Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. I’ve visited Singapore on two occasions, not as a main holiday destination, but as part of a cruise. Singapore is a small city state that is certainly big on personality. It was formerly a crown colony of the British Empire which went on to become a part of Malaysia before gaining independence in 1965. It is the world busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage and on sailing in our captain informed us that some ships can be anchored outside port for up to three months waiting to dock! On our first visit for a day in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my only experience of Asia at this point had been Pattaya in Thailand, which bears no resemblance except similar weather. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited which is the reason why we took advantage of adding a 3 night stay to the end of another cruise which disembarked in Singapore. It is easily reached from the UK with several regional airports offering flights via Dubai with Emirates Airlines.
The city is clean and very modern, the local people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around which is great as there’s so much to see and do. From both visits, I have several fantastic memories and these are my highlights which you could easily fit into a 2 or 3-night stay.
Gardens by the Bay
Before we visited Singapore for the first time I researched where to go as our time was limited. The Gardens by the Bay were recently opened and sounded really interesting, so they were top of our list and we weren’t disappointed! It is a national garden and first class horticultural attraction for locals and visitors alike. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a totally new way with garden artistry and horticultural innovation and to offer a calendar of exciting events to both entertain and educate including Christmas Wonderland of which I’ll cover more later.
Admission to the beautiful and extensive outdoor gardens is free however, there is a charge to enter some areas such as the conservatories, flower dome and skywalk. The gardens are home to the ‘Super Trees’ and it was love at first sight for me (how can someone be smitten by giant metal trees? I don’t really know myself but I am!) hopefully you can see why from these photos! These Super Trees stand up to 16 storeys high and over 200 species of plants form a ‘skin’ growing vertically up the trees. It was wonderful to see the difference in growth between our first visit in 2012 and our second in 2015!
Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay
On our second visit to Singapore we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law and we were keen to introduce them to some highlights of our first visit. So along with a daytime return to Gardens by the Bay we went along in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Christmas Wonderland…and wow! they certainly don’t do things by half in Singapore!
This was an extravaganza of all things festive including stunning light installations, an ice rink, Christmas market, fairground stalls, live musicians and more! Best of all admission is FREE although some attractions inside had a charge such as the ice rink.
This picture below is of a really cool attraction where people were positioned on the floor beneath a huge mirror. This, in turn, produced the image you see in this photograph which could be purchased as a momento.
This was Christmassy heaven and felt a bit like I was walking through Disney World, humming along to the festive music that filled the air and with a warm, happy feeling inside. We also enjoyed listening to a choir singing Christmas Carols in the most magical of settings! click here to see the video on my YouTube channel!
Marina Bay Sands Hotel
This architectural gem of a building is located right next to Gardens by the bay with a elevated walkway into the Gardens. This is accessed from an external glass elevator which is an experience in itself!
The hotel has its own retail experience too – The Shoppes – a luxury shopping centre with a canal running through it on which you can take a gondola ride. The MRT station here connects you to many areas of Singapore.
The hotel has several appealing bars and restaurants which are open to the public.There is a viewing platform on the 57th floor too and from there you can enjoy spectacular views over the bustling shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait. Entry costs SD$23 Adult; SD$17 Children (Singapore dollars) at time of writing however, here’s my tip to enjoy most of the same view for FREE! From the lobby take a lift in tower one up to level 57 where you’ll step out onto a smaller viewing platform right next to the bar and restaurant on the bay side.
If, like us, you want to enjoy a Singapore Sling while in town then it’s a good idea to try one in the bar here. This way you get to enjoy the outdoor seating area which curves around to the other side of the hotel and offers fantastic views over the city itself and a chance to check out the 57th floor infinity pool.
Newton Food Centre
This fantastic food court was a recommendation from a helpful Australian guy living in Singapore who we chatted to in the MRT station. How fortunate to have that chance encounter as we wouldn’t have known about this place. This is one of what are known as Hawker Centres, where you are approached by hawkers from each stall offering you a menu and asking you to sit at a table and…as there are lots of stalls, there are lots of them! We were approached almost immediately by more than one hawker and this can seem a bit overwhelming when you haven’t even had the chance to look around, especially as the atmosphere is quite bustling. If like us, you want to check out some of the stalls before making your choice, just politely decline.
The large outdoor dining area is surrounded by a perimeter of stalls (over 50) selling a variety of Asian and Singapore dishes, so there’s something for everyone. When you’re ready a hawker will escort you to a table and from there they will look after you with all your food and drink orders. As it’s a while since we visited I can’t remember exactly what we ate but it was all lovely and reasonably priced. One of the most popular dishes is the chilli crab which I didn’t try but others in my company enjoyed it. On our visit this dish was priced by weight rather than by serving, so it pays to check before you order. The hawkers were friendly and the atmosphere was lively. Popular with locals and visitors, it’s a great unfussy place to relax with a cold beer and sample local food!
We had been recommended to visit Chinatown by relatives of ours. This historic area is a melting pot of old and new where you’ll find an abundance of traditional shops and markets alongside trendy stores and cool cafes all vying for your attention. This area is home to the colourful and ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here you’ll find Chinese temples sitting alongside Hindu temples and Mosques.
On the day we visited China Town we weren’t really prepared for the amount of rain we encountered which meant our exploration of the area took the form of hopping from one shop awning to another as we tried to keep dry. The rain soon developed into a ‘mini monsoon’ just as we’d decided to sit down in a cafe…phew! what great timing! It’s a shame we didn’t see more of this historic district however I was happy just to take in the atmosphere through a curtain of rain at this point!
