The central attraction in Bangkok is the Grand Palace and Grounds featuring many temples, palaces and a museum. To do it right, the area is worth most of a day and that means at least finding a place to sit down and have lunch. If you are in the area near Wat Pho (Giant Buddha) a good choice for lunch is Eat Sight Story. The restaurant is on the Chao Praya River across from Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) with a deck featuring tables, umbrellas and great views. To find it, go down Tha Tian Alley towards the river from Maha Rat Road, south of the Naval Welfare Department.
In addition to the deck overlooking the river, ESS has tables inside along with a small air conditioned dining room. The staff is friendly and efficient and, while not inexpensive, the food is very good. The afternoon we visited, we had curried beef, Pad Thai, grilled chicken skewers with rice and cold Thai beer and were very pleased with our selections. Based on other meals we ate in Thailand we believe that their offerings are toned down some to appeal to western tastes.
The Beer Bridge was located just down the street from our hotel in the The Portico Building, 31 Langsuan, Ploenchit Rd., Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok. The Beer Bridge is a modern eatery in an upscale neighborhood just a block away from Central Chidlom, Bangkok’s largest department store and near a number of major hotels.
They offered a wide selection of beers (local and imported) along with a nice wine list, cocktails and typical pub food. We ordered an appetizer which turned out to be the tiniest Buffalo chicken wings we’ve every eaten. But, after a long and warm day walking around Bangkok, The Beer Bridge provided exactly what we needed – really cold beer and some western familiarity.
Top Photograph:The Japan Bridge, Hoi An.
2nd Row: Street Scene Saigon & Village near Nah Trang
3rd Row: Boats on the Mekong & Market in Hoi An
Impressions of Vietnam
Our recent South China Sea cruise made four stops in Vietnam. Because we were back-to-back cruising, Phu My, the port for Ho Cho Min City was duplicated. We took advantage of two ship’s tours and an independent trip into Saigon with bus service provided by the ship (separate fee). We really enjoyed our time spent ashore and found it both interesting and worthwhile. Shopping was inexpensive and easy because the U.S. dollar is the preferred currency. Almost everywhere we went, prices were quoted in dollars (about 22,000 Vietnamese Dong to 1 U.S. Dollar).
The official position of the Vietnamese government is that they are friends with the United States and that the Vietnamese people should welcome Americans. We had extended contact with three different Vietnamese men during our time in Vietnam. The first expressed no political opinion and was friendly and seemed welcoming to us. The second taught history in secondary school, was a party member and seemed focused in his thinking on the war and all the problems America caused and is still causing. The third thought most of Vietnam’s post-war problems were caused by government corruption and the party and wished that American style capitalism was given more opportunity.
Ho Chi Min City
Our first stop was listed as Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) but the ship docked at Phu My, an industrial area without anything within walking distance. There are some residential areas and a business strip between 5 to 10 miles from the port but nothing of specific interest.
Ho Chi Min City is an hour and a half drive from the port. The cruise ship offered tours and also just a round trip bus service into the city which ran about $60 per person. A number of passengers took local taxis into the city. They claimed that with four people it was cheaper than the bus but you had to negotiate your fare upfront. We arranged a tour to the Mekong River Delta and went into Saigon on the second cruise.
The journey to the Mekong took three hours each way. The long bus ride gave us an opportunity to see rice farming in the countryside, old and new buildings in Ho Chi Min City as we drove through, and thousands of motor scooters carrying local people everywhere. The motor boat ride on the river was interesting followed by a small boat ride down the canals and then lunch at the Mekong River Rest Stop. The highlight of lunch was the delicious local elephant ear fish. Our tour guide was friendly and spent much of the trip talking about the Vietnamese people, their lives and their hopes for the future.
Our recommendation, unless you have a specific reason to visit the Mekong like we did, would be to take a city tour of Saigon or just take advantage of transportation into the city and do your own walking tour. There are a lot of great shopping bargains in the city and many things to see. Some of the highlights include the old Presidential Palace (now Reunification Palace), the Catholic Cathedral, and the old Post office. A short walk from the city center are the Opera House, The Rex Hotel (the roof bar was a gathering place for journalists and military during the war) and Dong Khoi Street with many souvenir shops, good restaurants and fashion boutiques.
