2010 Asia Cruise
4 nights in Singapore, 9 nights on a cruise which stopped at 4 ports in Vietnam and in Hong Kong, and finally 2 nights in Taiwan
I've said before that I often feel like my travels choose me more than I choose my travels. If you asked me how I came upon the idea for taking a cruise through Asia, I really wouldn't be able to tell you. All I know was that I felt like I desperately needed a vacation to plan when I was trying to get over post-Disney World depressions this past fall. I was randomly browsing some cruise sites, and my interest was piqued by this one cruise- great itinerary, not too long or too short, and totally fabulous price! It clicked with me; I felt something inside me say that it would be the perfect centerpiece for my next adventure. (note: the price more than doubled a few weeks after I booked)

After my 2007 trip to Bangkok, I was motivated to read about Thailand... eventually, I branched out to books about Vietnam and Cambodia, which have become 2 of the countries I most want to visit. One of the biggest reasons this cruise intrigued me is because it stops at 4 ports in Vietnam. I don't pretend that I will be able to experience the country in much more than a superficial way- rather, I feel like it will be a nice introduction. It will either satisfy my curiosity, or else I will want to plan a more in depth visit in the future.

I have to admit that I was almost completely ignorant about Singapore and Taiwan before booking this cruise- but that made it even more exciting. During the past few months, I've been reading as much as I can about these 2 islands and I've found them both to be fascinating. My original plan was to arrive 2-3 nights in advance of my cruise, but there are so many things I want to see at Singapore that I bumped up my original plan to 4 nights- even though that means that I will miss following live results for the final day of the US National figure skating championships. (I'm sure my figure skating friends understand how much I am giving up!) I'd have extended that even further but this was the most I could do without missing even more work. I'll be staying in Taiwan for 2 nights after my cruise- that was originally going to be one night, but flight schedules dictated the necessity of a 2nd night.

This trip is more affordable than it might seem, both because of the incredible price I got on the cruise as well as the fact that I can take advantage of some frequent flier miles I've accumulated. My original idea was to fly business class round trip, but I was only able to book coach to Singapore. However, I will be living it up in first class on my return from Taiwan; this means that even the trip home will be something new and exciting. If only I could get surf the 'net on International flights, it would be just about perfect. ;)

Here are a few of the thoughts that have swirled through my imagination as I've been anticipating my upcoming travels:
  • I'm eager to practice my photography; this will be my first overseas trip with the DSLR. I am also taking a new tiny point and shoot, to allow for more flexibility in situations where the large camera and its lenses may be too cumbersome. I love taking photos (although I don't feel that I am all that excellent at it... yet) but I probably will only post some of them "live" and the rest will have to wait until my return.
  • Working on a live travel blog again will be fun- I've missed having the opportunity to do so. As always, I want to outdo my previous efforts
  • On my 2007 trip to Hong Kong, I had there were 2 different things I wanted to do on my last day but time constraints forced a choice; I'll now be able to explore the path not taken. I had a fabulous time in Hong Kong and can't believe I will get to see its amazing skyline again so soon!
  • I've become known for choosing some interesting hotels; I think I've made a couple intriguing choices this time, too. And I think they all have free internet.
  • Being on a cruise will force me to have some lazy down time instead of being on the go every single day. At least I hope so- I need some relaxation.
  • There are various personal challenges that I hope to conquer- these will be detailed as they occur. (or not)
  • Most of all, I can't wait to discover the charms of 3 new countries... and to experience myself in places that I never imagined I would ever see in person.
I am not looking forward to the very l-o-n-g trip to Singapore. I just keep telling myself that it will ultimately be worth it- and to take it one step at a time. I usually find plenty of things to enjoy during my actual journeys; I think I'm dreading the inevitable fatigue more than anything else. Once I finally make it to my hotel (where I'll probably just toss my wallet across the front desk and plead "bed, please"), the hardest part will be behind me and I will be able to start turning my dreams into some amazing memories.