This is a vibrant historic centre where traditional trades rub shoulders with modern boutiques, hotels, restaurant’s, temples, churches and mosques. It’s very busy with a great atmosphere and fabulously colourful! If you like shopping or sniffing out a bargain then you could spend hours here. Shopping isn’t a pastime high on my list when on holiday but observing day to day life is something I enjoy, so a spot of people watching while enjoying some fabulous Indian cuisine was the order of the day after we’d finished exploring.
It’s hard to know where to choose as there’s so many great looking (and smelling) options. Usually a place where you see several locals eating can be a good indicator, so that’s what we did! The dishes on the menu weren’t what you’d typically find in the UK, so we asked the server to recommend a good mix of dishes for the four of us. The result was that we enjoyed probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. This wasn’t a flash place but that wasn’t the experience we were after. What we got, more importantly, was great authenitic Indian cooking.
This is one of the most famous hotels in the world so while in Singapore we just had to visit out of curiosity! If you haven’t heard of the hotel here’s a potted history: This beautiful colonial style hotel opened its doors in 1887 and is named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore. It is synonymous with luxury and renowned for the famous faces who have frequented the hotel over the decades including celebrities, dignitaries and royalty.
The popular cocktail ‘Singapore Sling’ was also created in the Long Bar of this hotel and to sip on this famous cocktail at bar is on many a traveller’s ‘Bucket List’. We didn’t do this for two reasons firstly, we’d already tried a Singapore Sling while enjoying views from Marina Bay Sands hotel and secondly, I don’t particularly like them so preferred to save my $15!
It is a traditional hotel which surprises you with its oasis of tropical planting around the central courtyard and grounds. Many of the bedrooms opening out onto verandas surrounded by exotic plants. It’s certainly a contrast to the modern high rise buildings surrounding it.
It’s perfectly OK to walk around the public areas of the hotel and enjoy a drink or food in the beautiful restaurants, bars and coffee shop should you wish. If you like a spot of shopping (or window shopping in my case) The Raffles Arcade features around 40 speciality boutiques with beautifully decorated window displays. This is where I had my second ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment..the first was in New York..although I wasn’t eating breakfast at the time like Audrey Hepburn in the movie. We had a spot of brunch in the coffee shop Ah Tengs where you can choose from a visually appealing range of sweet and savoury treats.
At the time of writing the hotel is undergoing a restoration programme in certain areas so a quick of their website ahead of a visit I advised.
Hugging the banks of the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is a thriving hub of bars, restaurants, live music, street entertainment, shops and more. We visited twice enjoying a great value set lunch on one day however it’s in the evenings that it really comes alive and you are spoilt for choice with numerous restaurants featuring a variety of local and international cuisines and bars for enjoying a live music and entertainment or just conversation and a quieter drink. The atmosphere is fantastic with visitors being a mix of ages and made up of locals, city workers and tourists. There are shops aplenty too, although you’ve probably gathered by now that I don’t really shop much on my travels! In many of the bars the drinks were on the pricey side compared to other areas with a pint of lager coming in at around SD$15 (about £8.50 at the time) so it pays to ask first, especially if you’re on a budget. We could walk to Clarke Quay from our hotel however, you can reach the area by public transport such as taxi, water taxi or MTR (I won’t comment on the bus system as we did not use it).
Singapore MRT Trains
The MRT (mass rapid transport system) is modern, clean and efficient and a fast way to get around the city with many of the major attractions of Singapore within walking distance of an MRT station. It really was a pleasure to travel on the bright and airy trains. The stations themselves are spacious and clean with most featuring colourful décor and interesting artwork which make your journey to the train a more enjoyable experience. We bought an EZ-Link card which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and bus network for 1, 2 or 3 days at a great value fixed rate, find out more and current prices here.
There are a multitude of attractions to explore in Singapore but there’s only so much you can squeeze into a 3 night stay!. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my highlights and that I’ve given you an insight into this amazing destination. Have you visited Singapore? I’d love to hear your about your favourite things to do so drop me a comment.
In the first yeat of writing my Travel Blog I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with my readers especially when I read responses to questions I pose such as what destination is top of your Travel wish list; your favourite holiday spot or travel tip; most memorable experience? etc. I’m regularly asked about my about my own travel experiences too so I thought I’d be nice to share some of my Travel Facts with you. Here they are:
No. of Countries visited – 51 (I don’t think I’ve missed any)
No. of Cruises taken – 28
It’s certainly a fantastic way to see the world and get a taste of destinations you may like to explore further.
Favourite Travel Destination Abroad – The Greek Islands.
I’ve visited 9 plus the mainland and it’s hard to choose a favourite although for beauty it has to be Santorini!
Favourite UK Destination – The Lake District.
One of my favourite walks is around Derwentwater (shown).
Favourite City – Sydney.
Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship was fabulous and the city itself is great to explore and relax in equal measure. I just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK.
First Holiday Abroad – Magaluf, Majorca…well, it was the 1980’s!
Age first travelled abroad – 20
Favourite Travel Tip – Have a printable ‘Holiday’ checklist to tick off items as you pack
Mostly travel as – A couple
Although we’ve had some fantastic family holidays to celebrate ‘Big’ Birthdays! including mine!
I Took My Honeymoon in – London for 4 nights (running a business meant no time to go abroad)
It’s Hard To Believe But – I didn’t visit the Lake District until I was 30! especially being from Northumberland! and we loved it so much we returned the following weekend and visit regularly now. I didn’t visit Wales until my 40’s either.