Da Nang is a major city with a lot to see and features the Dragon Bridge which is actually a recent addition. Near by is China Beach which is now a modern seaside resort but during the war it was a “rest and relaxation” area for the military. Just south of Da Nang is the city of Hoi An which is well worth a visit. Hoi An is also becoming a beach resort with lots of new properties being developed but it is the old town (Ancient Town) that should get attention because of the history, architecture, shops and restaurants. We stocked up there on tee shirts ($3 and $5) and had a great lunch at Brothers Cafe. If you are cruising you should be able to find a tour that covers all these highlights.
This is also a developing area that is a seaside resort particularly popular with Russian tourists. There is a cable car that crosses the bay, an amusement park, a water park and some good beaches. On our stop we had to tender-in and merchants had set up tables full of souvenirs along the dock. The town itself was small with with a few shops and cafes but you could get a taxi tour at a reasonable price or take one of the ship’s tours.
We recently discovered another retired couple that recently visited Vietnam with some good information posted in April 2017. Check out Adventurous Retirees web site.
Most people, when they talk about Singapore, speak in superlatives but, the simple truth is, mere words just aren’t enough. We flew to Singapore on United 1 from San Francisco a seventeen plus hour flight
The hotel is halfway between the airport and the Marina Bay District and offered a free airport shuttle. The facility is
modern, the rooms are comfortable and the staff is friendly and helpful. A great buffet breakfast is offered and, depending on the category of stay, may be included in the rate. The location is near shopping malls (Parkway Parade Shopping Center is across the street) and restaurants and just a few blocks from East Coast Park.
After walking to the park, you are amazed by the view out to sea. It looks as if half the ships in the world are either anchored just off shore or are cruising by. Looking at a map you will notice that the South China Sea is blocked to the east by the Southeast Asia peninsula. The first opportunity that eastbound shipping has sailing from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and all the other nations of the area is past Singapore and thru the Straights of Malacca (also sp. Melaka). That’s a lot of cargo bound for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India all moving right past Singapore. That may also help explain why this city-state has become so rich and important.
The stories about the strict laws and their enforcement are mostly true. It seems that even chewing gum in Singapore is against the law because the government thinks it messes up the streets. When you arrive in country, your immigration form explains that selling drugs is punishable by death. While civil libertarians may be shocked, the obvious result is one of the most modern, safe and clean cities we have ever visited.
English is an official language taught in all schools along with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil but almost all signage is in English making it easy to get around and find things. The city boasts a world class rapid transit system, the MRT that is easy to access, purchase tickets for and understand. The system offers an all-day ticket but we found it cheaper to purchase roundtrip fares to specific destinations. The cleanliness is also striking. No graffiti anywhere and you could probably eat off the floors.
Singapore boasts dozens of world famous restaurants and clubs, a Universal Studios theme park, one of the world’s great zoos, a water park, aquarium and two botanical gardens, the newest and most spectacular being Gardens by the Bay. Almost everything can be reached via the MRT or an inexpensive taxi ride. The city also boasts a Chinatown and a Little India which offer inexpensive shopping and eating options.
Singapore is home to a number of Hindu Temples because of the Indian labor brought in by the British when they established a trading post in the early nineteenth century. The oldest, Sri Mariamman Temple dates back to 1827. The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is located on Ceylon Road, a few blocks from the Grand Mercure Roxy. It was built by the Sri Lankan Tamils for the Hindu God Ganesha.
While not a destination for bargain hunters because of the high cost of living, the city is home to a number of malls and department stores along with high-end specialty shops. Singapore shows off with a modern skyline and one of the newer additions is the triple towers of the Marina Bay Sands. This complex features a hotel, a casino and 170 plus premium brand stores capped by a connecting roof garden floating at the top. It is home to a number of restaurants operated by the likes of Wolfgang Puck, David Myers and Gordon Ramsay.
The popular symbol of Singapore is the Merlion, a lion with the body of a fish. While there are supposedly a number of local legends about the history of the Merlion the truth is it was created for the tourist board in the sixties as a marketing tool. The official symbol of Singapore is a red graphic of a lion’s head.
Photos top to bottom: Singapore skyline at night, Gardens By The Bay, Chinatown, ships at anchor, MRT map and train, Botanical Gardens, Figure at Hindu Temple, Skyline featuring Marina Bay Towers
We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).
Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.
Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.
Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.
Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.
In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.
Visiting Bangkok can be an exciting experience. The culture is rich and peaceful, the food is plentiful and diverse and there are many things to see and do. If you arrive on a cruise ship, you dock at Laem Chabang which is a minimum hour-and-a-half drive from the city. If your ship is only there for the day, it is difficult to get into the city and back and still manage to see a lot. If you are lucky, your ship docks one morning and departs the next evening providing you time for an adventure.
The trip into Bangkok is interesting because you see a lot and realize how modern the area is. There are many factories and businesses along the way and rest stops which stretch great distances providing a large number of restaurants and coffee shops for the traveler.
Once into the city, there are numerous temples and markets to visit along with museums and other historical properties. Thailand’s main religion is Buddhism so getting to a temple or two is a must. Keep in mind that there are specific dress codes (i.e. no bare shoulders or short pants) and you probably will be required to remove your shoes. Some temples do not allow photos. The word for temple in Thai is Wat.
The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) is probably the most famous and it is on the grounds of the Grand Palace (established in 1782) so you can visit both at the same time. The grounds are huge and include a number of temples and palaces, magnificent statuary, works of art and jeweled walls. There are small admittance fees but you can claim a beautiful brochure once you have paid. The Grand Palace closes from time to time for events/ceremonies so this could affect your visit.
Within a short walk of the Grand Palace is Wat Pho which is home to the Reclining Buddha (covered in gold and 46 meters in length), several other Buddhas and a variety of stone figures. Another famous temple in the area (not walking distance) is Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) on the Chao Phraya River. It can be enjoyed on its’ own or as part of a river/canal tour.
While in Bangkok we were urged to try a number of “street” foods, which are everywhere. Mostly what we sampled were fresh fruits with one highlight being a cup of strawberries dusted with salt, sugar and chili powder. Freshly opened coconuts for coconut water were available everywhere. Other foods included grilled chicken, fried bananas and pineapple. After checking into our hotel we went into the shopping district and stopped in a sports bar for a beer. We ordered chicken wings and were served the tiniest wings we’d ever seen, about an inch long.
50 miles from Bangkok is the Maeklong Railway Market, the most unique market in Asia. It features vendors (mostly food) on both sides of the railroad track. They display their products along the tracks and, when the train is coming, they quickly pull everything back until the train passes right through the market. Afterwards, all goods go back by the tracks. This process happens seven times a day but it is best to visit early in the morning when the temperatures and smells are both lower. Food is the main item sold here.
There are many floating markets in Thailand but one of the more interesting ones is Damnoen Saduak, about 60 miles from the city. Products are displayed in boats and around the canals and you can purchase food items that have been cooked on the boats. You can hire a long boat and the operator will row you around the canals to shop and observe. Bartering is a must and payment in local currency (baht) is expected.
Some excursions can be arranged with your ship and hotels in Bangkok also offer access to tour companies. A better alternative, if you are there overnight, is to hire a private travel company like Travel Hub as they have good itineraries and will pick you up at the ship, provide touring, drop you at a hotel and pick you up the following morning for more touring and the journey back to the ship. There are fixed itineraries with a little flexibility and each group includes a guide and driver; the smaller the group, the more personal the tour. Pricing depends on the number of people in the group.
A couple of important notes about visiting Thailand: The people love and respect their king and do not tolerate disrespect. Most Thai homes include photographs or art depicting the king and his family. One story recounts an incident where someone dropped Thai currency and stepped on it to keep it from blowing away. The act was considered an insult to the king because his picture is on all currency. Another note regards the Buddha. Thailand is a Buddhist country and disrespect towards the Buddha is not permitted under Thai law. There are billboards and posters all over the country pointing this out.
If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia you need to put Thailand at the top of your list.
Photos from top to bottom. Temple on Grand Palace Grounds. The current Grand Palace. The Temple of Dawn across the Chao Phraya River. Altar and Buddha in the Western Viharn. Golden statue of warrior on the grounds of the Grand Palace. Maeklong Railway market. Damnoen Saduak water market. Typical backyard shrines. Rest area on Thai highway.
