Showing posts with label Southeast Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southeast Asia. Show all posts

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Adrift in the South China Sea

 Adrift, is probably too strong a word. As in reality, we simply sailed in circles for a couple of days.

Tender at the side of our Nautica ship

We were sailing from Cambodia to Nha Trang, our first stop in Viet Nam, on a 10-day Southeast Asian adventure aboard Oceania's Nautica. But when we checked the ship's navigational map, it appeared our ship was headed back the direction from which we had come. We joked with others at breakfast that someone had better tell the captain we were supposed to be going the other way.

Blue line shows our circling the South China Sea

Turns out the captain got the last laugh. We were going just the way he intended. The morning announcements confirmed we were going back the way we came as we were getting away from the storm and rough seas that would prevent our visit to Nha Trang. As the blue line on the map above indicates we didn't move very far either direction for a time.

Instead of one day at sea, we'd have two. Now we both like sea days, but when the selling point of the cruise had been two stops in Viet Nam, the news, I will admit, was disappointing. 

Koh Samui tenders were open to the sea and sun

But the port we were skipping was a' tender port'; one that requires the ship to anchor some distance out at sea, passengers descend a portable stairway attached to the side of the ship and board small boats that take them back and forth between the port and ship. 

Sometimes the shuttle runs in those 'lifeboat' tenders that dangle at the side of the ship and other times they are provided by the port. In Koh Samui, Thailand, we had colorful Thai tenders that opened to both the sea and the sun.   

Our ship at sea in a tender port, Koh Samui, Thailand

Neither of the small boat options would be good in a storm when the ship is a healthy distance from the shore.

View from the Nautica Horizon's Lounge

It was a good reminder that the best laid travel plans don't always work out, especially when traveling on the sea and subject to the whims of Mother Nature and the weather gods.   The nice thing about being on a cruise ship with such an itinerary change was not having to scramble to find an additional night's accommodations nor change airline tickets. 

For two days, the ship and the sea would be our world.

Days at Sea. . .

In today's cruise world, our ship with just more than 600 passengers, is considered small.  Yet, it came with a choice of dining venues (fine dining to grilled hot dogs and milk shakes), there was musical entertainment, a small casino, theater, movies, lectures, cooking demonstrations, and a wonderful wood-paneled library where you could spend hours. 

Staying on board was not tough duty.

Morning coffee on our cabin's deck - a daily event

We didn't completely avoid that storm and our ship was rocked both evenings of our sea days with wind and waves. Think of a cradle rocking from side to side and you've got an idea of the motion.  It was not frightening, but somewhat upsetting to those who don't have strong stomachs - luckily, we aren't among those folks.

Sun and sea beaconed on those sea days

The weather was hot, usually in the 80F to 90F, or 26 - 32C, range.  The chaise lounges at poolside called out to many of our fellow passengers. 

Our cabin - Oceania Nautica

We opted for the comfort of our cabin where we'd grab one of several books we'd purchased along the way and spend most of the afternoon reading.   

One of our delightful crew members

A highlight of any cruise for us is getting to know members of the staff. . . and sea days certainly give you time to visit with staff.  All of the service and hospitality personnel are primarily young people from all over the world. They are eager to talk about their families and the countries from which they come.  Their home country used to be printed on their name tags, but Oceania has quit doing that for whatever reason.  

A favorite Happy Hour waitress was from the Philippines. The ship's next cruise segment would get her back to the Philippines and afford her a day-long visit with family - she was thoroughly excited.  But, the 28-year-old, added, she was in her eighth contract on the ship. She'd begun with the idea of doing a single six-month contract and had liked it so well, she found herself signing up for more.

Senior Staff introduced at the Captain's Cocktail Party - guess the Chef

There is usually one staff member who stands out above all others for us and on this cruise, it was Aye.  This livewire seemed to work 24/7 behind the buffet counter. Always full of life, she was calling out greetings and flashing her smile whether she was serving early morning breakfast or late-night buffet.  

My name is Aye, that is A not I

'My name is Aye,' she explained one morning, 'That is A not I.' Aye hails from Myanmar. And that is all that I learned about her as her job serving at the buffet didn't allow much chat time. However, in that brief name discussion I told her I was Jackie.  From that point on she no longer greeted me as 'Ma'am' but flashed her smile and would call out, 'Miss Jackie'.  

Aye charmed us all

One evening in Viet Nam, she was dressed in a traditional Vietnamese outfit to help serve a special Asian Buffet dinner.  While always adorable, on that particular night she was simply stunning. I asked if I could take her photo and if I could share it with my friends on social media.  I stopped her in her tracks, she was so flattered: 'Oh Miss Jackie, you want my photo? Of course!' 