Favourite Holiday Cocktail – A great Mojito
My Holiday Rituals are – Wherever possible the first alcoholic drink I have on holiday is a Pina Colada. It’s not my favourite cocktail but it’s a proper taste of the Tropical and symbolises the start of fun times ahead!
We always holiday in December and never leave home without an advent calendar!
Favourite Airport – UK Newcastle; Overseas Singapore
Favourite Holiday Outfit – A shift dress and wedge sandals
I’d love to – Fly first class return to New Zealand
Worst ever flight delay – 23 hours!! From Newcastle to Cyprus
I missed a flight to – London…for my honeymoon!
I thought our 10.40am flight was 11.40am. The lovely folks at BA understood and put us on the next flight in 2 hours. I was so tired following the 2 day celebrations that I wasn’t too bothered and sitting down for a coffee we both agreed it was the first time we’d had to ourselves to catch our breath and reflect on the lovely wedding we’d had.
Favourite Holiday Reading – I love a great crime thriller so anything by Peter James. If you have any reading recommendations I’d love tho hear them.
Most Memorable Holiday Moment – Being proposed to on the deck of a cruise ship under the Caribbean stars!
I love that my Husband had the forsight to carry out such a romantic proposal and you can read more about that magical moment and our Disney Cruise.
Scariest Holiday Moment – getting stuck in a strong current while swimming in Cyprus.
It was such a horrible experience and proved that effortless swimming out can turn perilous in the most calm and blissful setting.
A close second was on a visit to a farm in Honduras where I was scratched and bitten by a playful Oscelot who decided to use my leg as a sctatch post! One year on I still have the scars. Word to self – never enter a cage with a wild animals! (just to be clear I wasn’t mauled but I got a canny shock!).
I’ll Never – drink Tequila again!
Enjoying great company on board a cruise in the Caribbean I had what I now refer to as ‘My Tequila Moment’! I’ll spare you the gory details but it was messy…I’m sure you get my drift! it became the first AND last time I’ve ever drank the stuff!
I Dream of – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.
Upcoming 2017 Travels – South American Cruise; Sandals Resort stay in Jamaica; Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard.
This image is from our visit to the beautiful town of Stavanger in Norway.
Destinations I’d love to visit soon – Abroad: Hawaii, New Orleans and Austria; UK: Peak District, Kent and more of Scotland following my visit to Dumfries and Galloway. You can read about my visit here.
So there you have it, just a few random Travel Facts. Do you share any of my experiences or favourites, have a book recommendation or maybe a ritual or tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.
Now, I like to get the most out of my wardrobe on holiday for two main reasons: to minimise how much I pack (pesky weight restrictions) and how much I have to wash on my return and with that in mind I’m an big fan of Night to Day wear…yes that’s the right way around for me…it’s one of my travel saviours.
I’ve yet to master the effortless day to night trick that I read about in the glossies. I’d be more likely to be sporting the flat haired, sandy toed look! However I’m quite good at the reverse trick as I mainly wear things on a night which (unless I’ve boogied hard and got them all sweaty!) I can wear another day when out and about. Some of you may already apply this method, but for those who don’t its very practical.
That doesn’t mean to say you’ll find me on the beach in a ball gown following a cruise formal night!
Here’s some examples:
Cruise evening wear…
…to next day beach and bar
Night time drinks…
…to Taronga Zoo visit
Tropical night attire…
…to beach resort casual
I’m a big fan of the shift dress as the shape is flattering and I find they are less likely to cling in the daytime heat. Also choose fabrics which are less likely to crease and you’re good to go. Opt for dresses which will work equally well with luxe accessories for the evening and more casual options for daytime. Of course this applies to all clothes.
Shown here, I had travelled in the red trousers which were perfectly clean and ideal for the following days sightseeing.
Travel and first night…
…to Hong Kong sightseeing
My husband takes the same approach as you can see.
…to St Martin exploring
What about sunscreen I here you say. I’ve personally had no problems with sunscreen on my daytime clothes (I don’t use any tan enhancing types) however, it does pay to be aware that all sunscreens are different. If you have a particular favourite or expensive item of clothing and you’re worried about wearing it with sunscreen, then you’d have to perhaps exercise caution depending on your chosen sunscreen.
Easy evening style…
…to beach chic
So, the overall benefit is that when you inevitably have go come home, you won’t have as many clothes to wash and because you’ve packed lighter in the first place, there’s more room for your holiday souvenirs!
Now, what if you could reduce your washing even further? and give yourself more time to catch up with family and friends/relax before returning to work.
Many of the Cruise Lines offer a fixed price deal for a laundry bag full of clothes (prices vary but are normally quite reasonable). It’s not as usual to find hotels offering this type of deal although many will offer laundry services for a cost.
Now this is actually quite a fun challenge and has seen us roll T-shirts to the size of cigars!! its amazing how much you can fit in a bag when you get creative. Our laundry bags usually resemble a ‘punch bag’ when we’re finished, but hey, if its in then they’ll wash it (ironing is not always included). This is great if you are leaving the cruise for a ‘Stay’ afterwards or just to bring clean clothes home and save on your washing.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have a favourite Night to Day outfit, I’d love to hear about it.
Oh! and if you ever see a woman in her ballgown on the beach…it could be me and means I ran out of clean clothes!
This is a bit of a retrospective post, but the anticipated arrival of the cruise ship Disney Magic on the River Tyne (June 7th) has had me thinking back to mine and Ron’s Cruise and stay holiday on the sister ship Disney Wonder back in December 1999. Firstly, I have to say that we had such a wonderful time (no pun intended) and if the Disney Wonder was sailing into the Tyne I would have braved hell and high water to blag an invite to board the ship and for one reason only – to revisit the spot where Ron PROPOSED to me. Yes, you heard that right, proposed! as in marriage!
