Category Archives: Cruising

End of Cruise Part 2 FEB 14, 2020

We went to bed the evening of Feb 13th wondering how soon we would get our travel details to go home. We knew we had long flights ahead of us. 

At 5:45 AM on the morning of Feb 14th, we heard the dreaded DING DONG chimes. An announcement from the captain this early can’t be good news. But it was!! 

The captain apologized for the early morning announcement and said the Prime Minister of Cambodia was coming from Phnom Penh to welcome the first passengers disembarking and going home. The captain had a special request of us. He asked for all of us to go out on their balconies and ship decks to greet the Prime Minister. And of course it would be a nice touch for us to wear our Cambodian scarves they had given us. After what this man had been through, no one was going to deny his special request. 

A couple evenings earlier we had run into Captain Smit in the hallway and had a chance to personally thank him. Bill said he was our Captain Sully, a reference to the pilot who landed a plane in the Potomac River years ago. Captain Smit had spent so much time behind closed doors trying to find us a port, this was a rare sighting of him. We were so glad we had a chance to personally thank him. 

We quickly dressed and fortunately all we had to do was step out on our balcony. Already the Cambodian press was setting up cameras and microphones. Cambodian officials were setting up a red carpet and tables of flowers. IMG_20200214_062731

We saw the helicopter flying in and it landed right on the pier. The Prime Minister presented flowers to Captain Smit as well as other ship officers. You can see Captain Smit in this picture with his Cambodian scarf. (man with balding head and glasses)  IMG_20200214_063008_1IMG_20200214_065615EIMG_20200214_065615IMG_20200214_065906

Then the first passengers began to disembark and the Prime Minister presented each one with a flower and shook each hand. Some American press later reported this was all a photo opportunity for the Prime Minister and that he had given permission as a favor to China, a close political ally. We didn’t care! We were just thankful to be going home soon. IMG_20200214_070235

We watched enviously as the first passengers loaded the buses to the airport. Our neighbors in the cabin next door told us they had been awakened at 4:00 A.M. with their travel arrangements. They would be leaving at 9:00 A.M. 

Since we hadn’t received any travel arrangements we resolved ourselves to the idea we wouldn’t be going home that day and headed to breakfast. After breakfast we decided to walk around the deck for some exercise. At the last minute we decided to go back to our cabin. Five minutes later there was a knock at our door and it was our cabin steward hand delivering our travel arrangements. I could have kissed him! What a wonderful Valentine’s Day surprise! 

We had thirty minutes to get our luggage out in the hallway to be collected. Fortunately we were already pretty well packed. First we were told we would be on the 2:45 P.M. bus to the airport. Thirty minutes later we were told over the loud speakers our group disembarkation time had been changed to noon. We were going home! 

First we had to fill out a health questionnaire and get our temperature taken. Our group was then taken off the ship and put on buses. We sat on the bus for over an hour before we pulled away from the dock with a police escort. Here is a very helpful young lady who was with the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia checking on us as we sat on the bus. They were easily identified by their bright yellow hats. IMG_20200214_124453

It was about a 45 minute ride to the airport and on the way we got our first look at Sihanoukville. People waved at us as we passed by. We were so grateful to the Cambodian people, regardless of the motivation. IMG_20200214_131825IMG_20200214_131838IMG_20200214_132004IMG_20200214_132134IMG_20200214_132237IMG_20200214_132513IMG_20200214_132516

From the ship, in the distance Sihanoukville looked like a city with tall buildings and developments. We have since learned that over the past few years Chinese nationals flooded the tiny town building casinos and hotels. On August 18th the Cambodian Prime Minister issued a directive banning all online and arcade gambling to keep public order and maintain security. Since then 200,000 Chinese have left Cambodia with the vast majority leaving Sihanoukville. This has left the city with incomplete construction projects and abandoned buildings. Landlords have gone bankrupt and unemployment is rampant. As our bus drove through the center of town along unpaved, dirt streets, we got an up close view of the real Sihanoukville. How sad for these people. I thought about the 400 cases of beer and scarves gifted to us. I looked at the smiling faces of the people waving to us as we passed. I felt sad for them, and so very very grateful. IMG_20200214_132519IMG_20200214_132607IMG_20200214_132622IMG_20200214_132802IMG_20200214_132854IMG_20200214_134713

A hush fell over the bus as we pulled up to this small, third world airport. Our five buses of passengers crowded into the tiny terminal where we eventually managed to get checked in for our flight. After a wait of over an hour we boarded our flight on Malaysian Airways. IMG_20200214_135612IMG_20200214_135439IMG_20200214_142208

Now this is where it gets strange. We had been told everyone was flying by charter from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. From there we would all board traditional commercial flights home. After a two hour flight we landed, a very rough skidding landing I might add. Bill turned on his phone GPS and said, “We are not in Phnom Penh, we are in Malaysia”. I proceeded to tell him his phone was wrong. Umm, no it wasn’t. We were in Kuala Lumpur International Airport Malaysia and not Cambodia. 

After departing the plane our temperatures were scanned by the local medical staff and we were escorted into a waiting area and left there. The first sign of trouble was when I heard someone say, “I don’t know why we are in this room but there is no way out”. The only way out was the door we had entered from, and that was closed and guarded.

After a while some airport officials came and said we hadn’t been cleared to enter the country and couldn’t leave the room. People started getting agitated because they were going to miss their connecting flights. At this point Bill and I weren’t too upset because we knew we had a thirteen hour layover and were supposed to be taken to a hotel for the night. We were in no danger of missing our connecting flight. Because we had come in on a chartered flight we were all supposed to go to the baggage area and get our luggage to check in for our next commercial flight. The airport officials told us we couldn’t leave and couldn’t go collect our baggage. 

Remember Susan, the nurse who helped the ill lady on the bus and stayed with her in the emergency room? Susan was in our group and stepped up again and took over. She called the ship and a number on a letter that had been given to us when we left the ship, just in case we had a problem. Now we had to wait to hear back to see what help was being sent. 

