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Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009

a travel blog by mohicanfan

This is my travel journal from our trip to Asia in Dec 2009. My husband and I, both in our late 20s, spent 3 days in Beijing, 2 days in Shanghai and then boarded a Princess cruise ship (the Ocean Princess) for a 17-day, 8-city tour of Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Just a warning - my journals are detailed and quite long!

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Day 21: 15th cruise day - Day at Sea

Singapore, Singapore

Day 21: Friday, January 1st, 2010

15th cruise day: Day at Sea

We had such a late night New Year's Eve that we slept in until after 9:30am. I quickly got Hunter up so we could grab breakfast in the buffet (where we met Jim who was seriously hurting from the night before) before the culinary demonstration and galley tour began at 10am. That was fun, and we saw a working escalator in the kitchen, to transport workers from the 4th floor prepping area to the 5th floor food serving area. The head pastry chef demonstrated the preparation of a delicious looking tiramisu and the Executive Chef made some salmon cream cheese thing. He was preparing for the Executive Chefs dinner tonight, a 6-course meal without the everyday options. Both chefs and the maitre 'd were selling the Princess cookbook. After the tour, we went to the Tahitian Lounge in time for morning trivia with Anna, who looked like she was seriously hurting from late night partying the night before. She sat in a bar stool facing the mirrored bar the whole time and couldn't even look at the passengers as she read off the trivia questions. This was our 3rd trivia session and it had the hardest questions yet, but somehow we tied our top score of 8/20!

After trivia, from 12-2pm, we went back to the stateroom to write the Singapore debrief email and do some programming. CNN had the Anderson Cooper/Kathy Griffith New Year's Eve Special live from NYC so we got to see the ball drop in our hometown time zone and celebrate another turning of the New Year! At 2pm, we ate a big lunch in the buffet and then attended the passenger talent show at 2:45pm where we heard 4 singers (2 good, 2 bad), a 12-year old excellent violinist, and the Princess Choir (sang 4 songs). 3:15pm brought origami for Hunter and 3:30pm snowball Jackpot ($950) Bingo for me. I didn't win but needed just two more numbers on the big jackpot. I got back to the room at 4:30pm and quickly changed for the 5:30pm Captain's Farewell cocktail party. However, we then decided to stay in the room until 7:15pm (reading and programming) as we decided to skip the Executive Chef's sit-down dinner because the food was too fancy and weird and we wouldn't enjoy it. Finally, as an alternative dining option tonight there was a full dinner buffet on the 9th deck, which suited us just fine. We ate and then attended the 2nd seating's cocktail party at 7:45pm where we finally got served drinks. We wound up getting 2 drinks each, which made up for getting stiffed the first party! After that, Hunter and I used our buy 1 tournament entry slot, get one free coupon and entered the Blackjack tournament. I played first and played horribly, before retiring to the cabin to get a jump start on our packing. I watched a Harry Potter movie while packing and then worked on my journal, while Hunter prowled about on the ship, watching karaoke with Alan, John and Jim. Hopefully tomorrow the clouds will disappear and we can get one final day of sun!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on January 1, 2010 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia and Cruise

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Day 22: Ko Samui, Thailand (17th cruise day)

Ko Samui, Thailand

Day 22: Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

17th cruise day: Ko Samui, Thailand

We had another time change last night and so I awoke late (7:15am) and it was only 6:15am! I was able to dose for a few more minutes before waking up to the sunrise and to the lowering of one of the tender boats which passed right by our window! We got up and put on our bathing suits, grabbed breakfast from the buffet and then met in the Cabaret Lounge to queue up for our tender. Our tour to Chawang Beach was supposed to be from 8:30am – 12:30pm. At 8:15am we were called into the tender and took seats up at the front so we could get a good view of the island as we approached. The ship had dropped anchor pretty far away and so we had a good 15 minute tender ride.

We pulled into a pier where there were several minibuses that housed 9 people. It was about 8:50am at this point and we started our ride across the island. The drivers were pretty crazy, as all seem to be in Asia, and they constantly passed the cars/trucks in front of them and weaved around the motorcycles that were supposed to be staying in the half lane that bordered both sides of the roads. Unlike Saigon where the drivers constantly honked at one another to pass, these drivers just flashed and blinked their headlights as they pulled into oncoming traffic in the opposite lane.

