The Port of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

 

General Information – Ho Chi Minh City, as it is officially called, is a sprawling city located on the delta of the Dong Nai River but even locals still call it by its original name, Saigon. With the rapid industrialization recently of Vietnam a number of port facilities have been built along the channels of the Dong Nai River and usually they are referred to by the name the name of the nearest town Phu My. Currently there are a number of locations where cruise ships can dock. These are all working industrial ports where cruise terminals are generally not available but Vietnam is planning expansion to meet this demand.

Ho Chi Minh Skyline
Ho Chi Minh Skyline

The SPCT Port is one of the locations where cruise ships have docked and is about fifteen to twenty miles from Saigon. More recently ships are using the SP-PSA Saigon International Terminal which, by road, is over thirty miles from Saigon.

In either case there is virtually little within five miles of the dock area to accommodate visitors and getting into Saigon will require either a tour or a taxi. Most cruise ships offer tours into Saigon as well as down to the Mekong River and more.

Transportation – Most cruise passengers take advantage of buses arranged by their ships. Usually taxis are available and a one-way trip into Ho Chi Minh will cost about 700,000 Dong or about US$30 (be sure and confirm the price before starting out). Additionally Uber is becoming popular in Vietnam so if you are inclined refer to your app. We have heard that Uber drivers are somewhat scarce near the port though but common in town.

Showroom on Dong Khoi St.
Showroom on Đồng Khởi St.

Currency – Currently the US Dollar is worth about 23,000 Vietnamese Dong but the good news is the Vietnamese gladly accept American Dollars.

Attractions – The primary destination is Saigon where you will find the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, the War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace and many cultural centers. Saigon is a shopper’s paradise with bargains at every turn. The city has a number of major markets with An Đông Market being the most popular for general merchandise. There is also Đồng Khởi Street and surrounds for upscale shopping and restaurants.

Be sure and see more at Visiting Saigon.

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Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

front of Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

A couple of weeks ago we planned a trip thru the Blue Ridge and Smokey mountains of North Carolina and made reservations at the Broad River Inn Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock and nearby Lake Lure are somewhat isolated and have virtually no major chain hotels, so you have to pick from small local accommodations.

looking up at Hickory Nut Falls
Hickory Nut Falls

We made our selection based on a few reviews and what a great choice. The reviewers didn’t give the Broad River Inn enough credit. It seems the owner and family are new to this property and they are putting in a lot of effort to fix up the place and make guests feel welcome.

Our room was beautifully decorated, our bed was very comfortable and the owners placed a chilled bottle of wine in our room along with some chocolates and snacks.

Bedroom at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
A room at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

They include with the room a cooked-to-order breakfast and a daily speciality coffee from their attached coffee shop. Not to overstate anything the breakfast was incredible. Eggs, bacon or sausage and cinnamon monkey bread was our choice the first morning along with a yogurt parfait. The next morning – cinnamon bun french toast. The breakfast was almost worth the cost of the room.

Looking up the main street of the small tourist town of Chimney Rock
The small tourist town of Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is a small tourist town nestled down in Hickory Nut Gorge with the attraction being the namesake rock formation standing on a cliff above the town. The buildings on the main street seem to alternate between small restaurants and souvenir shops. The Broad River Inn also runs an attractive miniature golf course along the edge of Broad River and you will find a good day of hiking and exploring at Chimney Rock Park.

The town of Chimney Rock runs into the end of Lake Lure which features its own collection of accommodations, restaurants, boating and a nice sand beach. While out of the way this area has enough to do to keep a family entertained for a few days. Broad River Inn Chimney Rock is also a good anchor for touring the wider areas growing selection of good wineries.

Some convenient links to follow:

 

Cruise Port St. George, Grenada

St George Harbor

Once an out-of-the-way island, Grenada is gaining in popularity as a cruise ship port of call. The capital of St. George is considered by many as one of the Caribbean’s most picturesque towns wrapping around a half-moon shaped harbor. Called the spice island it is also a great place to shop for nutmeg and other spices.

