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Day 7: Shanghai, China and 1st cruise day

Shanghai, China

Day 7: Friday, December 18th, 2009

Shanghai, China and 1st cruise day

We began the day much later than usual as we were so tired we slept past 8am. Hunter ordered hot eggs for breakfast and then we packed up our suitcases before hopping in a taxi to the French Concession area of Shanghai. The hotel bell hop had told the taxi driver the wrong location, so when he stopped at the wrong place, Hunter used his handy iPhone Shanghai application to show him a new location in Chinese. We got as close as we could to the French Concession area and then walked the rest of the way. This area was filled with many shops and restaurants, and had a busier and more upscale ambiance than did Nanjing Lu. It reminded us of 5th Avenue, but it wasn't that high end. We did some window shopping and then took a taxi back to our hotel and walked to a main department store complex nearby. I had lost my nice sunglasses in a taxi and so we had to buy a replacement pair and some liquor (for the cruise ship). This department store had everything – including a liquor store on the ground floor! It was the only liquor store we saw in all of China and was pretty limited. Our tour guide in Beijing told us the Chinese do not drink much but when they do, it is predominantly beer.

We walked back to the Marriott just in time for our late check-out at 2pm. We then headed up to the Executive Lounge to type emails before taking a taxi to our cruise ship. We didn't want to board the cruise ship too early (we like to wait for the crowds to subside) and wanted to take advantage of the internet as long as we could. We ate free finger sandwiches and enjoyed our last free alcoholic drinks for a while. We started to get so excited for the next leg of our journey as our cruise will be a whole other type of experience!

Some final thoughts about Shanghai....there were definitely more people who spoke English here, but as soon as we ventured even a little bit off of the touristy areas, our English resources became slim. Hunter had a great software application on his iPhone that highlighted major places of interest in Shanghai and gave driving directions in Chinese (our hotel was also listed in the app), so any time we needed it for a taxi, Hunter could just find the location we wanted and hand the phone to the driver. Thanks, iPhone!! Shanghai is a wonderful mix of old and new China. From the optimism of the futuristic-looking skyscrapers, to the quaint and bustling street markets of Old City, one can experience the dichotomy of present-day China all in one city. At the JW Marriott, we see a lot of Western businessmen, sometimes seeing them even meeting up with their Chinese counterparts. Maybe one day we will return for business! There are much fewer people in Shanghai walking around with face masks on – probably because the city overall is cleaner than Beijing. It was a little disconcerting to see so many surgical masks in Beijing, but because people just randomly spit in the streets as they walk, it is probably prudent to wear one each day! We saw several market stands selling masks – they even sell ones that are decorative and lace and embroidered!

Beijing and Shanghai both surpassed our expectations by a large margin. We felt so much safer here than anticipated and we thought both cities were thriving economies with lots of opportunities and excitement. We would recommend both cities are tourist destinations, and unless you want to do a lot of walking, we would recommend personal tour guides for each city so you could learn more history than we did and feel less disoriented upon first arrival. We walked a tremendous amount in each city and our muscles are aching! We are looking forward to tomorrow when we have a full day at sea. We will be taking it easy on-board the ship, reading and staying indoors. We are thankful we are leaving behind the cold weather and are putting away our scarves and heavy gloves. Luckily, we only needed our toe and hand warmers once in Beijing.

Around 4:15pm we packed up our laptops at the Marriott and prepared to leave for the port and cruise ship. However, we were delayed a good 25 minutes talking to the concierge to get the name of the cruise port terminal written out in Chinese. The Executive lounge attendant translated the “Princess cruise” into Chinese and got an address from the concierge on the 1st floor where the cruise boats normally dock, but the address was different from the one Princess had given me, so we tried to call the US Princess number but couldn't get through. We decided to chance that we had enough information for us to get there without getting too lost, and we left the hotel around 5pm. Within 20 minutes we were pulling up to the port, without getting lost. We still had about 90 Yuan left over, but I was thankful to have had more money on the last day than to have been worried about not having enough.

There were no lines at the cruise terminal (which had signs for Royal Caribbean) and we passed right through without any problems. We dropped off our largest two suitcases and took the rest with us. We got our pictures taken on board for our cruise photo, but we missed the official “first time on board photo” that they try to sell you. It is probably for the better as we don't need more photos! Our cabin, 4050, was right down the hallway near the Passenger Service desk, by the gangplank entrance. We walked in and were pleasantly surprised. We had a 2-seater blue couch with a yellow diamond print and yellow pillows, a nice vanity and deep blue cushioned stool, and a large dark wood cabinet and tv console. The TV is a flat screen, probably a good 17-in (maybe even 19-in). The large king bed is at the far end of the room, facing a giant floor to ceiling mirror which nicely opens up the room. We have a huge bay window with a nice ledge in front that we can use for storing things. The bed is elevated, so all of our suitcases fit under it nicely. The bathroom is tiny, of course, but the shower seemed roomier than the last cruise and there is plenty of shelve and cabinet storage space for our toiletries. The stateroom was perfectly designed – everything fit and I never felt cramped. We had a mini bar with room to store Hunter's tonic water (which he took from the JW Marriott to go with the bottle of gin he snuck in his suitcase). We keep the blinds closed most of the time we're at sea because the moving water makes us even more nauseous!

We were in our cabin for 6pm, and unpacked the bags we had brought on with us. By 10 min to 7pm the other two bags had not arrived and I was getting worried we would not be dressed in time for dinner. Hunter checked with the purser and the bags were delivered a minute later. We unpacked everything and realized that Hunter was missing two pairs of dress pants. We had forgotten that the two pairs he was wearing in NY the week before for work were supposed to come with him on the cruise. So he only has one light colored pair of pants and his tuxedo pants, but we think that is enough. We later saw that many people were dressed casually and there was a group that even came in jeans! We can always buy another pair of dress pants in one of the cities, but we probably won't be staying out late and so he'll only be “dressed” for 2 or 3 hours a day anyway!

At a little before 8pm we headed out and took the elevators to the 9th floor to check out the Panorama buffet and the Lotus Spa and Fitness Center. We got a mini tour of the facilities in the Lotus Spa and I booked a much needed deep tissue massage for 8am the next morning. My legs were hurting so much I was afraid the rest of my cruise was going to be ruined because of it and I wanted a massage to get me loosened up as soon as possible, knowing I would likely need several rounds of massages before the cruise was finished. I signed up for the earliest time as it was 20% off for the “early bird special.” The fitness center was small but had 4 elliptical machines and 5 treadmills, plenty of free weights for Hunter, and several yoga/pilate classes. The spa had a cellulite reduction machine which I would love to try!

At 8:15pm, we went down to the 5th floor and waited in a short line for the dining room to open up. Plenty of people were in the lounge outside, having drinks already. We were shown to a table of 4 (table #7) but the other couple never showed up. Our waiter's name was from Romania. We didn't particularly like him as he would always comment to us “oh, you don't like it?” if we didn't finish the whole meal. The tables were much closer together on the ship and there were only a few tables of 2 and many other tables of 8. We were lucky to get a small table. The dining room is decorated like an old English library, with dark wood paneling on the walls, and a back wall (separating the dining room from the lounge) that contained two English style 18th-C type portraits.

The food is typical Princess fare, with a lot of fish and the staples – fettuccine alfredo and shrimp cocktail and the signature Princess Love Boat Dream chocolate mousse on-top a brownie. The service was very slow, and got worse as the cruise ship progressed.

After the first dinner ended, we went to the Cabaret Lounge on the same floor (deck 5) and took our seats for the first evening show. They introduced the cruise director, a woman from Australia named Susan Rawlings, and then the rest of the cruise staff, who was mainly from Australia as well! Lots of cute blond girls from Australia. One short, brunette woman, Chantal (23 yrs old), was from Canada, and the men were also mainly from Australia. They said that this cruise had a junior cruiser program (not all itineraries on this boat have one) and they hired a staff member from the US – an older woman – to oversee the program. There was brief entertainment – a dance number from the dancers (all but 2 dancers are also cruise entertainment staff members) and then four songs from a male singer who was quite good at the showtune stuff but was so overly dramatic he reminded us of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Disappointedly, they did not announce the cruise breakdown of the passengers, but from our interactions with the passengers throughout the cruise, we deduced that most were from America, followed by a large British and Australian representation.

We got back to our room by 11pm and went straight to bed. The boat cleared for departure in China sometime between 9pm and 10pm and we could start to feel the boat sway a bit, so Hunter put on his wristbands.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 18, 2009 from Shanghai, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged China, Shanghai, Asia and Cruise

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Day 8: 2nd cruise day

Shanghai, China

Day 8: Saturday, December 19th, 2009

2nd cruise day – Day at Sea

Hunter and I didn't sleep well as I was up with leg pain early in the morning. Our alarm went off early so I could make my 7:45am massage and be down in the Casino lounge for our mandatory 9am lifeboat drill, since Hunter and I missed it boarding the ship late yesterday. The massage was good ($129 less 20% discount plus $20 tip) but I was bruised from it. The good thing was that the massage stopped the tingling as the lactid acid buildup in my muscles was massaged away. I was in such pain I agreed to purchase about $100 worth of oils and soothing lotions and a scrub brush to help my muscles continue to heal over the next few days so they would be looser for the next massage. I switched to flip flops as I felt my shoes were digging into my Achilles heel.

Chantal from Canada ran our lifeboat drill and as it was just Hunter and I there, it was informal and short. She told us a story about the Star Princess catching on fire and cruise staff having to stay in their muster stations for 8 hours! She also said last cruise – the first one of this itinerary – there were a lot of passengers from Russia and Turkey and they even had a Turkish translator on board. Chantal thought this cruise was mostly American and Canadian and British but said we should ask the Cruise Director if she knew the breakdown.

