Tuesday, March 31, 2009


We opted to do little more than our laundry today while docked in Malaysia. A 90 minute each way bus ride to Kuala Lumpur just didn't sound worth it. Are we getting jaded? Of course getting a chance to be in the ship's laundromat when it was not jammed with crabby people was a treat.




30 March 2009 – Singapore – Wow were we ever impressed with Singapore. Not a very democratic place but the leaders get A+ for urban planning.

This island city is off the southern top of the Malay Peninsula just one degree north of the equator but has so much greenery and so many trees (more than 4 million) that it seems much cooler than you would expect. Building codes require that buildings along the street have an overhang to shield people from the sun and rain as they walk. 80 percent of the people here own their own homes – many in condos built by the government. So public housing here is not just for the poor, but people here don’t rent public housing, they buy it. The only way you can tell the public from the private condo buildings is that people who live in the public condos can hang their laundry out.

They have a terrific subway that goes everywhere and housing is allocated so rich, poor and middle income have an equal chance to be close to the subway. All the buildings look fresh and new since there is a requirement that all buildings be painted every 5 years. Cars are discouraged – there are a limited number of permits issued each year and they are auctioned off to the highest bidder – typically adding $10K to the cost of buying a car. Car prices are artificially raised as well. They have an island nearby that is designated for recreation and has beaches, picnic areas, sports facilities, etc that you can reach by bridge or aerial tram.
They are one of the world’s busiest ports and refine perhaps half of the world’s oil – all of this on islands away from their main residential and business island. A very prosperous place.

Drug offenses here carry the death penalty. Littering, spitting on the sidewalk and other minor offenses carry a stiff fine. The only thing that carries a duty in this free port is smoking materials. Bringing any amount in without declaring it carries a $10000 fine! Thus Singapore is a beautiful, nearly crime free place, with no litter, no slums, no homeless, not much smoking, little pollution and no beggars. Not what we are used to seeing in this part off the world – or anywhere else for that matter.

They are 77 percent Chinese descent, 14% Malayan, 7 % Indian and 2 other and pride themselves on being Singaporean and on living with harmony between races and religions. Their first elected President was of Chinese extraction, but the current one is Indian. Of course it is the Prime Minister who wields the real power and he is elected by the ruling party. There are only currently 2 opposition members in their parliament, so the Prime Minister is very powerful indeed. But their leaders have apparently used their power wisely and with long-term prosperity and quality of life a primary goals.

We toured the orchid garden in their botanical park. Probably the most beautiful garden we have ever seen. We rode down Orchard Road (their upscale shopping area) and past Raffles Hotel and then on into Chinatown. We got off the tour there and spent the afternoon having lunch (Chili crabs – a local specialty of whole crab in a sweet-hot sauce that has scrambled egg mixed in. Man were we a mess afterwards – the sauce splatters as you are picking the crab apart.) and shopping. We took the subway to Orchard Road. Mary needed some cotton trousers for Egypt and India and most of the stores here have only “size Asian” as Mary calls it – too tiny for American bods.

Singapore is very livable despite year round temps in the 90s. We would be interested in coming back and spending a few more days here. Oh and did I mention that everyone here speaks at least a little English?

Next stop Andaman Islands (owned by India)













Bangkok has lots of modern building but lots of people live the old way in slums or along canals


We visited a typical Cambodian home and Clyde was a hit as usual.


Several kids wanted to adopt Clyde, but Mary convinced them that Clyde was her "baby".


Saturday, March 28, 2009


This a nun feeding the monkeys on the grounds. They were very gentle. Mary here is proving she has no fear of snakes.

The guide was unable to tell us how this fountain fit into Buddhist symbology Below a giant stands in the way of the Prince Siddarta on his way to becoming the Buddha.

Visited a Buddhist temple here. Very serene and beautiful.

Friday, March 27, 2009


27 March 2009 – Bangkok Thailand – We had to moor about 70 miles away and it took about 2 hours each way by bus to get there. Along the way there (on a modern toll road) we stopped at a rest area. They had KFC and McDs (Ronald statue out front was doing Thai hand-clasped bow) but the sidewalks featured vendors making all kinds of Thai specialties – the smells and sights were marvelous. There was a bit of a traffic jam in the ladies room Mary reports. Only one of the stalls had a Western-style toilet. The rest were Asian style and few women (other than Mary )on our bus were willing to experiment.

