World Cruise (Part 1) Wrap-Up

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
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Trip End Apr 16, 2011


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

World Cruise (Part One) Wrap-up



We've been asked a lot of questions since our return such as which port/city we liked best so this final blog of our trip will serve as a wrap-up.



Best Port Cities

1.       Shanghai

2.       Beijing

3.       Melbourne

Shanghai is the clear winner in our minds.  It is the city which we would most want to return.  It’s just incredible in many ways: beautiful, vibrant, architecturally stunning and very clean and safe.  The people are very friendly; the food is wonderful, great sightseeing, great shopping.  The city has vibrancy unlike any other we visited.  For example, we spent a wonderful afternoon walking along the esplanade bordering the Shanghai River adjacent to the Voyager.  People were everywhere, families with young children, teenagers in designer jeans, and old fogies like us.  Some tourists but mostly townies.  Everyone taking pictures, laughing and playing.  We also enjoyed Beijing very much; it is incredibly large (as is Shanghai).  We had heard horror stories about the Beijing traffic but it wasn’t that bad and, at least drivers obeyed the traffic rules unlike many Asian cities.  Visiting the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are once in a lifetime events.  The 'Bird’s Nest ‘and the ‘Cube’ (Sights of the Olympic venues) were awesome.  We could have spent more time in Beijing, too.  Finally, we loved Melbourne.  It is a big city that seems small, but in a good way.  It has a terrific trolley system running through the CBD that makes the city very accessible.  One of the best outdoor markets we visited was in Melbourne.  Melbourne is also known for its excellent food and wine.  We were told there are some three thousand restaurants in downtown Melbourne.  We sampled one in ‘Little Italy’ and had a terrific Italian lunch.  There were many other port cities we liked and narrowing our choices down to three was difficult and ultimately arbitrary.  Basically, with the exception of the ports listed below, we very much enjoyed something in every stop and every port we visited.

Worst Port Cities

1.       Townsville, Australia

2.       Thursday Island, Australia

3.       Sih Noukville, Cambodia

I have no idea why Regent picked Townsville as a port of call.  In fact, I have no idea why Townsville even exists except to provide a dot on the map between Cairn and Brisbane.   It’s hot.  It floods.  It suffers cyclones.  You can’t swim in the ocean because of the salt water crocodiles.  Some cities are very livable but not particularly good tourist destinations.  Some are the opposite.  The there is Townsville.   Particularly perplexing is just two days before,  our itinerary allowed for us to spend only  14 hours in Sydney, not nearly enough time to do it justice.  Was this all too-brief time in Sydney to allow for a call on Townsville?  If so, what a waste of time.  There is absolutely nothing in Townsville worth stopping for.  Its claim to fame is a fourth rate aquarium (compared to the National Aquarium in Baltimore or the Atlanta Aquarium, I’m being charitable).  Mostly because the Aquarium was air conditioned and I had some time to kill before boarding the shuttle bus, I sprang for the entrance fee.  It took all of fifteen minute to tour the entire aquarium.  I’ve spent more time looking at the fish in a Japanese restaurant.   It also had a third rate street market mostly visited by locals who seemed more than happy to stand in line to buy the junk that was being offered  (Anyone for refrigerator magnets; they ‘re flying off the shelves).  I was more than happy to let them.

I hesitate to even include Thursday Island because it doesn’t really even qualify as a port.  Its claim to fame is that Captain William Bligh discovered and named it on his famed sailing after suffering a mutiny on the Bounty.  But, he didn’t care enough about the island even venture ashore and in this one case we should have followed his lead.  We were tendered in to a very small town that had absolutely nothing to recommend it except an abandoned army fort and the northernmost bar in Australia where Wayne enjoyed a cold northernmost beer.  So not get the wrong impression, we liked Australia very much.  Besides Melbourne and Sydney, Hobart, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin were interest and fun.   But these two stops were the pits.