Hunter had already eaten breakfast at the sit-down breakfast while I was at my massage so Hunter went back to the room while I grabbed food at the Buffet (chocolate chip muffins and a chocolate croissant). The boat was really starting to sway! At 11:15am, Hunter and I went to the Casino Lounge for the morning trivia and did terribly with only 7 correct. Our goal is to do better with each new session! (Our highest ever was a score of 8.)

We ate lunch at the Buffet on the 9th floor, but it was swaying pretty badly up there and decided to head back down to the stateroom. In the meantime, I picked up some information about the shuttle to the town of Okinawa (no longer free, it cost $5pp each way). We also filled out and returned our health inspection and customs declaration card required by Japan to enter, which had to be turned in by 3pm.

We had a very low key day. Because the boat was so rocky (it was “Medium to High Seas & Swells” due to the strong winds and leftover effects of the Pacific Ocean monsoon that occurred a week ago), we decided to stay in our cabin which was the least rocky portion of the boat (low floor, back of the ship). We were very drowsy and tired from our long sightseeing days in China and wound up napping for a few hours, too. At 3:15pm, I took a break from the room to take the origami class and stumbled upon the ice cream bar at the buffet. Yum! I brought back cookies and brownies for Hunter as an afternoon snack, to hold us over until our late dinner.

Tonight was formal night and the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party. We were running late and at 7:45pm were finally dressed in our tuxedo and fancy dress and took our formal picture by the grand staircase on the 4th deck, right outside our stateroom. I preferred that location as there was a beautiful Christmas tree set up. The photos were quick – they made a much bigger deal about it on the Crown Princess, but I am getting the feeling this is a much different type of cruise than last year's. Because the cruise is so long, it is more of a no frills, this-is-your-home kind of feel to it. Because we arrived late to the Cocktail Party, we didn't get any of the free drinks because the presentation started quickly. We had a nice speech by the Italian Captain, Stefano Rivera, an introduction of the employee of the month, and then it was over. We went to the dining room for dinner and saw the other couple decided to join us. They were Connie and Tony from Dallas, Texas. They were very nice and we wound up becoming good friends as the cruise went on and were so lucky to have been paired with them. Hunter was feeling very nauseous and drowsy by dinner and left quickly after he finished eating the main meal. I made it through dessert but then skipped out on the show, which was supposed to be the first big “lavish” entertainment. The dancers are right in your face as the lounge where they perform is more of a show lounge than a theater. I stayed up until 11pm although Hunter was passed out by 10:15pm.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 19, 2009 from Shanghai, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia and Cruise

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Day 9: Okinawa, Japan (3rd cruise day)

Okinawa, Japan

Day 9: Sunday, December 20th, 2009

3rd cruise day: Okinawa, Japan (port of Naha)

The ship docked right at 7am and it was a relief to finally have less boat swaying. We ate breakfast in the buffet and were surprised it wasn't more crowded. People with tours probably ate much earlier as we didn't get up there until 7:40am. Hunter was very drowsy from the 2 Bonine he took the night before and I still felt a little queasy in my stomach. Last night we were given a card with our thermal screening assignment and a little before 8am they called Group 2 to report to the Cabaret Lounge. We walked right in, passed a thermal scanner and then placed our index fingers in a fingerprint machine and took an electronic photo for the immigration officials. The whole process took no more than 5 minutes and then we were walking down to Deck 3 to exit the ship.

We had decided to book the shuttle in both directions, partly because I was afraid I would run out of money for a taxi. Also, they moved up the departure time from 2pm to 12:30pm and since the last shuttle was leaving at 12pm, that was the time we would have wanted to depart for the ship anyway. So once getting off the gangplank, we walked right to the waiting shuttle bus and in about 10 min it was filled with people and we started the 15-min ride into town. We had been given a free map which was wonderful and had close up sections of Shurijo Castle and Kokusaidori Street. The shuttle bus dropped us off in front of the Official Government building, which was directly in front of the Kencho-mae train station. Perfect! We walked across the street to the station and asked the attendant to help us buy two tickets to the Shuri station (last stop of the metro-rail). He was very friendly and spoke enough English to help us with the tickets, but of course the machines didn't take credit cards either! The total fare was 520 JBY for 2 tickets. We had to wait about 10 min for the train as we had just missed one, and the schedule was slower because of the weekend schedule. But the monorail soon came and we boarded the very fast, quiet, and clean car.

I really liked riding the monorail as it was elevated and stretched around the city so you could get a feel of the city by peering out the large windows. Shuri station was only 8 stops and took no more than 15-min total of a ride. It was then about a 10-min walk from the station to the entrance of the castle and it the way was clearly labeled with street signs. The city seemed very run-down. There were a lot of low, buildings with chipped plaster walls or peeling paint, lots of rubble around some buildings, lots of laundry hanging out windows, etc. We didn't see any upscale or “upper middle class” areas – there may be some, but they weren't on the monorail path or near the main shopping street.

Shurijo Castle exceeded the very low expectations we had of it. We thought it would be like the Forbidden City – all outdoors with unfurnished rooms – but the décor was different and the main palace had enclosed rooms that you toured. You had to remove your shoes to walk through two of the buildings, as they had been restored with gorgeous hardwood floors. I enjoyed that experience – shuffling on the wood in my socks, peering in to the tea ceremony rooms and throne rooms. It was still a very basic palace, but the grounds of Shurijo Castle seemed very nice – the whole thing is enclosed in stone walls, like a fortress – and if my legs had been better and Hunter wasn't so tired and we had more time, I could have seen us walking around the grounds some more. We skipped the mausoleum which was further back and cost another 200 Yen each. We had already spent most of our money at this point (520 Yen for the first subway, 1600 Yen for the castle admission fee) as I only had 3000 Yen for the whole trip. Luckily, the subway ride back was shorter and cost only 460 Yen for both of us. We were very proud that we were able to purchase our own return ticket as we matched up the Japanese characters of our destination station with the characters on the screen and pressed the picture of two stick people (signaling 2 fares) and then put in our coins. It was easy and efficient. Side note – just like in Beijing, you have to keep your ticket to swipe as you leave the station, you don't just use it to enter the turnstile.

We got off at Makishi station with about 1 ½ hours to spare before the last shuttle left for the boat. Makishi station was at the top of the main shopping street, Kokusaidori, and we stopped at a machine to buy 2 cokes with our remaining money (we had 120 Yen left over). The cokes really helped to wake us up.

The shopping street was very touristy and showcased stores that were a combination of Japanese/Hawaiian/Regae-islandish culture. A few Bob Marley and weed references were spotted. There were two large department stores – one at each end – and we went into both. The first one didn't sell Christmas ornaments, which was confirmed by a woman who spoke a little English and called around to departments to check for me and then bowed low to me after I thanked her for checking. The second department store was really nice. It was also 7 floors and had fancy women's, men's and children's clothes. Hunter and I decided that one of our favorite things to do on vacation in foreign places is to check out shopping malls and department stores, because that is where the locals shop and it is a good way to people-watch locals in a natural setting. The best thing about department stores is that they usually always take credit cards, which this one did! I also don't have to worry about being overcharged for items as these are the local prices and are the good quality items that the locals themselves would buy. After shopping we browsed the top floor, which had a little children's play area and we used up the last 100 Yen coin on a grab-a-toy machine. We then walked across the street to the bus stop and boarded the shuttle, which departed less than 5 min later. We were back on the cruise boat by 12:20pm.

Okinawa exceeded our expectations because we had set them so low, but I would still only rank the city a 3 on a scale of 10 for a tourist destination. I am sure that the war memorials and museums were more interesting, but it just wasn't something we were interested in learning about or seeing. We filled up our 4 hours easily but didn't need any more time in the city and are glad we had just a half day there. The weather held out for us. There were storm clouds overhead in some parts, but we lucked into some really sunny parts and could even take off our jackets. I had worn a light weight fleece shirt, a sweatshirt and a down jacket and jeans w/o leggings. I needed the jacket when the sun was hidden, but was comfortable the whole time and finally felt like it was getting warmer!

Back on board, Hunter and I ate in the Buffet and Grill (I wanted the cheeseburger from the grill). We then went back to the room and I got a call back from Lynne, my cruisecritic.com friend and she came over to meet us. She stayed and chatted with us for a good hour, catching us up on her adventures pre-cruise (she did several days in Shanghai and three days in Xian which she said was well worth the journey) and her plans post-cruise (tentatively Cambodia after her Laos and Burma plans fell through). She also shared some Princess secrets. She is an elite member – better than platinum and has more than 300 sailing nights with Princess. She only paid $3500 for two for this cruise and has the same type of stateroom we have but with half the couch.

After talking to Lynne, I checked out the 3-hour only $10 shopping sale special on Deck 4, but it was all Boijou Terrier stuff which I can buy in any US airport shop. The ship had started moving by 1pm and the captain announced another afternoon of rough seas, thanks to winds at 20-30 knots. Sure enough the swaying started. I avoided putting on my wristbands as long as I could so I wouldn't feel too drowsy or sleepy. I went up to the 10th floor Tahitian Lounge, the lounge at the bow of the ship with the floor to ceiling windows which offers a beautiful vista of the sea. I booted up my netbook and caught up on the journal entries from China, reformatting the emails I had sent to friends and family the past few days. At 3:30pm, the Catholic Mass started in the lounge. The priest was a Jesuit from the New York region who was stationed in northern Thailand for the past 4-5 years and was on the cruise as a way to return to Bangkok to a trip back home. He only boarded the boat in Shanghai. He was young – probably mid 40s – and gave a very nice sermon with a nautical theme tied into the last Sunday of Advent lecture. The boat was really swaying and he came over to us to give us communion so we didn't have to risk walking up to him.