One way to sum up my feelings is with a quote from the movie Up: "Adventure is out there!"
By the time I got through everything that needed to be done on Friday night (which of course included watching the Original Dance live from the US National figure skating championships as well as some time on the treadmill), it was not too far from the time I needed to leave for the airport at 3:30am. So I watched the end of my current Netflix movie, "Memoirs of a Geisha", and only ended up taking a quick nap on the sofa. Sleep?! Who needs sleep when there is a world out there waiting!

It was a good thing that I got to the airport early because, frankly, the check-in experience on American Airlines sucked. And I don't say that lightly. First of all, you are practically forced to check in at automated kiosks (I could not do online check-in because of my international flights) That's all well and good... except midway through, there was a prompt that an employee/supervisor had to enter something for me to continue. And that in itself wouldn't be a problem- if there was someone available to flag down (like they have at the self checkouts at supermarkets) By the time I got someone's attention, my checkin process had timed out and I had to start all over again. Argh. He entered his card at the prompt, but let me actually answer whether my travel documents were valid- nice security there. ;)

Since I totally obsess about travel plans, I had carefully read all the information about bag check fees on aa.com and determined that I was entitled to check 2 bags for free. So when the machine wanted to charge me $50 for checking my 2nd bag, I said "Non!" I asked my new friend at the counter what to do, and he told me I'd have to get in the general line for dropping off bags. (the line with signs that specifically said not to enter unless you already had a boarding pass) Of course, this line was now waaaay longer than when I'd arrived. So I waited patiently to get to the front where Ms "I wouldn't know how to smile if someone pulled my lips into position" saw that her computer also said I should be charged $50- even though all their signage says that this charge is for flights to Europe and India. Without once changing her bored expression, she called headquarters or somewhere and eventually found out I was right. Ha! But I wonder how many people would have just blindly paid?! While traveling, I try to smile and thank everyone I encounter- both because I am happy and because I realize that many people in the travel industry have thankless jobs. Ms. No-Smile still maintained the same expression... and even started to sorta argue with me. (yes, that's right, I was thanking her for checking and she was talking about how people don't always see the right thing on the website.)

Security seemed noticeably stepped up at the airport. Lovely charade. I mean, if I can figure out that you only get "randomly" searched at the gate when there is a lull in the random search area, surely anyone with anything to hide would also know to wait to enter the boarding line until the random searchers were busy with someone else. But that's a whole political can of worms that I don't really want to open.

The flight to Dallas was nicely uneventful- I was in a row of 3 seats, and the middle one was empty. I slept for most of the flight. Once I landed, I turned on my cell phone the moment the flight attendant said it was ok, and was thrilled that my mom left a message that the kennel now felt that they could care for my cat, Belle. She'd been, err, a little hard to handle the previous night and the kennel had totally freaked me out by calling and mentioning that she might be better off somewhere else, like at a vet.

In Dallas, I wanted to walk between terminals to get to my connecting flight; with a 14 hr flight ahead, exercise is always a good thing. At first I accidentally followed signs to the Sky Train, but then I found the way to walk- and the pathways were virtually empty and very peaceful; most people must take the Sky Train. After a nice walk, I got to the gate area in terminal D. I didn't have a very long wait before my flight started boarding.

When I saw the sign for "Tokyo" at the gate- and even more so when I actually got onto the plane- it truly sunk in that I am really going to Asia. As I boarded the plane, I snuck a peek at the swanky first class cabin. That's where I'll be sitting on my way home- wheeee. Today I realized that I'll also be able to board the plane first and check-in at the first class check-in line. Nice.

I've been relaxed on the flight- sleeping a bit, starting to read a novel, and now starting to write my first live blog entry of the trip. I also have my seat back video tuned to the airplane path; my inner skating fan has been squeeing a bit when I see Spokane and Vancouver on the map. When the display shifts to Japanese, I practice reading Katakana. It would rock to have internet and to be able to watch the skating live, but alas that is not possible. I'm always struck at how the idea of a super long flight seems to be worse than the actual reality of being on one. Well, at least when I'm not sitting near loud kids or people who are sniffling/coughing... which fortunately has not been an issue today.