 

Where the Ship Docks – St. George has a well equipped cruise pier and terminal located below Fort St. George and attached to the Esplanade shopping mall.

Fort St. George sits above the town.
Grand Anse Beach

Transportation – Getting around the island usually requires a taxi, water taxi or renting a car. Rental cars are available in St. George but you will need to pay about EC$30 for a temporary drivers license.

Taxis – Taxi fares are reasonably inexpensive with a trip around town costing less than EC$11 or US$4 or out to Grand Anse Beach for EC$27 or US$10.

Money – Grenada is part of a group of islands that form a common market and use the Eastern Caribbean Dollar with EC$2.67 equal to one US Dollar. US Dollars and credit cards are normally accepted.

Christ of the Deep statue

Attractions –

Beaches – Grenada has an abundance of great beaches but the most popular is Grand Anse Beach not far from St. George.

The Rain Forest – This island is blessed with some of the richest rain forests in the Caribbean offering a number of nature trails and waterfalls to visit.

Grenada Rainforest

Spices – Known as the spice island you can find dozens of opportunities to buy spices at really remarkable prices. If you have the time take a tour of a plantation. One of the most popular spices grown here is nutmeg.

Port of Call Akaroa, New Zealand

Located on the southeast side of sheltered Akaroa Harbor, is the cute resort township of Akaroa. With increasing cruises around Australia and New Zealand this tiny town is becoming a popular port of call. It is also unique as it was the only French settlement in New Zealand. Geologically originally an island formed by two volcanoes, the peninsula has two ancient craters which form Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbors. The region was named for the botanist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour.

Where You’re Docked – Cruise ships need to anchor out and use tenders to reach the Akaroa dock. The dock is the focus of a number of boat tours and water attractions and is located right in the town with a number of restaurants and shops nearby.

Money – New Zealand uses the NZ$ which currently is worth US$0.70 and you will need to exchange money or use credit cards.

Attractions – Akaroa, is famous for its several beautiful bays and harbors and there are boat tours and sea kayaking. In Flea bay, a couple of miles southeast of town, is a rare penguin colony and Akaroa harbor is home to the worlds rarest and smallest dolphin. A short walk out of town is Meniscus Wines, a vineyard which usually is open when ships are visiting and don’t miss The Giants House, a unique sculpture mosaic garden above town.

Hong Kong’s Nan Lian Gardens

You shouldn’t visit Hong Kong without taking an hour or two visiting Nan Lian Gardens. These beautiful gardens cover over eight and a half acres in central Hong Kong.

The best way to reach Nan Lian Gardens is to take the rapid transit (MTR MAP) to Diamond Hill station, leave through Exit C2 and follow the signs to the garden. The station is part of Plaza Hollywood complex, a large mall with exhibit space, a movie theatre and a couple hundred stores.

This park is an incredible classic style Chinese garden with formal planting designs, flowers, waterfalls, Koi ponds and pagodas and completely walled in by high rise buildings. Inside the gardens there is a souvenir shop, a vegetarian food restaurant and a Chinese tea house and admission is free.

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Nan Lian Garden is also adjacent to the Chi Lin Nunnery connected by a bridge. The Nunnery is a large Buddhist temple complex founded in 1934 for Buddhist nuns and was rebuilt in the 1990s in traditional Tang Dynasty architecture. The temple halls have statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the goddess of mercy Guanyin and other bodhisattvas.

Opening Hours: 7:00am – 9:00pm

Address: 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill, Kowloon

Phone: +852 2329 8811

 

Port of Sydney, Australia

If the world has a perfect port of call, in our opinion, this is it. Besides being the worlds greatest natural harbor, the harbor is surrounded by a truly remarkable city. The center of the Sydney harbor area is Circular Quay with ferries leaving regularly for dozens of destinations like Manley Beach, Watson’s Bay and Luna Park. In addition the Circular Quay is located near the Sydney Opera House, the harbor bridge, the Rocks and metro hubs. The great news is that cruise ships dock right next to Circular Quay.