The mass ended at 4:05pm and I picked up an ice cream sundae on my way back down to the cabin to check on Hunter. He was still up, playing games on his iPhone while his netbook charged. We ate the ice cream (mint flavored today) and then he took a nap while I typed furiously away on my journal entries, finally catching up to present time. I then changed into my bathing suit and sat in the dry sauna in the Spa area to loosen up my muscles again, before coming back down in time to shower and dress for dinner. We had called into room service to deliver a corkscrew but it never came. I was eager to get started on the two bottles of wine as I was pretty sure I would be drinking all two bottles by myself the rest of the cruise since Hunter is fighting sea sickness the whole time!

The spa was very hot and the attendant thought it was broken because I went into and out of there so quickly! It was also difficult to stay in there long because the boat was swaying a lot at that height. I went downstairs and told Hunter that we better order room service for dinner because he wouldn't make it past the 4th deck. I had swung by the buffet on the way to the room and saw it was an off night with only the pizzeria being opened at 9pm. I think there was an elite dining only experience going on towards one end of the buffet as tablecloths and china was set and people were looking at plastic menus. We only found out with three days left in the cruise, that the section was the “Bistro” service with a limited set menu that rotated every 4 days, and that anyone could dine up there. We ordered sandwiches for dinner and cookies, and the food came quickly. The waiter opened up our wine bottle for us (room service told us on our second call that they cannot deliver corkscrews but have to open the bottle in the room). I tried the wine, which was supposedly a good one from a 2001 vintage from a California Vineyard but it was very thick with lots of tannin residue on the bottom of the glass. Or maybe it was my nausea that made the wine less enjoyable. We found out later that the winds were at 35-40 knots that night, with high sea swells.

We passed the rest of the night in the cabin, watching TV and using our netbooks. By 10:30pm I was falling asleep and finally got up to get ready for bed. We were both out cold by 11pm.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 20, 2009 from Okinawa, Japan
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia, Japan and Cruise

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Day 10: Taipei, Taiwan (Keelung port; 4th cruise day)

Taipei, Taiwan

Day 10: Monday, December 21st, 2009

4th cruise day: Taipei, Taiwan (boat docked in Keelung, Taiwan)

We had a wonderful but tiring day in Taipei! We had not thought much of Taiwan when thinking of the cruise, and would never have selected the country as a stopping point on a tour of Asia, so we are so glad the cruise included Taipei in the itinerary or else we probably would never have seen the wonderful sights of the city!

Our day started off early, waking up at 6am before our alarm and then laid in bed until our alarm went off almost an hour later. We finished breakfast in the buffet in time to grab our day bag and get off the ship when they cleared us for disembarkation right at 9am. We followed a nice couple in their late 40s from South Carolina off the boat and chatted with them for a bit. They left the port terminal to take a taxi and Hunter and I continued walking along the curved road to the Keelung Train terminal, which was no more than a 10 min walk down the road and up and down over a few overpasses. At the station, the ticket counter agent spoke English and gave us two tickets to the Taipei Main Station (86 TWD total) and even let me pay by credit card! The train was leaving in 4 min, so we timed it perfectly. I had gotten the train times from a local resident's post on Trip Adviser, so I knew the train left at 9:32am and so Hunter and I walked accordingly to get there on time.

The train ride was very nice. The cars were clean, the seats lined the wall with the rest of the car open for standing. There was light Asian bell music playing as you approached the next station which was cheery and upbeat. The ride took exactly 50 minutes and once off, we followed the clear signs to the MRT subway. We had wanted to buy a smart pass but we would have had to purchase 2 cards for 500 TWD each, and then get the money back in the end which would have left us with too much cash at the end of the day. So we opted for the single journey tickets which were actually small blue tokens that looked like blue poker chips. Just like in Okinawa, you look up the station of your destination on the map and find the total fare amount which is listed under the station (20-25-30 TWD). Then you select the number of tickets, put in your money and voila – the blue chips are dispensed. It was simple and fast. We hopped on the metro to the Shilin station, heading out to the National Palace Museum. We loved the metro! There were lines on the floor in front of the gates that opened to allow you onto the subway car, and everyone nicely queued up in those marked lanes before the train came. As the train approached, red circular lights on the floor would start to blink, indicating that you should get in line. Once in the car, electronic signs announced each station. The cars were very brightly lit and clean and ran very fast and smooth. The subway lines take you almost anywhere in the city, and hit all the major tourist spots, so it really was the perfect way for us to get around the whole day. We wound up riding it 4 times.

A 10-min metro ride on the red line took us to Shilin station where we got out and hopped in a taxi for a cheap (150 TWD) ride to the museum. It was a large museum of 3 floors and definitely a major focal point of Taipei. A lot of tour groups were there and families. We liken it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where very famous works of art are on display to be admired by locals, students, and tourists. Some exhibits were closed but we spent a good 2 hours walking through 3 floors and focusing on the exhibits that most interested us, which included bronze and jade artifacts, painting and calligraphy, and porcelain and gems. We saw some really old artifacts, some jade circles dating back 7,000 years to around 5,000 BC! And the jade still looked beautiful because it doesn't tarnish or deteriorate like bronze and other metals. The pieces were very basic, though, from that era, but it was cool to see how the works of art got more intricate as the centuries and decades progressed. We saw the “Mona Lisa of Taipei” which was an intricately carved jade sculpture of a bok choy leaf. We had rented audio tours to give us more background on the museum pieces, but it turned out we really didn't need it because the museum had all signs in Chinese and English with very good descriptions of the pieces.

We ran into some fellow cruisers in the museum. They had rented a taxi for 4 people for the whole day for the equivalent of $100 USD. We were happy we got there around the same time, showing that metro and taxi hopping could be just as efficient as taxi! And it turned out that we spent around $25 in transportation for both of us combined, so we did get the better deal. Overall, we liked the museum but didn't want to spend any more time there as we are not museum people. But we are glad we went because it is one of the most impressive collections of Chinese art in the world, and a big deal to Taipei.

We left the museum and hopped in a taxi back to Shilin station (120 TWD) and took the metro line to Taipei Main Station (red line) before transferring to the Blue Line east to go to Taipei City Hall. From there we walked SE towards the Taipei 101 building, the world's tallest skyscraper. As we walked, we ate the ham and cheese on mini bagel sandwiches that we had packed from the buffet this morning. Taipei 101 was attached to a new shopping mall and connected to two other large malls and a huge movie theater by a 2nd story walkway. We walked on the street level to the building, and on the walkway coming home. It was a really fancy complex and very nicely decorated with Christmas trees and other decorations, including a Tiffany & Co sponsored Christmas tree, decorated in ornaments of Tiffany's signature light turquoise coloring. Most of these shops were American brands, compared to the shopping malls in China which were predominantly European brands and designers. There were many American restaurants, as well, and the whole city had more of a friendly US feel to it than did the other cities we visited so far. We purchased the 200 TWD tickets on the 5th floor of the mall, after being assisted by a helpful man who approached us as we were looking at the shopping floor map to find the ticket booth. The man asked if we were part of the Princess Cruise tours and we explained we were with the ship but on our own, and he introduced himself as the cruise ambassador to Taipei 101 whose job it is to make sure the tourists have a good experience at this attraction. He led us to the elevator that went right up to the 5th floor.

Taipei 101 was very cool. At the time we were there, and for two weeks after, it was the tallest building in the world and offered 360 degree view of the city. The view was definitely not as impressive as the one from Jinmao Tower in Shanghai, but it still showed a very picturesque city. What I love about Taipei is that even though the skyline isn't that impressive as most buildings are small, the city is nestled among a beautiful lush green mountain range to the east. So not only do you see a nice cityscape, but you get the pleasure of the green mountains and Keelung river in your view as well. The building was well organized for tourists. There were 12 looking points and we got a free audio guide that offered some narration at each of the stations. We then walked up from the 89th floor to the 91st where we could walk outside to see the city from behind protective bars. We didn't last long as the wind was strong and it was still kind of chilly as there was no sun today and the temperature was only in the upper 50s. We then walked down to the 88th floor to see the “Damper” which is a stabilization ball and mechanism that protects the building from wind. It was a very weird display as we walked through a corridor with neon circle lights pulsing at us and odd reflective mirrors in some places. We don't know what we were supposed to learn in that exhibit, but we can say we walked through! The mascot of Taipei 101 is the “damper baby”, a cute cartoonish character that looks a bit like an alien.

It was almost 2:30pm at this point and I was worried we were running out of time, so we took the high speed elevator down (118 m/sec) and the escalators down from floor 5 to floor 1, observing the mall in the process. It was empty, especially compared to the busy malls of China, but it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. We then retraced our steps up to the 2nd floor to take the giant walkway that connected almost all the way to the Taipei City Hall metro station. We were really impressed with the walkway. It was covered and had lots of vegetation on the side railings, which was a nice distraction from all the concrete shopping buildings. This was definitely the “new” part of Taipei, and it was very welcoming and Americanized. There was a large store called “New York New York” and even a Gordon Biersch brewery! Hunter and I started to reflect on all these shopping malls. I used to think that people would be so overwhelmed by America and our huge malls and shopping indulgences, but now I realize that Asia has us beat hands down! Everything isn't bigger and better in America – it's bigger and better in Asia!

We took the blue line metro from Taipei Main Station to the Longshan Temple exit which led us out right across the street from the temple. It was beautiful! The temple was very similar to the Lama Temple we visited in Beijing, with all of the temples being outdoors and housing many Buddhas. These temples are where visitors and locals come to pray. Although similar to Lama Temple, the Longshan Temple in Taipei greatly surpassed it in splendor and beauty. The temples still had bright, fresh paint of a mosaic of deep reds, greens, blacks, whites and golds. There were many visitors all of whom burned a tremendous amount of incense candles and offered platters of gifts – fruits, candy, etc. There were also several people dropping wooden circles and breaking them on the floor, which must have been some ritual for good luck or some other form of prayer. The temple was much smaller than the lamastary in Beijing, so we weren't there more than 15 minutes, before we started our walking tour of the Wanhua district.