Along the way we learned that tapioca is a major export of Thailand along with rice and tiger prawns. We never knew where or what it came from. It turns out that it is the same as cassava and is a tall (10ft) spindly tree-like shrub. They harvest and process the roots which are tubers that are about 3 inches in diameter and look a bit like sweet potatoes. They pull up the plants to harvest the roots; cut up the stalks and then plant the pieces of stalk to generate another crop. The tubers are dried and processed into chips, flour or pellets and are used in all kinds of products.

The city of Bangkok was much more modern than we were expecting --- but still retains plenty of old-fashioned Asian backstreets, and strange sights to Western eyes.
They are building a new high-speed rail link between downtown and the new airport which is 15 miles out. They have a subway and commuter rail but not extensive. There is a big Chinatown area where it seemed every second shop was selling gold.
We stopped at a Temple and toured a building that was a replica of the original monastery where Buddha lived long ago in India. 5 floors with a spiral staircase – Buddhas galore on every floor.
Then on to the grounds of the King’s Palace – the most visited and important spot in Thailand. There is a residential compound there, but the part open to the public is an area of many buildings devoted to Buddhism and royal rituals. The “Emerald Buddha” is enshrined in one large, ornate building. It is actually a bluish jade and is considered the most important Buddha statue in Thailand. The king himself comes 4 times a year and, in an elaborate ceremony, washes the Buddha and dresses it in attire appropriate for the season. In another building is a throne where new kings are crowned. Another structure houses the ashes of former kings. BTW “The King and I” is based on at true story and the current monarchs are Anna’s descendants. Words fail me to describe the ornate and exotic nature of the buildings and statues here – I will provide some pics instead.

We walked from there through a sea of vendors (post cards, fans, umbrellas, purses, etc.) to a riverboat and had a boat tour of the city’s major rivers and one of the large canals. Bangkok is quite Venice-like and is cris-crossed with canals. Many people live either along (or floating on) the canals and we saw a real slice of a different life while cruising past. There are a lot of houses (mostly pretty humble) on stilts because the land under them (which the homeowner owns) has been eroded away by the river or canal current. Bit by bit these houses are being put behind seawalls and having dirt put back under them. Most people have running water but sewage disposal is generally into the canal for the people that live along them. We saw kids swimming in them too ;-<>


25 Mar 2009 -- Sihanoukville, Cambodia – We docked here too far from Pnom Pen to go there on a tour. This is a port city and beach town and we didn’t expect to see much of interest, but were pleasantly surprised. The port itself was of interest. They had a large fishing fleet of small wooden boats with gasoline engines that make a loud “putt putt” sound. Most of them went out at night and returned early in the morning with fresh fish for the market. As we left the port dozens were leaving at the same time and hundreds were already out dotting the horizon. In fact, all the time we have been in Southeast Asian waters we have rarely been in a place where there was not at least one little fishing boat on the horizon.

We visited the “Lower” Buddhist temple there (the upper temple was further uphill). A tranquil, tree-shaded place with a temple building in the center and several exotic shrines on the grounds. There was a motel-like building where the monks lived and, back in the woods, some humble wooden buildings where some nuns lived. We found out that boys can become monks for as little as a few months as part of their growth toward adulthood and Cambodian parents are very proud of them when they choose to do that. Older/career monks are respected as holy men and wise counselors. People will come to the temple not only to pray, but to seek spiritual guidance or to get advice on how to bring luck to their homes. On the wooded areas of the extensive grounds there were many monkeys. We visited a nun who was feeding them fruit. The monkeys were very gentle and orderly about taking the fruit – just the opposite of what you might expect. Mary also spotted a cat which, despite a skinny and generally unhealthy appearance, seemed fairly energetic and playful. Nuns, we found out, come to the temple to live so as to advance themselves on the path toward Nirvana. Nuns wear white and monks wear orange robes. Both are shaved bald and you could not easily distinguish between the men and the women with the color coding.