Early on I predicted that with her personality and skills, that we would likely have her as a cruise director one day. As our cruise went on, I changed the prediction: this young woman may well be the company's CEO one day!

And with the photos of Aye against a backdrop of Ho Chi Minh City, you have probably figured out that we eventually arrived in Viet Nam. HCMC was stunning and will be my focus next time around! Hope to have you back again and bring some friends with you! Until then wishes for smooth sailing to you and yours~

Monday, March 20, 2023

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

'Mai Pen Rai' means 'never mind' in the Thai language. It is the only Thai we know, a phrase learned ages ago and used infrequently, serving as a fond reminder of that Southeast Asian country.

During our two-day stay in Bangkok in February we found ourselves using it on several occasions. 

Street scene in Bangkok - portable eatery heading to its set up spot

In fact, it came to mind during our first couple of hours in the country, beginning with the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. Our driver spoke as much English as we did Thai.  Not a good combination, we decided, as we set off while he was trying to tell us something:

Rooftop restaurant and bar at Marriott Sukhumvit

We were headed to the Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit (the name of both the street and the neighborhood where this Marriott is located) when the driver, -- by then, speeding down the freeway -- finally got across to us that he needed an actual street address to get us there. 

Our mobile didn't work in Thailand and the one thing I hadn't jotted down on my somewhat anal-but- useful, handwritten list of hotels and flights, confirmation numbers and details, was the street address for this hotel. After all, there is only one Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit.

Oh, mai pen rai, problem solved when he handed us his phone and a Google search got him the address and Google maps got us there. 

Thai flower garlands - offerings to Buddha

Arriving at the hotel, we had no baht (Thai currency) and the driver didn't take credit cards. We uttered another mai pen rai as the hotel's doorman assured us the front desk would provide payment and simply charge it to our room. It apparently wasn't the first time that travelers have arrived baht-less in Bangkok.

Bangkok Revisited

Our room with a view - Sukhumvit Marriott

Bangkok is where we boarded the cruise ship that took us to other ports of call in Southeast Asia.  It was a perfect departure port as Bangkok is near and dear to our hearts. It was here -- many decades ago -- that we first considered having an expat experience. And for many years our expat daydreams were of a life in Thailand. 

Electric wires drape sidewalks and streets

Bangkok, like New York, is a city that never sleeps.  It's almost 13 million residents fill sleek, modern high rises and mid-century structures that stand side-by-side throughout the city. 

A mix of old and new

Massive numbers of electrical wires droop and drape overhead as pedestrians make their way along congested sidewalks lined with mom-and-pop businesses and eateries that spill out onto the pathways. 

Eateries line the streets

The mix of smells and sounds that assaulted our senses awakened our Thai love affair.   

Street eats across the street from our hotel

As we made our way along neighborhood sidewalks the smells of street food cooking on small portable barbeques combined with the heady aromas of spices and fruits offered for sale. Car exhaust, honking horns, flashing traffic lights, passing bicycles all contributed to the kaleidoscope of sensory experiences to be had just outside the hotel. 

You snooze, you lose on Bangkok streets

Rolling on the River

Our two nights in Bangkok were divided between the hotel and the cruise ship. Many cruise lines are now scheduling overnight stops in ports of call, and such was the stop in Bangkok. We boarded the ship on a Sunday afternoon, and we didn't depart until Monday afternoon, which allowed almost another full day of exploration.  

We could see our ship in the distance docked on the Chao Phraya 

We were aboard Oceania's Nautica, a small ship of just over 600 passengers. Because of its small size it was able to dock in the city on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. It was so close we could see it in the distance from our hotel's rooftop. Large cruise ships - those that carry thousands of passengers -- dock at a port some two hours from Bangkok.

Morning coffee on the Chao Phraya

One of the selling points of cruising for us is our cabin's deck. I had thought there could be nothing better than sipping room service delivered coffee and watching the morning's river activity in Bangkok. But I was to find out that actually being on that deck and traveling down that river toward the Gulf of Thailand was even more fun. 

Tugboats accompanied us just in case we needed them

Our river journey was three hours long and provided one of the best sightseeing opportunities of the trip. We had a flotilla of tugboats escorting us as we made our way to the gulf, ready to assist should our ship have lost power.

River scenes on the Chao Phraya River

The scenes we passed were a series of contrasts.

Our minds wandered and pondered about the purpose of each place and its occupants.

Thai Buddhist temple

The purpose of some places was quite evident, such as this Buddhist temple with a large Buddha gazing towards the river. Thailand has the second largest Buddhist population in the world after China.  