Okay, it’s time for third place.  We can say that we have been to the end of the world and it’s called Sih Noukville, Cambodia, a very depressing place where high tech is defined by the size of your water buffalo.  It has a central market with more beggars begging and children hawking useless junk per square foot than anywhere else in Asia.  On our tour we visited a local school in a small village outside of Sih Noukville.  Cute, cute kids with no shoes and, in some cases no underwear, but with many smiles and not a chance in the world.  They love being photographed and looking at their pictures captured in the camera.  No mirrors in the village, you see.  Sih Noukville has been designated as a resort town in the making by the Cambodia government with "the most beautiful beaches in Cambodia".  Faint praise for a largely land-locked country.  Our tour bus transported us safely through the squalor, motorcycles Tuck-tocks and generally crazy traffic to enjoy lunch and a swim at a unfinished, mostly vacant five star resort (that wasn’t).  The Casino was still under construction which was unfortunate because Wayne would have like to have had the opportunity to bet against Sih Noukville ever achieving resort status.  We spent an hour and a half sitting in the shade admiring the pretty and pretty small beach and drinking yet more beer.  Did I mention it was hot?

The Most Beautiful Places on this Trip

1.       Hai Long Bay, Vietnam

2.       Milford Sound, New Zeal Land

3.       Angkor Wat (?) 

This was an easy one.  Hai Long Bay, Vietnam is simply the most beautiful place in the world.  Okay, the most beautiful place in the world that we have visited.   It is so beautiful, mystic, unreal, really, that much more seasoned travelers than us were just in awe.  Jaw-dropping beauty.  Words fail but Karen’s photography doesn’t so revisit if you have an interest. 

Milford Sound wins an award as ‘The Most Beautiful Place in the World We Have Visited until We Visited Hai Long Bay’.  The Milford Sound is located on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  We cruised all day along majestic Fjords with sparkling waterfalls.  It was a bluebird day with a calm sea.  Perfect.  Again, Karen’s pictures tell the story much better than words.  One caution: the guide books warn about the mosquito-like no-see-ums in the Sound.  Believe the warning.

Finally, we had to include Angkor Wat somewhere and I suppose some  would call it beautiful.  So, what is there to say about Angkor Wat?  The post-cruise tour was very expensive but it was well run and in our opinion worth the cost of a once in a lifetime chance to see one of the wonders of the world.  And getting there is half the fun as they say.  Flying into a fourth-world country from Bangkok to Siem Reap on a third world airline (only about one-half of the fasten seat belt signs were operative on our Air Bhutan flight) in the dark of night is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.  Also, at the Bangkok airport we found out, to our surprise,  that we didn’t yet have Cambodia Visa’s.  Our Cambodia Visas issued for Sih Noukville were single entry permits only and had expired.  We had to apply for new visas which entailed completing three separate forms asking for exactly the same information except that one of the forms asked for passport pictures, the pictures that we had previously supplied to Regent on the Voyager.  One of the questions was how many times we had seen Apocalypse Now.  So, in between the air turbulence we completed the forms, secretly praying that our aircraft had one more flight in her, and arrived at the Siem Reap International Airport.   We were escorted to a large table where miraculously passport size photos of all in our group of fifty appeared.  We were asked to pick out our photos and to surrender our passports to be returned the next day.  Many in our group objected but all surrendered their passports.  Safety in numbers I guess.  We were then escorted through immigration sans passport or visa to our busses and transported to our hotel.  They did return our passports the next day with a valid Cambodian Visa.   And, now we are the only ones on our block that have two Cambodia Visa’s in their passport.  Our trip back to Bangkok was uneventful.  Karen described Angkor Wat in detail in an earlier post so I won’t repeat her observations here.  I will just ask and answer a few rhetorical questions.  Did we enjoy the trip? Yes.  If we had it to do over would we go to Angkor Wat?  Yes.  Would we go again?  No, like visiting the Alamo, once was enough.   Is it as impressive as it looks in all of the Google photos?  That is a tough one.  On balance I would say no.   One last word of caution if you plan on going: It is hot.  When people misbehave in Hell, they send them to Siem Reap.