Bill and I started to worry when the airport officials started handing out blankets followed an hour later with a boxed meal. Inside was a small cup of apple juice and a small cup of water. Bill and I immediately decided to ration the water to be sure we had water to take our medication later. IMG_20200214_210920

The room was cold. We were tired. We were getting more and more apprehensive. The airport officials wanted us to turn over our passports. We all refused. 

We were in the room for four hours before Susan received word that the U.S. Consulate General to Malaysia would be there within an hour. At this point we were told we were being escorted to a better room or lounge. We trudged through the airport following the escort with our carry on luggage, blanket and boxed meal. We were herded onto a tram that took us to another part of the airport. We had no idea where they were taking us or why. 

We were taken to a much nicer airport lounge, similar to a Star Alliance Lounge, with hot food, cold drinks and nearby restrooms. But we still faced a long night sleeping in chairs. Not the hotel room we expected. We were not allowed to leave the lounge or collect our luggage. The airport officials told us they would “try” to get our luggage on our flights. Since we had a flight to Tokyo followed by a flight to Los Angeles, we didn’t have a lot of hope we would ever see our luggage again. 

The Consulate General and an aid arrived within the hour and we spent the night watching her work the phones to resolve the situation. Around 3:00 A.M. we were told someone would be there to get us at 5:00 A.M. to escort us to the gate for our 8:00 A.M. flight. Those who had missed their flight were stranded, awaiting details of possible new flights. 

At 5:00 A.M. we lined up but no one came to get us. Finally at 5:30 an airport official arrived and the Consulate General sent one of her assistant’s with us in case there were any problems. We told Susan goodbye. She was one of those who had missed her flight the previous night and was waiting for a new flight. 

At the airport check-in things were very disorganized with lots of red tape and waiting. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport is a pretty and modern airport but we did not have time to explore it. IMG_20200215_052609IMG_20200215_062703

But finally we were on the plane to Tokyo. We breathed big sighs of relief. 

Our flight to Tokyo left late which meant we almost had to run to make our connecting flight to Los Angeles. The airport was very busy and our large airplane was unloaded down stairs and then buses to take us to an internal airport entrance. Another big sigh of relief when we made that final flight to California. 

In Los Angeles as we stepped off the plane we were met by an airport representative holding a sign with our name. What now! 

He told us our luggage hadn’t made the connecting flight and would be sent on a flight the next day. We were thrilled they even knew where our luggage was! It was delivered to us three days later by Fed Ex to our campground in Yuma. 

We picked up our rental car and drove five hours home to Yuma, AZ where we had left our RV. From the time we boarded the bus at the ship to our arrival time at home, 46 hours of travel had passed, most of it without sleep. We were exhausted but so very happy and grateful to be home. 

Thank you for following along with us on this journey. I told Bill I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t lived it! 

On March 15th we will be leaving Yuma and beginning our 2020 U.S. travels. Can’t wait to share that with you! 

End of Cruise Part 1 FEB 10, 2020

After being turned away by the Philippines and Taiwan governments, we headed toward Japan. We still had five ports in Japan and one in South Korea for the cruise. At this point we felt it was unlikely Japan would let us in, and sure enough the next day the captain announced we had been denied entry by both countries. Holland America had no choice but to terminate the cruise early. IMG_20200207_191310

The captain said the ship would open up the ship to shore phone lines and internet would be provided free to all passengers. Bill immediately began the chore of contacting our airline to cancel our flight out of Tokyo. With everyone trying to do the same thing, it took hours to get a free phone line. Another complication was the twelve hour time difference 3 P.M. on the ship and 3 A.M. in the US.

The captain said the home office in Seattle was working 24/7 to get this resolved and everyone safely home. The ship, which had been steaming toward Japan hours earlier, came to a stop in the South China Sea, waiting for instructions. Passengers were very disappointed but more concerned about the next steps. IMG_20200208_190337

Meanwhile the wonderful hardworking staff and crew continued to work hard to make our final days on the ship as comfortable and fun as possible. An open bar Happy Hour with appetizers was provided one day, a “Chocolate Surprise” Happy Hour another day. IMG_20200128_180649_MPIMG_20200128_180605

Speaking of the crew, 70% of the crew are Filipino. They keep our cabins clean, serve our meals, cook our food and do maintenance on the ship. They work an eight month contract. During that time they are away from their families. They were all so excited at the prospect of visiting with family the one day we were due in Manila. When the port was canceled, so was this opportunity. Some had newborn daughters and sons they were planning to see for the first time. Yes, we were disappointed to miss Manila. But can you imagine their disappointment. Our hearts broke for them. In spite of all this they put on a planned show for us one evening. IMG_20200209_150006IMG_20200209_151400IMG_20200209_151729IMG_20200209_151732IMG_20200209_153927

Another evening the Indonesian crew put on a wonderful show. Our favorite dining room waiter, Zacky, is seen performing here, second from the right, wearing a vest. IMG_20200210_231648IMG_20200210_231706IMG_20200210_232004

A few days went by and we were given the encouraging news there were two promising ports where we could disembark and fly home. We were told the US government and US Navy were working to get us home. A low point for us was when we learned Guam had denied us entry. Guam, a US territory refused to help us. Wow. But we still had those two promising ports according to the captain.  This picture taken of our in-room tv shows we were close to the south end of Vietnam and the captain had not revealed what two possible countries would let us disembark. IMG_20200210_121204IMG_20200206_114856

Another day went by and the captain announced that we would be docking in Thailand. We would be taken by bus to Bangkok for our flights home. The captain said for everyone to immediately begin making flight arrangements as we would be in Thailand in two days. Bill had to wait a couple hours for a phone line for this, our third flight change, all with different airlines. Earlier when he had changed the flight from Shanghai to Tokyo, some airlines quoted a price four times what we had paid to fly from Shanghai. He managed to get a flight for two and a half times as much and we were grateful.  Now we had to book a flight from Bangkok at last minute pricing. He was able to get a flight for about the same price as the Tokyo flight. The new Bangkok flight had a 24 hour free cancellation. Hopefully we wouldn’t need it. 