We are both HUGE fans of Disney and Cruising, so when Disney launched its first two cruise ships in 1998 we didn’t hesitate to hop on board. We decided on a cruise and stay made up of a 4 night Bahamas Cruise sandwiched between two Disney World stays (4/4/6 nts) at their Caribbean Beach Resort. We visited Disney’s beautiful private island Castaway Cay, which is all white sugar sand, hammocks and beach bar-b-ques and fabulous Nassau in the Bahamas (somewhere we’re planning to revisit later this year). Oh..and the ships are something else..beautiful!
What may surprise some people is that we did this holiday ‘child free’. Our children were grown and we’re not strangers to visiting Disney Resorts with and without children, as do many people. However, we are often met with a surprised look when people hear we did a Disney Cruise without kids. But here’s the rub…I would have to say the majority of adults on our cruise were travelling without kids, and to be honest we hardly noticed any children on board. The children who were on board were mostly observed at breakfast and then seemed scarce afterwards. That could be down to great kid’s clubs, as some passengers told us that they hardly saw their kid all day, so good were the facilities!
The Big Kids like us were well catered for with an Adults Only pool area and restaurant Palo’s plus fantastic entertainment which appealed to all generations. We dined in a different restaurant each night as part of their Rotational Dining experience and were sat at mixed tables with American couples (again, no kids) They were great company and it was from them I gathered that one reason Disney cruises are popular with adults is the convenience of sailing on a short break from Port Canaveral. I could see the appeal, I mean, wouldn’t it be great to sail to somewhere like the Bahama’s from the Wear or Tyne? Kids or not!
Now, back to the Rings! You see, I’d had an inkling for some time that Ron was thinking of proposing (something he sort of hinted whilst enjoying a meal out and wine!!) I just didn’t know when. We’d already had the ‘if we got married’ discussion and on a trip to the jewellers for something else, I’d pointed out a ring which was exactly what I’d like IF we ever got engaged!
So, one evening we booked the adult only Palo’s for a meal and I went off to have my hair put up as a treat (I love a hair or spa treat on my holiday) before donning my glad rags. Anyway, following a lovely meal we headed on deck into a beautiful dark night of inky star filled skies. Ron lead me to the very back of the ship (just above flag in photo) where we were chatting under the stars and looking out onto the moonlit sea. It was at this point I could feel Ron’s conversation changing and I just knew he was about to propose…I felt so nervous but excited and to be honest I can’t even remember what he actually said (apparently that’s normal) but what I can remember is this – as Ron was looking at me mid proposal, I could see out the corner of my eye, his hand emerge from his pocket and as he raised the ring toward me I remember clearly thinking ‘that’s not like the one I saw in the shop’!…what did emerge though, to my surprise was this…
And with the presentation of this beautiful ring, Ron explained that he didn’t want to bring an expensive ring with him on holiday in case he lost it, so he’d sneaked off and bought me a $12 Mickey Mouse ring with pale ‘Amethyst’ stones to use in his proposal. Well I absolutely loved it…and I absolutely said YES too!
I couldn’t have thought of a lovelier spot to be proposed to. I’m so glad that Ron went out of his way to make it so romantic but with a fun element too. Another bonus was that, on the day we were travelling home for Christmas, my Brother-in-law and his family were flying in to spend the Millennium Christmas and New Year at Disney World, so we were able to meet up and tell them our good news…ahh!
On Christmas morning after all the presents had been opened, Ron asked me to check there hadn’t been any small presents left behind the tree. Puzzled I checked and then found a tiny wrapped box, which I excitedly opened to find ‘the one I saw in the shop’ twinkling back at me! Don’t you just love a happy ending?
I hope you enjoyed my little tale and if you have any proposal or Disney Cruise stories you’d like to share I’d love to hear them!
Now, I’m really excited at this point of the Adventure because I’m about to board a Cruise Ship. I just love that feeling, arriving at the port and catching the first glimpse of my floating home for however many days (I’m like a kid, ‘ooh! there it is, can you see it? no..no, that’s a building, look…THERE!) then staring up at this wondrous vehicle that will transport me effortlessly from one amazing port to another.
At this point I’d love to insert a fabulous picture of the Azamara Quest however, if you’ve cruised before you’ll know its near impossible to take a photo as you’re trying to stuff your passport/documents back in your bag, hold into your key card etc..at the same time as towing your land luggage and handbag, putting said bags through the scanner and posing for the customary ‘welcome aboard’ photo then sanitising your hands before climbing the gangway…phew!! so instead here’s photo of a replica Vietnamese ‘Junk’ boat and you can just see the tip of our cruise ship in the shot!
If you haven’t cruised, trust me this pre-boarding was not a stressful experience but, if you want a photo, then you really need an extra pair of hands! (or a partner who’s happy to carry EVERYTHING whilst standing in the heat waiting for you to get the perfect shot!) Personally, I’d rather forget the photo and be sprinting up those steps instead!
I think these photos are a better reflection of the Cruise Ship as they show what a fabulous view you get from the decks, and deck bars, everything looks even better whilst enjoyed with a nice cold drink, don’t you think?
I love walking up the gang way to be met with a glass of something cold, sparkling and alcoholic (as on some cruise ships, like this one) whatever time of day, but the thing I love the most is the thrill of what beautiful interiors will unfold before my eyes (I’m the same with hotels and explains why it’s as rare as hen’s teeth that I visit anywhere twice!)
