Saturday, April 30, 2016

29 April - Hong Kong

We are now in the last few days of our holiday, and the toughest issue each day is deciding a program for the day - there is so much to see and do here. We decided today to visit Victoria Peak in the afternoon if the visibility was OK. John took Rosa and Sandra shopping while I chased down a few of the recommended camera stores here in Hong Kong to see if there were any bargains to be had. There weren't, most gear here is more expensive than in Australia even though they do not apply any sales tax. Sometimes you need to travel to find out how well off you are. We regrouped early in the afternoon and decided to defer the Peak visit to tomorrow. Instead we visited the wonderful Kowloon Park. It is an oasis of peace and beauty in the middle of the incredible hustle and bustle which is Hong Kong. The park is home to a large number of Greater Flamingoes and these are absolutely fabulous birds to watch. I'll go back tomorrow with a telephoto lens to get some better photos.
After our visit we carried on to Temple Street which turns into an incredible night market every day at 4pm, and continues until 10 pm.
This area, located about 1 km from our hotel is much more the authentic Hong Kong/Kowloon experience, far away from the endless expensive international brand name shops which I find quite boring. This market is for the locals and the occasional tourist and it features everything imaginable at quite competitive prices. 
By the time we had wandered up and down the market a few times it was time for a drink and we sat down in an open air local restaurant to enjoy a couple of large bottles of the local beer.

While food and alcohol is incredibly expensive in the more fashionable part of town, when you venture into the areas where the locals live and eat and drink prices are a lot more reasonable. Here, drinks for 4 came to HK$60 which is about AUD12. The local beer here which comes in large bottles is terrific. After all our wandering we decided to use the MTR (Subway) to get back to our hotel.
So altogether a busy, tiring but very enjoyable day. Hopefully we can do the Peak tomorrow.

Friday, April 29, 2016

28 April - Hong Kong

We woke this morning to a warm but very hazy Hong Kong. Air pollution, caused mainly by motor vehicles is a major problem in Hong Kong and this morning it was bad enough to postpone our plans to visit Victoria Peak to get some panoramic views of the area. Instead we caught the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island before catching a bus to Stanley which is a tourist area on the southern most point of Hong Kong.
This involved a 40 minute bus ride initially through some of the busiest city roads I've ever seen and then along the very steep and winding coastal road. Stanley is a great tourist attraction mainly because of its market, coastal scenery and restaurants.
After an extensive visit to the market by the ladies we then strolled along the waterfront. There were a few groups of school children who had been given the project of approaching tourists and asking them to participate in a short survey. John volunteered twice and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.
By late afternoon we decided to take a break and have a drink and a meal at the Pickled Pelican. The meal consisted of Australian Black Angus steaks and a pint of draft Carlsberg. Very enjoyable.
Finally it was time to get back to the bus for the return trip to the ferry terminal and then back to The Prince hotel. Tomorrow we are hoping some of the pollution will clear so that we can go up Victoria Peak for a good view and photos of Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

27 April - Hong Kong, Day 1

After 23 nights at sea our cruise finally came to an end this morning when we arrived at the Kai Tak Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong. As a sharp contrast to the near perfect weather we've enjoyed since we left Melbourne, the weather here, while still warm, was overcast, quite hazy with a light drizzle. We had opted for a late departure from the ship as hotel rooms are generally not ready till 2-3 pm, and so, after a leisurely and final breakfast we made ourselves comfortable in the Explorer's Bar, our designated holding area for disembarkation. At 10:20 it was our turn to walk off the Golden Princess for the last time, through HK Immigration to join the longest taxi queue any of us had ever seen. However the departure organisation was ultra efficient and 45 minutes later we were packed into a medium size taxi (all four of us + luggage) on our way to downtown Kowloon and the The Prince Marco Polo hotel. We had booked our rooms here more than 6 months ago through booking.com and it is always a bit surprising, and quite a relief, when you arrive and they are expecting you. This was certainly the case here - the staff were terrific and although we had to wait for our rooms to be ready, by 2pm we were settled into the biggest hotel rooms we've been in after a while. Certainly, after 23 nights in a very compact ship's stateroom it was nice to be able to spread out and settle in for the next five days. After unpacking and a bit of rest we walked down Canton Rd to find a liquor store to buy a few essentials and a bit to eat. Our hotel is located right in Harbour Town which is the largest shopping centre (3 levels) we've ever encountered. Tonight we opted for an early night so that we can be fresh and ready to explore Hong Kong tomorrow. It was also nice to find that our rooms provided free high speed internet access, which meant I could finally catch up on all the updates on all my devices and to finally download all my email.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

25 April - Nah Trang - Vietnam

As we dined and slept last night the Golden Princess sailed to our next port in Vietnam - Nha Trang. This is one of Vietnam’s premier beach resort cities and the modern high rise hotels are springing up every where. This was another ‘tender’ port which meant we were ferried ashore using the ship’s lifeboats. Although this process takes a bit longer than simply walking down a gang plank, it is an interesting experience and provides a unique view of the Golden Princess close up. 