The next day we were relaxing in our cabin when the captain announced that a Thailand warship was “escorting” us to a naval base and there was nothing to be alarmed about. It was right outside our balcony and sure looked ominous. Rumor among the passengers was we were being escorted to the base to only receive humanitarian aid of food, water and fuel. At this point we had a couple hours left on our free airplane ticket cancellation. I think you know where this is going. IMG_20200212 EFFECTS

We went to dinner and an hour after our free cancellation time frame ended, we heard the dreaded chimes. The captain announced Thailand refused us entry. All plans are off. We later learned that Thailand did not offer humanitarian aid. According to Thailand, our ship had never received permission to enter the Bay of Thailand. This was our second low point. It must have been incredibly frustrating for the captain and Holland America. Permission granted one minute can be swiftly snatched away the next. We had been following news reports on the TV and internet and had heard the Westerdam being referred to as a ghost ship or a pariah. Great, just great. IMG_20200212_191512

At this point the captain said they were still waiting on the second promising port AND Holland America would make and pay for everyone’s flight home. That was a huge relief because the credit card charges for flights made and canceled were piling up, not to mention the stress of trying to get a phone line. But first Bill still had to cancel the Thailand flight. 

Days passed with no news. It was a good thing the carpets in the elevators told us the day because one day blended into another. IMG_20200212_203701

We passed the time on the ship with ship lectures and entertainment. A favorite of ours was a young lady and man who played dueling pianos and sang. One night they sang John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and everyone cheered. One day they played “What a Wonderful World” and when they “sang of trees of green, red roses too” I felt choked up. We all wanted to go home. 

The Westerdam crew continued to work hard with cheerful smiling faces. Each evening at dinner the last week we were greeted with complimentary wine or champagne. 

Now you are probably wondering what happened with all those airline charges and if we ran out of food on the ship. Out of the three airlines, two gave us a full refund. The other airline, Delta, would only give us a voucher for future travel. Bill has asked them to reconsider and is waiting to hear back. One airline charged us a change fee which Holland America will reimburse us. We actually came out ahead because Holland America paid for our flight home. But for awhile there we had a pretty scary credit card balance! 

We did not run out of food. Well actually they ran out of ketchup, soy sauce, lemonade and honey. We could live with that. 

After wandering at sea for ten days, good news finally arrived in the form of Cambodia. They would allow us entry. We would arrive at the port of Laem Chabang outside of Sihanoukville where we would be taken by bus to the local airport for a charter flight. We had all guessed the mystery port was in Vietnam. We were wrong. 

The captain announced we would be arriving late the next day with the first passengers disembarking the following day. That evening all the staff and crew crowded the main stage to say farewell. All the passengers gave them a standing ovation and plenty of cheers that went on and on. There was no doubt how everyone felt about all of them. IMG_20200212_104047IMG_20200213_170112

The next evening we arrived in the port of Laem Chabang, and land never looked more beautiful. After dinner we were walking the deck and saw a white van pull up next to the ship. After a conversation with ship security, four young men hopped out of the van and unloaded 400 cases of Angkor, a Cambodian beer, a gift to the ship. Yes, 400 cases! Some other people brought bags of Cambodian scarves, another gift to the passengers. Later that evening two scarves were delivered to our room by our cabin steward. We don’t know what happened to the 400 cases of beer but we are hoping all the staff and crew enjoyed them after all the passengers departed the ship. IMG_20200213_192657IMG_20200213_193424

We were so anxious to find out our travel details. We had been warned it could take two or three days for the Seattle home office to make flight arrangements for over a thousand passengers who were flying home to destinations around the world. Complicating matters was the remoteness of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We went to bed wondering, is tomorrow the day we are finally going home?? 

At 5:45 A.M. the next morning we heard the all too familiar dreaded DING DONG chimes. 

To be continued…. 

 

Kaohsiung, Taiwan FEB 4, 2020

And so the trouble began… . When we left Hong Kong we were scheduled to visit Manila in the Philippines. We sailed south all night and all the next day. Still in the South China Sea, the seas were very rough during the day. The dishes were clattering on the tables in the dining room at breakfast. Bill was fine but I had to double my motion sickness medication. People were getting seasick medication at Guest Services. I spent the day lying on the bed trying to sleep and ignore my queasy stomach. I started to feel better at dinnertime as the seas calmed. 

In the afternoon everyone had to report to the main stage to have our temperatures taken, a requirement of the Philippines government. Everyone passed and we were all set. We were looking forward to our private excursion the next day which was a tour titled “Manila: Old and New”. 

Just as we sat down to dinner, we heard the ship-wide DING DONG chimes which always announced the captain was about to speak. Usually we heard the chimes daily at noon as the captain announced our current location, speed and weather conditions. But this time it was not a weather report. It was bad news. In the days ahead we would come to dread those ding dong chimes!

This time the captain announced the president of the Philippines had denied us admission into the country. The denial was because the ship had docked in Hong Kong and was now “compromised”. 

The captain cheerfully announced he had secured a berth for the ship at a new port in Hualien Taiwan and we would enjoy two days there. The ship turned away from the Philippines and headed north towards Hualien. IMG_20200203_123317

Once again we sailed all night and day. The next night just before dinner we heard once again the dreaded chimes. The captain announced that Hualien had denied us entry because it was a very small port and they were ill-equipped to handle the necessary screening. We were now sailing to Kaohsiung, Taiwan where the captain had secured a berth for two nights. Originally the cruise was to stay nine hours at this port. At this point Bill and I started calling it “The Cruise to Nowhere”. 

The next morning we docked in Kaohsiung, which is Taiwan’s largest port and second largest city. Every passenger had to pass through Immigration and a temperature check. We made it through immigration and headed out to explore Kaohsiung. It was good to be on land again! IMG_20200204_104609

We had become acquainted with a very nice couple on the ship and we decided the four of us would explore the area together. We started walking and must have looked a little confused or lost because a lovely family enjoying the nice weather asked if we needed help. IMG_20200204_125351

After some discussion they suggested we take a taxi to the Dream Mall. Opened in 2007, it is the largest shopping mall in Taiwan and the 15th largest in East Asia. 