This was another first for us, sailing with www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk on their ship the Azamara Quest and a Cruise Line we’ve been looking forward to trying. And boy! we weren’t disappointed. For excellent service, facilities and entertainment, I can honestly say that this ranks highest of all the cruises I’ve taken (and I’ve sailed with most of the major Cruise Lines). The ship was classically furnished and did not feel at all tired or dated even though it is due to undergo a multi million pound refurbishment in April to bring it in line with sister ship the Azamara Journey. On this ship, there was a high staff to guest ratio which really showed. The bar and waiting staff were extremely attentive without being intrusive, and as alcoholic drinks are included with your fair, it was lovely to be approached and offered another drink or have your wine glass refilled without having to ask or wait at the bar. I’ve had worse service when I’ve been paying and tipping. (There’s no tipping on Azamara).
Sailing out of Victoria Harbour was a fantastic experience and as the bright lights faded into the distance our floating hotel headed for the open seas toward Vietnam.
Our itinerary included overnight stays in three ports in Vietnam: Halong Bay; Da Nang for Imperial Hue and Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) as well as three sea days before reaching Singapore (I love a sea day, it’s soooo relaxing and with a programme of activities available, you can do as much or as little as you want, there’s no obligation to take part).
I must mention at this point that after leaving Hong Kong the weather was not on our side, we’re talking lots of rain, more rain and mist, but that could not spoil the adventure, it just meant it was different (and warm rain ain’t that bad!). We’d booked two organised excursions one to visit the Mekong Delta and another to cycle through the paddy fields and countryside followed by a visit to the beautiful town of Hoi An. A third excursion was a complimentary ‘Azamazing Experience’ a magical evening to Binh Quoi Village for a show of traditional entertainment, music, dance and food (This turned out to be spectacular as you’ll read later).
Firstly Halong Bay
The bay is known as ‘the bay of descending dragons’ and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of great natural beauty, made up of nearly 2000 islands of varying size some of which are inhabited. They are known as ‘The Dragon’s Teeth’ as they look like giant molars protruding from the sea! Many visitors come to take a boat trip around the bay to weave between the islands and the stunning caves. We would have loved to see the bay in the glory of the sunshine however, the mist gave the bay a mystical air.
The excursion we wanted to do was fully booked so we opted instead to look around the town and markets of Halong Bay. We have never let weather deter us so off we went brolly in hand. There is not really a lot going on in Halong bay, the streets seem practically deserted and out of the three ports, I would say that this area was the least developed from a tourist aspect apart from activities in the bay.
One of the first things we noticed as we walked around was the hap hazard tangle of electrical wiring webbing its way in and out of buildings and across the streets. How the electricians would even know where to start I’ll never know.
It really is a working town with people going about their daily lives and that shows, which makes it much more interesting than visiting a tourist trap. The streets were very quiet and most people seemed to be in the market, which is the hub of the town, selling everything from fresh produce (fruit, veg, fish and seafood etc) to household goods and souvenirs. The sights, sounds and colours were amazing and as we tip toeing through the slippery floors of the markets, we were struck by the array (and amount) of items on offer. As most of the people there were working, it made us wonder ‘who buy’s all this stuff’. As we navigated our way around, it’s fair to say that no one batted an eyelid as we perused their wares and observed them working and they were happy for me to take a few photos and videos.
In total contrast to the market, with its grand European style architecture, was the five storey Vincom Centre shopping and entertainment complex. This featured more upmarket shopping, dining venues, cinema and an ice rink and was the perfect place to take shelter from the rain.
Despite the weather, our visit to Halong Bay was an enjoyable one and if we return, well take the boat trip to see the spectacular caves. So with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts for sunnier days to come, we returned to the ship to continue our journey toward Da Nang the next day.
Da Nang – day one
Our excursion today would take us to Hoi An to cycle through the countryside, enjoy traditional food and take a look around the Old Town. First stop though, was the famous marble workshops to see local craftsmen work their magic on the marble taken from the nearby mountain of the same name ‘Marble Mountain’. Some of the pieces were huge and you had to wonder who would be buying them, as they are sold and shipped all over the world, not just Asia.
I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to cycling through the paddy fields with the sun on my face, breeze in my hair and the Vietnamese countryside for company (and Ron of course). Well, they do say every picture tells a story and here it is:
The sun we hoped for didn’t materialise, but we had one of the best (if not wettest) times ever. We joined the rest of the group for a welcome drink, then donned our helmets and ponchos and headed for the fields.
Well, everybody else headed for the fields but being near the back we missed the turn off they’d taken and headed off up a main road with another couple from the group. Bearing in mind I’d not ridden a bike for several years, the last thing I needed was trucks and cars passing me at speed on a wet road! Luckily, one of the guides on a moped came to our rescue and led us in the right direction. Despite the rain, which was warm and plopping in my eyes in big drops, it was wonderful cycling around the paddy fields on narrow tracks seeing people and buffalo at work on the land and passing locals sitting at their doorstep near the land they work. Because of the rain, we did not stop as often as we would have if it had been dry, so I just took in the sights as I pedalled around, feeling lucky to be having this experience and that made up for any lack of sunshine. I did manage to get a couple of photo’s (it’s not easy when your using your phone, in the rain with wet hands!).
As you can imagine we had worked up quite an appetite cycling around, so it was a relief to find that the venue for our meal was only a short bus ride away. We quickly arrived at The Brothers Café in Hoi Ann and were shown to our table which we shared with six fellow cyclists. Now, I hope your not too disappointed, but I did not feel it appropriate to take foodie photos whilst friendly but total strangers were eager to tuck into their food from the sharing plates. I can honestly tell you that ALL the food was delicious and plentiful. http://www.brothercafehoian.com.vn/
I managed to get a sneaky pic when everyone was chatting!
