2013 JEWELS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA & ANGKOR WAT

Alternate Title: The Humidity and Storms of Southeast Asia

Voyages to Antiquity
Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sultanate of Brunei, and Singapore


I enjoyed my cruise on the Aegean Odyssey back in 2011 so much that when this was offered, I decided to do it rather than the India trip with disadVantage disasTours. I even get "my" same cabin as on the Black Sea Cruise. Countries visited are Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sultanate of Brunei, and Singapore.

Bangkok is a city of contrasts: from pulsating streets and modern skyscrapers to serene temples and grand hotels that once welcomed the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham. It is the city that moved the famous American author SJ Perelman to write: “From the beginning I was charmed by Bangkok. I liked its polite, gentle handsome people, its temples, flowers and canals, the relaxed and peaceful rhythm of life there.” Bangkok was a small trading post on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, until King Rama I turned it into the capital of Siam in 1782. Since then, Bangkok has become Thailand's spiritual, cultural, political and commercial center. This is the first of Southeast Asia’s great cities you visit on this remarkable journey - but it is a repeat visit. Along the way you also explore Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and the city-state of Singapore. Another highlight is an overnight stay in Siem Reap where you are guided through the mysterious and unforgettable temple complex of Angkor. Add the rainforest interior of Borneo and the Royal Palace of Brunei and this itinerary truly takes in the gems of Southeast Asia. Other than Bangkok, all the trip is new.

Visas are required for entry into Viet Nam and Cambodia, and will be obtained by Voyages to Antiquity on our behalf. Make sure that we have a minimum of 4 blank pages in the Passport, and 6 passport photos. Bad information, but at least it is "overkill." Not all of this is actually required.

Average temperatures for Feb. are muggy and very warm to hot: Bangkok & Ho Chi Minh City 72-91; Singapore 73-88. 10-day advance forecast for Bangkok: 76-95 with 30% chance of rain on Tuesday, Feb 3.

Day 1, Friday, Feb. 1 Depart US
With an 11AM flight, I scheduled the StuporShuttle at 6:40AM (get up at 5). At least that's not in the middle of the night. Because I got up at 4:30 yesterday morning thinking that getting up early then would "guarantee" getting some sleep that night, but something I ate yesterday kept me up most of the night. Start on the long flights to Bangkok. Due to the very long flights, I splurged on Business class on all 4 flights. That, itself, should be a very interesting experience since it is my first (and probably last) time to do it, but with the two very long Houston<->Tokyo flights, it should be well worth it. (L)

United Air UA 7Houston - Tokyo10:50 A - 3:45 P13:552:50

Equivalent Houston time: 10:50 A - 12:45 AM Saturday. The flight is nice but the seats aren't as great as expected. There isn't enough room to put my feet when the seat is (almost) fully reclined. At least it is much better than Sardine Class, and the food is good - lunch at least. The other meals are more minimal.

Day 2, Saturday, Feb. 2 Bangkok, Thailand
Arrive in Tokyo, then after a three-hour layover it's off on another long flight. One nice thing about being in transit at Narita - we don't have to go through all the immigration / customs etc hassle. Go through one quick checkpoint then walk to the departure gate which turns out to be nearby. My 3-hour time is "overkill." One hour would have been enough. Not so great a place to wait - nothing here for food while we wait, but lots of souvenirs which were probably "made in Hong Kong." Our tour director in Bangkok tells us that a huge amount of items are imported from Hong Kong; it's much cheaper to buy their things that to buy locally made items (D)

United Air UA 837Tokyo - Bangkok6:30 P - 11:45 P7:1023:55

Equivalent Houston time: 3:35 AM - 10:45 AM Saturday. The seats are older model on this 747 but at least I can actually fully recline. We actually get to Bangkok a bit early - 11:32. Getting through Immigration is fairly quick, then there is an awful wait, at least for me, to get my luggage. A first load of bags (150-160) is delivered then a long gap, then another load of 150-160 (I counted) and another gap then a third group of 162 (I counted), and another gap. Finally my bag shows up in the 4th load - maybe about the 500th bag - even though it's marked Priority. It's taken until 12:30 to get luggage. Then try to find my ride to the hotel.

HORRORS! ANOTHER MIDNIGHT ARRIVAL! Arrive in Bangkok and take a Private Transfer arranged by my Travel Agent to the hotel, that is, after the agent shows up at, now 12:40. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the hotel - 1:20. Fortunately the traffic is very light since the driver doesn't pay any attention to traffic lane markers. At least the hotel does have my reservation though absolutely no information is available about what to do for this morning's activities - no handout at Reception, nothing in the room, and all the receptionist can say is "maybe at breakfast." The rest of the day night, what little there is of it, is in bed. Maybe I'll get a couple of hours rest; sleep is very doubtful. I'll definitely requested a "wake-up" call for "this morning." It's good that I asked for the call; the alarm clock makes a very quiet little beep-beep that wouldn't wake up anything. The room is nice but this is another hotel that believes in saving electricity. The only decent light is in the "facilities." The rest is more like a bear's hibernation den. Hotel: Millennium Hilton (1 ¼ nights)


Revised route without the Kota Kinabalu stop is shown by a dotted line.

Day 3, Sunday, Feb. 3 Bangkok
There is supposed to be included wi-fi in the rooms, but it turns out to be very expensive so never mind. Maybe later when the trip is about half over, I'll sign up for an hour.

10-day advance (Jan 26) weather forecast - 30% chance of rain today. At 6AM it's not raining, but there is a very heavy fog. Later there is a 100% chance of getting wet - from perspiration. It's extremely warm and muggy. Our cruise-tour begins with a four-night hotel (3 ¼ nights for me) stay including an unforgettable trip to the temples of Angkor. (Note: I spent 3 nights in Bangkok as an extension of my China trip back in 2006.).

Founded in 1782, Bangkok is a young city but has made up for lost time. Our day in Asia's most vibrant city includes visits to Wat Po with its colossal reclining Buddha, the lavishly decorated Grand Palace and Wat Traimit which is home to the Golden Buddha, a statue made from 5½ tons of solid gold. We have the option of experiencing Buddhist meditation techniques at a local temple (doubtful) and (not) trying our hand at mastering one of Asia's most famous cuisines at a cooking school.

As of 6AM this morning, because of a "bad" Thursday night, it's now been about 60 ½ hours that I've been awake. How am I going to get through another 12-15 hours! Days 1-3 timing notes: Thursday, 4:30 AM - wake up early so I can get to sleep tonight. However, stomach problems. So:

Thursday 4:30 AM - Friday 4:30 AM ---- 24 hours
Friday 4:30 AM - 10:50 AM ---- 6:20 hours, now 30:20
Friday/Saturday - 10:50 AM -11:50 PM flights --- 24 hours, now 54:20
Saturday 11:50PM - Sunday 6AM (no sleep) --- 6:10, 60:30 total
... and still more hours to go today.

I'm still worried about getting tour information, however, just after 6, "a miracle" occurs. I've gone down to the lobby to see if there is anyone there who can tell me about meals, scheduling, etc. There just happens to be someone at a recently set-up table for Voyages to Antiquity people. She's only there briefly, but at least I now know the schedule for today and tomorrow. Breakfast offers a decent selection but there is no "hot" food; it's at best just "luke warm" if even that. AND THERE IS NO ORANGE JUICE! AAAAHHHH!

Because of the large number of people doing the Angkor Wat trip, we are divided into 4 groups (2 and 2 - being one group from one hotel (Millennium Hilton) and the other from the other (Shangri La)) Basically the two main groups do "today and tomorrow" in reverse order. They (groups 1) go to Angkor Wat today and do the Bangkok activities tomorrow. There are 35 - 40 people in each of the 4 smaller groups.. Trying to guide a single group of 150 - 160 people would be impossible - and hard to get reservations on the commercial (Bangkok Air) flights.

Founded in 1782, Bangkok is a "young" city but has made up for lost time. Our half-day tour in Asia's most vibrant city includes visits to Wat Po with its colossal reclining Buddha, the lavishly decorated Grand Palace and Wat Traimit which is home to the Golden Buddha, a statue made from 5½ tons of solid gold. We have the option of experiencing Buddhist meditation techniques at a local temple (doubtful) and (not for me) trying our hand at mastering one of Asia's most famous cuisines at a cooking school.