The walking tour, courtesy of a Taipei guide book I had photocopied in advance, took us down narrow streets that were old and had some decaying buildings, and then through “snake alley” which is also known as the “Taipei Tourist Night Market” – yes, they actually refer to it as a tourist market! The alley is a long street flanked with street vendors selling exotic food dishes, including, boiled snake! We didn't see any snake being cooked as not all of the market stands were open yet, but we saw squid, worm-looking things, and pre-cooked half chickens, and lots of large boiling vats of liquid that must have been some kind of soup or stew. We watched the cooks make the food and the people sitting down to eat it. There were surprisingly a lot of people actually eating meals around that time (~3pm). The rest of the walking tour took us past two smaller temples, which were amazing in that they were built sandwiched between two concrete, rundown, gray buildings. In the midst of the dingy street, beautiful gilded temples with pagoda-style roofs just appeared. None of the temples in Taipei had an entrance fee, which was nice for change.

We were running short on time (it was about 3:50pm) and we thought my next plan of walking to our final tourist spot, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, was too ambitious, so we flagged down a taxi. It was a good thing because it was a good 1.7 miles away, according to the taxi's GPS device! I was a little worried when we got in the cab and told the driver where we wanted to go and he repeated it like he didn't know it, and so we pointed to it on the map. He then stayed over to the side of the road and started to type the chinese characters into his GPS device. Chiang Kai-Shek is a huge tourist attraction – why did he need a GPS to tell him how to get there? The driver then got directions and started on the way and then turned back to us and in a loud cheery voice “Hi, How you doing?” and then said “English no good” and laughed. Then he said “I happy US!” and smiled some more, trying to indicate that he liked Americans. Then he reached for his cd player and started to scroll through and selected a US song – a Brittney Spears song – so we would feel at home! At one point he said “I, Pudong” which made us think that he is originally from Pudong and just moved to Taiwan, which is why he didn't know where the memorial was.

We were really impressed with the memorial. It sits on 62-acres and is composed of the main memorial hall (with museum exhibits below on floors 1-4) which is 89 steps up from the base (basically the 5th floor). It is an open-air pavilion with a huge bronze statue of a sitting Chiang Kai-Shek, in a pose similar to Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The room was all marble with chinese inscriptions on the walls of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Principles of Democracy. We got there right at 4pm and got to see the changing of the guards, which was just as formal and distinguished as anything you would see at a US memorial. From the top of the memorial you can overlook the rest of the grounds, which consisted of japanese-like gardens around the perimeter and two beautiful chinese style buildings, one the National Theater, and the other the National Gallery. Both were exquisite buildings on their own, and together the whole compound was just beautiful. We are so glad our timing worked out and we didn't have to skip seeing this.

After the changing of the guards ceremony, we took the elevator down to Floor 1 to tour the exhibit on the life of Chiang Kai-Shek. The exhibit had two of his armored town cars and a replica of his office and sitting room. There were large photos galore of the memorable moments in his life and we were amazed to see him in photos with six different US presidents! We really enjoyed the exhibit and wished we paid more attention in Asian history class to remember the details surrounding his exile to Taiwan.

By 4:25pm we realized we needed to head back to the Taipei Main Station and walked back through the gardens to the metro stop (red line) we saw when we were dropped off by the taxi (it is a good thing he left us off at that entrance so we knew where the metro station was). We didn't have to wait long for the metro and were in the Taipei Main station a little after 4:30pm. We had a little trouble finding the right ticket booth to purchase tickets back to Keelung, but Hunter asked someone who pointed us in the right direction. We got our tickets (86 TWD total) with less than 5 min to spare and walked up to the platform. We had no trouble with the train ride, which took only 40 min coming back. We were people-watching a group of young students who were all in different brightly colored track/warm-up suits and we realized that their school uniforms are warm-up suits! How practical! No stuffy blazers needed when you can wear comfortable pants and jackets to class. It was funny, though, to see a school crest embroidered onto a track suit.

As we were able to pay with credit card in so many places in Taipei (and even got a 10% discount every time we paid with a Visa card in the shops in Taipei 101), we had extra cash left over, about 400 TWD or less than 10 USD. We were thirsty and craving water (we are not doing a good job of staying hydrated) and stopped in a corner 7-11 to buy waters and sodas. Everything is so cheap we still had money left over and poked into another shop along the route back to the cruise ship and found a stationary store where we spent the rest of the money. At 6:15pm, we walked back to the ship and made it aboard before the 6:30pm cutoff. There was a chinese dragon dance performance going on at the pier, a show put on for the passengers of the cruise ship. I have a much better appreciation for the dragon dancers – I think I used to be afraid of them, but now I think they are cute and funny!

Back on board, we rested up and showered and changed for dinner. Connie and Tony were at dinner again tonight, but they too had skipped out the previous night because they were confined to the cabin because of the ship rocking. This has been their roughest sailing to date, also. We felt better that it wasn't just us that didn't have sea legs. We had a different waiter tonight as ours was sea sick, and we really liked the new waiter as he was fast and very attentive. The menu was Asian-themed again, so I ordered most of the courses off the “everyday” menu and had shrimp cocktail, fettuccine alfredo and the princess love boat dream chocolate mousse dessert. Yum!

We rounded out the evening with a stop up in the Tahitian Lounge where the 50s “sock hop” was going on. We got there just in time for the Twist competition, which we were pulled into and we didn't win, but we got a nice consolation prize of Princess wallets. We then rushed down to the Cabaret Lounge to watch Claude Eric perform. He has a beautiful voice and played all of my favorite songs – several Michael Buble songs, the Josh Groban song “You Raise Me Up”, a few oldies songs (Bobby Darin, The Drifters and the Commodores) and then ended with a Man of La Mancha number. It was great! We then walked back to the Tahitian Lounge to see what was going on and there were a few people still dancing, but we decided to pack it in for the night. The casino was busier than usual, but too smoky for us.

It was really a great day – very busy but productive as we saw all of the sights we wanted to see in Taipei and didn't feel rushed either. My legs held out pretty well as the body oils are helping, so I was able to do a lot of walking without too much trouble. We were very impressed with Taipei as the buildings were beautiful, the mountain range was picturesque, and the city was so accessible due to the efficient and modern metro system and the English-friendly signs and local people. And most places took credit cards! As I said before, we never considered Taiwan as a place of interest in our world travels, but we are so glad we got to go to Taipei as we would have missed out on a really great city.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 21, 2009 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia, Taiwan and Cruise

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Day 11: 5th cruise day - Day at Sea

Taipei, Taiwan

Day 11: Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

5th cruise day: Day at Sea

We woke up again at 6am but dozed until 7am and then watched CNN and Headline News until 8am when we left for the Panorama Buffet breakfast. There was no line at the omelet station so I had an egg white omelet with extra cheese, bell pepper and tomato. Coupled with chocolate chip muffins and watermelon, it was a good breakfast. Hunter had another egg and bacon and cheese on an english muffin with some other foods. The weather was still a bit cool (55 degrees) but the sun was finally shining! We decided it would be warm enough to lay outside in the afternoon. We did a quick tour around the ship to see if we could spot a good place to sit and type on our netbooks, but most rooms were ready for the activities of the day, so we decided to stay in the cabin and catch up on programming and journal entries until it was time for our first activity at 10:30am – the Ballroom Dance “Rumba” lesson with Ruth and Chris (the head dancers). We hadn't met that crew yet (so far we have the “in” with only Shane, Chantel, and Anna) so we thought it would be great to go and meet new friends :) Back in the room I got a call from Lynne who invited us up to the Elite Lounge (tonight in Sabatini's) to meet the rest of the CruiseCritic.com posters.

The Rumba lesson was a lot of fun and Hunter and I did a pretty good job and did not embarrass ourselves by falling down like another couple did! We then raced to the Casino Lounge for the Martini Mixer demonstration. That was great fun as we got to meet some fun bartenders and got to shake martinis and dance in order to win free drinks. Hunter won a free “Blue Eyes” drink and I got a free Orange martini that I can't remember the name of. Shane was running the session and made sure we each were called on to participate! We were pretty tipsy after that drink and were glad it was time for lunch.

The same food that is served in the main dining room is served up in the buffet so it is more efficient to eat in the buffet. We had chicken wings, lasagna, 6 sausage pizza and spare ribs. Yum! We then went outside on deck 9 to grab a lounge chair by the pool. Princess was handing out free blankets but the sun was out making it quite warm during the day. We grabbed chairs that were right next to the couple from South Carolina and they started talking up a storm to me about cruising, their 401(k) plans and retirement and other stuff. Finally they left to walk around the deck and I realized it was past the 2:15pm start time for our shuffleboard tournament. We hurried up to the 11th deck bow and found the tournament. Two couples were already playing and we challenged the winner of their match but then lost. Oh well – we have to get them next time. We loved Deck 11 and decided to come up there to sunbathe as it was sun everywhere and the shade didn't shift with the sun. We grabbed chairs, took out our netbooks and enjoyed our first stretch of warm(er) weather and midday sun! At 3:30pm we went to the buffet for our daily ice cream sundae, but then later regretted it as it made us so full. Around 4:10pm it became too cold to lay outside anymore and we headed back to the cabin to relax before getting ready to meet Lynne and Tong and the rest of the Cruisecritic.com posters.

We met Lynne in the hallway walking towards the elevators for our get-together. On the ride up in the elevator we met Alan and John, posters from NJ – who are actually living in London but have a house in Montclair, NJ – and then inside Sabatinis we met Heather and Ed. The elite lounge was nothing special at all – it is available to platinum and elite members on select days of the cruise and really just had a small spread of cheese and crackers and breads and veggie crudités. Members still had to pay for drinks. We sat for about an hour at a table talking with everyone.

