Monthly Archives: January 2020

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


Occasionally You See Individual Burial Sites


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


Eleven Roosters Ready For Sale


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.
Halong Bay at night.

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.


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

Bangkok, Thailand JAN 19, 2020 Part 2

We pulled up to our restaurant located in a hotel. IMG_20200119_122240Inside was a very nice air conditioned Thai restaurant where a private buffet lunch awaited us. They had a choice of beer or soft drink and the traditional Thai food was delicious. Just what our hot thirsty group needed! Bill had his first dragon fruit, a tropical fruit he said was similar to a kiwi but without much taste. IMG_20200119_125310IMG_20200119_131922IMG_20200119_131916

After cooling off and being fed and hydrated, we were all ready to head by bus to Wat Suthat or Big Buddha. This is one of the oldest and most important temples in Bangkok. The Big Buddha is 68 feet tall. While we were visiting they were having a service and we tried to not be obtrusive. IMG_20200119_135721IMG_20200119_135851IMG_20200119_135859IMG_20200119_135954IMG_20200119_140807IMG_20200119_140853IMG_20200119_141428

Above is King Rama VIII Monument.


By this point the heat was unbearable and putting our shoes off and on was getting old. It seemed every time I took my shoes off my feet were more swollen, making it harder and harder to get my shoes back on.

We were all ready when it was time to get back on the bus and ride the two hours back to the ship.  The bus driver met us at the door with cool towelettes which was much appreciated. The bus was cool and we were tired so we didn’t mind the two hour ride back to the ship. IMG_20200119_142642_1

Many officials current and previous have their pictures posted on the highways. This one we believe is the current King and Queen of Thailand. IMG_20200119_142626_MP

Along the way back we could glimpses of everyday life such as clothes hanging to dry on balconies. IMG_20200119_153553

When we arrived back to the ship Holland America staff again greeted us with cold towels and cold lemonade. Yes, it was that hot!

It was time to tell Sidney farewell and thanks for a fun day in Bangkok! 

That evening the ship’s entertainment was a native Thailand dance performance. IMG_20200119_193218IMG_20200119_190949IMG_20200119_193449

Our cruise is continuing North, so stay tune.

Bangkok, Thailand JAN 19, 2020 Part 1

After our very hot visit to Koh Samui, Thailand, the next day was even hotter and busier as we visited Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. A city of over 15 million people, it is a place of stunning gem studded temples, golden Buddha statues, floating markets, long tail boats, klongs (canals) and friendly people. There are over 400 temples in Bangkok. 

We had an excursion booked for this day. We had an early start since it is a 2 hour drive from the Port of Laem Chabang, where the ship was docked, into Bangkok. We were very fortunate it was a Sunday and therefore the traffic was not as bad as it could have been. IMG_20200119_071618

We were met at the bus by Sidney, our Thai guide. He spoke very good English though at times we had to listen closely to understand him. In the pictures Sidney is the one in the strange hat. He wore it so he would stand out in crowds and we could find him easily. It worked! Thank heavens the bus was air conditioned with free WiFi. 

Halfway to Bangkok we stopped at a rest area so people could use the “Happy Room” (bathroom) as Sidney put it. As we got off the bus the driver had a roll of toilet paper for us to tear off pieces. At that point I was apprehensive about what to expect but the bathroom was similar to what we have in the United States, just without toilet paper. There was a sink with running water but no soap or paper towels. IMG_20200119_090341

Earlier that morning from windows on the ship it looked like the air was heavy with smog. The closer we got to Bangkok, the worse the pollution became and Sidney said if people had masks they should wear them. Bill and I were the only ones on the bus with masks. (We had packed them back home.) The only problem was it was another day of extreme heat and humidity and having the mask across our nose and mouth only made us hotter. 

We first visited the Rat Ratchanadda (Metal Castle). At 116 feet tall with 37 spires, it is a Buddhist temple, the only metal castle in Thailand and one of only three in the world. 

We had been well informed on temple etiquette the day before at a port talk. Knees and shoulders must be covered so no shorts or sleeveless shirts are allowed. We knew we would have to remove our shoes so before leaving Arizona we visited the Dollar Tree and bought some cheap footies and socks that we could wear and discard. IMG_20200119_142419We were also told to bring a bag to carry our shoes with us. If you left your shoes outside mischievous children might take them and want candy or money to return them. IMG_20200119_095600IMG_20200119_095830IMG_20200119_100024IMG_20200119_100312IMG_20200119_101658IMG_20200119_101752IMG_20200119_101007

Next up was back on the bus to Wat Pho temple. The shoes came off once again. Because it was Sunday the temple was very crowded and with the heat it was claustrophobic and stifling inside. There were many signs warning of pickpockets. IMG_20200119_104458IMG_20200119_104831IMG_20200119_105114IMG_20200119_105528_MPIMG_20200119_110914IMG_20200119_111201IMG_20200119_111233IMG_20200119_111508IMG_20200119_111754IMG_20200119_112337IMG_20200119_112851_MPIMG_20200119_113030IMG_20200119_104521

Wat Pho temple man Buddha is the massive 150 foot Reclining Buddha. IMG_20200119_113941IMG_20200119_114313IMG_20200119_114042IMG_20200119_114215IMG_20200119_114512

Asia is known for crazy drivers and very dangerous traffic. People on motor scooters zoom through the streets and care less about traffic laws and lights. We had to cross one busy intersection and Sidney led the way. It was still scary. Sidney told us once you start to cross whatever you do don’t stop if you get scared. If you stop you may get hit. Just keep going and the motor scooters will swerve around you. We made it! 