But first we walked to a nearby pier shopping complex, mainly looking for souvenirs. We did find some Chinese knock off Lego kits of American attractions. IMG_20200204_130615IMG_20200204_130622

Finding no souvenirs, we stopped at the information desk to see if they could exchange our large Taiwan dollars for smaller bills to pay for the taxi. After finishing that business we asked where to get a taxi. One of the workers called a taxi, walked us to the taxi pickup location and told the driver where we wanted to go. Very nice! IMG_20200204_151218IMG_20200204_151236IMG_20200204_151504IMG_20200204_134757

The seven floor mall was huge and we discovered malls around the world are pretty much all alike. The curved and automated entrance doors were pretty cool. IMG_20200204_144022IMG_20200204_144023

We walked around for a couple hours, finding no souvenirs and after stopping in several pharmacies we found no masks or hand sanitizer. We were so glad we had brought both from home.  And of course no visit is complete without a stop at McDonald’s in the mall for an Oreo McFlurry. The $55 Taiwan price was equal to $1.83 US. IMG_20200204_143618

Directly next to where the ship was parked was a carnival. We enjoyed seeing the colorful lights from the rides at night. IMG_20200204_153058IMG_20200204_205020IMG_20200204_205034IMG_20200205_134858

The next day we had booked an excursion in Kaohsiung to visit a large Buddhist Monastery. About 4:30 A.M. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed a letter had been slipped under our cabin door.  A letter arriving in the middle of the night probably wasn’t good news, and it wasn’t. The letter announced that the Taiwan officials had held an emergency meeting and decided we were not going to be allowed off the ship the second day. All excursions were canceled. IMG_20200205_134903IMG_20200205_134903aIMG_20200205_134911

At breakfast the dreaded ding dong chimes brought the announcement that we were also not welcome at our next port, Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The captain said we would continue on to Ishigaki, Japan. At this point we could all see the writing on the wall. A hush fell over the ship. Little did we know how difficult the days ahead would become. 

Next up: A ship with no home!

Hong Kong, FEB 1, 2020

Originally we were supposed to be in Hong Kong for two days. Due to the corona virus and the fact that many tourist attractions were closed, the Holland America corporate office in Seattle made the decision to only be in port for one day, arriving at 6:00 A.M. and leaving at 5:00. I think the main reason Holland America stopped in Hong Kong was because some passengers were due to get off. They had only booked two weeks of the voyage. We also picked up passengers who were doing the final two weeks of the cruise. Our thirty day cruise was really two contiguous 15 day cruises. 

We got up earlier than usual to see the sail in to Hong Kong. The cruise ship terminal is on the mainland area known as Kowloon. Our excursion today is located on Hong Kong Island and is accessed by a tunnel under the harbor. IMG_20200201_060926IMG_20200201_060843IMG_20200201_072734IMG_20200201_111918IMG_20200201_113247IMG_20200201_160015_MPIMG_20200201_150127

While some were leaving the ship and new passengers embarking, we took a Holland America excursion in Hong Kong. Wearing our masks, we took the 45 minute bus ride from the pier into Hong Kong. Also included in the cost of the excursion was a ticket on the Hop On Hop Off bus, and transportation back to the ship. IMG_20200201_085356IMG_20200201_085932_MPIMG_20200201_085957_1_MPIMG_20200201_091404IMG_20200201_101005IMG_20200201_101047

We had heard so many things about Hong Kong and our expectations were high. We expected something similar to Singapore. We were sorely disappointed. We have ridden Hop On Hop Off buses in many places, including Singapore and many large cities throughout the United States. This was the worst Hop On Hop Off bus we have ever taken. Usually you hop on a bus, hop off when you want and then can catch another bus after a short wait. The Hong Kong buses ran a route and then waited 45 minutes before running the route again. We struggled to even find the stops and once we missed a stop we had to ride to the end of the line and wait 45 minutes to ride the route again. And it was miserably cold on the upper deck! In retrospect there were very few people moving around the city so The Hop On buses may have been on a reduced schedule for this reason. The big buses were empty except for cruise passengers. IMG_20200201_105631IMG_20200201_112457IMG_20200201_112806IMG_20200201_112833IMG_20200201_115152IMG_20200201_115207IMG_20200201_115322

Right before we arrived in Hong Kong the captain announced that because of the corona virus we would not be ending the cruise in Shanghai mainland China as planned. Instead we would be flying home from Tokyo. Bill spent part of his time in Hong Kong on the phone with American Airlines trying to change our flight. Little did we know it would be the first of many flight changes in the days to come. 

We got off and walked to the Hard Rock Cafe so Bill could add to his Hard Rock t-shirt collection. We stopped in several pharmacies looking for more hand sanitizer but every store was out of stock. At one little marketplace a woman was charging over $6 US for one of those tiny purse size bottles. I left in disgust. I had three bottles on the ship, I didn’t need it that bad. IMG_20200201_134201IMG_20200201_132132_MP

Hong Kong has many public toilets throughout the area. You had a choice between a toilet with a seat or a squat no seat stall. IMG_20200201_091301IMG_20200201_130421IMG_20200201_103735IMG_20200201_115833IMG_20200201_115834_MPIMG_20200201_130401

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The largest Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong, built in 1847

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From 1904 The Hong Kong Tramway Company Runs All Electric

The city was dirty with trash everywhere. I kept thinking how this would never be tolerated in Singapore.

There was a lot of Hong Kong we didn’t get to see. We didn’t have time to ride the Green or the Blue Lines of the Hop On Hop Off buses because we had to meet our bus back to the ship at 3:30. Between hunting for bus stops, waiting for buses, eating lunch, being on hold with American Airlines and looking for hand sanitizer, the day passed quickly and before long it was time to head back to the ship. On the positive side we saw absolutely no protesters even though it was a Saturday. Before leaving the United States we had worried a little about the Hong Kong protests which had been reported constantly on the news. Little did we know it would be a virus and not protests that impacted our visit. IMG_20200201_131230IMG_20200201_131240_MP

We may visit Hong Kong again but it is not high on our list of places to return. 