At 7:10pm we all split up and Hunter and I went back to the cabin where I fell asleep I was so tired. We were more full than ever because we snacked at the lounge, so we decided to skip dinner once again and instead see the musical dance show at 8:15pm and then grab something from the buffet. The show was very good, although they didn't sing the most common Broadway showtunes. The dancing choreography was really good and I felt bad the dance company didn't have more of a stage! It was funny to see the crew staff that we have gotten friendly with these past few days up there in bright sequin encrusted costumes smiling stage smiles, etc. After the nearly 1-hour show, we went up to the buffet and had some dessert as it was only Pizza and dessert night at the buffet. We think they only have the full dinner buffet when we are in port and they think more people would use the buffet. On sea days, it seems like the full buffet is always closed. Hunter ordered a club sandwich from room service and we spent the rest of the night on our netbooks and preparing for our long day in Hong Kong tomorrow!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 22, 2009 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia and Cruise

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Day 12: Hong Kong, China (6th cruise day)

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Day 12: Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

6th cruise day: Hong Kong, China

Wow! What a day in Hong Kong! Just as everyone predicted, Hong Kong is our favorite city so far on this trip. It is remarkable with its beautiful city skyline, picturesque green mountains and pretty beaches. Plus, the city is one big shopping mall after another – we thought Beijing and Shanghai had a lot of malls, but this was unbelievable. We seriously went into 5 giant shopping malls yesterday and didn't cover even a ¼ of all there is in Hong Kong. They are serious shoppers! Luckily the prices are so high – especially electronics – that we aren't buying anything here because we can get the same stuff much cheaper in the US. And the things that are really cheap – stuff they sell in the local markets – is of such poor quality that we're not even bothering to do any real shopping. It looks like we won't need to buy another suitcase after all as we didn't buy a lot in China thinking we would get stuff in Hong Kong, and then realized Hong Kong was too expensive!

Our day started early and we were off the ship by 8:30am after a quick continental breakfast from the buffet. Princess docked in Kowloon, at the Ocean Terminal, which is of course connected to a giant shopping center. We walked towards the Star Ferry terminal through one floor of the shopping center that was nothing but children's stores of all high end brands, like Burberry. We didn't even know that these designers make children's clothes! There was an information booth at the Star Ferry and we found out we could only buy a transportation “octupus card” from a metro station so we used cash to get a token for our first ferry ride over to Hong Kong Island. It was a very fast ferry ride and we were amazed to see so many boats in the small harbor...this made the water very chopping as all these ferries and fishing boats passed back and forth, but luckily Hunter didn't get sea sick because it was only a 10 min ride. The ferry dropped us off at Central and we made a detour into the nearby metro station to buy the octopus card so we could have a “fast pass” for paying for all the bus rides we were going to take. Each card cost $150 HKD with $100 in transportation and $50 as a deposit. If you return the card within 30 days for a refund, they assess a $7 HKD fee. We then walked to Exchange Square and passed IFC I and II, two giant glistening glass buildings, one of which used to be the world's tallest in the late 1990s. One of those buildings housed the Capital Group offices. Exchange Square is the main bus terminal and we easily found Express Bus 260 which took us to Stanley Market.

The bus ride to Stanley Market made it worth the trip just in and of itself. The bus system is amazing in Hong Kong. Most are double-deckers, with giant widows and comfortable seats, like the ones you would find on the coach buses in the US. But the buses are really narrow in width, which we found out is needed because the country roads are so narrow! These bus drivers give the NYC taxi drivers a run for their money in daring driving. Hunter and I sat in the front two seats on the top deck so we had great views of the trip, and we were holding our breaths as the bus would stop at a stoplight literally inches behind the bus in front of it! There were buses EVERYWHERE in the city and getting out of the Central district to the roads leading to the southern end of the island was a bit chaotic. But we got to see the Central district as the bus drove through the crowded streets of skyscrapers and shopping malls. Then, once out of the busy section, we got to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The bus route to Stanley Market took us up over the mountains, past Repulse Bay, where we got to enjoy incredible vistas of the crescent shaped beach with smooth sand and blue water. We couldn't believe such a fast-paced NYC-like city could also have the advantages of such nice beaches! The roads twisted and turned and the bus crisscrossed lanes whenever it felt like it, but made sure it got back to the left side of the road before the oncoming jaguars and bentleys and mercedes benz cars came zooming past us on the other side. The bus drivers actually have speed reader boxes handing from the ceilings so passengers can see how fast they are going – I guess it's to allow passengers to complain if they're going too fast?

We made the bus ride in one piece and got off at Stanley market. It was still early, around 10am and the market stalls were just setting up. There were a few toy stores in there and a lot of the same goods we've seen elsewhere – chinese scarves, shirts, ties, etc. Surprisingly we were never hassled to come in and look around – they left us alone as we walked up and down the stalls. We then ventured down to the promenade, then started to walk towards St. Stephen's beach until we could peer down from the top of the hill to see the view. We then walked through Stanley Plaza, another shopping center, where we visited the ATM and pharmacy. We ended up at the bus stop, but we didn't see signs for bus 73 which we wanted, so we asked a young British man if any of the buses went to Aberdeen. We found a few and then boarded a minibus (#52) that pulled up. The minibus ride was also fun – he sped along down the winding roads until someone ran the bell to stop and they got off.

The area around Stanley Market is home to some beautiful and very expensive apartments because the views of the water are so incredible. We passed some real estate stores and saw that even the rundown apartments of less than 1,000 sq ft were going for over $1 million USD. There were a lot of international people (mainly British) in the area, walking their dogs in the morning and eating in cafes, and all of the signs were in Cantonese and English so it was very easy to get around.

We got off the minibus at Aberdeen, which is also on the south end of the island and is where the local fishing people live in their boats. We walked along the riverfront promenade and found a sampan ride which took us for 30 min around the harbor area past all the boats. This was a unique experience. We picked a sampan operator that was run by a very old woman with tons of wrinkles and a funny pointed hat, like what you see in the old movies. She looked like something right out of a picture of Hong Kong 30 years ago. Her partner in crime was a one-eyed Chinese man who spoke almost no English and just yelled at passer-bys to hop in the boat. Or at least we think that is what he was yelling about! The sampan itself was cool – it was an old wooden motorboat that could probably hold a good 25 people sitting on the hard wooden benches around the side of the boat and on a strip up the middle. ¾ of the boat was covered in a canvas roof, offering shade protection. The keel was covered in side by side rubber tires. There were lots of tires everywhere, held together by thick rope so the boats could crash into things without damaging anything. The boat ride took us around the Jumbo, the famous floating restaurant, and we saw the beautiful red/green/black chinese decor-ed front, and then the decrepit, falling down, moldy section of the back! Talk about fake appearances! The boat then drove past hundreds of wooden boats, from large fishing boats, to smaller houseboats, to canoe-like boats with 3 people. Some of these boats are where people live full time. We could see lines of clothes and pots and pans hanging out to dry. Our favorite boat was a medium sized one that had two rows of dead fish drying out clipped to the clothes lines, and then a third clothes line of men's and women's clothes. Yum – how good those shirts must smell after they are dried out! One thing that really surprised us was that the water was actually pretty clear. We expected to be floating in dark, murky brown water, like you would see in the Atlantic, because of the pollution from all the motor boats, but surprisingly the water was a clear turquoise with very few pieces of garbage floating in it.

After the interesting boat ride, we took another boat that dropped us off at the Jumbo restaurant. We decided to splurge on an authentic chinese lunch of dim sum as the restaurant is very famous. The inside was exquisite. Everything was very fancy with hard wooden slabs that served as charter plate, and heavy carved chopsticks. The chairs were arranged in groups around the table. We had a table for 4 and two chairs were placed side by side on the pointed ends of the table. They moved two of them to the side so we could sit down facing the flat part of the table, but Hunter went to move another chair back to its side of the table and they promptly moved it back to the pointy end of the table. That was the first of probably several taboos we made in the restaurant. We figured out how to order dim sum and then just picked at it with our chopsticks, and only later realized they gave us a third set of chopsticks to use to remove the pieces from the platters onto our plates. The waiters hovered over us so as soon as the last morsel left the serving plate, they whisked it away and plopped down the next dim sum dish. The food was very, very, good, although it gave us our fill of dim sum for a while! We stuck to pork and shrimp dishes. The restaurant had very high end food on the dinner menu and we saw one dish of a very rare fish that was sold at $15,000 HKD, ~2,000 USD! That must be some tasty fish!

After the boat ride back from the restaurant to the promenade, we walked to the bus terminal and found one that took us to Causeway Bay, probably the largest shopping area on Hong Kong Island. This place was unbelievable! There were literally 10 giant shopping malls all in the same area. We walked through 4 or 5 of them, wide-eyed, counting all the different stores we saw. Many were the American brands, and we spotted several Starbucks cafes, crepe shops, gelato stands, and even Toys 'R Us. As we said before, the prices were much higher compared to the US, so we didn't buy anything, which saved us a lot of money!