Our bus is scheduled to depart at 8AM (translation: 8:20 Thai time) and we finally make it back to the hotel about 1:15. We were carefully warned about the large number of pickpockets in the city. We have to be VERY careful. However, a couple of men didn't take sufficient care and lost their wallets. The tour director had to send them back to the hotel by taxi so they could call or fax to cancel all their credit and debit cards. This of course will be quite a problem for them later as our ship makes it's various stops.The tour director also warns us not to drink anything except bottled water; not even the tap water in the hotel. After surviving (barely) this morning's ultra humid, muggy, uncomfortable tour, we have to turn in a passport photo for our Cambodian Visa and sign some papers. From lack of sleep, heat, and humidity, I'm almost just staggering around barely able to stand up and just too tired to do any optional tour (Behind the Scenes) today so I signed up for it on Wednesday morning before we board the ship. Since I didn't get to the hotel until the wee-morning-hours (a couple of hours after midnight), there's no real time to unpack before our excursions today.

We depart for Cambodia early tomorrow morning, so this afternoon/evening is just a time to un-pack/re-pack my main luggage for storage and pack an "overnight" (carry-on) bag (11# maximum) for tomorrow. This limitation information turns out to be almost totally false. The bags aren't checked for weight and many bags which must have weighed 30# or more were allowed as long as they were the usual 22" or less carry-on. Some people seemed to think that if they can pick it up in their hands, then it is "hand luggage." After what I now think of as the usual cold/luke-warm breakfast (still no orange juice!!) at 6 and putting our large luggage out at 8 for transfer to the ship, we can take some more slight-seeing on the optional "Behind the Scenes" tour (leaving our carry-on luggage in storage at the hotel), we get back to the hotel about 11:20 but no lunch is included; we have to just sit around in the lobby in uncomfortable chairs. After a bit more wasted time, we have a late afternoon (3PM) boarding of the anything they could pick up with their hands was "hand luggage." Several people even took two bags and nothing was said.

Since we got only breakfast this morning, I'll have to spend some of that time finding some junk food to eat. At least I ate a large breakfast and so maybe not even need anything else to eat today. We have to have our main luggage (the one that stays in the hotel) outside our room by 11PM. I'll do that earlier since we make a VERY early start tomorrow morning. (snack B only)

Included: City Tour and Grand Palace: (half day) Feel dwarfed by a colossal Reclining Buddha, awed by a solid gold Buddha and bedazzled by the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most revered object. Three of Bangkok's legendary Buddhist temples are the focus of today's sightseeing. Visit Wat Trimitr, home to a five-and-a-half ton Buddha of pure gold. At Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest temple, the Reclining Buddha fills the entire hall, leaving a small perimeter to walk around and marvel at the immense lines, gleaming gold and 10 ft. feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl soles. Most extraordinary of all is the Grand Palace, a startling blend of Thai and European architecture begun by Rama I when he moved the capital from Thonburi in 1782. This was the official residence of Thailand's kings until the mid-20th century. The compound contains over 100 buildings representing over 200 years of royal history, including a Funeral Palace, Coronation Hall and Throne Hall. The most famous is Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Less than two feet high and carved of solid jade, this sacred image perches on a gold pedestal and wears an outfit that is changed each season. Wander amid the saffron-robed monks, golden chedi, demon gate-guardians and pilgrims waving lotus blossoms.

Day 4, Monday, Feb. 4 Bangkok - Angkor Wat
During our stay in Bangkok we enjoy a 2-day excursion by air to the ruins of Angkor. Fly to Siem Reap/Angkor Wat and stay at the Sokha Angkor Resort. It's going to be another short night - only about 2/3 in length. We depart early in the morning for our included flight to Siem Reap. We get our wake-up call at 4:15 AM; check out at 4:30 and get a "light snack breakfast" of pastries and juicee - BUT NO ORANGE JUICE. We then leave the hotel at about 5AM for our transfer to the airport. Supposedly we will get a light breakfast on the plane (in only one hour??) but even though it is a pre-packaged box meal, it turns out to be very nice, plus there is a nice amount of leg room on the plane.

Bangkok Airways PG 903Bangkok - Siem Reap8:00A - 9:00A1:00

They warned us yesterday about watching out for pick-pockets but nobody said anything about looking our for airport security thefts - At the x-ray security check when leaving Bangkok, I sent through my cane and belt first followed by my carry-on bag. The cane and bag came through, but then while I was waiting and watching them run the conveyor belt back and forth to recheck my bag - someone stole my cane and belt. I'll have to go shopping soon.

Located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap), this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over one thousand temples in the Angkor area, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the mighty Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. Our visit includes the famous and mysterious jungle temple of Ta Prohm, the 54 towers of the Bayon temple and the magnificent Angkor Wat itself.

Our morning visit was supposed to start at 9:30 but due to the flight delay and the long distance to drive to the Park area, it's later. We have to make a short stop for have our mugs shot for our park pass, then drive quite a bit further to the bus parking area. After that we take a long ride on an (battery/electric) trolley to the Temple Area. There we have a partial tour of Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple until about 11:15 which turns out to be only 25-30 minutes. Then we reverse course - the trolley, bus back to town, etc. We have lunch at the hotel between noon (12:15) and 2PM. At 2PM, get back on the bus for our afternoon tour. We visit Ta Promh and Angkor Wat itself. There is a similar long transportation delay: bus from hotel to park parking area, and this time a Tuk-Tuk ride to the Ta Promh area. After 25 minutes there, we take a much longer Tuk-Tuk ride to Angkor Wat itself. To "add insult to injury," my camera battery went dead shortly after arriving at Angkor Wat. Fortunately I have some photos given to me by someone I met on another trip. We have not quite 1 ½ hours there before taking the bus back to the hotel arriving about 6:30 for a nice buffet dinner. By then, I'm again completely exhausted and stumbling around like I'm about to pass out!

We didn't see much in the way of wildlife - just lots of birds, several monkeys while on the tuk-tuk ride, and a couple of large snakes in one of the temples. Since we don't leave Bangkok until this morning, we don't actually get a full day at Angkor Wat, and there is no time tomorrow before we have to return to Bangkok so the total visit time on actual sites is about 2 ½ hours which is very disappointing, but considering the heat and **humidity**, maybe not too bad a trade. The hotel turns out to be *very* nice *****+. Hotel: Sokha Angkor Resort. (B/L,BD)

Included: The Temples of Angkor Wat (today and tomorrow): Rising out of Cambodia's forests and farmland, the great temple complexes of Angkor are the focus of this remarkable adventure with an included hotel stay. Although it's a short flight to Siem Reap, the gateway to these wonders, you travel through centuries when you visit this ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visit Angkor Thom, the 12th-century fortified city built by Jayavarman VII, where a bridge depicts The Churning of the Sea of Milk myth. View the Bayon Temple with its lotus-shaped towers and giant stone faces. See the Elephant Terrace and visualize when thousands lived in this city and the temples sparkled with gems. From here it is a short drive to your hotel and a buffet lunch. Travel by tuk-tuk to the jungle temple of Ta Promh, where trees mingle with the ruins. This atmospheric treasure was used in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Stand in awe before magnificent Angkor Wat, designed to resemble Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods. Seeming to float above a moat with towers and bas-reliefs that stretch endlessly, this is held to be the world's largest single religious monument and a masterpiece of Khmer art.

Day 5, Tuesday, Feb. 5 Angkor - Bangkok / Wasted Day
We do get a nice breakfast and they even have ORANGE JUICE so it's the best shore-side breakfast, but there are no activities offered for this morning. Rather than totally waste the morning, a few of us went "back to town" to see some of the local sights. There wasn't much time since about 11:30 we leave the hotel for a 30 minute ride to the airport and fly back to Bangkok. Surprise: Bangkok Air serves another nice (lunch) meal.

