Notes From The Sea

Years ago Charles and I, our three sons, and my father-in-law, sailed together on a rented bare boat in the Caribbean. We loved our adventure, and when we swiftly passed by a cruise ship we all said we would never travel that way. Never say never.

Soon after that, one of our dearest friends was celebrating his 60th birthday and his wife was planning a surprise party on a cruise ship. It was to be a small ship, a Silversea vessel, and the passenger count was about 250 people. We went and loved it. Now we have travelled to Russia and the Baltic, South America and Patagonia, the Caribbean, New Zealand and Australia, The Galapagos, and this past trip to South East Asia, all trips with a cruise included.

I always combine a land portion with the cruise and we manage to do this about every couple of years. We often choose a voyage because of the starting or finishing city. In this instance it was Singapore and Hong Kong, places we had never visited. We have recently switched our allegiance to The Seabourn Ships after a bad experience with Silversea in the Galapagos. Both companies have similar ships, but now we prefer the culture and atmosphere of Seabourn.

We boarded the Sojourn, a vessel that has a capacity for 458 passengers and one staff member per guest, late in the afternoon. There were no lineups and our cabin was ready. We always book a cabin that has a veranda (veranda suite) and ask our travel company, Tully Luxury Travel which side is best for each particular passage. We were on the port side for this voyage. We also book mid-ship or very close to mid-ship on the 6th level. My experienced sailor, Charles, has told me that there is less movement in the center of the ship should there be heavy seas.

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Almost closing the dining room

The cabins are cleverly fitted out so that you have absolutely everything you need in a small space, including double sinks in the washroom (head), a separate shower and bathtub. There is a desk, couch, a walk in cupboard, (well one at a time), a bar set up, little fridge, and a television/media console. The bed is a queen and very comfortable. I sleep like a baby with the sway of the ship.  I must confess that I suffer from seasickness, which may also be a symptom of my Meniere’s disease, and I take two timed-release anti-nausea pills a day (in Canada it is called Gravol) when I am aboard, and am a happy girl no matter how rough a passage may be.

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floating along and reading 

The ship supplies lots of info ahead of time about excursions, and that is when we plan when we will leave the ship and at which ports. In fact, many of these excursions inform why we will choose a particular itinerary. Charles has always dreamed about seeing Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and this cruise offered that option. I usually pour over the lists of excursions offered, and enjoy the planning process. Once I have chosen what I think we will like, I run it by him and we pre-book way ahead of our embarkation. I always choose cooking classes, which usually include shopping for the ingredients, preparation of the meal, and then eating it.

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morning start

Onboard the Sojourn there are a few dining options, a formal restaurant, a casual one, a patio one by the pool deck, a special fixed menu option one, and in room dining, which we have never done on any of our cruises. The dress code has become quite casual over the years, and the menus offer more than enough variety. We also can just ask for something like a serving of caviar (yum) or a simple steak or fish and we get it. There are buffets at breakfast and lunch, but you can also have these meals served if you like. It is all very civilized, and on the Seabourn ships all wines/liquors/any beverages except very special vintage ones, are included. And there are no seating times or particular tables or people you have to eat with.

This is a small ship and there is entertainment, but frankly, it is not compelling. I would like some classical music, but I am sure I am in the minority. The dancers and singers are mediocre. You wouldn’t go on this ship if you were looking for excellent entertainment. But because it is a small ship you have occasion to meet many other passengers and good old conversation is a wonderful way to spend the evening after an excellent meal.

The gym is adequate and the pool is fine for my early morning swim. The spa offers the usual massage (I hated my first one) and nail and hair services. There is always a tour of the spa the first afternoon on arrival and there is a draw. We won $150 worth of services, which I used for my massage.  The masseuse and I disagreed on the pressure, and it was miserable, not even vaguely relaxing. After I complained nicely to her superior I was given another one gratis. Nothing is perfect at a hotel or on a ship, but it is how those little things are dealt with that matters.