It was well after 4pm by the time we finished up with the shopping malls and we took the metro to another district called Wan Chai, where we visited a “computer mall” which was nothing but tiny shops selling computers, camcorders, cameras, flash drives, etc. There was one really cool store selling spy gear with hidden video cameras! Luckily everything was too expensive so we didn't buy yet another computer! We then hopped on another bus which drove towards the Central District. The bus driver spoke English (as it seems everyone does in Hong Kong and their English is very, very good, too. We had forgotten it was under British authority before passing to China and you can definitely see the western influences the most in HK than in the other cities we've visited so far). We asked the driver to point out which stop was closest to the Victoria Peak tram, and he did, and it was only a short 5 min walk uphill to the tram. The tram is a very old cable-car transportation system that takes you up to the top of Victoria's Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong island. It was very crowded with people as it was getting to be around sunset and people were going up to the top for the nighttime views and for the eating in one of the many restaurants housed in the shopping complex at the top. One restaurant was Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company! We got there after 5pm and it took about 40 minutes of waiting in line and the tram ride included to get to the top. It was well worth the wait and the money to see those views! Unfortunately the nighttime fog was starting to set in, but it was still breathtaking to peer down on the tall skyscrapers twinkling with white and colored lights, and to watch all the boats in the harbor and the ferries making their crossings back and forth from the island. There is a lot of history on the peak tram and its role in WWII and we saw a display that had an actual newspaper from 1941 with articles about Hong Kong Island's surrender to the Japanese. We took a lot of photos and some video and then waited in line to take the tram back down.

Our timing was perfect and we caught the Express bus (15C) back to the Central ferry pier to take the Star Ferry back to Kowloon, where we walked to the riverfront promenade. It was 7:45pm at this point and the place was packed with throngs of people waiting to see the 8pm light show. Everyone had told us to be in Kowloon for the light show, as the lights on the buildings on HK Island are much nicer than the buildings on the Kowloon side. We found an opening near the front and were able to hear the narration and the music as the lights danced and flashed in synchronization to the music. What a fun light show! It was like seeing the 4th of July fireworks, but you can see this every night! It was only a 10-min show, but worth the trouble of seeing it from the promenade.

After the light show, we were STILL GOING (like little energizer bunnies) but decided we needed food to keep moving. We started walking down the famous Nathan Road in search of a restaurant. Most of the street was flanked by stores and yes, you guessed it, more shopping malls so it took us a while to find a restaurant (which we found in the i-Square shopping mall). It was a cafe that sold American and Chinese food. Hunter ordered a bacon cheeseburger and
I had spaghetti bolognese which came covered in melted cheese like a ziti.

Nathan Road area reminds us of Time Square and is what we pictured Tokyo would be like. There are huge neon flashing billboards that are suspended over the street or attached to the large shopping complexes. And there are crowds of people everywhere! It was like walking down the Strip in Las Vegas at 10pm and being amazed at how many people are still up and walking around. Even the side streets off Nathan Road were glowing with neon signs and filled with people. We wonder if it is always this crowded, or if it is especially so since it is one day before Christmas Eve. It is also Winterfest, a 5-week celebration in Hong Kong where the city is adorned with Christmas displays of brightly lit christmas trees and giant bells and snow flakes, etc., so we saw a lot of families and groups of teenagers taking pictures in front of the displays.

We managed to walk all the way to Temple Street without our legs giving way and started the long market walk. There were stalls upon stalls of the same stuff – mostly junk – so we didn't buy anything but thought it was fun to just watch all the people combing over the hair ties and bracelets and fake watches and leather belts and broken electronics. Surrounding the market stalls were two rows of local cooking stands. Temple Street Night Market is supposed to be a good place to try local delicacies, but after our dim sum lunch, we thought we had enough local flavor for the day! We then passed by streets of jade sellers, near where the jade market was, which was closed at night. We are glad we made it to the temple market because the busy activity was something to see.

At 11:05pm we flagged down a taxi, thinking our busy day was over and we were on our way safely home to the ship. But we had one more fun adventure. We told our taxi diver to take us to Ocean Terminal where the cruise ship was and showed him the spot on the map. He said, “oh, ok, Ocean Center” and we thought Center and Terminal could be interchangeable so we said ok. He then proceeded to drive us to the outskirts of the city, which didn't look right, and then stopped in a parking lot full of cars and teenagers sitting on the cars. He brought us to a drifting challenge! We immediately said, “no, no, this isn't right” and took out the map again. He took a more careful look and then laughed and said he knew where that was. Thank goodness! We didn't want to get abandoned at a drifting challenge! Luckily, we made no more detours and we got back on the ship in one piece, a little after 11:30pm. What a day! We crashed immediately and didn't wake up even once during the night.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 23, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged HongKong, Asia and Cruise

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Day 13: Hong Kong / Macau, China (7th cruise day)

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Day 13: Thursday, December 24th, 2009

7th cruise day: Hong Kong, China (side trip to Macau, China)

We slept soundly for a good 7 hours and then got up to do it all again! We decided that because we did more than expected the first day, and that we weren't happy with the shopping in Hong Kong, that we didn't need to spend another day poking in computer centers and shopping malls, and that instead we would try to figure out a trip to Macau. We got a late start (9am off the ship) as we had breakfast in the buffet with Lynne and Tong from cruisecritic and heard about their adventure in Macau (a lost taxi driver who had their bags). We had a little detour when trying to figure out how to get the Macau ferry terminal, and first stopped at the information center at the Star ferry terminal to get information. They told us to buy the tickets at Hong Kong City Center which was north of the pier. We started walking up Canton Road and then didn't think we were making much ground so we hopped in a taxi at a nearby hotel and when we showed him on the map where he wanted to go, he pointed down the road and said “you walk”. It turned out we were only 1 block away from where we needed to go. And so started our adventurous day! At the terminal, we bought our roundtrip tickets to the island ($540 HKD?). We had gotten our passports last night from the purser's desk. It was a little after 9:30am and we had a 10am ferry, so we sat in Starbucks to check email. At 9:54am we went to the departing dock and saw the gates closed already! We didn't realize there would be a wait or a line! We got out tickets changed for the 10:30am ferry and then waited in line. They quickly opened the line and we had to pass through immigration. The guy didn't like me as I didn't have the right deportation card and had to fill one out, and then he saw we were on the Princess Cruise and called over another immigration official who told us we better make sure we would be back on the boat in time! We promised we would, and they let us through.

The ferry ride was pleasant and fast. We had comfortable airplane-like seats and the high speed ferry took only 1 hour to reach Macau. There was a long line to clear immigration, but it took only 15 minutes and we got another stamp in our passport. We then went upstairs to departures to double-check the ferry times and found out the ferries leave every 15 min and there was one at 1:45pm. We left the terminal and took the long walkway that dropped us off at Fisherman's Wharf which was a very cute Disneyesque playground area for kids with a fake volcano, Aladdin's Castle, bumper cards and a military war-game escapade. We took some pictures and then realized the casinos were too far to walk – Macau is so much larger than we thought – and took a taxi to the Wynn hotel. We got there in time to see the water and fire show out front and then walked through. The casino was very nice – we haven't been to the Wynn in Vegas so couldn't compare it. We walked to the back and exited, then crossed the street to the MGM Grand which was really nice! It was more upscale than the Wynn, but the card tables had lower limits. I gambled about $40 USD and didn't win anything but liked the slot machines as they played lots of music and had lots of flashing lights :) We only had about 1 hour 15 min total in Macau, but it was just enough to get a feel of the island. Hunter bought a $25 poker chip to add to his collection.

Around 1:10pm, we hopped in a taxi at the MGM and told the driver we wanted to go to the ferry terminal. He didn't speak any English and called a valet over from the hotel to translate. I explained to the guy that we wanted to take the ferry home to Hong Kong and he nodded and told the driver the destination then told us “Tapai ferry.” We couldn't understand what he was saying because his English wasn't clear due to the heavy accent, so we just agreed. The driver then started off. Within 5 min he pulled onto the very long white bridge that extends from Macau to a smaller island called Tapai. As soon as we got on the bridge we knew it was the totally wrong direction but couldn't communicate with the driver. We kept pointing backwards toward Macau, and he kept pointing off to the side and saying “Ferry”. There was no way to turn around on the bridge so we had to keep going. He then started rounding the island in a circle and got closer to a terminal which we knew was very wrong as we had to cross the bridge again. We tried different words “Sands hotel” “fisherman's wharf” but he kept shaking his head he didn't understand. We were starting to panic this time b/c we needed to make the 2pm ferry to ensure we were back at the ship by 4pm b/c the ship had to clear immigration too. Finally Hunter said, “Macau Ferry” and the guy said “OOOHH, Macau! Macau ferry!” and we nodded vigorously. He made a quick turnaround and crossed another bridge, close to the correct ferry terminal, and we were confident he finally knew where to go. He was very nice about it at the end and didn't accept the full fare for the ride.

Then, in the terminal, we went to pass through the first gate and were told our tickets needed to be exchanged. It took us a while to figure out what they meant and then saw we only had return coupons for the ferry back, not tickets. After 2 tries with speaking with the attendant as his English was also very limited, we found the place to get tickets and luckily got put on the 2pm ferry. It turned out there was no 1:45pm ferry, so we don't know what that attendant earlier was talking about! We got so used to everyone in Hong Kong speaking such good English that we forgot that we were back in mainland China where very few people speak English and so we really weren't prepared. If we had known we would be doing Macau, I would have had maps and time schedules with us to better communicate with the taxi drivers! Anyway, we finally got through the gate, cleared immigration on the Macau side and made it with plenty of time to spare to the ferry waiting room.

Without any further problems, we took the 2pm ferry and made it back a little after 3pm. There was no waiting line for the immigration on the Hong Kong side. We didn't have time to get a refund on our Octopus transportation card because Hunter wanted to be back on the ship by 4pm in case the immigration officials that needed to stamp our passports were waiting for us. We will keep the cards in case any friends or coworkers travel to Hong Kong and can use it!