Bangkok Airways PG 906Siem Reap - Bangkok1:25 - 2:200:55

Although the plane arrives on time, by the time we get unloaded, through immigration, and rounded up to be herded out to the bus, it is getting late plus there is a long (1 hour +) ride to the hotel arriving about 4:20. I will have to say that the local tour organizers did a really excellent job in setting up the tours, providing written guidelines and instructions to us, getting the paperwork done to facilitate our entry to and exit from Cambodia, and keeping things running despite some time problems. The personnel were also very nice and professional.The rest of the day, what there is left of it, is at boredom since I've been here before and it's just a waste of the rest of the day anyway with no options offered. As we are back in Bangkok, no dinner is included but after a nice breakfast and a nice surprise lunch, I don't need another meal. I'll just take the time to do some unpack/repack my luggage for transfer to the ship tomorrow afternoon.

Day 6, Wednesday, Feb. 6 Bangkok - embark (10PM-)
After what I now think of as the usual cold/luke-warm breakfast (still no orange juice!!) at 6 and putting our large luggage out at 8 for transfer to the ship, we leave at 8:15 for some more slight-seeing on the optional "Behind the Scenes" tour (leaving our carry-on luggage in storage at the hotel), we get back to the hotel about 11:20 but no lunch is included; we have to just sit around in the lobby in uncomfortable chairs. It seemed to be an almost unanimous concensus that the company had made a major error in the Angkor Wat excursion scheduling. We should have had two nights there allowing for more sightseeing. Then today would be just a flight from Siem Reap back to Bangkok and boarding the ship directly without having to go through the hotel night. Subsequently we find out that the company will be making that change on the visits here next year.

As for the "Behind the Scenes" tour, I'm definitely jinxed. The first part was a high speed cruise along the river in a small boat - take a truck engine, add a prop, hang it on the back of the little boat, and go at full race speed. Although getting into the boat was tricky due to the tides, waves, and bow waves from other boats, the cruise was interesting. However getting out of the boat was virtually impossible - the dock was at least 5 feet above deck level of the boat and both were pitching wildly. I almost made it, but not quite and got a bad scrape on one leg. Major, major ouch. I kept going through a walk through the flower markets, and a long tuk-tuk ride, but had to drop out of the last part and just sit in the van waiting to go back to the hotel. It definitely wasn't the fault of our local guide who was quite concerned about me and even stopped and got some medical items. It's the person who chose that particular disembarkation dock that I would like to chop up into crab bait. The local organization agency for both Bangkok and Siem Reap did a fantastic job, but that dock!!!!

After more wasted time sitting in the lobby, we are scheduled for a 2 PM departure (make that 2:40) from the hotel for a 30 minute (correction, 45 minute) drive to the harbor. Then after the pre-boarding paperwork, we get aboard the Aegean Odyssey in the heart of Bangkok and cruise down the Chao Phraya River to the Gulf of Thailand. We of course have the usual mandatory safety drill and a fairly short orientation briefing about the ship and the crew services. Only then do we finally get our dinner. (B/D)

Fun side note: Many, if not most, of the Thai and Cambodian people who deal with the tourist public know that using their "real" name would probably be impossible for "us" to pronounce. So they choose a shorter, more easy to pronounce one. We had Dawny, Pukky, Alex (nowhere near his real name), and one of the receptionists in the Bangkok hotel chose "TukTuk."

Optional: Bangkok Behind the Scenes: $58 YES (half day). Explore Bangkok Thai style, on this excursion through Thonburi klongs and the streets of Chinatown. A swirl of colorful images and a cacophony of sound greet you on this intimate look at the City of Angels. Start with a drive out to Thaksin Bridge, your gateway to Bangkok's water world of river and canals. Board a boat and wind along canal banks where scenes of Thai everyday life are played out. Pass the big Memorial Bridge en route to the huge flower and wet market of Paklong Talad, a photographer's dream with orchids and blossoms from Thailand's cooler north, along with exotic vegetables and fruit. Step aboard a tuk-tuk, the motorized rickshaw, and head to one of the oldest parts of this bustling city. Similar to other Chinatowns around the world, this part of Bangkok was first settled by those who plied centuriesold trade routes between Siam and China. Explore the small streets and alleyways lined with teahouses, herbal markets and gold shops where you can hear shopkeepers speaking Mandarin. Food lovers descend here at dusk to try such street cuisine specials as fish stomach soup. Marvel at the hustle and bustle and perhaps try one of the local delicacies before returning to the hotel (no thanks - since we are even warned about drinking the tap water in the hotel).

Day 7, Thursday, Feb. 7 AT SEA #1 of 5 6
The first of the FIVE boring days at sea but I can even relax and catch up on some sleep. I'm back into my nice, but slightly cramped, cabin - the same one as on the earlier Black Sea trip. But now it's even nicer after the refurbishing that was done a few months ago. It's still not as roomy as the cabin I'll have on the Grand Med trip, but it IS nice. At least we now get all our meals included. As I often do on long trips, I'll probably just eat breakfast and lunch, then skip the dinners.

After a good breakfast, I make an appointment with the ship's doctor to check on my leg. After a thorough inspection, he says there seems to be no problem showing. It will just take 4-6 days to (almost) heal. He does put on some ointment and gives me some antibiotics to use, then wants me back in two days. This turns into daily or even twice daily visits. Hopefully, there will be no problems. One big plus: two other passengers on the cruise are very kindly loaning me a "walking stick" for the duration of the cruise. Otherwise it is a boring day but we do have a couple of nice presentations the main lounge today so it wasn't a total loss. (BLD)

Day 8, Friday, Feb. 8 Sihanoukville, Cambodia (6AM - 8PM)
After a boring day at sea, we arrive in the port of Sihanoukville from where we travel to the country's exotic capital Phnom Penh. With its fragrant markets, Royal Palace, bustling River front and monks in traditional saffron robes, this is a place redolent of an older Asia. After Angkor was abandoned in the 15th century, Phnom Penh on the banks of the Mekong River became the country's new capital. The city flourished during French colonial rule and much of its layout dates from this time. Despite horrific suffering during the time of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodians are a resilient people and Phnom Penh is again a thriving and charming place. Our visit includes the National Museum with its collection of Khmer art and sculpture, and the Royal Palace with its beautiful gardens.

During our orientation briefing a couple of days ago, they told us that the full day trip was really a *very* full day - about 12 - 15 hours including a 4 ½ to 5 hour bus ride each way getting back somewhere between 7 and 9 PM (and promised that the ship wouldn't leave without us) so they gave us a chance to change our tour selections.. Several people, including me, decided that was just too much and switched from the full day excursion to the half day tour. The great length of the tour, the heat and humidity, and the very long coach rides both ways were the deciding factors. The local tour also had its caution: at the Independence Hotel stop, it is 75-80 steps up (and back) to the viewing terrace. Also, there are no hand-rails. I asked and there are alternatives so with my injured leg, I won't HAVE to take that long climb but as noted below, that never comes into play. Anyway, I take the shorter half cay tour as described below. Those on the long tour were supposed to be back by 7PM but didn't make it until just before 8 with thourhts similar to "Thank Heavens That's Over."

My day (on the short tour) started early. Since those going to Phnom Penh had to leave early, I joined them for an early breakfast at 5:30. We were scheduled to depart at 8:45 but remember SE Asia time. The description says a short drive through attractive rural settings. Instead we get a very long drive past endless trash and weed back roads. After a while we have an unscheduled stop at Ream Temple (National Park?) where the temple is being reconstructed. After about 20 interesting minutes there, it's back to the weeds and trash for another long drive into Sihanoukville.

There we stop at the open market - which is a total waste of time. It's nothing special and we have to cross a traffic nightmare road to get to it. I take about 30 seconds and head back to the air conditioned coach for 30 minutes. At least 25-30% of the others were back in another 5-10 minutes.We next drive past where a nice Sohar Beach is supposed to be (a 10 second glimpse did possibly show some beach) to get to that hotel for a choice of coffee, tea, or soda in the hotel lobby. We are now so far behind schedule that there is no time to go down to the beach (which is invisible from the lobby) and no mention is made of going up (and back) those 75-80 steps to the terrace for the "grand view" not that I would have done it anyway. We are supposed to leave the hotel at 12:30 to head back to the ship, but remember SE Asia time. The 10 minute drive to the port takes over twice that.

So for well over 4 hours of excursion, we get about 20-25 minutes at a partially reconstructed temple (we can't go inside), and a soft drink in a hotel lobby...plus of course all those miles of weeds, dust, pollen and trash. The dust and pollen are also playing havoc with my sinuses. To top that off, we're so late getting back that the Terrace restaurant is closed. So much for my planned lunch.