River scenes along the Chai Phraya River

We'd pass rickety, weather-beaten structures barely above the water's surface and seemingly accessed through acres of undeveloped groves. Within minutes we'd be passing a suburb with high rise buildings and a most modern network of highways and bridges.

Modern freeways and bridges contrasted with other river structures

Our journey to the sea was a slow one, beginning in mid-afternoon and ending as Happy Hour was ushering in evening's activities on the ship. 

The Scout and The Scribe - a toast to Thailand

As the sun set, we were entering the Gulf of Thailand. The next morning we'd be arriving in Cambodia. . .and that is where my tale begins next time. . .

We were entering the Gulf of Thailand

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Sunday, February 12, 2023

A Time to Travel

 It is time!  Time to get back in the saddle and do some traveling! 

One thing the Covid years taught us was not to assume we will always be able to travel - even if we can afford it and are healthy enough to do it.  We reminded ourselves often during our lockdown years - when a trip to the grocery store was an event to be celebrated - that we would 'Carpe Diem' and travel far and wide once we were free to do so. 

Maggie doesn't approve of any travel!

But then came another 'lockdown' of sorts for us last year - the kind that comes with residency permit renewal. For 4.5 months we were not allowed to travel beyond our Greek borders while awaiting our new permits.

Hiking local trails, a favorite lockdown activity

Much to our surprise we realized how easy complacency about travel can slow the flow of travel juices. We found that we enjoyed our homelife. We enjoyed hiking around our area. When we could, we enjoyed short jaunts in Greece.

Residency permit lockdown on a Greek ferry passing a cruise ship in Piraeus.

We made our annual journeys back to the States after lockdown eased in both countries. Returning to our home country is allowed during residency renewal. Yet, it didn't count as a travel adventure, the type that affords new experiences and discoveries, though. 

Italy, land of the pizza pies

Even as travel opened up and the red tape and pre-travel testing slowly became travel 'hurdles of the past', we didn't seem inspired to go much further than nearby Italy. And you regulars here, know that the flight time there is under two hours from Athens, so it is like visiting a nearby state in the U.S. Our Greek phone even works there, so it felt even more like a close-to-home getaway.

A few months ago, The Scout decided to put his old travel scouting skills to work. He was researching cruises-- a type of travel in which we used to indulge but haven't given it much thought for a very long time -- when one day he said, 'here's something of interest. . .'  

The dye was cast. And we are set to head out on a true adventure - they type we haven't had for probably seven or eight years. It is the kind of trip that will take us to places in the world we've not yet visited and also back to old favorites.  We will be heading to. . .

Athens to SE Asia

Southeast Asia

In our early years of travel together we visited Asia -- Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore -- as annual vacation times from work allowed.  It has been a very long time, literally decades, since we've spent much time in that part of the world, and that could be why the Southeast Asian cruise itinerary called out to us.

Oceania's Nautica

Embarking in Bangkok, Thailand we will set sail on Oceania's Nautica, a small ship of 625 passengers, for ports of call elsewhere in Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam and enjoy a few days at sea before disembarking in Singapore.  Our segment will be 10-days long. Other passengers who boarded in India and will depart weeks later in Hong Kong will have logged a dozen weeks on board.

Our routing

We will get to the cruise by flying Turkish Airlines from Athens via Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and spend three days there before flying to Bangkok. 

For those of you wondering about the lingering impacts of Covid requirements on travel: we need not test prior to boarding but are required to have proof of vaccination with us. As of this writing none of the countries are requiring testing, but as we all know, that can change on a moment's notice.  

It is now time to activate that travel bug again and yet how unnatural that feels after an extended period of not traveling. But its time. Time to dust off the suitcases, eat some different foods, see new vistas, try new airlines, and force us out of our complacent comfort zone.  It is finally time to 'carpe diem!

The next time you hear from us, we will have new travel adventure tales to tell.  How about you? Have you resumed travel and if so, did it, at first, feel unnatural?  Or are you still giving some thought to travel? If you are enjoying armchair travels, where have books or television taken you?

As always thanks for the time you've spent with us today. Wishes for safe travels to you and yours~

Friday, August 14, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar ~ The Girl Under the Bridge

“Hello!” a sweet young voice called out in perfect English.

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Yangon River

I turned to see who had issued such a cheery, understandable greeting. And then it took a minute to collect my thoughts as I  couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing  ~ the welcome  had come from under the bridge pictured above.

The bridge we’d just walked across was the roof of our little greeter’s house – a wooden bridge leading to one of the docks along the murky waters of the Yangon River, some three blocks from our 5-star hotel.

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Life under the bridge - Yangon, Myanmar
In her pink dress the little one  looked like a doll. Her smile was as bright as the sun, as she waved and again called out to me, “Hello!”