Overall, we had a fantastic two days in Hong Kong. It really is our favorite city so far and are glad we had such mild weather to be able to experience everything outside, with all the walking and sight-seeing we did. Today was the first day we didn't need jackets! It is only going to get warmer from here as the next port of call, Chan May / the city of Hue, Vietnam, is running around 82 degrees. Pool day tomorrow! Macau was larger and not as flashy as we thought it would be – it is a much tamer version of Las Vegas in terms of the number and size of the casinos, but it probably has more vices (there were two huge signs in the taxi to call a hotline number to help stop human trafficking, which was sponsored by a women's association of Macau). There were many flashy cars and female hostesses dressed up in ridiculous costumes in one hotel.

Back on the ship, we crashed in the cabin and laid in bed watching the Hong Kong skyline through our window as we pulled out of the harbor. For the first time ever, as the Captain announced, he took his “beautiful white lady” out of Hong Kong through a channel which afforded spectacular views of the Hong Kong skyline. Hunter played on his netbook while I napped. Then it was time for the Christmas Carols at 7:30pm! Most of the choir were members of the crew and we were shocked to see front and center, Captain Stefano Ravera singing away! The crew were all dressed in their dress blues and had handed out booklets of the carols that would be sung. The carols took place on the grand staircase, just outside our room, which connected Decks 4 and 5. The banisters were all decorated with garland and holly and lights and the crew wore santa hats. The caroling definitely put us more in the holiday spirit as we didn't feel like Christmas was approaching. We then went to dinner, where there was another night of fancy foods, this time escargot and frog legs. We stuck to the veal scaloppini cordon blue and the angel hair lobster pasta in tomato sauce. Our dinner companions, Connie and Tony, showed up and were so thankful to see us. They told us last night in Hong Kong was open dinner seating, because most people were away from ship in the city, They got stuck with a “nearly dead” couple from Britain who told horror stories about past cruises, including the last time they sailed on the Ocean Princess and 9 people died and they ran out of room to preserve the bodies and had to take the ice cream out of the freezer to make room for the bodies! Tony said they kept looking for us saying, “man, where's Hunter when I need him!” We had such a fun time sharing stories with them at dinner and it was nice to hear that they enjoy our company as much as we do theirs, and that both couples are satisfied with the seating arrangements! Our waiter showed us the special Christmas breakfast ($32/couple) and dinner menu for tomorrow and suggested we pre-order wine because it gets so busy in the bar on Christmas that sometimes it can take 40 minutes to get a coke. We instead used mom's $20 wine coupon (which we later learned she never ordered or paid for) to order a bottle of chardonnay (Woodbridge - $22) and drank half of it and had the rest bottled up to be served the next night.

After dinner, we walked through the ship to check on the entertainment and saw the casinos were very busy. We stopped to chat at the Cabaret Lounge with Shane, said hi to Ruth and Chantal, and felt like we were regular members of the Ocean Princess! Hunter then went back to the room and I attended the last 35 min of the piano concert of a Philippino man who was very famous in the 1980s and 1990s but was still a young guy, probably no older than mid-40s. I got back a little after 11:10pm and then read for a while until it was time for us to go back to the Cabaret Lounge for midnight mass. Shane had told us it was the only Catholic service to be held for Christmas as the 9:30am service the next day was a nondenominational service conducted by the Captain. The mass was pretty well attended, including the Captain himself. We went back to our cabin after mass and didn't get to sleep until after 1:30am! It was a very good thing I had taken that late afternoon nap!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 24, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged HongKong, Asia, Cruise and Macau

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Day 14: 8th cruise day - Day at Sea

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Day 14: Friday, December 25th, 2009

8th cruise day: Day at Sea

Merry Christmas! Hunter set the alarm for 7am but we quickly turned it off and fell back into a deep sleep until 9:30am. We were slow to get up and watched some tv and realized the channel that shows the weather was broken as it was much warmer today than 10 degrees C. We ate a light breakfast in the buffet and then grabbed lounge chairs on the 11th deck sundeck and lathered up with lotion for the day. The ship had just passed through storm clouds and the afternoon was bright and sunny. We stayed up there the whole day, mainly sleeping and writing journal entries, and getting up for the occasional shipboard activity. We missed the signup for the gingerbread house making activity but thought it would be too crowded anyway to get a good house. The houses from last cruise were on display in the Club Lounge (right outside the dining room) and they were very nice! Others were spread around the buffet, adding additional Christmas cheer. Oh – before breakfast, at 10:30am, we swung by the Club Lounge to watch Santa Claus hand out presents to the junior cruisers. They all got Princess Cruise teddy bears! It was very cute to see them running around with their teddy bears and wrapped gifts. I watched the Pastry and Turkey Carving demonstration, but we were too comfortable by the pool to get up to learn the Waltz with Ruth and Chris. We also skipped the gingerbread making house because we thought we would have to share a house with a big group. Later, we saw photos of the event and it looked like fun!

Dinner at night was still weird (frog legs) but they had roast turkey and ham and we talked about our plans for Da Nang. We attended the Christmas variety show, which was a compilation of acts with the lead singers from the dance troupe, Claude Eric, and the guy from the piano lounge. They sang traditional Christmas songs and some other tunes. Susan Rawlings announced that it was Claude Eric's last time on stage as he was leaving the ship for Montreal when we pull into Da Nang. That was too bad as we really liked him! We came back to the room and called our families to wish them a Merry Christmas. We went to bed around midnight.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 25, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia and Cruise

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Day 15: Hue, Vietnam (9th cruise day)

Hue, Vietnam

Day 15: Saturday, December 26th, 2009

9th cruise day: Hue, Vietnam

Our first day in Vietnam! We pulled into port before 6:30am and passed by many small fishing boats in the harbor. The view was beautiful as there were beautiful, tall, green mountains near the pier, which we later learned were the mountains separating Vietnam and Laos. The captain said they were late docking because the pilot boat met them late, but they quickly got immigration officials on board to clear us. Hunter and I ran into two of them in the hallway and they were SCARY! They were dressed in their green military uniforms and looked ominous as they weren't smiling. We grabbed a quick breakfast and then packed up for the day for our tour of Hue and the Perfume River Cruise. We met in the Cabaret Lounge and were released for the bus 10 min early.

We were in the B2 tour group that had less than 40 people. Our shuffleboard partner-in-crime, Jim, was on board, and we finally introduced ourselves as we keep running into each other throughout the cruise ship. We had a very pleasant tour guide who spoke a lot of English, but was difficult to understand sometimes as she couldn't pronounce “c” or “r” in her words. She was a petite young woman, probably no more than 30-ish and was originally from Saigon before moving to Hue. She told us a lot of interesting facts about Hue and the Vietnamese and proved the benefit of taking an organized tour instead of going off on your own.

Our tour started with a bumpy bus ride to Hue. The guide said the ride would take one hour, but it was more like 1 ½ hours each way. The main road leading out of the pier was a dirt road and we passed by more scary looking police at booth stations exiting the pier. The bus ride to Hue took us past many small villages, which were really just one road with shanty tin-roof houses (with sand bags holding down the roofs) . There were small boxes that looked like oversized open-faced mailboxes that were shrines where family members would pray for deceased parents and grandparents. Then each village had multiple large shrines which were places to worship 3rd and 4th generation ancestors. Only 2 generations of family members could be worshiped in the home. It is difficult to know who is related to who across all these villages, so once a year in the beginning of the new year, all relatives make a pilgrimage to the large family shrine, at which point you look around to see who you are related to, so that, as our tour guide said, “you don't fall in love with your relative,” The villages were very rundown and looked very 3rd world. In between villages were acres and acres of rice paddie fields with workers plowing the field. Even though a few rich farmers can afford motorized plows, most of the farmers we passed on the journey were literally plowing their fields with a wooden plow pulled by 2 water buffalo. The water buffalo were everywhere! We don't know how the farmers keep track of them as they wander into the roads and munch on grass growing in the cemeteries. The bus stopped once off the side of the road so everyone could get out and take pictures of the rice farmers plowing nearby. There was a small boy on the road, balancing on one foot on top of a water buffalo, hand outstretched for money. Another little boy in a ragged t-shirt walked up to people, poking them, begging for money. We saw little kids everywhere, and so many of them! Our tour guide later told us that 5 and 9 are very lucky numbers to the Vietnamese and each farming family tries to have 5 or 9 children. Only 20% of children go to school and the rest help their families on the rice paddies. We also think the parents exploit the children for money and we saw several mothers parading their babies and young children in front of tourists begging for money. It was very sad.

We also passed eucalyptus trees in the fields and learned that eucalyptus oil is a very popular remedy for pregnant women. The rub it on their bellies all during pregnancy and for three years after the birth of the child. Kem never said what it was for, (prevents stretch marks or promotes fertility!) but said the men hate the smell but the women wear it anyway. I'll have to look for a big bottle to take home for Liz! We also learned that the Vietnamese want at least 1 son with their huge family and if after 9 children they don't get any sons, they blame the wife and the husband is allowed to go out and have an extramarital affair with another woman to try to produce a son. Nice thought – after giving birth to 9 children you still have to watch your husband dally with another woman!

The mountain range was so beautiful and a great backdrop to the wide murky rivers carrying the motorized dragon boats and fishing boats and sand boats. The trees were tall and green, although we weren't in the “jungle” area that you hear about when talking about the jungle warfare of the Vietnam war. However, Vietnam was exactly like what we pictured and we don't think much changed in the 40 or so years since the start of the Vietnam War. There is a lot of road construction being done on the route to Hue, and even in the city, but instead of Caterpillar bulldozers and forklifts, the construction is predominantly done by men with shovels and pointed hats – and sometimes working barefoot! At this rate, the construction will never be done! Our tour guide told us that one of the fancy hotels in Hue took 10 years to complete because the sponsors kept pulling out and the government delayed the project many times in hope of finally getting financial aid from Unesco and other agencies. The hotel opened just 1 month ago and looked very nice – it had a lot of French architectural influences to it, which could be seen in many buildings in Hue. Kem also talked about corruption and said it is EVERYWHERE. Each time we crossed a bridge, we were stopped by policeman who made the driver turn over $10 or $20 USD as “payment” for crossing the bridge because we were a large van with many passengers. That money, Kem said, goes straight into their pockets. The chairman of the city makes only $500 USD per month on his government salary but takes home a total of $10,000 USD per month when you factor in all the bribes and special payments he receives from his dominant position in the city. The average city resident (60% of the Hue city residents work in the tourism industry) take home on average $300 per month. Government employees take home an average of $500/month while rice farmers earn only $50-$100/month.