Included: Sihanoukville & Surroundings (half day) My Preferred Alternate to the full day tour below. Originally developed as an alternate to the Mekong River, this deepwater port on the Gulf of Thailand is also an aspiring resort with white sand beaches, pristine offshore islands and great seafood. Start your sightseeing with a short drive through the open countryside, where you'll have opportunities to stop and photograph Cambodia's attractive rural landscape. Then head downtown amid the low-rise buildings and open-fronted shops. Visit the indoor market and discover a melée of images: fresh meat, live poultry, prawns of truly eye-popping size, and local women bent over ancient sewing machines. After this exotic glimpse into everyday life, discover the wonderful stretches of powdery sand lining the coast. We drive past Serendipity Beach, a favorite with backpackers, en route to private Sokha Beach. Stop at the beautifully preserved Independence Hotel, built in the early 1960s to accommodate overseas dignitaries. Black-and-white photos document those glory days, when famous guests included Jacqueline Kennedy. Sip a refreshing drink right by the ocean and stroll around the terrace and grounds.

Included: Phnon Penh (full day): Long considered one of the loveliest cities in Indochina, Cambodia's capital is imbued with the feel of Old Asia. It's a lengthy trip, but well worth it to see Phnom Penh's Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and unrivaled cache of Khmer cultural treasures. A morning drive through the countryside takes you past water buffalo, rice paddies and stilt houses to this port at the confluence of the Mekong River and two tributaries. The hellish days of the Khmer Rouge are gone, leaving a city determined to thrive. Vestiges of French colonial times can still be seen in the tree-lined boulevards. Visit the magnificent National Museum to view the world's finest collection of Khmer artifacts and sculptures from Angkor, including the statue of the Leper King. After lunch, discover the majestic Royal Palace, with its Throne Hall where kings and queens once paraded on elephants or in gilded sedans. Visit the Silver Pagoda floored in over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing over two pounds. This temple is famous for its life sized Buddha in solid gold encrusted with thousands of diamonds.

Day 9, Saturday, Feb. 9 AT SEA #2 of 5 6
Shortly after we leave Sihanoukville, I can very easily hear quite a bit of wave noise in my cabin (on the lowest cattle deck). At first it just causes a minor tremor but no rock-and-roll. By 6 AM, it has developed to a significant swaying, but still no real rolling motion. It does get more noticeable and even disruptive by late afternoon and even worse later in the day & evening: there are a few whitecaps, lots of wave noise as they crash against the ship, really "smashing and crashing" at times; the sway is far more pronounced; but the rolling isn't as bad as on that awful Voyager. Just be very careful as you walk and hang on to the corridor hand-rails! This continues tonight until we get almost to the mouth of the Saigon River.

Since we are "at sea," there is plenty of time to check back with the ship's doctor for a progress check on my injured leg. Fortunately, the report is good. He gives me some antibiotics to head off any infection, but otherwise, normal. The nice thing is that since the injury occurred on a Voyages to Antiquity excursion, there is no charge for the treatment. I'm supposed to see him again early tomorrow morning - before we get into Ho Chi Minh. Otherwise, we can just watch the water go by and recuperate from yesterday, particularly those who took the all-day tour to Phnon Penh - and got back about a hour later than scheduled. We do have another couple of interesting presentations.

At dinner last night I mentioned to the Maitre' D' that although they do offer iced tea, I missed the quick service and easy to get refills as were on the Black Sea cruise. Ever since that, at both lunch and dinner, they have a pitcher of ice tea on a cart near my table.Also when they see me come in, they pour a glass and have it ready on the table when I get there with my food. That's great service!

Day 10, Sunday, Feb. 10 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (noon - overnight)
After a long night of pitch and roll and crash and bang of waves (it's very rough from ~10PM to 7AM) and there are some storms; they even had "Caution High Wind" signs on the doors to the open deck when we go up for breakfast. Also the decks, railings, and deck furniture is totally coated with dried salt from the wind-blown waves. Later the crew has a major job of hosing/washing down all the external areas. At lease we do arrive on schedule off the mouth of the Saigon River about 7AM. It's finally calm cruising again.

CHINESE LUNAR NEW YEAR

The Chinese New Year Festival is the most significant holiday for Chinese people around the world, regardless of the origin of their ancestors. It is also known as the Lunar New Year Festival because it is based on the lunar calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar. The origin of the Chinese New Year Festival can be traced back thousands of years through a continually evolving series of colorful legends and traditions.

One of the most famous legends is that of Nien, an extremely cruel and ferocious beast, which the Chinese believe, eats people on New Year's Eve. To keep Nien away, red-paper couplets are pasted on doors, torches are lit, and firecrackers are set off throughout the night because Nien is said to fear the color red, the light of fire, and loud noises. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal fill the air at successfully keeping Nien away for another year, the most popular greeting hears is "kung-hsi" or "Congratulations."


Yes, we are here for the New Year festivities today which may or may not add some interesting sights to our visit. After a nice breakfast, (and a good report from the doctor - definitely improving) we have a cruise 45 miles up the river. Supposedly we have wonder scenery along the way but it all that great: just a very muddy (and what else?) brown river bordered by forested shorelines. This eventually gives way to fields of crops and some fishing boats. Finally we can see Ho Chi Minh in the distance as well as the lower end of their port facility. Otherwise there is not that much to see. It is very repetitious. We did see one small village, but other than huts in the fields, that was all. We have an early lunch and arrive at 11:45 to dock in the center of Ho Chi Minh.

Our central location is perfect for exploring Saigon and the chance to sample one of the world's great cuisines. The ship's crew has filled out our Vietnamese paperwork for us with no passport photo needed as we were told so there are no hassles there. A Vietnamese landing card is also provided and we have to carry it with us when ashore.Rather than make us wait all afternoon and tonight before our tour of the city, it is done this afternoon starting at 1PM. We visit the city's main attractions: the market in Chinatown, the great monument to the French colonial era Notre Dame Cathedral along with the nearby General Post Office, and the moving War Remnants Museum. Tomorrow morning is the optional Cu Chi tunnels exploration excursion - which I skip.

Our group was scheduled to leave at 12:50, but make that 1:20. At that time we are told that the Ben Thanh market is closed due to the Festivities, but that they are working of finding some substitute. Anyway, we start out on our mini-non-tour with a non-guide. At our first stop, the Museum, his only words were something like "Remnants Museum, 45 minutes." Nothing else. It was too dark inside to take pictures so I didn't stay long. They do have some US planes, tanks, and guns as outside displays, but that doesn't take long to check out and take a few photographs.

At our second stop, the Post Office, his comments were "Post Office, 30 minutes. Cathedral over there." Our so called guide turns out to be the most worthless, miserable excuse for a guide that I've ever had…and he even got paid for doing nothing - and I had paid part of that as part of the cost of the trip! The few words he does say are virtually unintelligible; it's due to very bad English and an extreme accent so it is useless to try to understand what little he does say. A very courteous city police officer near the museum spoke much better - almost perfect, English, so how did we get stuck with this (censored) excuse for a local guide??

The alternate activity is a short 2 block walk through a flower garden area decorated for the New Year. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. After a disappointing tour less than 3 hours (most are 4), we get back to the ship. But since we aren't "learning" anything from our so-called guide, it's no real loss.

Customs and Immigration: When we first start out we drive about 100 yards, then our non-guide wants us all to get out and walk through some building. The coach will pick us up on the other side. The Voyages to Antiquity staff on board manage to head that off. However on return to the port, the bus stops at the gate and we have to get off and walk through a building with absolutely no local staff, etc present. However, since the sign on the building said "Customs" then we have now officially passed through Customs. About a hundred feet away is a smaller building, also with nobody present. But since the sign on the building says "Immigration" we have now officially passed through Immigration and can legally walk the last 200 yards to the ship. That's Vietnamese Bureaucracy. Ho Hum!

Despite having several tall, new looking buildings, at ground level, it is still grimy and run down in many areas. Due to so much trash lying around, the flies etc are a major nuisance. They are modern enough however to have several of the "American Embassies" such as KFC, Pizza Hut, Hard Rock Café, Burger King (more than one), Haagen Daz, Subway, Domino's Pizza, and Baskin Robbins. I think I saw a McDonalds also.