Once ashore complimentary shuttle buses had been provided to take us into town.
Our main focus was the local market which is astounding in the sheer range of items for sale and the very low prices. At first the prices look high in the local currency (Dong) but once you divide them by 17,000 to convert to AUD (or 20,000 for USD) then things look remarkable cheap. Of course no one pays the asking price, and after some good natured haggling we generally arrived at half price - good fun. 

Tomorrow is our last full day at sea as we arrive in Hong Kong, and the end of our cruise on Wednesday. So, lots of paperwork to fill in and the process of packing will occupy some of the day.

24 April - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Vietnam

Once again we woke this morning to find the captain had quietly parked the Golden Princess in a busy port which serves as the main import/export hub for Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. I was really looking forward to visiting this city for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to see the development that has taken place since the Vietnam War (called the American War here) ended in 1975, and second because of the long occupation of the area and the city of Saigon by the French, the city was renowned for its tree lined boulevards and elegant buildings. So, we signed up for a tour “The Best of Ho Chi Minh City” to see as much as possible as we could in a single day. And what an amazing day it was. HCM City is still an elegant and beautiful place and the new development going on is turning it quickly into a high rise citadel which will one day rival Hong Kong or Shanghai. It already has a population exceeding 10 million. For a nominally Communist country, capitalism appears to be rampant and I’m not sure it is benefiting the average Vietnamese very much. Our visit included the Presidential Palace which was the scene on 30 April, 1975, captured as an unforgettable image, of a lone North Vietnam tank driving up the boulevard and knocking down the iron gates. We also visited a lacquer work factory, the Opera House, Notre Dame cathedral and a beautiful Chinese temple. 

Lunch was provided on the tour and accompanied by a fantastic performance of an ensemble of Vietnamese dancers and musicians. After the performance we were encouraged to join the performers on stage for photo opportunities and to play tambourines and castanets. Almost a party atmosphere and very enjoyable.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

22 April - Laem Chabang - Thailand

 Overnight the Golden Princess moved up the coast of Thailand to berth at Laem Chabang which is the port for Bangkok. As Bangkok was a 2-3 hour bus ride away we decided instead to catch the shuttle bus to the holiday resort town of Pataya. Pattaya is best known for its fabulous beach and associated water activities such as SCUBA and parasailing, its shops and markets and it’s racy nightlife.
We spent most of our time shopping both in the air-conditioned departments stores as well as in the local markets. 
One obvious feature of these Asian cities is the overwhelming presence of motorcycles in all shapes and sized, particularly of the step through scooter variety. To see one these tiny machines loaded with a couple of adults and one or two children, mostly without protective equipment is an experience indeed. By 3pm we were worn down by the bargaining, the heat and the humidity and we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship. This gave us time for showers and a little snooze before dinner at 6pm, and then the daily show in the Princess Theatre, which featured a singer called Louis Hoover performing a tribute show to Frank Sinatra - very good show. 

After the show we went to the top of the ship to watch our departure from Laem Chabang. This was made especially interesting because our sister ship the Sapphire Pprincess was departing at the same time and the evening was beautifully lit by a full moon. 

Tomorrow is another sea day before we get to Vietnam.

21 April - Koh Samui - Thailand

After another couple of relaxing sea days we arrived this morning at the island of Koh Samui a small island off the coast of Thailand. Once again the ship lay at anchor while we were ferried across to the island by the ship’s tenders. The town where we anchored was called Nathon and it became quickly obvious that were at the wrong end of the island for shopping and sightseeing. We avoided the crush of drivers offering us transport to the other side of the island where the resorts and the shopping are located and instead negotiated a ride with a driver in town. UA$100 gets you an air-conditioned taxi and a drive who will take you wherever you want to go, stay with you all day and then get you back to the dock in time to board the ship. We spent some time browsing through the markets and departments stores, absolutely amazed at the range of goods available and the much reduced prices. The normal protocol for bargaining at the markets is to offer one third of what they are asking and then gradually work towards one half. It is a national sport enjoyed by the locals and the tourists alike. The local currency is the Baht and and Australia dollar will get you 28 Baht.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

19 April - Singapore

After a couple of very relaxing sea days we woke this morning to find we had berthed in Singapore. Getting off the ship was somewhat of an ordeal as the Singapore authorities, unlike most other ports subject every passenger to the full immigration procedure, so that by the time we reached the city there was little time to do anything other than wander along Orchard Rd for a while and to take a look at the famous Raffles Hotel. The girls did a little shopping at H&M and by 3:30 we were back on board. Here at the ocean terminal we were alongside another Princess Line ship, the Sea Princess. One of the highlights of the day was to watch the Sea Princess depart immediately in front of our ship.
Next it was our turn and once again we had a quite spectacular departure from one of the busiest ports in the world. There were hundreds of ships in all directions and as dusk set in on a warm evening we spent quite a bit of time on deck watching the departure. Then we were off to the Bernini Dining Room for dinner. 