The island itself looked like a typical Caribbean island with small buildings housing stores, internet cafes, restaurants, and the odd bike shop. The buildings sat among rows and rows of palm trees and other vegetation that had a sickly green-brown, dried out color. It was hot, but not oppressively hot, as it was probably only in the mid 80's today with a nice breeze. There were stray dogs all over the island, but they looked well fed and nourished and they never came over to bother us. The island wasn't as dirty or impoverished as some parts of St. Maarten are or other poorer Caribbean islands, but it wasn't a very upscale island either. It was well developed as we passed through many busy streets crowded with supermarkets and other retail shops. Ko Samui is one of Thailand's most popular beach islands and it has its own airport to cater to the tourists.

The minibus dropped us off at Chawang Beach, which is the most popular beach section on the island. It had back to back resorts, each one very small in size and built almost on top of each other. We poked through one resort which was painted in very bright oranges and blues and would have been an eyesore had there not been a lot of beautiful dark wood bars and lobby areas to counteract it. The resorts were not glamorous at all – very bare bones, more European in feel. And as for the beach, we were very disappointed. Chawang Beach was supposed to have crystal clear water and pristine white sand beaches. I don't know how white the sand was, as there was so little of it! I think there was only 10 feet of sand before the surf pounded in. The water was a beautiful turquoise color, like what the Mediterranean must look like, but there was a lot of debris (sticks, leaf remnants) floating in the water. And the water was quite rough with waves large enough to body surf to shore. The beach had jet ski rentals and very, very cheap massages, which were offered on large wooden platforms on the beach. People from our tour jumped on those massages as it was less than $10 USD for a 1-hour full body massage.

Hunter and I laid on a beach towel and went swimming for about an hour before the heavens opened and a downpour started. We ran for shelter, ducking into a nearby resort, and then poked in a few shops on the main road of the beach, which held rip-off American brand clothes and fake purses, and lots of surfing attire. Several shops were actually closed and some restaurants didn't open until 12pm. There wasn't much to see or do so luckily the rain stopped after 15 min and we could head back to the beach for another 40 minutes of sun before meeting the minibus for the ride back to the pier. We got there just in time to take one of the few remaining seats in the stuffy tender and we were on board the ship before 1pm.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing on the 11th deck. It was the perfect tanning day as the boat wasn't yet moving (several passengers were quite delayed getting on the ship and then they had to raise up the tenders). We stayed out until 5pm when we showered for dinner. Dinner wasn't too bad, although our main courses (meatloaf and turkey) weren't too tasty. Luckily dessert was delicious, although we passed on the Baked Alaska because we didn't want to wait around for the waiter parade. We were at the table by ourselves again and really enjoyed the 4th night of eating alone.

After dinner, we went back to the room to pack. I had missed the passport pickup earlier in the day and they delivered it to our stateroom. Somehow I managed to fit everything in and we placed our bags outside the door on our way out to the 8:30pm final show, which was a comic magician (terrible) and a different comedian, Mike Flint (almost as terrible as the magician and the same guy Hunter saw the other night). I slept through practically the whole thing. We then walked around the ship to take pictures, dropped off some books in the library, laid on lounge chairs gazing at the stars, and then poked our head into the Tahitian Lounge to see the Ballroom Dancing with the crew – no one was there except Luke (the singer) and Ruth (the head dance captain), who are obviously dating :) We went back to our room to change and throw our evening clothes into the suitcase before it was taken away, ordered room service water and milk, and then set to typing up our final email of the day and use up our remaining Internet minutes. It was a very nice, relaxing day – just the way it should be on our last day of the cruise!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on January 2, 2010 from Ko Samui, Thailand
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Thailand, Asia and Cruise

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Day 23: Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Day 23: Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Disembarkation: Bangkok, Thailand

Our day started early with our alarm going off at 5:45am. We grabbed our last breakfast in the buffet and then returned to our room to find our bill waiting for us. There was an incorrect charge, and I waited in a slow-moving line at the Purser's desk to get it corrected. Luckily they took off the charge without giving me any trouble, but it delayed our disembarkation for about 10 minutes. At 7:40am we walked off the ship (we didn't sit in the Cabaret Lounge like they told us to) and luckily our bags had already been pulled off and were waiting for us outside. The driver from Saliathaitravel was waiting with a sign with my name on it and he didn't speak any English but made a signal to wait for him by the curb while he pulled the car around. We had a large 9-seater passenger van because we had so much luggage they were afraid it wouldn't fit in a sedan. We were offered towelettes and chilled small bottles of water. I fell asleep for most of the drive and it was only 90 minutes to the Marriott Resort & Spa hotel. When we got out of the van, we asked the driver what time we were supposed to meet him and the tour guide, and he couldn't communicate and drew faces on my watch which I didn't understand. So I took off my watch and kept winding it forward until he told me to stop at 12pm. He said “minicar” and pointed to the watch, which made me think that a minicar with our tour guide was going to meet us at 12pm. That seemed late to me, as we had much sightseeing to do, so Hunter and I decided we would come down at 11am to check to see if they arrived early.