Included: Ho Chi Minh City Tour (half day): Called Saigon until 1975, this city is a potpourri of pagodas, modern towers and grand old buildings influenced by its French colonial past. Bicycles and motorcycles speed frantically past carts selling all manner of goods from loaves of French bread to crispy roasted ducks. Get acquainted with the city's incredible mix on this half-day tour that includes a photo stop at the neo-Romanesque cathedral of Notre Dame. Built in the mid- 1800s, the cathedral is the focal point of the city center. Just across the square, visit the Central Post Office, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel to showcase French colonial style. High vaulted ceilings, colonial furnishings, and period pieces accentuate the feeling of being in another place in time. In sharp contrast to this vibrant city's colonial past is the newly renovated War Remnants Museum. The grounds are dotted with an array of aircraft, tanks and other weaponry left behind. The museum itself extends over three floors and consists primarily of photos, all labeled in English, documenting the Vietnam War and its aftermath. From the museum, step into the lively world of Ho Chi Minh City today at the Ben Thanh main market, and find everything from coffee beans to bowls of the local noodle soup, pho. If you wish, stay behind to explore and later make your own way back to the ship.

Day 11, Monday, Feb. 11 Ho Chi Minh City (- 2PM)
I had planned to go out of the city to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex of tunnels built by the Viet Minh and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War which are about 1 ½ hours outside of town. We are cautioned that the tunnel crawling segment of about 50-60 meters can be claustrophobic, but I won't do it on my damaged leg. Due to sea tides, even this far up the river, the crew has to keep switching the gangway back and forth between decks 4 and 5 in order for the gangway be at not too steep an angle to be a danger. After a short delay for the gangway repositioning, we have to leave the ship about 6:40 in order to get back before the ship goes off and leaves us.

I make my "daily visit" to the Doctor (Juan Carlos) but have to wait this time. There is a line ahead of me and 5 more waiting when I leave the office; most seem to have a respiratory / sinus problem. The progress report is good so I'm hopeful of being reasonably recovered by the time I get home. Otherwise, we can go back onshore on our own if we wish, or just stay onboard. I choose to make a fairly brief excursion ashore then return to the ship for the rest of our time here but there is that Vietnamese Customs and Immigration. There is also the horrible dust / pollen / sinus disaster that is almost totally ruining the trip. So cancel that idea. I'll also splurge some $$ and get on the internet for an hour. We set sail again at 2PM headed 45 miles back down the very muddy Saigon River for our next 48-hour long sea passage.

As soon as we get near the mouth of the River, the water crash-bang starts again with lots of swaying, Very soon there is salt spray blanketing the outer decks and the "Warning - Strong Winds" signs are put up. We have an early dinner - probably to get as many people as possible fed before it gets even worse. Even early the rolling is bad enough that the only safe thing to do is get into our bunk and stay there. It's going to be a miserable 48 hours.

Optional L3: Cu Chi Tunnels $35 NO (half day): Experience the amazing network of underground tunnels started by the Viet Minh to fight the French in the 1940s and expanded by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. About a 90 minute drive from the port, the tunnels have a tranquil country setting but the cruelty of war is on display. Learn how, using only the most rudimentary tools, tunnels were created that withstood the weight of tanks, 50# bombs, and wound for miles under the former Amerian base (it is said that the guerrillas could hear Bob Hope entertaining the troops in 1965). Your guide will explain the many-layered underground network and display some of the weapons used by the Guerrillas. Semi-subterranean meeting rooms, smokeless kiitchens and a field hospital lay above a complex of false tunnels and the underground living quarters. If you are agile and not claustrophobic, a section of tunnel has been enlarged so you can creep through its darkness. Adding eerie authenticity through out the complex is the sound of gunfire heard from a shooting range where daring visitors can test their skill - for a small fee - with AK47s and M16s.

The island of Borneo is "home" to three different nations: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. We visit two of them: Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei.

Day 12, Tuesday, Feb. 12 (FORCE 8 STORM) AT SEA #3 of 5 6
The strong wind warning signs had gone up early, and shortly after that the storm bred such major wave swells, it would have been dangerous to be out on the open deck. There was lots more splash, crash, and rolling all night. It was definitely not a fun time. Since my cabin is on the lowest (passenger) deck and near the bow, the noise of the crashing of waves against the hull and also the crash as the bow would slam into a deep wave trough was extremely loud. The rolling also got to be really a major problem. Absolutely no sleep was possible due to all the banging.

Although I didn't leave the ship yesterday, my sinuses are still being a problem. And due to pitch and roll, even getting to see the doctor this morning was a bit of an "adventure." At least the doctor said that my leg is still improving.

The galley crew pulls off a minor miracle and we have a normal breakfast service. We find out later this morning that we have been, and still are, in a "Force 8" storm (worse than had been predicted) with winds at times exceeding 70 knots We are running very far behind schedule due to only able to make about half our scheduled speed. Even with the "improvement" it's still a "drunken stagger" day all day. This is by far the roughest weather of the trip so far, and even rivals crossing the Drake Passage on my Antarctica trip. After all, this is a relatively small ship so is more easily tossed / rolled around.

Despite the waves being a (very) little less, our schedule is totally shot. There is no way we can make it to Kota Kinabalu so that port call is totally scrapped. We have lost so much time to this point, and are still having to cruise at less than full speed, all of tomorrow is a wipe-out. We will spend the whole day at sea. At 3PM we are to turn east again, and the waves might well go back to awful. After dinner, the rolling is getting much worse; the only reasonable thing to do is get in my bunk so I don't fall down.

Day 13, Wednesday, Feb. 13 EXTRA (stormy) DAY (just) AT SEA Day 4 of 6 (was to have been Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
After another very noisy, sleepless night, we continue to make some slow progress. With all the time lost Monday night, and the reduced progress made yesterday, we are just too far behind schedule. Everything that was scheduled for today in Kota Kinabalu is cancelled and there is no substitute. It will take all day to "catch" up to where we would like to be for tomorrow. We have our pre-excursion briefing on Brunei this afternoon.

Ever since we left Viet Nam, the Captain has been steering a zig-zag course: south / east / south / east, etc heading the way for the roughest times at night when most people are in their bunks, and a slightly less bouncy, rolling passage during the daytime when people are up and trying to move around. When we leave Brunei, we still have a lot more cruising under similar conditions since we will still be in the same area.

More progress with the help of Dr Carlos. He has the bandage off for the day to let the scrapes get some air, but will put it back on for tonight so I can get in my bunk - but probably still no sleep due to the noise.

Day 14, Thursday, Feb. 14 Bandar Seri Begawan, Borneo, Brunei (7AM - 8PM)
After YET ANOTHER NIGHT of rocking, swaying, and wave crashing - and no sleep - we finally make to calmer waters about 6 AM and get into Muara, the port city for Brunei. The weather is foggy and broken overcast and the forecast for today is 40% chance of thunderstorms. So what else can happen; there are three other large ships in port so any excursions are going to be mob-scenes. Try not so promising description of the tour, and chance of thunderstorms. Jinxed for sure!!

Not only is the Sultanate of Brunei a state of great wealth due to its deposits of oil and gas but also a country of beautiful scenery with dense forests and steamy mangrove swamps. Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 to 1984 and it is now an independent monarchy ruled by His Majesty Sultan Sir Hassanal Bolkiah. The large port of Bandar Seri Begawan is the nation's capital and we visit the Royal Regalia Museum with its remarkable collection of royal jewels, see the Sultan's vast residence and explore the local waterways. There is an optional visit to the Temburong National Park and Mangrove Swamps. With my sinus problems, I'll pass on the swamps.

On the city tour, first we have to drive about 45 minutes each way from the port to the city. We start with the boat portion of the tour. There we visit a couple of buildings, have some drive-by-shootings, and then are scheduled to take the boat portion of the tour. When we are there, I'll just stay onboard the coach. There is no way I'll risk more small boat loading and unloading after what happened in Bangkok, and the condition of my leg. Also we are warned that the docks, steps, etc are very worn and rickety (or missing) and there are no hand rails.

For our other two other stops in the city, absolutely no cameras are allowed into the buildings. I left my camera on board the ship as basically useless, and took my raincoat. It turns out that I didn't need the raincoat but those on the all day tour got a bit "damp" on the last part of their visit.