Filthiest Port Cities

This is a somewhat unusual category since we are not representing the health department of any country but given what we saw we thought it worth commenting.  So here are the ‘winners’:

1.        Anywhere in Vietnam

2.       Anywhere else in Vietnam

3.       Sih Noukville, Cambodia

Those who know us know that we are anything but cleanliness freaks but Vietnam is just disgusting.  There are piles and piles of trash everywhere.  There is trash on the sides of the roads, in the rivers and canals, in front of the restaurants and hotels.  In contrast, Beijing and Shanghai were amazingly clean; one would be hard pressed to find even one piece of litter.  Relatively speaking, Bangkok and even Manila were immaculate.  I think in several of our ‘best’ and ‘worst’ categories, Cambodia is hard to rate, almost in a class by itself.  For example, it is without question the poorest country we visited, but it doesn’t have the worst slums we saw (Manila does) nor is it as dirty as Vietnam   I think this is mostly  because over 85% of its population live in rural areas barely scraping a subsistence living with stone age tools (except for the occasional satellite disk).  You don’t generate much trash when you don’t have anything to begin with.

                Worst Traffic/Drivers

1.       Bali, Indonesia

2.       Saigon, Vietnam (tie)

3.       Bangkok, Thailand

We have several surprises winner in this category; at least surprising to us.  First, the little resort island of Bali is the clear winner as having the worst traffic and drivers on both our lists.  Imagine a two lane highway with no shoulders and people walking and selling everything imaginable on the sides of the roads.  Now, imagine thousands of motorcycles dueling for road space with cars, trucks, vans and buses.  Technically vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Bali but in reality they drive on both sides coming from each direction, a unique way of turning a two lane highway into a four lane highway while saving the cost of another two lanes.  Most of the motorcyclists wear helmets, but more to keep a falling coconut from the trees that line the highway from conking them on the head.

Saigon and Bangkok tie for second place.  One not surprising factoid supplied by our guide in Bangkok:  Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Thailand.  Heart attacks are second.  What was left unsaid is that many of the heart attacks are undoubtedly caused by the traffic.

The second surprise was that the traffic in Beijing was much better than we expected after reading the horror stories from various sources.  Maybe we just were lucky, I don’t know, but that was our experience.  For sure there are a lot of people in Beijing and thus a lot of cars.  So many that cars with license plates bearing certain numbers are barred from entering the city on certain days.  But the boulevards are wide, the freeways many, and drivers at least follow the basic principles of motoring such as stopping at red lights and staying in the proper lanes.

The Voyager

This was our fourth cruise on the Voyager and we continue to love it.  In fact we enjoyed the three segment of the World Cruise just completed so much that we just booked the final segment, from Rome to Southampton.  The food and service was great.  The Voyager is really the perfect ship for us.  We love the all-inclusiveness of the cruise, the large suites, the feeling that the ship is never full even when it is full, the luxury of never having to wait in lines, never having to wait for a table in the restaurants, the freedom to dine alone or with others depending on our sociability quotient for that evening and never having to fight for good seats for the entertainment in the Constellation Theater.  We weren't sure how we would like sea days but we now love them!  It was a very relaxing trip in part due to the number of sea days that we had.

Look for World Cruise (Part Two) in May.

                               
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Comments

Debbie Bolen on

Thank you for sharing your trip with the blog and pictures! What an incredible adventure you guys have been on...it has been fun to travel vicariously with you

pam docter on

love every minute that I read and see. I am forwarding to my son who is traveling in Vietnam etc. I may call or ask some specific questions. Rest up and take care. Glad you are back . I feel like I have been there too with all of the details. Thanks

Wes & Ida on

Karen, wonderful wrap up thanks for posting. We concur with Halong Bay..as also the most beautiful place in the world we have visited (bora bora a close second). Also, with Sihanoukville as the worst port on our too short Voyager segment. Cute category on filthiest ports--Vietnam is at the top of our list too.
Tthe Voyager is also our fav cruise ship out of (Navigator, Paul Gauguin, and 3/5 Silversea ships) u nailed why it is our fav too.

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