She was standing in a space under the bridge, (identical to the space in this nearby bridge shown in the photo above).  Note: Even this shutterbug could not bring myself to take photos of my young greeter and her family.

The scene was indelibly imprinted without photos: Her mother squatted by a small cooking fire, her father was asleep on a mat and her brother played off to the side. . .in her home under the wooden bridge at the side of the murky Yangon River

PicMonkey Collage
Surveying life on the murky waters of the Yangon River
I smiled, returned her greeting and we retraced our route  across her roof to continue our explorations of Yangon, Myanmar – the place not so long ago know as Rangoon, Burma.

“Yangon means ‘end of strife”

We were spending three days and two nights in Yangon, Myanmar, formerly Rangoon, Burma, as part of our 34-day cruise aboard Oceania’s Nautica; a spring sailing that was taking us on a “magic carpet ride” from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey.

While the Hindu and Buddhist temples and pagodas were as stunning as tourist promotional materials promised in Myanmar, it was scenes like our little greeter that left the most lasting memories during our far-too-short a stay:

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Feed the Birds - that's what she cried, in Yangon, Myanmar
. . .like the lady selling crumbs to feed the birds on the street corner.

Burma,now known as Myanmar,a British colony for nearly100 years,declared its independence in 1948. It remained a representative democracy until a military coup in 1962 initiated an isolationist policy.

PicMonkey Collage
Playing real-life "Chicken" in Yangon, Myanmar
. . . or the memory of the nerve-numbing frenzied, flurry of automobiles, pedicabs, ancient buses, and pedestrians on the labyrinth of streets – requiring all who entered or tried to cross to play a game of chance, an all-too-real reality game of “Chicken”.

PicMonkey Collage
Yangon public buses
From the ship’s tour desk: “Yangon has an extensive bus network, but the buses are very crowded, do not have A/C, do not always adhere to published schedules or routes and are not available at the cruise pier area.” 

After seeing them, we understood the ship’s information. We weren’t inclined to climb about the buses. Walking was our preferred means of transportation during our stay. It was a great way of collecting memories. . .

From 1962 until 2011 Myanmar, formerly Burma, was ruled by a military junta. In 2011 the military introduced gradual political, economic, and foreign policy reforms.

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Who once drove those vehicles, we wondered
The street scenes were so varied they assaulted our senses.  The vehicles pictured above we found parked mid-way between our luxurious hotel and the beautiful MahaBandoola Garden below.

Since 1948 ethnic groups –- more than 100 -- within Myanmar have been infighting – the most recent draft ceasefire agreement signed in March, 2015 – only a month prior to our arrival.

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Mahabandoola Garden - Yangon, Myanmar
As visitors we had to remember we were still on the forefront; that tourism is a new phenomenon in this city of more than five million people. Walking along streets lined with charming worn buildings that reminded us of  its recent strife-filled decades.

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What stories the buildings could tell - Yangon, Myanmar
A tourism boycott was put into place in 1996 and lifted in 2010 when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (referred to here simply as, “The Lady”) was released from house arrest. In 2010 international tourists numbered 300,000; in 2012 one million.

Yet there are signs of economic growth and a renewed effort to emerge from those dark, isolated years. The photos above and below were taken within a few blocks of each other and reflect the kaleidoscope of scenes we encountered as we explored but a portion of this sprawling city.

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Yangon, Myanmar
In 1988 the military cracked down on protesters reportedly killing some 3,000 people and displacing thousands more.

It is easy to jump to conclusions about a place, especially when you are there for as short a time as we were.  So we’d hesitate to make any grand observations about  this city – for centuries a small fishing village --believed to have been founded in the 6th century. 

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Street eatery - Yangon, Myanmar
We can tell you that we felt safe walking its streets; the people with whom we had contact made us feel genuinely welcomed.  We did not eat or drink anything sold or available on the streets – they washed and cleaned dishes but used water that was questionable to our Western minds and stomachs.

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Street cafe - Yangon, Myanmar
The city is clearly more worn than modern – still showing signs of damage from a 1930’s earthquake and from World War II – and that could be a turn-off for some visitors. We found it charming. We want to return.

Yangon has some of the most beautiful pagodas  and Buddha statues  in Southeast Asia. One day we’ll likely tell you about them. They were stunning, but those places get a lot of publicity. . .

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Yangon River taxi 
Today I just wanted to tell you about the warm welcome we had from the little girl under the bridge.

Thanks – as always – for the time you spend with us! I had a computer melt-down this week which means the half-written post about our historic hotel stay in Yangon will come in the near future.  Happy and safe travels to you until we see you again ~

If you have some time check out  these collections with which we are linking this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday


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