Souvenirs: Other than a couple of shops in Bangkok, we haven't seen any thing except all the trinket sellers either in the flea-markets, or on the dock. There hasn't been much of any "free time" in the excursions for looking for regular places to buy something decent. Unless I find something in Kuching, I may well get home with nothing but pictures, and not many of those. "Drive-by-shooting" pictures just don't come out well.

We get back to the ship about 1:30 after an almost 5 hour trip. This is a somewhat disappointing excursion since I / we haven't really seen much of anything. We depart about 8PM tonight for another long cruise, but at least for the first night, the storm seems to be over and we have just the normal rolling with no major seas crashing into the ship.

Included: City Tour (half day) Admire the clean, green streets and impressive mosques of oil-and-gas-rich Brunei, the wealthiest country on Borneo, then visit a water village for an up-close look at the country's fascinating blend of old and new. Start your sightseeing with an overview of landmarks in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, including a quick photo stop at Jame Mosque. This is the city's largest mosque, where worshippers at the 1992 grand opening received a gold-embroidered prayer rug from the Sultan. Museum visits provide insights into the history of Brunei and the development of its water village, whilst the Royal Regalia exhibit with its chariots and elaborate costumes showcases a very different side of Brunei.

Then get a very personal look at Brunei heritage as you take a short water taxi ride to the world's largest water village. While the capital with its handsome buildings is nearby, many prefer to live in these stilt villages, known collectively as Kampong Ayer where wooden walkways connect houses to hospitals, the police and shops. At the kampong you will be welcomed into a private Brunei home for tea and a glimpse into the daily life of the water village.

Optional: City Tour and Mangrove Swamps $95 NO (full day): This full day tour features the same sights as the included half day Brunei: City & Culture tour at left, but also includes an extended cruise into the mangroves to spot crocodiles and proboscis monkeys. Lunch is included at the Terindak d'Seni Restaurant and a further exploration of the city in the afternoon features the Jame Mosque and Polo Club grounds.

Day 15, Friday, Feb. 15 AT SEA #5 of 5 6
Actually this is our 5th day at sea since we lost a shore excursion day due to the storm. So it is just more glug, glug. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink - just iced tea.

I asked the Cruise Director about upgrading my Greek Isles cabin to get away from the potential of more wave noise but that sailing is almost totally booked. There is nothing currently available. It will be only 10 nights if we do hit some rough, noisy waves.

Not so good news for now: the weather is quickly going "downhill" with solid overcast, heavy rain squalls, and whitecaps, and some rolling, but at least no (so far) big swells to really toss us around and cause all the wave crashing and noise, however it does abate somewhat later in the afternoon but never really clears up; we have rain squalls and some wind and rolling all night. Other than the very frequent rain showers, there is nothing to see today except an occasional drilling platform.

Day 16, Saturday, Feb. 16 Kuching, Malaysia (7AM - 8PM)
Fortunately the last couple of nights have been relatively calm and quiet. I definitely needed the sleep. However it's been raining almost constantly all night and as of 7AM, it's raining heavily though by the time we leave about 9, it's cleared off with no rain, but with 175% humidity! At least the doctor's progress reports continue to be good.

Once the capital of the White Rajahs of Sarawak, today Kuching is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Malaysia. This mix of Kuching's Malay, Chinese, Indian and colonial heritage will become apparent on our included sightseeing - including the spice streets, the Sarawak Museum, and the White Rajah's palace of this fascinating place.

We ended up with no rain, just the humidity, but I feel sorry for the people taking the optional tours this morning since much of their onsite excursions will mean a lot of walking outside, or in the forest and they were indeed caught with some rain showers.

A nice surprise this morning: waiting on the dock to greet us was a contingent of local musicians and dancers all in their "tribal" garb. We were supposed to leave at 8:15 but for some reason there was a long delay in getting the ship "cleared" so it was a bit after 9 before we were on the bus. For our city tour this morning, Kuching's port is some distance from town so at the end of the tour most of us return to the ship for lunch, but arrangements have been made for a late afternoon pickup in town for those who want to stay and shop. We were lucky enough to have a very good local guide, but losing those 45 minutes at the start meant that all the stops had to be cut a bit shorter than planned. Due to the humidity, in my opinion that was a good deal except at the Chinese Temple and the Sarawak Museum complex. For me, the walk down the India Street market area could have been omitted: just another street with lots of little shops. At least we did get to see several of the cat statues including "Putih." We made it back to the ship, soaking wet (I would have preferred rain) by 1PM.

Kuching is much like the other cities we've visited: some newer tall buildings with most of the streets lined with an endless number of little shops. It's not as nice, or as clean, as in Brunei, but many levels better than Ho Chi Minh City. Like most everywhere else they have the usual complement of "American Embassies": KFC (which doesn't mean Kentucky Fried Cat", Pizza Hut, and McDonalds, but I didn't see a Burger King.

I had planned to do the "Sarawak Cultural Village" optional tour this morning and the city tour this afternoon, but cancelled out of it after the Bangkok disaster. The "Jungle and Longhouse" tour would have been preferable, but no canes or walking sticks are allowed in the Park area.

On one of the early days of the cruise, I had talked with the Cruise Director about the lack of "warning" or "caution" on the Bangkok excursion. Very soon I noticed that their pre-excursion handouts all had very noticeable warnings wherever there might be trouble for those, such as me, who have some difficulty on rough, etc., conditions. After what happened to me, and my comments, they are taking it much more seriously. After all, I'm cancelling out of 4 optional excursions ($$$) and had what is probably a few hundred dollars of "free" medical care. I sent my last email update, and am down to 46 seconds so that's it.

Included: City Tour (half day): Immerse yourself in the exotic allure of this city, once the seat of the White Rajah Dynasty, where Malay, Chinese, Indian and Colonial heritages create an ever-intriguing tapestry. The centerpiece of this tour is a visit to the renowned Sarawak Museum Complex, where you'll tour the Ethnology Museum housed in a colonial building reminiscent of a French chateau. Take the opportunity to explore your choice of several other museums within the same complex.

Your sightseeing takes you to the narrow streets and colorful shop houses of Chinatown, where the Tua Pek Kong Chinese temple is the town's oldest building. Kuching means "cat" in Malay, and en route to Chinatown you'll drive past "Putih" a giant, white cat statue and the emblem of Kuching. Visit Tua Pek Kong Chinese Temple, the town's oldest building and in the fascinating Chinese Museum learn about the origins of migration from China to Kuching. Enjoy a guided stroll through Little India and finish your tour on Kuching's lovely riverfront, overlooking the historic Astana, the former residence of the White Rajahs.

Optional: Sarawak Cultural Village $78 NO (half day AM): Located around 22 miles outside Kuching, the Sarawak Cultural Village showcases the fascinating building styles of Sarawak's major ethnic groups, including the Ibans, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau and Penans. A visit to this scenic enclave, built around a lake, provides plentiful insights into the former lifestyles and traditions of the tribes of Borneo.

Watch craftsmen and women displaying their skills in weaving and wood carving and demonstrating their traditional cooking methods to produce local delicacies. Learn how the Penans fashioned blow pipes and other instruments for use in hunting. A colorful cultural performance of traditional music and dance in the village's airconditioned theater will round off your stay.

Note: Sturdy walking shoes are essential for guests visiting the cultural village. The houses are mostly built on stilts and often accessed by deep and narrow steps, thus a good degree of mobility is required. To get into the houses, we would have to climb a "ladder" made up of pegs stuck into tree trunks.

Optional: Jungle and Longhouse $85 NO (half day AM): Canes and walking sticks are PROHIBITED in the forest park area. The Semonggoh Nature Reserve lies a 45-minute drive from Kuching and encompasses 653 hectares of tropical rainforest. For over 30 years, this center trained young orangutans which had been rescued from captivity, to survive in the wild. Whilst the rescue program has since been transferred elsewhere, Semonggoh is still home to its successful graduates, semi-wild orangutans and their babies. They roam freely in the jungle, sometimes returning at feeding times to platforms where they can be viewed. A short trek through the rainforest brings visitors to the observation area opposite the feeding station where they may be rewarded with an orangutan sighting.