This plan became unnecessary because as soon as we walked into the Marriott, our tour guide, Tuk, stepped forward and greeted us. She had been waiting in the lobby and said she would wait while we checked in and grabbed some pants for me to change into for the Royal Palace. The check-in process was quite long as they needed to record the information from our passports, but we had some drinks and continental breakfast from the Executive Lounge. We were finally escorted up to our room, which was beautiful. There was a lot of cherry colored wood throughout the room and we had a nice queen or king sized bed and a balcony with two chairs and a table that overlooked a lot of vegetation and the pool (I think). The lobby, too, was gorgeous. All open spaces, lots of comfortable looking couches, lots of large floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This was definitely a 5-star resort!

At 10:15am we were ready to go. We hopped in a sedan and started getting lots of Bangkok information and history from Tuk. We learned, over the course of the day, that Tuk is 34 years old, married, and is trying to have a baby. She is studying for her PhD in Food Technology and grew up in the north area of Thailand in a family of 3 girls to parents who are farmers. 80% of the country are farmers, and mostly all remain farmers, except if they go to a big city for school and do something else like tourism. She would love to own her own tourist company but doesn't know much about the internet or computers and wouldn't be able to find her own clients. She thinks over time she is likely to return back to her hometown as her parents, grandparents and other relatives are still there. Tuk told us the Thai do not like business professions as they are very peaceful people and don't like the aggressiveness and confrontation of business. So, lots of Chinese have moved down from China and are filling all the business roles in the city. We didn't get to learn anything about our driver, and weren't even introduced to him, so there is nothing to share there!

Our first stop was a local temple, paid for by the people in the area, which housed the famous Golden Buddha. There was a great story about how the Buddha was discovered, and it is very beautiful. It was a good size, weighing 5.5 tons of gold, all of which were contributed from locals in the village in which it was originally carved. People donated earrings and necklaces and rings, all to be melted down. Gold is very precious to the Thai as it symbolizes wealth and there was a gold shop on every corner. The gold that is sold is 24k, vs the standard 18k in the US, so it is very soft and pliable. The temple was very, very crowded as Sunday was a day off for the locals and the start of the New Year, where most local Thai use as a good time to come in to the hundreds of temples in Bangkok to pay their respects to the thousands of Buddhas. We pushed our way into the temple, after removing our shoes, and stayed long enough to get the history from Tuk and to snap some pictures. There were monks and other men outside the temple narrating sermons to the people.

The next stop was Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple. We first visited another special smaller temple with another Buddha, before moving to the long building housing one of the world's largest Buddhas in a laying down position. It wasn't the longest in the world, but the most beautiful large Buddha. This was made of cement and covered in gold leaf. Along the walls were 108 metal pots that symbolized the 108 Buddhas in a mural (or around a shrine, can't remember), and people would exchange money for coins that they would drop, one per pot, into the metal pots around the wall while meditating about good deeds.

Leaving Wat Pho, we crossed the street into a market area near a river. We crossed the river on a ferry and were dropped off at Wat Arun, The Temple of Heaven, which was built in Thai and Cambodian architectural style. This temple was VERY tall and had the steepest steps I ever climbed. It was made out of cement and covered with thousands of pieces of colored broken china. It looked almost like a mountain and we had to hold tight to railings to pull ourselves up the steep steps. It felt like rock climbing! We got a nice view from the top perch, but it was also very, very crowded, and very, very, hot, so we quickly climbed back down. Rejoining Tuk, she took us back to the river and we hopped into a long tailed boat for a private motor boat ride down the Canal. It was awesome – it felt like we were speeding through the Bayou! There was lots of vegetation along the river, although everything still looked dried-out from the hot sun. Hundreds of homes lined the many canals, some more luxurious than others. The small, run-down ones were made of wood and you could tell they were sinking or deteriorating and would soon be replaced by a sturdier, more expensive cement structure. We also passed many different temples and shrines that had been constructed along the canal. We saw children jumping into the river with swimming tubes, and other people hand-washing clothes in the dirty water. Tuk acknowledged that most people like us wouldn't swim in the water, let alone wash our clothes, but that it was common for the local people. At one part in the canal, we got stuck waiting for a dam lock to switch.

