for the trip to the Around the World event, we were taken by bus and our guide on the bus had a long Vietnamese name. So he told us to call him Steven, his name in English. He gave us a lot of information about Ha Long Bay and even a print out of three common sayings.

Ha Long Bay consists of a dense cluster of 1969 limestone islands that rise spectacularly from the ocean, each topped with thick jungle vegetation. Some of the islands are hollow with enormous caves. Some support floating villages of fishermen – there are 200 species of fish to be found here and 450 types of mollusks.

The bay was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994. Ha Long Bay means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” because of local legend which says that long ago when their forefathers were fighting foreign invaders, the gods from heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long Bay and began spitting out jewels and jade. When the jewels and jade hit the sea, they turned into the various islands and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders.

One of the beautiful areas seen from the bus

Steven told us that we are the last of the cruise ships to come here until October. This is the hot and rainy season so we were lucky not to have rain. But it is quite hot.

When we arrived at the cave (the only one that is allowed to host events like this), we were greeted by local young people playing drums and lined up to greet us at the entrance. Dragons and Lions were also there and Norm had to greet THEM!

We walked through a long entrance where a huge bar was set up and plates of appetizers were placed on cocktail tables. There were many types of drinks offered. I had a Mai Tai which was delicious.

Here is the menu and information about the evening.

With almost 400 around the world travelers, it is probably quite hard to do an event like this, but it was very special. We were entertained by musicians and dancers and the evening ended with a DJ and dancing. We also each got a gift of a model of the islands.

The city was beautiful at night.

This is taken from our balcony

Now on to Chan May where we arrive at 3:30 PM and stay overnight. We visited Hue when we were here last time. This time we will go to Da Nang and Hoi An on a full day trip.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, May, World Cruise #4 | 3 Comments