Continue with a hour's drive through the unspoilt countryside to Annah Rais. This is located in an isolated valley which is home to the Bidayuh ethnic group, comprising around 8 percent of Sarawak's population. Bidayuh heritage lives on in Annah Rais, a whole village on stilts known as a longhouse. Whilst the living quarters are not open for private viewing, you'll walk through the communal areas and the village grounds. Your guide will explain the architectural features and cultural significance of the stilt village and the agriculture practised by these "People of the Land".

Note: Wear walking shoes with a good grip and avoid shouting, flash photography and the color red, which excites the orangutans. If you wish to take photos in the village, first ask residents for their permission. Bring a raincoat and/or change of clothes for jungle downpours. Orangutan sightings are common but cannot be guaranteed, especially during the fruit ripening season from October to March when the jungle yields so much fresh fruit that the orangutans are able to meet their own feeding needs.

Day 17, Sunday, Feb. 17 AT SEA #6 of 5 6
We were only supposed to have 5 of these days at sea, not 6 (half the cruise), and not 2 back-to-back but it happened. Nor did I expect some of the rough seas we've encountered; last night was another (the 4th) rough one. We had departed Kuching at 7, and to the mouth of the river at 8. Shortly after that the heavy rolling and loud wave noise started (though with only a few explosive crashes) and lasted until about 9AM this morning. Otherwise, with nothing scheduled and with no specific plans in Singapore, it's going to be about the most boring day of the trip. We do have the usual pre-disembarkation presentation, and have to have our main luggage outside our cell-blocks by 10PM.

Day 18, Monday, Feb. 18 Singapore - disembark (- 7AM)
After 12 days and 2370 nautical miles, we finally arrive in Singapore. I have a very early breakfast and a last visit to Dr Carlos, it's time to leave. We have to be out of our cells by 8:30 which is no problem since the departure for my transfer to the hotel is also at 8:30. At least we would have gotten off at 8:30 except that one couple stayed in their room until kicked out at 8:15 and only then went down for breakfast so we had a long wait for them. We have to go through Passport Control, identify our luggage (very quick and easy) which will be taken on to the hotel for our arrival. Then do the included city tour today in order to give us something to do between the time we get kicked off the ship and when we get to the hotel for the check in for our stay. Otherwise, it would have meant just sitting around in the hotel lobby.

Singapore could be said to be the city that Sir Stamford Raffles built. It was his vision that identified Singapore as the perfect port for British trade and in 1819 he persuaded Sultan Hussein to cede it to the British. Singapore's fortunes flourished until it fell to the Japanese in World War II but, after post-war independence, the energy and dynamism of Singapore's people created one of the great modern cities of Asia. A tour of the city gives us a flavor of both modern and the historical Singapore.

As for the tour, the first stop, Mt Fabar was supposed to have a nice view of the area but it was invisible in the heavy haze. Our second stop was the National Orchid Gardens which was the only real highlight of the tour. It was absolutely fabulous. If we hadn't lost so much time waiting for that last couple, we would have spent more time here.(Grumble, grumble!) I did finally find a great place to get a couple of small souvenirs and gifts. Our next two stops at a temple and a mosque were just ABC. The last stop in the Colonial Heritage area gave some very nice views of some of the fantastic building architecture. We get to our hotel sometime about 1:30PM, are told to go eat and come back after 2 to get our room keys.

At the hotel I signed up for my hotel-airport transfer with the local Voyages to Antiquity agents. Since I chose to go with an already established transfer time, it only cost $12 - but due to my flight time, the pickup at the hotel is at 4AM. I did not sign up for one of the optional tours tomorrow - which turned out to be particularly fortunate since tomorrow has some thunderstorms and the "Round the Island" trip would have been a big mess. We are in Singapore for a 2-night hotel stay, but one of them it turns out, is wasted.

Until the new hotel in Dubai was finished, the Stamford was the highest / tallest hotel in the world with 66 floors. The hotel is very nice but at times very confusing since it is interlinked with another large hotel, a Convention Center, and also the huge, gigantic, easy-to-get-lost-in Raffles City Shopping Mall. The Mall, several stories high, is made up of almost all upper to very high end clothing and jewelry shops. It's a really confusing maze as we were warned by our local tour guide.

There, once I get through the maze to find my way, I eat in their basement food court with over 100 places to choose fromeven including KFC and Subway. They have a place with a great stuffed baked potato. Breakfasts are the only included meals during this part of the trip so I have to buy three meals in the basement. Hotel: Swissotel The Stamford (2 nights)

Included: Spirit of Singapore (half day): Discover the many facets of this dynamic city-state where centuries-old traditions continue in the shadow of skyscrapers. Delve into Singapore's past in Chinatown where soothsayers consult cards to predict the future and the scent of exotic soups blends with the sight of arcane medicinal treatments. Visit the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, the Thian Hock Kheng Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. Marvel at the elaborate façade of the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, where sacred cow figurines crouch on the roof and an annual fire-walking contest is held.

Stroll in the city's National Orchid Gardens, where terraces showcase the largest orchid display in the world: 60,000 plants, over 700 species and 2,100 hybrids including the National Flower of Singapore, Vanda Miss Joaquim. See the city's Colonial heritage in all its splendor as you drive past Parliament House, the Supreme Court, Raffles Hotel and City Hall. Wind up over 300 ft. to the top of Mt Faber for sweeping panoramas of the city, port and islands where offshore refineries make this an important petroleum center. Whether you view Singapore as a dining, shopping or cultural mecca, this overview reveals there's much to explore in the Lion City.

Optional: Singapore by Night $55 NO (half day PM) Get ready for fun on this exciting night tour combining a river cruise, a trishaw ride and a visit to the famous Bugis Village night market. Your evening begins with a picturesque half-hour ride along the Singapore River aboard a traditional-shaped riverboat. These vessels were used in pre-container ship days to ferr y light cargo from ships offshore to warehouses along the river. Disembark at Royal Selangor Pewter showroom to discover the history of this specialty and its role in Singapore's development as a trading port.

Share a tricycle rickshaw and ride through the Colonial district past such landmarks as St Andrew's Cathedral. Your destination is Bugis Village, named after Indonesian seafarers from Sulawesi province who used to conduct trade with Singapore from their boats on the Kallang River.

The night market here is wonderful and a favorite of Singaporeans. Shops and stalls sell everything imaginable including souvenirs, clothes and handbags - at flea-market prices. Join the shopping fun or grab a bottle of Tiger beer and muse over the astonishing foods offered in the hawker stands. Conclude your night on the town with a drive along Benjamin Sheares Bridge, the longest bridge in Singapore.

Day 19, Tuesday, Feb. 19 Singapore, Singapore
What a difference - finally a good night sleep with no rolling or crashing waves! We are advised to either get up early for breakfast or "sleep in" since the more popular hours usually result in having to stand in line for a table. The breakfast is very nice and they even have fresh squeezed not fake, orange juice. I had been planning to take either or both of the "Singapore by Night" (yesterday) and "Round the Island" (today) tours, but not after Bangkok; this is fortunate also due to the thunderstorms weather. I certainly wouldn't want to be on that ultra-high Ferris wheel, the Singapore Flyer, today.

They don't take US$ here so no shopping. I don't want to be stuck with unused currency but I did change just enough US$ to Singapore$ to get something to eat yesterday and today. All I have for today is to stay in the hotel and wait to depart tomorrow early in the morning. I'll try to sleep to prepare for the long sleepless flights home.

Side note: one of the other guests told me today that "Voyages of Discovery" (my 2nd Caribbean cruise, and a far East cruise I cancelled out of) has now shut down. The rumor / report is that their ship is "unacceptable." Maybe something went wrong (broke down) and the Coast Guard won't certify it.

Optional: Sights and Heights $48 NO (half day) Combine a visit to the Peranakan Museum with a study in urban planning d a ride aboard the world's tallest Ferris Wheel. This tour explores the unique hybrid culture known as Peranakan, meaning "locally born." This culture grew as a result of intermarriage between Chinese immigrants trading in the region with local women and is today part of Singapore's living heritage. The intimate museum is installed in a beautiful 1912 structure. Ten galleries showcase the intricacies of Peranakan life. View the elaborate ritual of the 12-day wedding ceremony and learn about the artistry of the Nyonyas, an honorific given to married ladies. The Peranankan culture has contributed greatly to the Singaporean food experience. Discover this and more as you visit the galleries devoted to the evolution of this marvelous culture.