Pier and Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House

Where You’re Docked – One of the great things about Sydney as a port of call is the pier location. It docks right next to The Rocks, a great historic neighborhood with restaurants, shops and a museum. Less than a half mile walk behind The Rocks is Darling Harbor which is a modern centerpiece to the area with attractions and great restaurants. A short walk in the opposite direction is Circular Quay where you can catch any number of ferries to destinations all around the harbor.

The Rocks

Transportation – Getting into the central city is just a short walk from the pier and the mass transit options are really good. If you are going to be in Sydney for a while or if you want to spend your day traveling on your own, be sure and get an Opal Card. Because ships dock very near Circular Quay you can also easily catch a ferry to any number of locations around the harbor (Opal Card works on ferries too).

Darling Harbor

Money – You should get some currency exchanged even if you plan on relying on credit cards just for incidentals. Currently the Australian dollar is equal to 76¢ U.S. Also you need to know that Australians DON’T tip. If you go to a restaurant and the menu says $10.00 that is exactly what you should expect to pay. Most listed prices include all taxes and tips.

Local Highlights – Within a couple of blocks of the pier are two museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Discovery Museum, both worth a visit.

Cruise ship and Opera House

The Sydney Opera House – Even if there are no productions there are still guided tours ($) of this architectural masterpiece.

 

The Harbour Bridge – This structure dominates the harbor and there are tours that will walk you up the suspension cables to the top.

Luna Park

Darling Harbor – Less than a half mile west of the pier is Darling Harbor with restaurants, shops and Sea Life the Sydney Aquarium.

Royal Botanic Gardens – Just to the east of Circular Quay is a large park that includes the Gardens along with The Rose Garden and Pavilion.

Catch a Ferry – Grab a ferry at the Quay and see Sydney from the water. Visit Manley Beach, a popular surfing beach and Watson’s Bay for good fish n’ chips.

 

A Wet Day In Blarney

Blarney Castle

When you have a limited number of days to visit a country you just keep going, even when the weather turns foul. Such was the case when we traveled to Blarney Castle. Not so much cold but a persistent on and off drizzle. I’m still not sure what brought us to pick Blarney over a dozen other famous Irish castles but I think it was the name recognition more than anything. The bonus in picking Blarney was also going to kiss the Blarney Stone but I was told that the last thing I needed was to increase my “gift of gab”.

Kissing the stone

Blarney Castle is a medieval stronghold in the town of Blarney, near Cork, Ireland. The keep was built by the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty in 1446. The castle is now a partial ruin with some accessible rooms and battlements. At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone.

The entrance to the property is well laid out and there is a nice stream flowing through the estate. The gardens surrounding the property are worth a visit provided the weather is accommodating and there are also a number of out buildings and exhibits.

The grand hall

The castle itself stands about ninety feet tall with the interior mostly gutted. Upon entering the castle you find yourself standing in the cellar and looking up through the grand hall with its floor completely missing. You can see the stone supports that used to hold the floor just below the halls fireplace with remains of the two story vaulted ceiling above that

Getting to the top of the castle where the Stone of Eloquence is located is a climb up a narrow stone spiral staircase with only enough room for one person at a time to ascend. Before you start your climb they stress that it is a one-way climb (descent is by another narrow staircase) and once you start you cannot back down, so make sure you are up to the climb.

 

 

The castle top

As we ascended there were a number of small chambers off the stairs as well as defensive slits for fighting off attackers. Once we reached the top there was a pretty steady rain falling but people were still laying on their backs to stick their faces out to kiss the stone. By that time I wasn’t keen on going through with kissing the stone and had concerns that I didn’t have enough sanitizer with me considering the number of people that preceded us.

Once back down and wet we headed off to find a pub and an Irish Coffee. In the center of the town we found the Muskerry Arms – cozy, friendly and makers of great Irish Coffees.

Besides the castle the village of Blarney was home to the Blarney Woollen Mills built in 1823. In its day it was known for spinning and weaving wool. The mill closed in 1973 after which it was re-opened as an Irish heritage shop.

 

 

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