There is a lovely area called The Square where there is a barista and croissants, computers, magazines and the ship’s travel planners. There are lots of sofas for people watching, and it is my favorite space to read and hang out when at sea. Because on cruises you must be at sea between ports, and I love those days just watching the sky and horizon, smelling the sea air, reading, writing, I brought my laptop so I could do my blogs, checking our emails and keeping up at home, transferring photos, swimming, eating, and attending lectures. Every evening we received a newspaper called The Herald that outlines the next day’s upcoming events, and alerts you to time changes etc., describes the menus, lots of reading just to keep up.

There were many fascinating talks about the ports before we reached them. Some lecturers are more compelling than others of course, and we looked forward to these. As well there were often cooking classes given by the chef onboard and then a chance to sample afterward. Afternoon naps, dinner, conversations with new friends and the days at sea floated by, pun intended. But the ports of call are what draws us to a cruise. I am no longer a sun worshipper so the warm, sunny weather lazing by a pool holds no interest. A few bouts with skin cancer is quite a deterrent.

That first evening on board we had a romantic dinner.   I had beef tenderloin with fois gras, Charles, lobster risotto, all nicely served with accompanying wines, and you get the picture. We do love our food and drink. Earlier we met our stewardess, who cleans the room, and provides amenities for us, and others on our deck. And I forgot to mention, speaking of food, that once we are on board we never take an elevator. We walk up and down all the stairs for as long as the cruise lasts, this one was 14 days. This is one way of assuring that we won’t need new wardrobes after the journey.

The first day at sea we attended an excellent lecture; the ship calls it a conversation, given by Michael Teitelbaum, a brilliant and captivating speaker who we heard often throughout the trip. He spoke expertly on Southeast Asia, particularly about Thailand as we were approaching that port. He outlined such topics as the sex trade, the traffic congestion, and the King’s death. See the hyperlink describing the yearlong mourning period etc.

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brilliant lecturer Michael Teitelbaum

At breakfast we met a young speaker, Glenn Helmlinger from British Columbia whose wife, Cathie Hickson was on board as the Unesco lecturer. Glenn, although a financial services guy, spoke primarily about East/West trade. Cathie, a volcanologist, and expert in the topography of where we were, made what might seem like a very dry topic, live. Both were extremely knowledgeable, and fun.

We became friends for the voyage, sort of like a shipboard romance, even though they were young enough to be our children

As we were prepping for our first port, Laem Chabang, Bangkok, Thailand, we noted that there were many tour options for this port, or you could just take a shuttle bus and explore on your own. Lots of choices for the passengers, and with only a few hundred people nothing seemed crowded. We chose a cooking school in Pattaya because the description also included a trip to the market. As it turns out it was very warm, about 85F/29C and humidity 75%, but as we were departing for the 45 minute drive from the port to Pattaya, where the class would be held, the humidity rose to 100%, ah yes rain, and the market part was scrapped until possibly later after the cooking class. I was disappointed because that is part of the experience, seeing the food before preparation.

The traffic was heavy and crazy with no lane? observance. Bicycles everywhere, carts, cars, and this was just the beginning of our witnessing the wild and unruly Asian traffic during the rest of our journey. We arrived at the Royal Cliff Hotel where the class was held. After driving through muddy villages we were suddenly in the enclave of the rich, a very elegant, 5-star hotel complex. We were given aprons, chef’s hats, and ushered to seats in the lobby where the chef had set up his wares. No mirror overhead just a counter. I grabbed front row seats so we could see and hear, well sort of. The chef ‘s English was very soft–voiced, and heavily accented. Nevertheless, we watched while he made a spicy pomelo salad, fried chicken with cashew nuts, spicy river prawn soup with lemon grass, and banana flambé.