The tour also took us to a typical Cambodian home out in the country and we were allowed to tour it. We felt a little uncomfortable doing this, but rationalized it by the idea that the tour company was surely paying this family – and they clearly could use it – and we did come on this trip partially to see how other people lived. It was a two-story building that housed 4 generations of the family of 20. The men of the family are fishermen. The ground floor had a concrete floor. It contained several small sleeping rooms with straw mats and hammocks and also contained the kitchen. The kitchen was simple with a gas burner, a stone grinder for making rice flour, and a single water tap. Several woks hung on the wall. There was no refrigerator – marketing is done every morning. The front porch area was partially devoted to a small store not much larger than a card table in area in which they sold cigarettes, chewing gum and a few other odds and ends. It also housed a TV, stereo, and VCR – so they had electricity. We had to remove our shoes to enter the upstairs area. On the porch was a leather couch and a framed set of family pictures. Among the pics was a European-looking couple. The guide told us that the people in the house knew them and that they were captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge (who killed about 1 million during their reign of terror). There was a large living room with two shrines – one for Buddha and one for ancestors. Joss sticks are burned and offerings are made on special days or when help is being requested (safe return from fishing, etc.). There was a shadow box on the wall that contained a number of simple mementos including some small koala bears given them by an Aussie visitor. Clyde made acquaintance with several of the kids.
We then visited a local elementary school and took a tour. The kids were very friendly and some had a few words of English. Many made a bid to become Clyde’s new parent. Mary made the issue clear to them with protective, baby-cuddling gestures. This is a poor country that is making a comeback after years of war and devastation. The Khmer Rouge made a point of killing off intellectuals. This country primary school was built using materials and funds donated by Japanese and the actual design and build was done by Aussies. We met the Principal, who was nice, but no-nonsense. We all made donations to help them continue their work and one person on our group had the forethought to bring along a bag of school books to donate. Primary education is mandatory and free. Some students take private English lessons at night for which their parents pay. This is a tourist area and English is a big economic plus for those who can speak some.

In the city of Sihanoukville there is a central market – a large, dark, rabbit-warren of a place. A long central aisle and many narrow side aisles. All sorts of things on sale – clothing, food, flowers, hardware, etc. The further we went down the central aisle into the interior the more “exotic” the smell became. So much so that we turned back after we went in about 100 yards or so. We bought some flowers to brighten our cabin. The city itself has many western touches – English language signs for restaurants and hotels. While we were waiting in the bus for others to finish their shopping we amused ourselves by watching the swirl of motorbike traffic out the window. Helmets? You gotta be kidding? One small motorbike had a family of 5 aboard. Dad driving with one hand while clutching an infant to his chest with the other. Mom on the back and two young children sandwiched between. Then one young man had a 1 ft square, 4 foot long block of ice strapped crosswise to the back of his motorbike – look out pedestrians! Another man was driving with one hand on the handlebars and the other cradled a bundle of 20 or so 12 ft lengths of plastic pipe.

Our final stop was a 5-star beach resort called Sokha Beach. It was lovely. The beach was beautiful white sand. The water was clean and a light green in color and was very warm – at least 90. We had a half-our swim and a half-hour to dry off. Near the beach there was a folk band and dancers in a tree-shaded plaza in native dress doing native dances. There was also a foot massage concession under the trees nearby.

You could look around and see the signs that this area was beginning a comeback. Clyde learned the Cambodian greeting bow. Hands clasped in front in a prayer attitude and bow with nose touching finger tips. Even though he has no fingertips he got quite good at it and was a hit with the locals when one of their busses pulled alongside ours at a traffic signal.


This man powered travel can be scary in Saigon traffiic but a great way to sight see. Clyde enjoyed people's reactions when he waved to them. Here is a pic of our friend Delores enjoying the ride. And of course Clyde with our drivers.


Lots of outdoor activity here. Here is someone getting a haircut. Also an outdoor cafe where people were sitting in the shade having a tea. Street vendors selling food were everywhere.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


24 Mar 2009 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) -- We only had a brief stop here, but it was very interesting. We opted for a 2 hour city tour via “cyclo”. A cyclo is a tricycle where the passenger sits in front and the driver sits on a bicycle seat in back and pedals.