On our recent South China Sea cruise we spent a day in Hong Kong. While it is not enough time to do much we managed to hit a few highlights. Our first impression of the city as we sailed into port is one of rolling hills and countless skyscrapers. If you are cruising in, the ship will probably dock at the new cruise terminal that was once the site of the international airport in Kowloon. That airport was replaced with one that was exciting to fly into a number of years ago. Across Victoria Harbour is
Hong Kong Island and the central business district with Victoria Peak standing above it. The first suggestion is to get yourself oriented as to where you are and what locations you would like to visit. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive and the subway (MTR) is easy to use. You can find a number of official maps here .
Going up to Victoria Peak is one of the cities highlights. There is a Peak Tram that leaves from a station near Hong Kong Park and the Government Center but by the time we got to the tram the wait to buy tickets and catch the tram was several hours. We’ve been told that the tram is an experience in itself but from our experience we would recommend getting to the tram lower terminus early in the day and if you’re staying in Hong Kong for a few days don’t miss going up at night. We shared a taxi with another couple up and back for less than 25 Hong Kong Dollars (US$5) each person and the view is well worth the trip. I can imagine what it looks like at night with the city glowing below you but even in the
day it is spectacular.
We started the day with a free bus ride to Plaza Hollywood which is a large mall with exhibit space, a movie theatre and a couple hundred stores. Leaving the Plaza we walked a couple of blocks to the Nan Lian Gardens (look for the elevated highway and walk under it). The park is a classic style Chinese garden and is beautiful with flowers, water falls, Koi ponds and pagodas and completely surrounded by high rise buildings (admission is free). Afterwards we walked back to Plaza Hollywood and the MTR Diamond Hill Station where we caught a subway. We used the subway to get to the business district at the Central Station. The MTR is easy to figure out with well designed maps and ticket machines with English language options. The trains and stations are modern, clean and well marked. From Central MTR station we walked to the Lower Peak Tram Terminus. The area features commercial skyscrapers and upscale shopping with the alleys between buildings filled with market stalls selling everything from food to inexpensive clothing.
One of the surprising things we learned is that while Hong Kong is wealthy, vertical city with high rise buildings and skyscrapers everywhere, there are lower income neighborhoods where high rise apartments average only a dozen square meters. We were told that it is common to have them furnished with triple-decker bunk beds and when you realize this you begin to notice laundry hanging out of windows all the way up to the higher floors.
If we weren’t running short on time we could have taken the MTR back to the Cruise Terminal but we used our remaining Hong Kong dollars to take a taxi. We would recommend changing money and using credit cards in Hong Kong as US dollars are not readily accepted.
Our ship sailed out of Victoria Harbour as the Sun began to slip behind the skyline marking the end of a great visit, but we are convinced that this city deserves a number of days to spend exploring.
Manila is a large and diverse city with lots to see and do. If you are there for several days it is possible to enjoy the diversity and to venture into the outlying countryside for some picturesque sites. If you only have a day, Singing Cooks and Waiters should be your number one stop.
First, and most important, is to know the address of this Manila Gem. It is located in the Ongpauco Building on Roxas Blvd, Pasay, Metro Manila. It is best to have this written down for your taxi driver as they seem to have a hard time finding this place. It is open for lunch (11-3) and dinner 6-11) but confirm the hours by either calling (632 832 0658) or checking their website.
Once you are seated in the dining room, you are presented with an extensive menu of local Filipino foods in a wide range of prices. There are several pages of poultry, meat and seafood to choose from so it is easy to pick several dishes that can be shared. If you are inclined, there are also a few local beers to enjoy with your meal.
As you wait for your food, you can enjoy the Filipino hospitality and the amazing entertainment. The show varies by time of day and day of the week. On our lunch there was a piano player and a local on the guitar and they were joined by singers who are also your waiters and cooks. They sing together and also perform some impressive solo numbers. The microphones are soup ladles from the kitchen. The singers walk among the tables to get diners to join in and eventually staff and guests make their way to the “stage” to sing and or/dance. The only problem comes when you finish eating and it is time to leave. Getting your check can take a while as everyone is having so much fun they don’t want to break away!
As you exit the restaurant there is a very attentive doorman who will send you on your way or help you get a cab. If you still have a little time left in your day and you feel like shopping, the fabulous Mall of Asia is just a short taxi drive away.