Contrast ancestral cultures to city planning in action in the downtown hub called Suntec City. Board the giant Ferris wheel called the Singapore Flyer, the world's tallest observation wheel. With the height of a 42-story building, it's taller than the London Eye. On the ride up take in panoramic views of this city's landmarks including Marina Bay, Singapore River, Raffles Place and Merlion Park and the Empress Place.

Optional: Round Island Tour $125 NO (full day) Venture outside the city to a traditional wet market, a temple of ancestor worship and World War II sites including a notorious POW prison. Head first to Tiong Bahru Wet Market, where the floors are always awash with water. Locals as well as chefs shop here for fresh produce, fish and bargains. Continue to Kranji Dam, the first landing site of the Japanese in WWII. From here, you can see Malaysia's city of Johore Bahru and the Straits of Johore, site of fierce fighting in 1942. Stop at the Kranji War Memorial honoring over 10,000 Allied soldiers who died defending Singapore.

After lunch, visit Bright Hill Temple, a noted site of Chinese ancestor worship. Then drive to Changi, used by Japan as a POW camp during WWII. En route, pass the Johore Battery and view a replica of the "monster guns" Britain installed in 1939. When it was clear Singapore would fall, the guns were destroyed and the site kept secret until recently. Complete your tour with a visit to the Changi Museum, containing a replica of the chapel used by the POWs.

Day 20, Wednesday, Feb. 20 Singapore - depart for the US
With a hotel departure time is 4AM - - meaning that I would have to get up well ahead of that since I have to be in the lobby by 3:30. I requested a wakeup call at 2:30AM. As has been the case on almost all my overseas departures, I have, as expected, to miss the included breakfast but the local Voyages to Antiquity group has arranged for a nice boxed breakfast: pastries, fruit, juice, etc. We also have a very nice breakfast served on the flight. Fortunately I was able to upgrade my seats to Business Class in order to have more leg room plus the chance to stretch out and maybe sleep (doubtful), even with my bad leg. (B/B,D,L in air)

United Air UA 6Singapore - Tokyo7:20 A - 2:50 P6:302:10

There is no problem with a "connection" in Tokyo. It's the same flight number and apparently we don't switch planes; it's more of a "stopover" than a "connection." All we have to do is go through a transfer lounge - very quick. At least I'm in Business Class for all the flights.

Eastbound flights are usually shorter than Westbound (Jet Stream??) so this Tokyo -Houston flight is scheduled to be a bit over two hours shorter than my first flight westbound. Thanks to a strong Jet Stream for the first half of the trip (ground speeds up to 810mph) we get to Houston in mid-afternoon, its 3:05 AM Singaporeby 2:30 despite the formalities and waiting for the StuporShuttle. I'm not going to the post office today, I'm really tired. time, so it's essentially it has been an overnight flight but with virtually no sleep - at least I think I did manage a couple of short naps.

United Air UA 6Tokyo - Houston5:00 P - 1:05 P11:0519:45

Due to the International Date Line, and the Jet Stream getting us in early, I get home on the same long day, by 2:30 despite the formalities and waiting for the StuporShuttle. I'm not going to the post office today, I'm really tired.

This has been my last Trans-Pacific trip and there are only six Trans-Atlantic trips planned through 2016:
2013: Greek Isles, & Grand Mediterranean with Voyages to Antiquity, Dubai & Oman with Road Scholar
2014: France with Insight, Greenland with Great Canadian Travel
2015: Euro Mini-tour with Globus
2016: UK & Ireland with either Insight or Globus)
The two cruises this year complete all my planned cruises unless Voyages to Antiquity does a Scandinavia/Vikings cruise.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Bangkok
Angkor Wat
Sihanoukville
Viet Nam
Kuching
Singapore


TOURS, included and Optional: (we are "At Sea" for 5 (oops - 6) of the 17 actual days)

DayCityTourLengthCosttake?
Day 3Bangkok, ThailandCity Tour and Grand Palacehalf dayincludedYes
Day 4Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Temples of Angkor Watall dayincludedYes
Day 5Bangkok, Thailandnone - arrive from Siem Reap-
Day 6Bangkok Behind the Sceneshalf day$58Yes
Day 7At Sea #1 of 6boring-
Day 8Sihanoukville, CambodiaPhnon Penhfull dayincludedNO
Sihanoukville & SurroundingsHalf DayincludedYes
Day 9At Sea #2 of 6boring-
Day 10Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamHo Chi Minh CityHalf DayIncludedyes
Day 11Cu Chi Tunnelshalf day$35planned/NO
Day 12At Sea #3 of 6very rough-
Day 13Kota Kinabalu, MalaysiaKota Kinabalu areaCANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER
Extra Day at Sea #4 of 6very rough-
Day 14Bandar Seri Begawan, BruneiCity Tourhalf dayincludedYes
City Tour and Mangrove Swampsfull day$95NO
Day 15At Sea #5 of 6boring-
Day 16Kuching, MalaysiaCity Tourhalf dayincludedYes
Sarawak Cultural Villagehalf day$78NO
Jungle and Longhousehalf day$85planned/NO
Day 17At Sea #6 of 6boring-
Day 18Singapore, SingaporeSpirit of Singaporehalf dayincludedYes
Singapore by Nightevening$55planned/NO
Day 19Round the Islandfull day$125planned/NO
Sights and Heightshalf day$48NO

HOTELS:
Millenium Hilton BANGKOK Towering majestically above Chao Praya River, the Millennium Hilton Bangkok hotel boasts sweeping city views. There is a private pier and a free shuttle boat to Saphan Taksin and River City. Enjoy the beach deck and 8 restaurants. Cantonese food in Yuan, international food on the terrace at Flow.

Sokha Angkor Resort ANGKOR WAT, Cambodia Sokha Angkor Resort is strategically located in the heart of Siem Reap. Walking distance to the Old Market Place popular for local handicrafts, a 10 minute drive to the Airport and 15 minutes to the world famous Angkor Wat Temples.

Swissotel The Stamford SINGAPORE, Singapore Feel the dynamic pulse of Singapore and experience Swiss hospitality at its best at Swissôtel The Stamford. Located in the heart of the city and one of Southeast Asia's tallest hotels, The Stamford promises excellent accommodation, business and leisure experiences. Revel in 1,261 guestrooms and suites, 16 restaurants and bars, Equinox Complex and Willow Stream Spa, complete with panoramic views of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"Le (nice) Barge"



This is the ship that I cruised on for the Black Sea Cruise and liked so much. I even got the same cabin.

MV AEGEAN ODYSSEY is a premium class ship that was rebuilt to cater for cruising in the coastal waters of the central and eastern Mediterranean. The vessel provides the best features of a mid-size ship such as passenger space, a choice of restaurants and stability in inclement weather.

Originally a vessel carrying up to 570 passengers, Aegean Odyssey's new configuration includes generously-sized suites, junior suites and staterooms with and without balconies. She now carries an average of 350 passengers. By creating these new staterooms we have added a dimension of luxury to the vessel and this has enabled us to create a special level of accommodation entitled "Concierge Class". Classically elegant, but far from stuffy and formal, Aegean Odyssey has been designed to offer the sophisticated traveller every comfort at sea. She offers the personal service and intimate surroundings of a small vessel, has the ability to pass through the Corinth Canal, visit ports that are too small for larger vessels, and navigate around the scenic islands of the Adriatic and Mediterranean.

LARGE SHIPS COMPARISON

Descriptor2011-13
Aegean Odyssey
- Multi
2012
Zuiderdam
Caribbean Cruise
2014
Veendam
Panama Canal
2014
Eurodam
Vikings Passage
2014
Queen Mary 2
America
& D-Day
Cattle capacity
378
1916
1350
2044
2620
Crew
180
817
580
929
1253
Length
461'
936'
720'
935'
1132'
Beam
67'
106'
122'
125'
135'
Speed
18 knots
24 knots
22 knots
22 knots
30 knots
Cattle decks
5
11
10
11
13


For a web page with full DECK PLANS click here..

For more information on the ship, see Black Sea Cruise with the ship description at the end of the notes.