After the great food and cheerful conversation, we headed back out into the rain for the second part of the excursion, a guided walking tour followed by free time to explore.
Part of the popularity of Hoi An it’s well preserved Ancient Town. It has an interesting history and this is reflected in it’s architecture, with a mix of designs from Chinese wooden shop houses and temples to colourful French colonial buildings, ornamental Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge and pagoda. Parts of the city have the quaintness of a themed setting in a Disney World Park, but the way it looks is authentic and just the way it has evolved.
By now you’re probably a bit fed up of photo’s with no sunshine, and I’d love you to see how lovely Hoi an is, so luckily enough my brother-in-law (who recommended Hoi an to us) sent me some photo’s from his visit, needless to say, you’ll know which ones were his!
Hoi an is famous for the production of silk. This includes silk lanterns and these adorn the streets of the Old Town. We were not lucky enough to visit Hoi an at night, but for those who visit on the 14th day of the lunar month, you’ll witness the Lantern Festival (or Full Moon Festival) where the street lights are dimmed and the colourful lanterns lit. The festival is popular with both tourists and Vietnamese visitors, who flock to see the town in its old fashioned glory, enjoying street food and music, playing traditional games and buying paper lanterns with a candle inside to float down the river. This is said to bring luck, happiness and love.
The following photo’s are of the entrance and interior of the small Japanese Covered Bridge (which isn’t particularly impressive) and was built in the 1500′ to link the Japanese community to that of the Chinese on the other side of the stream. It is ‘guarded’ by statues, a pair of monkeys one side and a pair of dogs on the other. There are various tales about their purpose, one being that the construction started in the year of the monkey and concluded in the year of the dog, another says that many of Japans emperors were born in the year of the monkey and the dog.
Part of our excursion took us to one the oldest houses in Hoi An, Tan Ky House which is centuries old and has been lovingly preserved by seven generations of the same family. This long, narrow house type served as a family home entered from the street with a central courtyard to let in light, give a glimpse of nature and collect rainwater. The rear of the house faces the river and was rented out to merchants.
Our final visit was to see silk production and some of the craftspeople who make beautiful silk garments, artwork and also hand stitch commissioned portraits copied from photographs. This was great to see.
We had a little free time and after the tour we’d usually have plonked ourselves down outside a café to have a drink and a bit people watch…as you do. As this wasn’t an option we decided to seek out one of the stalls we’d passed earlier selling the most beautiful ‘pop up’ Christmas cards. There were so many designs it was hard to choose, but choose we did and after sending some to family and friends, we kept these two as souvenirs.
To round off our visit before heading for the dry cocoon of our coach, we wanted to try some of the delicious looking street food, cooked fresh before our eyes. Now I know what your thinking…wasn’t the earlier feast at the Brother Café enough?? well it was, but our motto is always ‘well, we may never get the chance to come back again’ and so we forced ourselves to try prawn and spring onion pancakes (don’t ask me what they were called?think along the lines of Indian Chaat pancake) and a large sweet doughnut ring. Both were delicious and ensured we headed back to the coach with our love of Vietnam growing by the minute (as well as our bellies!!)
Da Nang – day 2
On our second day in Da Nang, we wanted to stroll around the city and do what we love, which is observing local life. The first thing you notice above everything else here cities is monumental number of mopeds which is the favoured mode of transport in both the cities and countryside.
The reason I’ve not included a photo of mass mopeds taken in Da Nang is for this reason: It’s quite a bit of a bustling place and mopeds pull up off the road onto the ‘narrow’ pavement (if any) and practically park at the shop door. Now, when your trying to get your bearings (and failing) and crossing numerous roads to get back to the port, the last thing you want to do is 1. stand still to take a photo 2. try to cross the road slowly 3. take notice of the traffic lights (the drivers certainly don’t). The advice we were given was to just go for it, they will see you and avoid you rather than you trying to avoid them…yikes! However, we tried it and it worked!
One thing that was a constant source of amazement and humour was the unreal amount of ‘stuff’ and number of people these mopeds carried. We saw 3 people on some.
Although De Nang is not very ‘touristy’ in itself, It’s a gateway to some really interesting places and is worthy of its inclusion on any cruise itinerary.
Ho Chi Minh City – day 1
On arriving in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City I’m glad to report that the sun had finally decided to show its warm and smiling face! Azamara Quest’s size means she can dock in the city port, unlike some of the larger cruise ships which have to dock in Phu My (as we did on our last visit to the city on the Diamond Princess) which is a 2 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The information here will be drawn from both visits, and explains why we’re wearing different outfits in the photo’s!
This was going to be a busy day as we had two excursions to enjoy, daytime and evening with just a short time to spruce ourselves up in between. The first one was a Journey to the Mekong Delta, something we we’re really looking forward to. Half of the time was spent travelling there and back ( 2 hours each way) due to the bustling traffic more than distance, but it was worth it to visit the Delta with is maze of canals, islands and swamp lands.
On arrival we boarded a boat to take us over to one of the islands to witness the everyday lives of the river dwellers and visit the traditional home of a fruit farmer to sample, local tea, exotic fruits and then observe sweets being handmade from coconut. This was all very lovely and we enjoyed it however, you did get the feeling that the traditional home had evolved into more of a tourist trap to be honest, as after each experience, samples of everything we had tasted (apart form fresh fruit) was presented to us with an opportunity to purchase, before being led to another specially created area and the process was repeated. So yes, you’ve guessed it we came away with tea, bee pollen (and yes I have used them, just once mind, well it is for consumption in the outdoors, with sun and friends!!) and sweets, before boarding little wooden boats for our journey through the canals. (I could also have had dozens of post cards, hats etc…if the opportunist locals had their way, but I am quite good at saying no…I am..really!)