The bus ride pulled into the city of Hue, and we thought it was more like a larger town than an actual city, but it is the 3rd largest city in Vietnam behind Saigon and Hanoi. Hue maintained its pro-US sentiments and the tour guide made many disparaging remarks about the NVA and talked about the heroics of the US soldiers during the fighting in Hue. We passed several markets and street vendors selling scarfs and ceramics and china and touristy items like t-shirts and pointed hats.

Our first stop was at an embroidery factory next to the Century Hotel that later served us lunch. We were ushered into stuffy rooms where very young woman in long beautiful silk gowns were hunched over sheets of silk, embroidering patterns by hand. They encouraged us to take pictures, which made them seem like the workers themselves were on display. Throughout this whole trip, we felt bad taking pictures as every place we went, the tour operators treated the locals like items in a zoo, there for our amusement and picture taking. More on that later....the embroidery was gorgeous and so inexpensive! We would have loved to buy a framed print but have limited room. We later saw many much simpler patterns being sold in the markets for $1-$5 USD. We picked up the Perfume Riverboat cruise at the pier near the embroidery shops. On board, older women and men were eagerly ready to sell us silk pajamas, robes, and embroidery prints. Our tour guide passed around a binder that contained old photos of the wartime in Hue in 1968 and we saw American soldiers rescuing local people, wounded soldiers being helped to safety, and other pictures of the city of Hue during the war.

The riverboat cruise lasted only 30 minutes but gave us great views of the tourist dragon boats and of the canoes paddled by the locals. We also passed several sandboats, which were large flat motorboats with holes in the bottom from which a worker would shovel out heaps of sand from the bottom of the river. We learned that after they pay off the policeman guarding the river banks, a boat operator can sell a boatload of sand to construction companies for $10-$50 per boat. Unfortunately, this drains the river of the rich sand that allows the microorganisms to survive and which used to give the river its fragrant perfume smell. Now the river is just murky and smelly in a not-so-good way.

As we pulled in to the dock to end our tour, we passed a canoe boat with a very old woman, hunched over, covered in wrinkles, wearing a pointed hat, just like you would see in the old pictures of Vietnam. She paddled right up to the side of our boat and tried to squeeze in between our boat and another dragon boat, as the passengers on our boat shouted “look out, you are going to crush her!” She then tried to leap from her boat onto our boat, trying to get up so she could see us and beg for money. Our boat driver kind of just pushed her boat aside, preventing her from climbing up. She was so desperate for money she was willing to crush her boat!

The perfume river boat stopped at the Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Temple of the Heavenly Lady Pagoda. We got a lot of good history on it and then proceeded further into the temple area to see the monks. Each family tries to send one son to the temple to become a monk, either for financial reasons as they can't support all their children, or because they think it is lucky to have a religious son. The monks start as early as 10 years old and get special haircuts to show they are novice monks until they pass all exams. Our tour guide pulled over one novice monk and made him answer questions for us and pose for pictures. Again, we felt like we were at a zoo gawking at unusual things and felt very bad for the monks who were trying to go about their day, interrupted by picture-snapping people.

We continued the tour by driving back across a white bridge that had its own lane for motorcycles as EVERYONE rode motorcycles instead of bikes. We then went back to the Century hotel for a big buffet lunch of lots of kinds of rice and noodles, beef satays, pork and different shrimp dishes, with a few cakes and fruits as desserts. They basically ran out of food once our tour group got there – the last one out of many Princess tours that stopped there – and we got the bottom of the barrel. Surprisingly the food was good and luckily didn't make us sick! We had free soft drinks, waters and beers, and the waters all came with protective plastic wrap over the top so you know it was unopened. I kept flashing back to the movie Slumdog Millionaire where the restaurant waiters refilled plastic water bottles with tap water and then resealed the caps with glue. I felt much safer that there was unbroken plastic seal covering the main plastic seal. There was a wedding going on in the hotel with a beautiful young bride and the guests were all dressed in fancy outfits.

We were supposed to have an hour and a half for lunch and more shopping at the embroidery factory, but most people finished their shopping early and so we headed out by 2pm, a half hour ahead of schedule. This gave us time to stop at the busiest food market in Hue, which was unbelievable. We passed by market stalls selling fully chopped up pigs – they sold platters of giant pig ears and calfs with the black hoof still on the foot/leg! We also saw pig intestines, pig hearts and so many kinds of fish, all chopped up and sliced open so you could see the insides. You should see the kinds of photos we got – it was truly disgusting from our point of view, as we would never buy food like that – just sitting out exposed to the air for all those hours – and the food parts were so unbutchered and distinguishable that you felt as though you were buying an actual body part of the pig. But these are delicacies to the Vietnamese and they were buying this stuff in bag-fulls!

After the eye-opening trip to the market we drove to the Royal Ruins to see the tomb of the second king of the last Vietnamese Dynasty. We couldn't see the actual tomb as the stone wall that enclosed it was locked since a fire broke out there several years ago as a result of teenager negligence lighting a camp fire nearby. But we saw the beautiful imperial grounds with waterways for the king's canoe. The lush park-lake hectare was a great contrast to the dusty impoverished streets of Hue. On the walk from the bus to the imperial grounds, we had to walk down a dirt road which was bordered to the left by a barbed wire fence. There were mothers and children on the other side and the little boys climbed through holes in the barbed wire with platters of bananas singing “have a banana. Won't you buy our bananas?” and the mothers held up their babies with distended bellies begging us to buy the bananas to help their babies. Everything was on sale for one dollar – as soon as you got off the bus there were old 70-ish year old women selling coins on a chain for $1 dollar. We again had that impression we were walking through a zoo just gawking at people. It was not a pleasant feeling.

The sightseeing aspect of the tour ended at 3:45pm and we started our bus ride back, which didn't take an hour as the tour guide planned, but more like 1 ½ hours. We avoided collisions with wooden log-bearing trucks more than once although Hunter didn't think we would make it home alive. There was constant horn honking as our bus driver swerved into the on-coming traffic lane in order to pass the truck or motorbike in front of him. It was a ride to remember! We got back to the ship with 10 minutes to spare and were the last tour bus.

We are glad we did the Princess tour as our guide was very informative about Vietnamese life and we got some basic sightseeing in. The city of Hue is not impressive and we really weren't interested in the pagoda or imperial tomb, but the drive through the small towns, and seeing the boats on the wide murky rivers surrounded by the mountain range was worth the trip. Vietnam has not changed very much in 40 years and we can't wait to see what Saigon looks like!

The rest of the night was uneventful. We quickly showered and attended the entertainment show, which was scheduled tonight before dinner at 7pm. It was the comedian, Mike Newman from Ireland, who was probably in his early 70s and did a basic comedy routine with some raunchy humor but mostly puns. We then ate dinner with Connie and Tony and had beef short ribs, before heading to the Tahitian Lounge for Wii Sports night with Chantal and Ian. Only our new friend Jim was there playing (playing Wii for the first time!) and so Hunter got to play a lot of rounds of Mario Kart. Everyone was having such a great time that we past the ending time and other cruise passengers had to send over a waiter to ask Chantal when they were finishing so the dancing could begin! I was wiped out and hit the pillow as soon as we got back to the room.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 26, 2009 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia, Vietnam and Cruise

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Day 16: 10th cruise day - Day at Sea

Hue, Vietnam

Day 16: Sunday, December 27th, 2009

10th cruise day: Day at Sea

I woke up to a feeling of deep naseau and thought it was from the bad swaying and rolling of the ship. We expected the ride along the coastline from Chan May to Phu May to be less rocky because we were hugging the coastline, but the winds on the open sea were strong, which cause the boat to sway. We slept in late until 8:45am when I got up to get ready for 9am mass. The table holding the hosts and chalice wasn't level and kept swaying back and forth with the ship! We grabbed breakfast around 10am and then set up our lounge chairs on the 11th deck sun deck. At 11am, we walked down to the Club Lounge for the CruiseCritic.com gathering, set up by Heather and Ed. We met another nice couple Nayla and Igor, from Toronto, and Suzie and Bob from Seattle, and spent almost a good hour chatting about different cruises and the various tours we have taken through Princess. It was good to meet and interact with people. We then headed back to the sun deck where we remained for the next 4 hours, stopping briefly for lunch.

A little after 4pm, we went back to the room to the shower. I really wasn't feeling well at all and was getting nervous that I had contracted another weird bacterial infection, and decided to go to the doctor. He spent a good amount of time with me and listened well and then said I was probably suffering from an acid reflux flare up as I didn't show any symptoms of a bacterial or viral infection as I wasn't vomiting or running a fever. That made me feel a little better and so I got back to the room and changed for dinner. I made it through the meal – salmon steak – but then we left before dessert as I was feeling very nauseus with stomach pains. I spent the rest of the evening typing up my email from Hue and sending an email to our tour operator in Bangkok to see if we could change our port pick-up. I fell asleep pretty early and didn't have a great night. I woke up close to midnight and could barely pick up my head to sip water and felt feverish (but wasn't running a fever). I began to think that the doctor may have misdiagnosed me and that I had H1N1 or something else and would have to be airlifted from Singapore. I was worried I would miss Saigon the next day and Hunter was really worried about me. Somehow I made it through the night.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 27, 2009 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia and Cruise

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