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street by market in Pattaya

The recipes were handed out complete with pictures and ingredients list that didn’t quite match what he was doing, but no matter. After this confusing presentation we were divided into groups to do our own versions of the dishes. Charles and I found ourselves in one with a very bossy, but interesting woman from Florida, a lovely woman from Hawaii, and a couple of men from who knows where. The bossy one took over. I became the taster in the group, Charles watched, and we eventually did the soup, which was our portion of the meal. Amazingly it was rather delicious. Then we went to a dining area with long tables and proceeded to eat our dish and everyone else’s.  Wine, tea and we were sated, and the sun shone so we were able to go back to the missed market.

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hotel lobby in Pattaya

The handouts are interesting to read, especially the one called The Art of Thai cooking which talks about cooking on a chopping block made from a tamarind tree that is believed to enhance the flavor of the dishes. Rice is a staple of the Thai diet, as are many herbs, spices and pastes like shrimp paste. The herbs and spices include basil, tamarind pods, ginger, green and white peppercorns, cardamom, star anise, lemon grass, ground chili, dried chilies, coriander seeds, kafir lime leaves, mint leaves etc. and you get the picture. Fish sauce, pork belly and pig skin are used in many recipes. At the end, we had a hilarious graduation ceremony where we were all given certificates from the cooking school, our aprons, and bags of spices.

bananas flambé and spicy river prawn soup

On our way to the market in Pattaya we stopped at a lookout where you could see almost nothing, as it was still misty, just some roosters and dirty dogs nearby, and hills in the distance. Now the good thing is that we didn’t go to the market in the rain earlier as the roof leaked, and buckets were everywhere catching water. Scooters were parked alongside the vegetables, and an old woman sitting in the dirt on the ground was hawking her vegetables. The seafood looked very unpleasant, and I am sure if I had seen this before our class I would have lost my appetite.

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 misty view from the hill

We wandered around the market stalls, and then waited for the bus to retrieve us. The street was filled with sordid men walking and looking. These repulsive looking guys apparently are from Australia and come to Pattaya for the sex trade. The old apartments where they did their business appeared dingy and unappealing with tangled electrical wires hanging from poles. I was starting to get indigestion, and to feel very sorry for the young girls and boys who were the prey. Scooters flying about the streets, some as taxis, were everywhere. Soon after we returned to our pristine ship with a ‘Welcome Back’ from the crew. Talk about extremes.

market and scooters parked

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views of rundown buildings and lovely local tour guide: note fingers in peace sign

From the impoverished to the absolutely decadent, we arrived in Koh Kood the next port. I wondered why there were no excursions offered and soon found out. The ship dropped anchor off shore and we took tenders to an incredible island. We were told to wear bathing suits and bring sun block. Of course, both Charles and I never venture anywhere without block.

After a 5-minute ride we arrived at a long dock and were greeted with water and music. The beach was filled with lounge chairs, umbrellas, tables set for a later lunch, a band playing local music, and waiters taking drink orders. We had met this foursome from Melbourne who had the same crazy sense of humor as ours, and hung out with them joking and laughing. They found a spot for us in the shade where we could watch the swimmers in the emerald water.

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Charles and I soon waded out in the warm water. I did my swimming bit until a horn was sounded and staff from the ship in their uniforms (short pants) ran out into the water holding surfboards laden with caviar and champagne. Soon they were surrounded by many of us, but amazingly there was no end of the Russian caviar, complete with accoutrements, nor the French champagne. We all stood around in the surf gorging ourselves happily. Then we went back to the beach where there were folks having massages, and barbecues were set up with lobster, shrimp and a multitude of salads. It was over the top, but great fun, a perfect crazy day.

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happy girl

Back at the ship we napped, I wrote, Charles did his usual emailing, and reading. One could really get used to this cruise life.

The jewel of our trip was soon to come as we were heading to Cambodia the next morning. We would leave the ship there and travel to Angkor Wat by small plane. Our overnight bags were packed, and we joined an information meeting of the small group who would be going on this adventure.

There is much to tell in my next blog, not only about the amazing temples of Angkor Wat, but also about Vietnam. I hope you will enjoy my stories, and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Always,

Riki

 

 

 

 

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