We were reunited with our sedan driver after the boat ride and we were hot and hungry by this time. Luckily he had chilled water bottles and towelettes for us. We only had a few minutes to enjoy the cool air-conditioned car, as we were soon dropped off at the Royal Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple. I brought my sweatpants with me and slipped them on once inside the gate, after we scarfed down the sandwiches we had packed from the cruise ship. Tuk took us first to the Emerald Buddha Temple and explained that it was one of the most revered Buddhas in all of Bangkok. No pictures were allowed inside the temple. The Buddha wasn't really made of emerald, but was carved from Jade, but it sparkled in its protective case in the shrine. It was much smaller than the other Buddhas that we saw. The Buddha wears a gold garment that changes based on which of the three seasons we are in: Summer, Winter, Rainy. Moving on, we walked next door to the Royal Palace section and saw a beautiful palace that was built in a Thai and Western European architectural style, with the base and main walls of the palace looking like European palaces, and the top of the buildings covered in the pointed colored roofs of the Thai culture. The grounds were fashioned after old English gardens. The palace was much smaller than those found in Europe, and we were not allowed inside. Instead, we observed the gas lit lamps from London and listened to Tuk explain more history about Rama V, who constructed the palace, and about the design of the place.

Our last main stop on the tour was across town, to the Jim Thompson house. He was an American silk merchant who built up a famous and thriving silk business and built a beautiful Thai house/complex in Bangkok. He mysteriously disappeared during a walk though the jungle in Malaysia where he was camping with friends. We toured the house and looked at Jim Thompson's impressive art collection of 7th and 8th century carvings and sculptures and looked at the way he lived in the mid 1900s. It was a very different experience from all the temples in Bangkok and one of the must see tourist spots. We saw a LOT of Americans there, and had to wait almost 30 min for the next tour to start (Tuk waited for us as the tour was led by the museum tour guides). There was an expensive Jim Thompson shop and a restaurant on the grounds.

It was getting late at this time, close to 4pm, and we headed back to the car. We made a stop at a stone factory – which was really a gem factory – and had to watch a 7 min video about the carving of beautiful Red Rubbies and Sapphire stones. We were then taken to the showroom where a very annoying woman tailed us like a hawk trying to sell us VERY expensive sapphire and ruby jewelry. We stayed less than 10 min and then rejoined Tuk who took us back to the hotel, where we arrived right at 5pm.

We are so glad we organized this tour as it would have taken us double the time to negotiate the crowds and hassle with taxi drivers to get us to the places we needed to go. The old city, which housed all the temples, does not have good public transportation (just buses) and has lots of traffic. Only the downtown business section has a Skytrain to get around. Tuk was able to slip us in back entrances after laughing it up with a few guards, and that saved us from waiting in long lines. She knew exactly where to go, where to stand, etc. Even getting on a private long-tailed boat was pre-arranged, so we got to cut the line and wait only a few minutes while our boat driver pulled up. Everything was flawless and perfectly timed. Tuk herself was a joy. She was humorous and so full of knowledge about Buddhism and Thai culture and history. She always made sure to check in to see if we were tired or if we wanted less narration, but we were able to keep up with her pace. She agreed that we saw the main highlights of Bangkok and said we didn't need to stay in such a nice hotel to see those sites, but we told her the hotel was free. If we had more time in Bangkok, she said we should visit the floating market, which is about 110 km outside of the city. We felt good that we saw the most important sights of Bangkok. Tuk had even driven us through Chinatown so we could see the bustling flower and vegetable and fish markets. The whole tour, including the pickup from Laem Chambang, cost us 9500 Baht + 1050 Baht tip, or a little over $300 for both of us for the full day. It was well worth it.

It was hard to form a full impression of Bangkok as we didn't see all of the city, just the old temple part. But I would definitely return for another two days to explore the city. The downtown area has a lot of skyscrapers and looks like a nice built-up area, and we passed a few large shopping malls we would have liked to explore. Plus, the goods and shopping items are so inexpensive, I probably could have spent a few hours in different markets, picking up some more souvenirs. I am slotting the city under Shanghai, but I think Hunter is listing it further down his list. The city was a lot more dirty and older looking buildings and streets than does Singapore, but it had an Asian and exotic feel to it, which I preferred to the Americanized feel of Singapore.