Next up: A stop in Taiwan and the beginning of the end.

 

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam JAN 30, 2020

We caught the sunrise from our Westerdam ship. IMG_20200130_064201-EFFECTSIMG_20200130_064406IMG_20200130_073058IMG_20200130_073220_MP

On our second day in Ha Long Bay we took a small boat cruise around the bay. The tour was on a converted fishing “junk boat”. We had to climb steep wooden steps to the scenic viewing area on top of the boat. I was a little nervous because the wooden floor of the upper deck felt very rickety and we could see in some places where the floor had fallen through. Junk boat was a perfect name! This is a sister junk boat that shows you what our boat looks like. IMG_20200130_093732_MPIMG_20200130_074519IMG_20200130_080234IMG_20200130_094306

We spent about five hours cruising Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were not allowed to take any plastic water bottles on the boat for environmental reasons. Limestone islands with huge cliffs and arches rising from the misty water amid peaceful coves dotted the landscape. It was a very peaceful cruise and we enjoyed spending time talking with other Holland America passengers. IMG_20200130_074136IMG_20200130_074522

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Occasionally You See Individual Burial Sites


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We did see what was left of an old movie set. Several movies have been filmed in Ha Long Bay including “Kong: Skull Island” in 2017 and the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997. IMG_20200130_074426

This concluded our time in Vietnam. We certainly enjoyed our time here. 

Next up: One day in Hong Kong 

 

Hanoi, Vietnam JAN 29, 2020

Our last stop in Vietnam was the port of Halong Bay. 

Our first day was most certainly a long one. We had a ten and a half hour excursion to Hanoi. Yes, ten and a half hours. The reason it was so long was because it takes two and a half hours to get to Hanoi from Halong Bay by bus. So round trip it is five hours on the bus! But first we had to get a Vietnam Landing Card which we had to present to Vietnamese immigration officials upon leaving the ship. IMG_20200129_074055

Along the way to Hanoi we saw field after field of rice paddies. IMG_20200129_083244

We also saw a main bridge into the city that had been heavily damaged during the war and rebuilt. It is still in use today. IMG_20200129_101429IMG_20200129_101633IMG_20200129_101754IMG_20200129_101821IMG_20200129_101958IMG_20200129_102013IMG_20200129_102911

Hanoi, with 6.5 million people, is the second largest city in Vietnam and the capital city. Located on the Red River, it was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. During its turbulent history Vietnam has been attacked or ruled by the Chinese, Japanese and French. The strong French influence throughout Vietnam is seen in its architecture and food such as baguettes. 

We had a young male guide named Ang. Every guide we have had in Thailand and Vietnam has been male. Ang spoke and understood English very well. This is the Flag Tower of Hanoi built in 1812. IMG_20200129_140755_1

As we drove and walked through the streets it was interesting to see how the people lived and socialized. Hanoi seemed older and less modern than Saigon. Traffic was not quite as bad but we did see a T shirt in a souvenir shop that said “I Survived Hanoi Traffic”. IMG_20200129_121435

Another popular shirt in Vietnam for tourists is a traffic light laws with GREEN/YELLOW/RED and the three phrases: I can go, I can go, I still can go.

We saw “Grab” which is similar to our the ride-sharing Uber, except Grab uses a motor scooter, not a car. IMG_20200129_101946IMG_20200129_160254

Our guide took us on a walking tour of Ba Dinh Square in Old Hanoi with thirty-six narrow streets where pedestrians and motor scooters fight for space. We had noticed while in Saigon many tiny little tables and chairs sitting around outside stores and restaurants and surmised they were for small children. We were surprised to see adults sitting on these tiny seats eating their lunch. IMG_20200129_115001

Also taking up sidewalk space were motor scooters. With no place to park, they simply park on the sidewalks, leaving pedestrians to walk along the busy streets. Later at dinner a fellow passenger, who had taken this walk with another group, reported seeing a large dead rat in the street. IMG_20200129_121200IMG_20200129_121302IMG_20200129_122000

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Eleven Roosters Ready For Sale

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Several Chicken or Roosters Ready To Cook

We continued to be amazed at the huge mess of power lines throughout the city.  We couldn’t imagine attempting to repair these lines. The solution seems to be to leave the old bad wire in place and just put up new wire. IMG_20200129_121131

We saw familiar stores like Circle K, KFC, Burger King, New York Pizza, and of course McDonald’s. IMG_20200129_122822

This advertisement was outside a store. To put it in perspective:

  • 150,000 dong is $6.45 US
  • 250,000 dong is $10.75 US
  • and 220,000 dong is $9.46 US. IMG_20200129_121243

Ang was very proud of our next stop, the Temple of Literature. This is where Vietnam’s first university was built in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius. Since it was a holiday for the Chinese New Year, it was mobbed with people. Contrary to the name, we didn’t see any books! IMG_20200129_103536IMG_20200129_11020300000IMG_00000_BURST20200129110408240_COVERIMG_20200129_112148IMG_20200129_114841

After a five course lunch of traditional Vietnamese dishes at a local hotel, we went to the Ho Chi Minh Tomb and Presidential Palace area. IMG_20200129_150237IMG_20200129_150159

Ang spoke very reverently about Ho Chi Minh and what he did for the Vietnamese people. The tomb was huge with guards standing at attention. A line was drawn on the sidewalk and if anyone stepped across that line one of the guards would blow a whistle. Ang said Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread throughout the countryside. But other leaders wanted him to have a big tomb like leaders in Russia. IMG_20200129_142032

We saw cars given by Russia to Ho Chi Minh and apparently Ho Chi Minh and others wanted to model their lives after Stalin and other Russian leaders. IMG_20200129_143917

We saw the Presidential Palace which Ho Chi Minh used as an office and when greeting foreign dignitaries. According to Ang, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the palace, instead choosing to live in a smaller house nearby for three years. IMG_20200129_143003IMG_20200129_143420

Later in his life he lived in an even smaller more traditional Vietnamese house on stilts. Nearby was a bunker he could be taken to during an attack. IMG_20200129_144404

This small concrete green block house is where he was living when he died. IMG_20200129_144553

Unlike our guide in Saigon who was critical of life in Vietnam, Ang had nothing negative to say. 