Luckily Saigon is very flat, because it was very hot (90’s) and we perhaps weigh a bit more than the average Vietnamese ;-)

Mary and Clyde shared one and Brian had one to himself. Saigon traffic is mostly motor scooters and motor cycles (4 million) and quite confusing with all kinds of vehicles zipping this way and that in and out. One local hair-raising custom is to cut diagonally through oncoming traffic if you are going to drive your scooter up onto the left-hand sidewalk (where driving is apparently okay at times) or into an alley. There are a few traffic signals (mostly ignored) and no stop signs in evidence. Our cyclos apparently did not have to obey any rules in particular, but did stay mostly on the right side of the road, except when turning left into a one=way street where they often executed the diagonal into oncoming traffic maneuver. When we get back, we’ll post a short cycle-eye video to give you a better idea of what it was like. We don’t mind saying that it was a bit scary at first. We got a good tour of the old part of Saigon. The drivers had no English but pointed out local important sights to us. Luckily Brian had a simple map and was able to understand what a few of them were.

This is a vibrant, bustling city and very different from others we visited. Most business was conducted in an open-air setting and there were street vendors selling everything from soup to clothing to haircuts. Some of the cargo loaded on small vehicles was eye-boggling. We passed by the old Presidential Palace (now a reunification museum) and the old American Embassy (now the American Consulate). Pollution was not bad – not in the same league as China. There are a few nice new hotels -- Sheraton and Renaissance. Unlike China we saw no beggars here – but plenty of pesky street vendors selling post cards, fans, “Polo” shirts, coolie hats and mandarin outfits.

After our two-hour ride in the blazing sun we were hot and tired. We went to the Rex Hotel and had lunch on their rooftop restaurant. Nice breeze, good service, good view and decent food. Brian had a local beer “333” or “Ba Ba Ba”.

By the time we finished it was time to catch the shuttle bus back to the ship. A very pretty young Vietnamese woman in traditional dress was the hostess on the shuttle bus. Clyde made her acquaintance, but forgot to get her name.

The port lecturer on board our ship told us that while Vietnam is communist, it has a market-driven economy. Families during the war were encouraged to have lots of kids, but now the target number is 2 per family --- and if a gov’t employee has 3, they can be fired. Early on after the war they tried collectivization of everything. As a result, no one was willing to work and they did not have enough food to feed their people. The first year after they went back to people owning their own property, they had a rice surplus and are now Asia’s number 3 rice exporter. The local currency is the Dong and the exchange rate is 17,000 to one US dollar. He advised us not to exchange currency unless we had a wheel barrow since US dollar is widely accepted. Most street vendors sell stuff for “one dollah”. Anything more than that is negotiable.

Next stop Cambodia

Monday, March 23, 2009


20 Mar 2009 CHINA – I am afraid that this one will be quite long winded since we saw so much of interest (at least to us). We took an “overland” trip. Our ship docked in Shanghai where we just had a few hours to stimulate the local economy before running off to the airport. What a modern, bustling city filled with skyscrapers – including the world’s first tallest and fifth tallest. We only saw the port area and part of the city on our way to the “silk exposition center” where we purchased some silk comforters and saw how they were made. They had a group of people there who started with cocoons and created the silk fillers for the comforters – a lot of hand work – and quite fascinating. The traffic was helter skelter and there were lots of traffic jams and considerable air pollution. We flew to Beijing that afternoon.

We stayed at Beijing’s Great Wall Sheraton for 3 nights and had a lot of great Chinese meals. Beijing is amazingly polluted. You see the sun through a thick haze and our throats were scratchy all the while we were there. They are making some efforts to reduce pollution, but Beijing is growing so rapidly that it will be a challenge just to avoid it getting worse. Drivers, for instance, have to leave their cars home one day a week depending on what number their license plate ends in. They have a solid public transport infrastructure, but still traffic is heavy everywhere. The city is full of skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings and most of the old low-rise neighborhoods (Hutongs) have been torn down.

One night we went to Beijing’s most famous Beijing Duck restaurant. It is in an area that they renovated prior to the Olympics trying to preserve the style of a previous period – say 1930’s. It was very nice but had that unreal sanitized Disney quality about it. They had some sort of a promotion going on at the restaurant in conjunction with the local Chinese opera and a locally famous opera singer made the rounds of our tables while paparazzi and videographers captured it all. Clyde introduced himself and the singer held him for awhile. It would be interesting to see if he ended up on any of their news programs or in the newspaper. The food was outstanding with course after course. Most of the main courses were some kind of duck and the final course was Beijing Duck carved at table side – best we’ve ever had.