After landing in Tokyo for my long layover, the first thing I did was to buy a small bottle of Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink. They always have different flavored Kit Kats in Japan... I saw a display and they were not translated, so I took a gamble on one. It's pretty yummy- good choice, whatever it is.

Next stop: Singapore...
During my long layover at Narita airport, I ended up collecting various flavors of Kit Kats; according to the Internet, the one I posted about in my first entry was soy powder and chocolate flavored; I also ended up with ginger ale, milke coffee, and soy sauce. I used up most of the yen I had left over from previous trips.

While waiting for my flight, I noticed the sunset. JAL apparently does not board by rows- instead everyone just gets in line. Somehow this did not work out to be any less orderly than boarding flights in the US.

Again I was sitting in a row of 3 seats with the middle one empty. All the time zone hopping made me sleep through much of the 7 hr flight- though I was awake for all food offerings. At one point I checked the seatback monitor and saw that there were still 3 hours left and wished to get there already. But I wasn't as impatient as I'd imagined I would be- perhaps that's because my flight got in after midnight so I knew I wouldn't be doing anything other than traveling to my hotel.

Finally, we landed- and I could see the humidity through the windows as we taxied to the gate. My luggage seemed to be one of the last ones out on the carousel, but at least it was there so no complaints! By the time I got some money out of the ATM, I was at the end of a very long taxi line. Fortunately, it was very efficient and moved quickly. During the ride to my hotel, my eyes were glued to the window so I could catch as much of the scenery as possible- I was finally in Singapore and I didn't want to miss anything.

Checking in at my hotel was easy. The rooms in my hotel are all unique, each designed by an artist. I'd requested a certain room, but I did not get it. Instead, I was led to the "Flower Child" room. It's pink so I like it and it's all good. The room is very small, but very cute. It also has an outdoor tub- though I don't know that I will ever actually use it.

After going online for a short bit (and confirming that the free wifi works), I collapsed into bed- excited for the morning when I could actually start experiencing the city.
Sunset at Narita Airport, while waiting for my flight to Singapore "Flower Child" hotel room "Flower Child" hotel room: shower Bathtub on hotel room veranda
After sleeping rather fitfully, I woke up before my alarm went off. My room came with breakfast, so I headed out past the pool and then downstairs to the restaurant. (note that the skylights in the restaurant ceiling actually provide a view into the pool) After eating, I took a few photos around the funky hotel lobby, including one of a rickshaw that is sitting in a corner.

Since my hotel is in Chinatown, I figured that I'd start out with a Chinatown walking tour from my guidebook. My attention was immediately grabbed by what seemed to be a brightly colored banner above a nearby road; upon closer inspection, it was a banner for the upcoming Chinese New Year. There were decorations lining the road I was taking to the start of my walking tour- culminating in a large inflatable figure. (another view of the figure) Very festive way to start my trip!

The first thing I saw in Chinatown- which really one cannot help seeing- is the Chinatown Street Market. Pedestrian walkways were lined with colorful booths offering various items for sale. It's good that I hadn't left earlier, as many stalls were just opening. I just reveled in the color and just browsed, although someone from a camera shop tried to sell me an extra battery. (err, my camera battery last freaking forever... but I already have a spare, anyway) I also took tons of photos. ;)

Next stop was the Chinatown Complex, which is an indoor market. They sell fresh food there- including very fresh frogs, in case you were wondering where you might buy a frog in Singapore. ;) They also had a couple signs that I found interesting.

Time now for my first temple of the trip: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. I was fortunate that there was a Buddhist service going on while I was there- I didn't want to be disrespectful, but they were apparently allowing people to enter and take photos; obviously, I tried to be discreet and took most of my photos from the mezzanine above. In any event, it was beautiful to hear the Buddhist chants- that really made the place seem more vibrant. Upstairs, there were some interesting works of art as well as a roof top garden. When I came back downstairs, the service was over, so I was able to linger and take some detail shots without distrubing anyone.