It was a tiring day and a long ride back to the ship. But we were glad we saw this historic city we had read so much about during the Vietnam War years.

Here are some views we saw on our way back to Halong Bay. There were many people selling these fresh fruits by the bag.
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Halong Bay at night.
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After dinner we were passing through the Lido area to walk around outside and were greeted by a huge Chinese dragon who was visiting for the Chinese New Year. IMG_20200129_191936

Da Nang, Vietnam JAN 27, 2020

On our second day in Da Nang we decided to explore the city on our own. Our ship was docked at a busy shipping port. IMG_20200127_124410IMG_20200127_191203

The city offered a free shuttle bus to and from the port into the town. After breakfast we walked off the ship to the waiting bus for the 30 minute ride into the city. The bus conveniently ran every 20 minutes and dropped us off in the heart of the city. A welcome tent had been set up in the parking lot and we asked where the closest supermarket was located. They told us a ten minute walk and pointed us in the right direction. It wasn’t a bad walk except for crossing the busy streets which could be a harrowing experience with all the crazy motor scooters. Fortunately many streets had pedestrian crosswalks with lights telling us when to cross. We reminded ourselves, once you start across don’t stop even if you are scared. We learned not all motor scooters honor the crosswalks. Everyone is always in such a hurry. Some things are the same worldwide, aren’t they. IMG_20200127_111005~2IMG_20200127_111054~2IMG_20200127_111353~2IMG_20200127_112144~2

Since it was the third day of the Chinese New Year many shops were closed. We saw some children’s toys, including Barbie dolls for sale spread out on the sidewalk. IMG_20200127_101208

We enjoyed seeing the New Year decorations. Yellow flowers are a popular decoration as well as the color red. IMG_20200127_101507~2IMG_20200127_111026IMG_20200127_111059

We easily found the supermarket which was located in a shopping mall. IMG_20200127_102006IMG_20200127_102438IMG_20200127_102448IMG_20200127_102538

We took the escalator up to the supermarket entrance and got a shopping cart. Bill was stopped by a security guard because he had on a backpack. He had to go over to a young man and leave his backpack there and get a ticket like a coat check stand. We weren’t too concerned about leaving it since we didn’t have anything of much value inside. IMG_20200127_103339IMG_20200127_103717

We were looking for Coke for Bill, 7 Up or Sprite for me and bottled water. The water on the ship tastes really bad. We asked the ship’s restaurant manager about it and he said they make their own water using a process converting sea water. And believe me, it tastes like it. They also serve tea on the ship which is also pretty bad. No amount of sugar or sweetener helps the taste. The lemonade is actually not too bad though I get tired of it. My favorite is when they have strawberry kiwi or mango lemonade. Pretty good and it doesn’t seem to be affected by the bad tasting water. IMG_20200127_102715IMG_20200127_103219IMG_20200127_103227IMG_20200127_103243

They charge $3.50 for a bottle of drinking water and $2.50 for a soft drink can on the ship. At the supermarket we bought 24 bottles of Danasi drinking water, 12 bottles of Coke and twelve bottles of 7 Up for a total of 19,800 Vietnamese Dong or $5.80 US. It would have cost us $72 for the same amount of water and soft drinks on the ship. But to keep all this in perspective, the average Vietnamese worker gets paid equivalent to $200 US per month. So to them what we bought today for $5.80 US would have been a big splurge to them. 

Just to give you an idea:

  • Barilla pasta is 54,100 dong. That is equal to $2.33 US
  • A pack of Oreo cookies is 11,900 dong or $0.51
  • Lipton tea is 27,700 dong or $1.19
  • Danish butter cookies is 105,500 dong or $4.54

We didn’t take too many pictures while walking. We were too busy carrying all our bottles, dodging motor scooters and watching our footing on uneven sidewalks. We did take some pictures from the shuttle bus to share with you. 

We made our way back to the shuttle bus stop and there was a bus waiting to take us back to the ship. This lady has stopped in front of a decorated wall to check her phone. IMG_20200126_085733~2

On our way back we talked to a fellow passenger who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He had come back to see how it had changed. We have met several former servicemen on the ship doing the same thing. On the other hand we met a woman traveling alone. She said her husband had served in Vietnam and wasn’t ready to come back. She had always wanted to see the country so she traveled there alone. It sounded like her husband had suffered some permanent injuries while here. 

We saw Quonset huts remaining which had been part of a 1965 US  helicopter base. This hospital was built in 1966 and became the largest combat casualty hospital in Vietnam with nearly 600 beds. Today it is known as DaNang Hospital for Women and Children. IMG_20200126_124019~2IMG_20200126_124026~2

Sometimes we would see open fields used to grow rice – rice patties. IMG_20200126_092003

Because of the New Years holidays many and many fishing boats were docked. IMG_20200127IMG_20200127_111818IMG_20200127_111451

I will close by saying if you should ever doubt that you live in the best country in the world, you only need to come to this part of the world to see how truly blessed we are to be Americans! God Bless America! 

Hoi An, Vietnam JAN 26, 2020

This is a continuation of our Asian cruise blog entries before everything went crazy. We were delayed getting these done because of very limited internet on the ship as we wandered around in the South China Sea for 14 days. Most of the internet on the ship was taken by people either trying to make an airline reservation or trying to cancel one. Things constantly changed on a daily basis. But more on all that in a future blog post.

Sailing up the South China Sea, our next port of call was Da Nang, Vietnam, the fifth largest city in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War soldiers went to nearby My Khe, known as China Beach for rest and relaxation. China Beach was featured in the television show “China Beach” as well as the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”. We were in Da Nang for two nights, giving us time to explore the area. 