Tomorrow is another sea day before we arrive in Koh Samui in Thailand.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

16 April, Bali, Indonesia

After a further two days at sea across the top of Australia, we arrived early this morning in Benoa, Bali in Indonesia. This little port does not have a dock large enough for the Princess, which meant we had to be taken ashore using some of the ship’s lifeboats as tenders.

Today was another beautiful warm day and when we arrived at the Benoa terminal we were immediately beset by dozens of taxi drivers offering to show us the island. We finally struck an all day deal with a very nice Balinese man called Rico who took us through the incredible hustle and bustle of Balinese towns into the foothills where we could get glimpses of the ancient rice terraces of Bali which are thousands of years old.



After that we went back to Kuta for a bit of shopping and a Bintang beer. We finally boarded a tender back to the Princess with more than an hour to spare after a very interesting and enjoyable day in Bali.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

13 April - A day in Darwin, NT, Australia

After leaving Brisbane we enjoyed 4 days at sea. Quite a spectacular part of the cruise as we travelled through various channels in the Great Barrier Reef, and lots of islands as we passed the northern coast of Queensland. Then after a couple of days we reached Cape York Peninsula the most Northern part of Australia. The ship then turned on to a westerly heading and into the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
 
In the strait we passed many of the Torres Strait islands in perfect weather. Blue skies and crystal clear water everywhere. The highlight of this part of this trip was passing Thursday Island. To pass through this channel requires the use of a reef pilot as in some places there is only 3m under the keel, and the channels can be quite narrow.
During this four day sea passage we experienced perfect weather and we spent most afternoons in a hot tub and just relaxing in a deckchair watching this magnificent scenery glide by.
Then, when we woke this morning we were berthed in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. Darwin was almost totally wiped out by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974. We had been there shortly before the cyclone and in 1976 when we moved back to Victoria and so there was not a single feature of the new Darwin that we recognised. In the past 42 years Darwin has re-emerged as a large modern city complete with high rise buildings. We had a pleasant walk (35ÂșC) through the CBD and then took a bus out to Casuarina to visit a large new shopping centre where I managed to buy my Apple Watch which I had been looking for.
We then walked from the city back to the port to see the magnificent view of the Golden Princess berthed in the harbour, and waiting to receive us back for afternoon tea. Tomorrow is another sea day before we arrive in Bali the following day.

Friday, April 8, 2016

8 April, Brisbane, Australia

A couple of nights ago we enjoyed one of the most spectacular sea departures we have ever experienced. The Golden Princess was berthed right between the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay and the Opera House. As the sunset approached the city lights started to twinkle and we sat on the topmost deck to watch it all. To depart from Sydney the ship had to reverse away from the dock and turn until the stern, where we were sitting was almost directly below the Harbour Bridge.
Then it we proceeded slowly toward Sydney Heads to continue our trip to Brisbane. The night time views in every direction were absolutely breathtaking.
As we departed from Sydney the Harbour Bridge was directly behind us and the opera house was magnificent on our right side.
I must have taken a couple of hundred images as well as lots of video. It was a truly magnificent spectacle.
Yesterday was a sea day. In the afternoon we found a deck with a huge hot tub and lots of spots to sunbathe so we had a very relaxing afternoon. After dinner we attended a great show at the Princess Theatre - it was a magic show and a full house. A really amazing performance.
When we woke this morning we were berthed in the Brisbane river, and after breakfast we caught a shuttle bus into Brisbane for a bit of shopping and sight seeing. When we depart later today we will have four days at sea before reaching Darwin. I don't expect to have any internet access before we reach Darwin.

6 April - Sydney, Australia

Once again, we're on holiday for a few weeks so no motorcycling. We are on a cruise, with friends, from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. I thought a few of the regular visitors to this blog might enjoy catching up with the highlights of our trip even though the mode of transport has changed somewhat.

We boarded the Golden Princess at Station Pier at about 3:30 pm on Monday, just in time for lunch. Unlike other cruises our cabins and luggage were already available so after a quick look around we were able to settle in to our new home for the next 23 nights.
Tuesday was spent at sea in a gentle swell which let you know we were at sea although it was not uncomfortable. Went to the "Welcome Aboard" show in the evening which was terrific. When we woke this morning we were berthed in Sydney right next to Circular Quay.
This is the view from the back of the Golden Princess.
We had a leisurely day looking around the area and the Opera House before catching a ferry to Manley for a bit of shopping and a mandatory visit to the Royal Copenhagen Ice Cream shop. It was very hot here today and I realised I didn't bring a hat so had to buy one.
Right now we are just enjoying the afternoon and the wonderful Sydney Harbour views from the Princess. We sail this evening sometime after 6 pm, bound for Brisbane. I'm hoping for some good sunset photos of the city skyline before that.