By this time our group was very hot and we were all wilting rapidly. Time for lunch! But how to get there? Sidney put us in groups of two into tuk tuks, which are rickshaws pulled by motorcycles. It was an exciting, exhilarating, crazy ride through the streets of Bangkok with cars, trucks and motorcycles weaving and swerving around us. My favorite part of the day! We were very glad we had our masks since the exhaust fumes were overwhelming. IMG_20200119_120342IMG_20200119_120742IMG_20200119_121200_MP

Sidney said there are three seasons in Thailand–hot, hotter and hottest. We were visiting during the winter, or hot season. I cannot imagine what the hottest season would feel like!

Two many pictures for one blog so continue to blog part 2.

Koh Samui, Thailand JAN 18, 2020

Our first full day on the ship was a most welcomed day at sea.  We were still suffering from jet lag and were slightly dehydrated from the oppressive heat in Singapore. So it was a quiet relaxing day on the ship. We went to two lectures on upcoming port stops as well as a talk on temple etiquette since we would be visiting many temples in the coming days. IMG_20200118_123803

The next day was our first port stop at Ko Samui, Thailand. This was a tender port, meaning we had to take a small boat from ship to shore. When we opened our cabin curtains we could see seven small boats waiting to take passengers ashore. Several excursions were offered but we decided to just walk around the small town. Shore excursions on this cruise are an additional charge per person. IMG_20200118_075533

In no hurry to go ashore we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then went downstairs to get a boat tender number. Sometimes if the seas are rough it can be very difficult getting on and off the boat as well as a rocky crossing.  Today the water was calm and the twenty minute ride across the Gulf of Thailand to Ko Samui was very enjoyable. IMG_20200118_122659_MP~2IMG_20200118_111342IMG_20200118_111508

Ko Samui is a 95 square mile island 440 miles south of Bangkok. Two million coconuts are shipped from here to Bangkok every month. It is Thailand’s third largest island. The island was developed back in the 1980’s by a backpacker crowd. Today it has a population of 62,000 and 1.5 million tourists per year visit the island. IMG_20200118_100239

We walked around taking in the sights and sounds of island life. IMG_20200118_100528IMG_20200118_100703IMG_20200118_100703(1)IMG_20200118_100725IMG_20200118_095125Notice the scooter below with three riders and the elephant pants on display.IMG_20200118_104204


It is not unusual to see shoes lined up outside houses and stores. The Thai people believe that the feet are the dirtiest part of the body and therefore leave their shoes outside. IMG_20200118_100626

At one of the port talks it was suggested buying a pair of “elephant pants” which are made of a very comfortable lightweight fabric, making them very comfortable to wear in hot climates. They are called elephant pants because they have elephant images on them. We could go in any shop and say “elephant pants” and they knew exactly what we wanted. We settled on a nice pair for 180 Baht ($5.91 US) 

The cruise ship had recommended several places to get an authentic Thai lunch. We went to Lucky’s where Bill had a huge plate of Chicken Pad Thai, a Tiger beer and I had a soft drink. Total bill was 155 Baht ($5.00 US) 

Our last stop was to try and find some Coke and bottled water to take back to the ship. The ship provides iced tea, coffee and lemonade free of charge. But you have to pay an exorbitant price for soft drinks and bottled water. We found a little store where we saw bottles of Coke and Nestles bottled water still wrapped in the warehouse shipped plastic wrap. We bought twelve bottles of Coke and three bottles of Nestles water for 160 Baht ($5.26 US) which was about what we would pay for two Cokes on the ship! 

The weather was just as hot and oppressive as it had been in Singapore. When we got to the pier some Holland America staff were waiting with cold face towels, cold lemonade and popsicles. Yes, it was that hot! 

We were happy to see no line for the tender boat and we quickly made our way back to the ship. 

Our air conditioned cabin never felt so good! 


All Aboard! JAN 16, 2020

After a wonderful but far too short visit to Singapore, it was time to board the ship.  The funny thing was as we hopped on and off buses or sat eating breakfast at the hotel, we would catch snippets of conversations that told us there were other people waiting to board the same ship.  Either we would ask them or they would ask us if we were heading for a cruise with Holland America. So before we even stepped foot on the ship we met other passengers. 

We had to check out of our hotel by noon but couldn’t board the ship until 2:30 so we settled into a comfortable area of the lobby and planned to write and post the first blog. However fellow cruisers Herman and Hilda from Reno, Nevada stopped by and we got caught up in a conversation with them. We had met Herman and Hilda on the Hop On Hop Off bus the day before. Before we knew it the time arrived to leave for the port. We grabbed a cab which was surprisingly only $7.65 Singapore dollars ($5.68 US) 

Once at the pier we had a wait to check in to Holland America and go through exit immigration. When it was finally time to go up to the immigration counter Bill was sent to one line and I to another. Bill went through fine. Remember when I said they took a digital fingerprint of each thumb when we entered Singapore at the airport? You place each thumb on a glass surface and it scans your prints. We had to do the same thing when leaving Singapore to board the cruise ship. Only the immigration agent had a problem verifying my thumbprints. So without any explanation to Bill or time for me to explain, they took me into a locked room with several immigration agents. Seriously I wasn’t the least upset or worried. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and figured it was just a problem with the machine. They scanned my thumbprints on another machine, checked them, unlocked the door and sent me on my way. In the meantime I had a very anxious husband waiting outside the door. I told Bill he shouldn’t work my fingers to the bone because it is wearing off my fingerprints! Just another story to tell and memory to laugh about down the road. 

With all that done we were welcomed aboard the Holland America Westerdam and made our way to our cabin. We couldn’t wait to get unpacked and settled into our home for the next thirty days. 

Next up: Ko Samui, Thailand