The first day we had booked an excursion through Holland America. Little did we know the excursion would bring an unfortunate experience. 

Our tour guide was Melin, who had broken English and understood English even worse than he spoke it. This caused him to have a confused expression on his face most of the time. 

Today’s main excursion was a five hour tour of Hoi An, located about an hour’s drive from the ship. Hoi An is a tiny riverside town that has remained unchanged for centuries. IMG_20200126_104410~2IMG_20200126_103836~2IMG_20200126_103844~2IMG_20200126_104126IMG_20200126_103803IMG_20200126_104033IMG_20200126_104403~2IMG_20200126_104959~2IMG_20200126_105051The town is made up of many narrow streets and our guide took us on a walking tour. IMG_20200126_094917IMG_20200126_095026IMG_20200126_103343Throngs of townspeople were out celebrating the second day of the Chinese New Year so the narrow streets were even more crowded than usual. IMG_20200126_094219IMG_20200126_094834IMG_20200126_094821IMG_20200126_095309

Add the presence of many motor scooters weaving through the crowd and it made for a nerve-wracking walking experience. I wonder how many people throughout Asia are killed by motor scooters. Even more shocking is to see three or four people, including babies and small children riding on these scooters. While we were told it is against the law to ride a scooter without a helmet, we saw many young children without them. IMG_20200126_100223IMG_20200126_101311IMG_20200126_103143~2IMG_20200126_095400IMG_20200126_102611~2IMG_20200126_104841

Early in our walking tour our guide stopped at an old Chinese school. While he was talking we heard a crash and a woman in our group had fainted. As she was helped to her feet, she fainted again. Thank heavens we had a retired nurse named Susan in our group and she stepped forward to help. Our tour guide looked panic stricken and helpless. After a few minutes it was suggested we all continue touring the area while they decided what to do about the lady. 

This really was a pretty little scenic town and the New Year decorations and festive dressed locals added to the charm. IMG_20200126_100302~2IMG_20200126_103103IMG_20200126_095436IMG_20200126_103156At one point a  friendly older Vietnamese gentleman stopped Bill and asked if he was American. He proudly told Bill he had once been a captain in the South Vietnamese army. IMG_20200126_102415

We learned the ill lady and her husband had been put into a rickshaw and taken back to the bus to rest until we all returned. IMG_20200126_093606IMG_20200126_103423~2Nurse Susan suggested three times she should abandon the tour and take a taxi back to the ship where she could see the ship’s doctor. She refused. 

After our long walking tour in the heat we were more than happy to sit down in the coolness of the bus. Minutes after leaving Hoi An and heading to our next destination, the lady became very ill.  Susan jumped from her seat and checked the lady and told the guide we needed to get to a hospital NOW! The guide panicked and started shouting at the driver in Vietnamese. Somehow the bus driver managed to turn the large bus around and we flew through the narrow streets with the horn blaring as motor scooters scrambled out of the way. Three miles later we pulled up to a very small hospital. IMG_20200126_114850~2The lady was removed from the bus along with her husband and Susan. We all felt really bad leaving them behind where language is such a problem and medical procedures are very different. Hopefully Susan will make her way back to the ship and the lady will be okay. I don’t know what we would have done without that Susan. What an angel she was. 

This left us all shaken and pretty much just wanting to get back to the ship, but we did stop at famous China Beach for a photo opportunity. IMG_20200126_125002IMG_20200126_125059~2IMG_20200126_125026

In the distance on the hillside was Lady Buddha Da Nang, the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam. IMG_20200126_130634~2

We also stopped at Marble Mountain where they carve large figures out of marble. The hit of this stop was the gift shop where we could all purchase cold soft drinks and bottles of water. IMG_20200126_121058

Next up: Our second day in Da Nang and a visit around town 

Last minute update: We saw Susan the next day and she reported the lady is doing well. She was diagnosed with severe dehydration which caused problems with her diabetes. After being pumped with fluids for an hour she felt better and after five hours they were all able to take a taxi back to the ship (an hour away) where she was seen by the ship’s doctor. Susan said being at the hospital was very difficult because the staff were operating on a skeleton crew since it was a holiday and also because no one spoke English. They finally located someone who spoke a little English. We were so glad to hear the lady is doing well! We actually saw her several times much later around the ship. She was so fortunate! 

Lost in Saigon, Vietnam JAN 23, 2020 Part 2

The next stop was the former South Vietnamese Presidential Palace, now called Reunification Hall or Independence Palace. It was here on April 30,1975 the North Vietnamese burst through the gates in tanks, signaling the end of the Vietnam War. IMG_20200123_100347IMG_20200123_100309IMG_20200123_101127

We had to climb many steps inside and it was stifling hot in the  unairconditioned building. At 95 degrees, I was close to becoming overwhelmed by the heat. Inside were reception and dining rooms, the President’s private quarters and in the basement the old American made telecommunications equipment and strategic military maps still in place. IMG_20200123_100854~2IMG_20200123_101007IMG_20200123_101440IMG_20200123_101447IMG_20200123_101525IMG_20200123_101653IMG_20200123_102816IMG_20200123_102607_MP

Regardless of how hot and tired we were we had one more stop before lunch. This was at the History Museum with a collection of artifacts illustrating the evolution of the cultures of Vietnam. We did find a small gift shop where we were able to buy soft drinks which we quickly drank down in several gulps. IMG_20200123_105554IMG_20200123_111455IMG_20200123_125157

It was now time for lunch and we were all more than ready, more from the need to rest in air conditioning rather than from hunger. We had lunch at a very nice five star restaurant with a buffet of Vietnamese delicacies.