At 5pm, we went up to our room to wash up and then quickly headed back downstairs. The executive lounge had food set out for cocktail hour and they had a great spread of mini sandwiches, ravioli, chicken bits, fruits, veggies, pizzas and a whole dessert spread, including gourmet chocolates. There was also free wine, beer and hard alcohol, so Hunter had a gin and tonic. We filled up on the appetizers and didn't need a sitdown dinner in one of the 7 restaurants contained in the resort. We walked around the pool area and checked out the restaurants, spotted a giant water lizard, and then crossed the street to a nearby shopping mall. I bought antacids in the pharmacy and then walked straight into the glass door on my way out, not seeing it at all, because I was so tired! I thought the door was open! We decided at that point that I needed to go to bed, and my stomach was hurting pretty badly, so we headed back to the room. We took long hot showers, which felt so good after getting sweaty in the 90+ degree weather of Bangkok. As I was waiting for Hunter to finish, I fell asleep sitting up in bed, with the TV on.

We had a full 6 hours of sleep, but it was a restless night as there was very loud music blaring from the pool. They must do nighttime club/dancing music as it continued well up until 2am, and our alarm went off at 2:15am! Luckily we were so tired we could keep falling back to sleep, through the music.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on January 3, 2010 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Bangkok, Cruise and Aisa

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Day 24: Flights from Bangkok to New York

Bangkok, Thailand

Day 24: Monday, January 4th, 2010

Flight home from Bangkok, Thailand

2:15am started our very long travel day back home. Our adventure has come to an end :( We had showered the night before and just had to throw on clothes and check all our bags were packed before heading downstairs. There were actually a lot of people working in the resort and we checked out quickly, with the receptionist bowing the formal Sawaskeekdat, the traditional greeting meaning “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” It is nice to have just one word for all those meanings! I had 733 Baht left and the taxi ride was only 500Baht + 100 Baht tip and was a quick 30 minutes (no traffic – including the one police check point inside Bangkok) and we got to the airport before all of the Princess Cruise transfers. We had a short line but it was a bit slow moving. We got our tickets and seat assignments for Bangkok – Narita and then cleared passport control. The airport was beautiful. It looked brand new and had a very open feel to it with super high and curved ceilings and gates that were below the main walkway. We had to go through several levels of screening – the traditional carry-on baggage screening, and then a full body pat-down and shoe search at the gate, along with a hand search of the carry-on luggage. Finally we were on board the plane and we were one of the first ones on, so we had plenty of time to fall asleep before the plane even was completely boarded!

The flight to Narita, Japan was over 5 hours and we ate a breakfast omelet meal and a turkey sandwich snack. Hunter and I slept the rest of the time and didn't even watch movies. Once in Narita, we had a good 4 hours before the flight was to depart, so we sat in the nice Continental Lounge and had free drinks (another Gin and Tonic for Hunter) and snacks of chips, pretzels, apple pie, etc. I left for a short time to go to the transfer counter to get a seat assignment as it wasn't printed on my ticket (although I had it on my itinerary). There was no line and I made it back for another half hour in the lounge. The outlets accepted US style plugs and there was free internet, so we easily passed the time catching up on all we missed in technology and entertainment in the US these past three weeks!

We boarded as silver elite on the flight to EWR and had the same style plane (with plugs) and the same seats 17A and 17B as we did on the flight from EWR to Beijing. We had just as many meals – a dinner within the first hour of Chinese style beef and rice and noodles or a choice of perch and salmon (we chose the beef), followed by a mid-flight snack of a sandwich and ice cream cup, and lastly another full meal (fettuccine with cream sauce or an omelet – we chose the pasta) before landing. Hunter and I watched 500 Days of Summer, followed by the Pixar film Up, and then slept for a full 6 hours, thanks to our 2 Tylenol PM tablets.

The flight landed at 4:45pm (12 ½ hours later) and we were one of the first ones off the plane, as we were seated at the front. We had no wait for the passport control and only a small wait for our checked baggage to come through. At this time I couldn't tell if my connecting flight to ORF was on time, and if it was, I would be cutting it close. I dropped off my two large suitcases to be checked through and said a teary goodbye to Hunter who headed for his taxi. He had to work the next day! He had a long ride as there was bumper to bumper traffic due to a truck accident. I cleared through another round of carry-on baggage screening and then learned my fight was delayed until 7:20pm. That delay turned into a much longer delay and the plane didn't leave EWR until 10:30pm. I finally landed in ORF at 11:35pm.

Hunter and I agree that this was by far our best trip yet. We spent great quality time together and experienced so many new sights, together. We wouldn't have changed one thing about the trip and are thankful it all went so well. Now, we just need to decide when and where our next adventure will be!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on January 4, 2010 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Thailand, Asia and Cruise

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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