After the food, we precariously clambering into our traditional xuong (wooden boat) to be rowed through the maze of the canals (with our goodies in tow, not ideal). Now I LOVED this bit (apart from the boat wobbling as the lady in front kept taking selfies!! what for? why not take in the beautiful surroundings instead! and which is the I didn’t take any photo’s while in the boat, but Ron got a couple). The surroundings were surreal and I had to pinch myself, when I wasn’t trying to keep my balance that is! and being surreal it seemed unreal, if you know what I mean (you now, like something Disney would create for one of their rides).
Our only disappointment was that it was over too quick, it would have been lovely to get more glimpses of life on the island as we peered through the shrubbery at the passing local houses and businesses. Again, it felt a bit like we’d been on a Disney ride.
The next part of this tour was lunch at the not so lovingly named Mekong Rest Stop Restaurant for a meal which included the specialities fried fish and vegetables in rice paper. Now, when your sharing one fish with another couple, where do you start? especially as its best eaten with your fingers! but we managed with our cutlery, being polite as us Brits are. So if you were hungry, you’d had it. The setting for this meal was all very nice but the ‘get them in and out quick’ mentality was in evidence so what could have been a more enjoyable experience left us a tad disappointed, again only because it was rushed.
After the Mekong Delta, we were really looking forward to the complimentary excursion: A magical Evening at Binh Quoi Village, to experience Vietnamese culture in a lush garden setting of coconut palms, gentle creeks and colourful lanterns. So, after a quick freshen up, we were off again. The event was held in a park which is closed especially to host this event and the setting was magical with lanterns hanging from trees and traditionally dressed hosts serving complimentary drinks as you strolled toward the entertainment area. Along the way we were entertained by dancers, and there were various stalls offering complimentary craft items such as Palm flowers, personalised name scrolls and clay figures to name a few.
When we arrived at the seating area, it was laid out beautifully with decorated tables and chairs in front of a large multi media stage and catwalk. We felt this was going to be special and we weren’t wrong. They had even set up sail type awning in case it rained. What followed was an evening of spectacular music, song and dance followed by a fashion show which showcased how the traditional Vietnamese dress ‘Ao Dai’ had evolved throughout the centuries.
The fashion show was a real highlight and a complete surprise as it wasn’t mentioned in the programme. It showed how the ‘Ao Dai’ traditional dress has evolved due to changing fashions and tastes to become relevant for todays Vietnamese women. The show started with a modern version worn over jeans. These and the designs that followed were wonderfully colourful and a delight to see, and we had a ‘front row’ seat too, which had us feeling a bit like The Beckhams!
Ho Chi Minh City – day 2
We were up and out early to reacquaint ourselves with some areas from our first visit in 2012. The city is easy to get around and if you like to explore on foot as we do, there’s lots of interesting highlights within walking distance of each other. First on the list was Ho Chi Minh Square on route to Ben Thanh Market via the famous Rex Hotel.
Here you can buy almost everything imaginable. The atmosphere is lively but not overly noisy. You will be asked if you want to buy anything but not in a pushy way. You might even find yourself with a shirt on your back before you know it if you’re not quick enough, but it’s all in good humour.
The Rex Hotel is famous as being the venue that hosted the military briefings given to the press each week during the Vietnam War. These briefings took place in the roof top bar, which was a well known hang out of military officials and journalists. The briefings became known as the Five O’clock Follies. On this occasion we didn’t go inside we just wanted to reminisce however, we had lunch at the roof top bar on our last visit, the setting and the food was lovely. I remember sitting there trying to imagine events that had taken placed and what it must have been like. How fortunate are we these days to be able to visit these places. Now you understand why I love a cruise tour.
The other places we visited included the Reunification Palace in 2012. This was the building that saw tanks storm the gates signalling the fall of the Siagon regime and the end of the Vietmnam War. One of the original tanks is on display in the grounds. The city has it’s own Notre-Dame Basillica (ooh la la!) so its was no surprise to learn that all the materials came from France. Central Saigon Post Office was another highlight, even if you don’t have any postcards to send it’s worth a visit to admire the fantastic interior and beautiful hand painted maps on the walls. Lastly, we passed by the river slum houses, unfortunately its a sad fact that up to a quarter million people still live in slums around the city.
Lastly we decided to return to this lovely little café after visiting it in 2012, to enjoy a spot of light ‘brunch’ before our return to the ship and we weren’t disappointed. We’re not Vegan but the food and service is great as it was the last time.
Before we came to Vietnam for the first time in 2012 I wasn’t really sure what I expected to find, but I found it to be a wonderful country to visit and somewhere I’d definitely recommend to anyone planning a visit to Asia. We found the Vietnamese to be friendly and polite people and the customer service in cafes etc. was some of the best we’ve received anywhere. Yes, the sun didn’t shine as much as we’d have like but that can happen on any holiday, we were just unlucky this time, so don’t let that put you off.
So this marks the end of our time in Vietnamese. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventure so far and that we’ve perhaps inspired you to visit Vietnam. I hope you’ll come back to read about or continuing adventure as we now cruise off to Singapore.
Yes, that’s me!! To some members of my family I am known as Hong Kong Junie (usually shortened to Hong Kong), not because of my love of the place but ever since I decided to enthral my niece and nephew with my martial arts moves a la Hong Kong Phooey, the cartoon crime fighter…you know the one…
…Hong Kong Phooey, number one super guy (well ‘gal in my case). Hong Kong Phooey, quicker than the human eye…
Anyhow, enough of that and on with my adventure, where I finally got to visit…yes you’ve guessed it…Hong Kong!