When we went to the Happy Room we noticed a Smoking Room. We saw these at the Tokyo Airport and other places in Asia. If the cigarettes don’t kill you, the second hand smoke surely will! IMG_20200123_125126

Next we stopped at a lacquer ware workshop to see how they make the beautiful lacquer based paintings and other objects. They actually use pieces of egg shells to color the paintings.IMG_20200123_133152IMG_20200123_133630IMG_20200123_133812

Finally to finish the day we drove by the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral dating back to the 19th century and stopped at the post office with its lovely architecture. IMG_20200123_142155~2IMG_20200123_142536

On the drive today Tony shared with us some of his thoughts on Vietnam. He said the government is very corrupt with lots of bribes. The people have to work very hard for an average salary of equivalent to $200 a month. The suicide rate among young people is very high. Alcohol and drug problems are widespread. He said there is a very large discrepancy between those who are wealthy and those who have nothing. While Vietnam has McDonald’s and Starbucks and KFC, most of the people have no money to pay for such things. There is no Social Security, no Medicare. He said the Vietnamese people love Americans and he named all the U.S. presidents who have visited and how many times they have visited. Around two thirds of the Vietnamese people living today have been born since the war was over in 1975. IMG_20200123_144853IMG_20200123_145212~2IMG_20200123_145502

The lights here have timers to tell you when they are going to change.

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After an hour drive back to the ship we were once again greeted with the much appreciated cold towels and lemonade. We rested for an hour before going out on the deck to see a special Vietnamese dragon dance put on for us by a group of thirty young men. A sort of thank you for visiting, please come back again farewell. After their performances they sat patiently on the pavement and waited for us to leave. The ship was delayed almost thirty minutes leaving as we waiting to clear Vietnam customs. As we finally began to pull away from the dock, the young men jumped up and began to dance again and wave goodbye. A lovely farewell to our first stop in Vietnam. IMG_20200123_173020IMG_20200123_173138IMG_20200123_173419IMG_20200123_173640IMG_20200123_173743IMG_20200123_173700IMG_20200123_175100

 

Lost in Saigon, Vietnam JAN 23, 2020 Part 1

Yes, we got lost in Saigon but I will get to that shortly. Our next port stop was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, Vietnam. It was renamed by the Communists in 1976 but is still called Saigon by most people who live there. It is located on the Saigon River, a few miles from the South China Sea. A city of over 13 million people, it is the largest city in Vietnam and one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. From Singapore we had sailed up and then back down the Gulf of Thailand. We were now sailing in the South China Sea around Vietnam. IMG_20200123_085046

Today we had an excursion booked to Saigon, an hour drive from where the ship was docked. It was an early day with our guide meeting us at the pier at 7:30 A.M. We had to have a Vietnam visa which we were able to get on the ship. We were then given a “landing card” which we had to carry with us whenever we went off the ship in Vietnam. Vietnamese custom officials were waiting to stamp our landing card as we left the ship. 

Just like in Bangkok, Saigon has crazy traffic, in particular the motor scooters/cycles that zoom haphazardly through the streets. IMG_20200123_104517_MPIMG_20200123_104315IMG_20200123_084139IMG_20200123_091806IMG_20200123_092057IMG_20200123_114718

Our guide told us we were lucky because it was the week of “Tet”, the Vietnamese New Year and therefore lots of people were out of town for the holiday which meant less traffic. EFFECTSIMG_20200123_080532IMG_20200123_080625IMG_20200123_084111_1IMG_20200123_084545

Our guide for today was named Tony. Even though he said he had been a tour guide for 27 years, he lacked in our opinion basic tour guide skills. Sidney, our Bangkok guide, gave us his cell phone number when we first boarded the bus so we could call him if we got separated from the group. Tony did not. Sidney wore a tall colorful hat that was easy to see in a crowd. Tony carried a small tan sign on a short stick, hard to see and follow. Sidney assigned each person on his bus a number and he would periodically stop and call out each number to see if everyone was present. Tony did not. Sidney walked at tourist speed. Tony did everything in one speed, fast. 

Our first stop was at the Bitexco Financial Tower, which at 68 floors is one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam. In fact it was the tallest until 2011. Tony took us in there to use the Happy Room which evidently in Asia is how all the tour guides refer to the restroom. IMG_20200123_092420

Next up was a walk through a large open air pedestrian mall where large crowds had gathered for the annual flower festival in celebration of Tet, a Vietnamese festival. We were enthralled with all the sights and sounds around us, stopping often to take pictures. IMG_20200123_085343IMG_20200123_090053IMG_20200123_090137IMG_20200123_091701IMG_20200123_091906IMG_20200123_091944IMG_20200123_092109IMG_20200123_092215~2IMG_20200123_092305IMG_20200123_092352IMG_20200123_092408~2IMG_20200123_092420~2IMG_20200123_092830~2IMG_20200123_093239IMG_20200123_092500At some point we became aware that not only did we not see Tony, we didn’t see anyone in our group of 30 up ahead. Just behind us was a couple from Canada we had met at breakfast the day before. Like us, they also had become separated from our group. It was like our guide and group had simply disappeared. The four of decided to continue walking down the very crowded mall and hopefully catch up with our group. We walked all the way to the end of the mall with no sign of Tony or our group. IMG_20200123_093557

Above is the City Hall building. Did I mention there was bright sunshine and it was 95 degrees? At this point our options and bodies were fading fast. The guide might leave two people behind, but would he leave four? Bill, forever the Eagle Scout, suggested we make our way back to the Bitexco Tower where we had gotten off the bus. It was a gamble because police usually do not let buses linger on busy streets and it was entirely possible the bus had moved to a different pickup location, but we had no other option. We hurried to the Bitexco Tower and were immensely relieved to see our bus. We learned that halfway down the mall Tony had taken a left turn down a narrow side street back to the bus. An efficient tour guide would have stopped at that turn and taken a head count. But not Tony. He didn’t know we were missing until everyone was back on the bus. And what did Tony say when we got back to the bus? He shook his head at us and told us we must stay together. It wasn’t like we ducked into McDonald’s for ice cream or went off on our own on purpose. At the next stop he told everyone to stay together. One of the others in the group mumbled to him, “Maybe we could if you wouldn’t walk so fast.” So very true! 

Here is a Happy New Year can of Coke. IMG_20200123_140203

Here is where the US Embassy was located during the war. IMG_20200123_104538