Our first day of touring there we went first to Tiananmen Square. It is HUGE (can accommodate 500,000 people)! Bordered by Mao’s Tomb, the Great Hall of the People (their congress meets there and it also has a banquet hall that will seat 10,000), and their national museum. Mao was not available for viewing that day – perhaps he was in for refurbishing. There is a large monument in the center honoring China’s war dead going all the way back to the Opium Wars. Free enterprise has taken hold here – there were lots of souvenir (Mao watches on which his arm waves, Olympic hats for $1, “Rolex” watches, “Gucci” bags, etc.) vendors in the square and some were quite persistent. Clyde had to have the Mao watch. Despite our being Yankee Imperialists Dogs we felt quite welcome and Clyde made the acquaintance of a very cute little girl there. Even the stern guards there smiled when Clyde waved to them. It was handy to know a few words of Chinese supplied by our guide “Bu” – No and “Ni Hao” Hello. Bu was especially handy with the vendors. Clyde used Ni Hao with a lot of kids and adults while waving one arm – always got a big smile.

Later we spent a couple of hours in the Forbidden City which is also in the heart of Beijing not far from Tiananmen. This is the former home of China’s emperors from the 1400s on. Forbidden City because anyone entering without permission was beheaded or worse. It covers many acres and has many buildings and all of it is surrounded by high walls and a moat. All of the buildings are wooden with tile roofs and are very ornate. Most have burned down and been rebuilt numerous times. The ends of each roof are decorated with upright ceramic animals and gods – the more of them there are, the more important the building (see photo). There are public areas of the city where the emperor received visitors, participated in ceremonies and met with his officials. Then there is the private area where the emperor lived with his empress, his thousands of concubines, his children and his many servants (eunuchs). Other than in a small formal garden, there are no trees in the Forbidden City since they might hide assassins. Food tasters were employed and the floors of the city had 15 layers of stone and dirt to foil anyone trying to tunnel in. If you see the movie “The Last Emperor”, it shows many shots of the Forbidden City. The main buildings have names such as “Hall of Supreme Harmony”.
Next came the “Temple of Heaven”. It also covers many acres and has many interesting features. Heaven was thought to be round back then and the earth square. The structures when you enter the temple grounds are rectangular and painted in red and yellow (colors of the earth and the emperor). The structures further in are round and blue (the celestial color).This is a Taoist temple that was only used twice a year when the Emperor came to pray for a good harvest in the spring and later in the year when he came to pray to the supreme being. He was accompanied only by his sons and top officials – no women allowed. Animal sacrifices were offered.
The following day we went north by bus about 90 minutes to a section of the Great Wall. This amazing structure was built by hand over steep terrain and stretches some 4000 miles. We climbed a section of it and it was quite steep – and pretty awe inspiring. Clyde met another cute little girl there – Jen Jen (see pic). After a great Chinese lunch, with many courses served family style at round tables with lazy susans in the middle, we went to one of the tombs of the Ming emperors. There are a number of above ground buildings similar to those at the Forbidden City and the emperor was actually buried in an underground palace made of marble which in under a hill which was originally surrounded by a moat and appeared to cover several acres. The actual tomb has not been excavated. The tombs of all the Ming emperors (13 if memory serves) are in the same general area but miles apart. At one time there was a special road from the Forbidden City that ran to this area and only used to transport the dead emperors. A 1 Km section of the road has been preserved and is lined with granite statues of animals and men. The statues date back to the 1400s. On our way to the Great Wall we stopped at the main Olympic venue and saw (the exterior) the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest. Clyde posed with our great tour guide Liu Yi (louie).
That was a very full day and we got up the next morning at 0500 to fly to Hong Kong. None of us had any energy left when we got to Hong Kong that afternoon so we took it very easy. Hong Kong is also loaded with high-rise apartment buildings and skyscrapers and their skyline is very impressive. Our ship was docked in Kowloon near the Star Ferry terminal and our balcony had an amazing view of Hong Kong Island across the harbor. We sailed away at night right past the Hong Kong waterfront and most of the buildings had some kind of multi-colored lighting that changed in interesting patterns. This combined with laser lights and many searchlights beaming from the tops of the tallest buildings made this the most spectacular sail-away we have ever had.

Next stop Vietnam.