Each year we usually have a holiday in early December so we can be back for the pre Christmas festivities including, of course, the annual Pantomime with the Grandkids…I Love it!…Oh yes I do! oh come on! surely I’m not the only adult who shouts ‘Hiya Hinny’ to panto Dame Rita louder than all the kids at the Theatre Royal, am I? ha ha!
This year we booked a cruise and stay holiday. This was 2 nights pre cruise in Hong Kong; 10 nights on the Azamara Quest taking in the delights of Vietnam followed by a 2 night post cruise stay in Singapore, packaged up by http://www.iglucruise.co.uk.
Usually our December holidays see us having to fly from Manchester or Heathrow to reach exciting destinations promising sunshine at this time of year. Not this time though, as you can fly to Hong Kong from Newcastle via Dubai with Emirates. This was the first time we’d flown with Emirates and it definitely won’t be the last.
It’s fair to say it’s probably one of the best flights we’ve ever taken, for comfort, food, service and entertainment. The aeroplane itself was brand new, having only flown 40 hours up to that point as the pilot proudly announced. Now, I don’t know about you, but the Hubby and I could not decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing??!!!…we didn’t mull over it for too long however, as the fantastic in flight entertainment system soon had us racking up loads of entertainment for the first part of our journey to Dubai 7hrs 05mins (how fantastic to be able to create your own playlists from tonnes of music and save films to watch at your convenience) however, it soon dawned on me that I’d got a bit carried away and had probably saved enough stuff to listen to/watch whist flying around the world TWICE!!
So, two flights later and we landed in Hong Kong and following a short journey arrived at the Harbour Grande Kowloon.
And as it was near Christmas the hotel was decorated beautifully to my delight!
We arrived a bit journey weary in the dark of early evening. Wanting to maximise our sightseeing time, we left the cases in the room and headed to concierge to ask the best way to get to Victoria Peak, a recommended viewing point to see Victoria Harbour by day or night. Not having the energy to either walk/taxi/take shuttle bus to the ferry terminal then take a short trip across the harbour, followed by a bus ride and then funicular up to the peak, we opted for a return taxi from the hotel which was surprising reasonable. Five minutes later we were on our way to Victoria Peak, with the colourful sights of Hong Kong from the taxi window keeping my sleepy eyes firmly open.
Wow! I’m so glad we took that recommendation. The views are fantastic and there are plenty of great vantage points. There is no admission fee to this area however, there are viewing platforms that you can pay to use above the restaurant and shopping complex. Personally, we didn’t feel the need.
To round off our first night we ate in a small pub/café not far from the hotel, the name of which escapes me. Simply furnished, with a limited menu, great spot on the waters edge and just a handful of locals, chilled music and the sound of the water lapping beside our table, it was just what two weary travellers needed.
It’s fair to say that if you’re only visiting Hong Kong for a day or two on a pre cruise stay, Kowloon is an ideal base as there’s lots to see in a condensed area and all easily reached by foot (as we did) or bus/taxi. So for the next day and a half we managed to take in a lot of the popular sights and these included:
Temple Street Night market; Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market; The Jade Market; ChungKing Mansions.
All of these places are worth a visit but it’s fair to say they are very busy with so much to take in, so it’s best to go along with the flow and enjoy the experience, which is probably why I didn’t get a single photograph! Be prepared to indulge all your senses in these colourful local markets.
From the hotel there was a pleasant walk along the Hung Hom Promenade to the popular Tsim Sha Tsui area.
There’s plenty of interest along the way including the Hong Kong Museum of Art where people (including Ron) were enjoying a rest on the grass ‘Day Beds’ and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre where we were lucky enough to see Graduation celebrations taking place.
We visited Harbour City – the largest and most diverse shopping mall in Hong Kong. We loved this mall even though we weren’t shopping. The atmosphere was welcoming and unhurried, not like the dodgem’s we have in some of our shopping centres and it was so clean…my goodness, I couldn’t see a speck on the glazed white floor and couldn’t imagine the need for the 5 second rule here! It’s worth a walk around just to admire the beautiful shop window displays. Yes, this place feels really special, even entering the mall was a ‘red carpet’ experience.
We enjoyed a stroll through Kowloon Gardens, a lovely park in the middle of the high rises which included the ‘Avenue of Comic Stars’ featuring a variety of statues of local comic characters.
A great recommendation by our driver from the airport was the Whampoa Gourmet Place, offering an array of dining choices including Little Tea Wood, the place we tried. I had the most delicious fruit tea ever, and was so taken by the candle warmed Tea Pot and stand that I’m still trying to source one!
A popular attraction is ‘The Symphony of Lights’ extravaganza. As the name suggests, it’s a light and sound show accompanied by narrative telling Hong Kong’s history and culture. This is a free show offered by the city and takes place every night. It lasts about 15 minutes and features around 40 buildings displaying lights and beams in time to the music and can be seen from numerous points around the harbour. One of the best being from a Cruise Ship, but more of that in Part 2.
As a lover of all things Christmas, I was blown away by some of the extravagant decorations both inside and outside the buildings and hotels…here’s a couple of my favourites:
Well, that’s the end of Part 1 of the adventure, I hope you enjoyed it and will join me for part 2 where we sail off to Vietnam. I’ll leave you for now with one last photo taken from the roof top pool area of our hotel overlooking Victoria Harbour…what a place to spend your last morning.