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.
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.