The next site on the itinerary was Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore's oldest Indian temple. I was looking forward to seeing this as the photos I've seen have been bright and colorful. Unfortunately, it was under heavy renovation so there was very little to see, although there were a couple sculptures and colored ceiling tiles.

Nearby was Masjid Jamae mosque. Very simple, but I felt like I was giving some goodwill by entering an Islamic place of worship.

At this point I was getting a little hungry, and thirsty so I took my guidebook's recommendation and bought an egg tart at Tong Heng confectionary. The man who served me was extremely friendly, and it was refreshing to sit and take a short break. And the tart was good- definitely something different!

Nearby was Maxwell Food Center, a building full of hawker stands. Sort of a different twist on a food court. Since I'd just taken a snack, I wasn't really hungry so I just wandered through, soaking up the atomosphere and taking photos.

Just across the street, the Singapore City Gallery had a large model of the island. And it was air conditioned, which was also nice. Singapore is quite hot and humid... since it's winter back home, I sorta love the weather here... but sometimes one needs some relief!

On my way to Thian Hock Keng Temple, I saw some interesting sculptures. In constrast to the Buddha Tooth Temple, Thian Hock Keng is one of the older temples on the island. It also had a lot of beautiful works of art/worship.

All in all, I enjoyed the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Singapore's Chinatown; it was an amazing start to my travels!

After my tour of Chinatown, I decided to wander around the heart of Singapore to see some of the Colonial sights. Which of course meant that I had to find the city center since I was no longer on a prescribed walking tour. Fortunately, Singapore is pretty easy to get around- and if I ever went a few blocks out of my way, I usually saw something interesting, anyway.

In my quest to find Raffles landing site, I got caught up in some kind of motorcade at the Fullerton Hotel which prevented me from crossing over to the Cavenagh pedestrian bridge. A uniformed man asked me to please stand back, and then a series of motorcycles (with men wearing the same type of uniform as the man who stopped me) came by followed by several white cars. People got out of the white cars, the doors shut, and all vehicles promptly pulled out... only to be followed by a 2nd set of motorcycles and white cars. I waited for the 2nd set of cars to clear away, but they actually stayed parked in the driveway. For some reason, I didn't think to take any photos during this process.

Soon enough, I crossed the bridge over the Singapore River and found the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. Nearby is the Dalhousie Obelisk. I walked along Esplanade Park to the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, and caught sight of the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel in the distance. Even if I wanted to spend the equivalent of $20+ on a ferris wheel, and even if it is higher than the London Eye... I'm not a big fan of heights. ;) (I think I neglected to mention that I saw the Singapore Flyer as my plane came in for a landing)

After crossing back over the Singapore River, this time via the Esplanade Bridge, I was happy to find a merlion statue- in fact, I'd stumbled across merlion park... which isn't really mentioned in my guidebook for some reason.

At this point I was getting hot and tired so I decided that it was time to get familiar with Singapore's MRT system and take a subway back to my hotel. It was easy to use the automated machines to purchase my ticket- I just had to select a one trip ticket and then click on my desired station on the map. The machine charges $1 extra as a deposit for the smart card on which the ticket is issued; after exiting the MRT at your destination, you can use the same machine to get a refund of that deposit. The prices for the transit are extremely inexpensive. The only other thing to note is that it would be impossible to fall onto the subway tracks, because there is a (semi-transparent) wall separating the platform from the tracks- the doors on the wall open when there is a train present for boarding. (although this was not the case at stations that are above ground. The doors have these 2 nifty characters on them admonishing people to let people exit the train before boarding.

Although my hotel is only about a block from the closest MRT station, apparently there are several exits and I did not use the one that was convenient to my hotel. So I had to walk around quite a bit to orient myself. But eventually I found my way, and spent some time relaxing in my hotel room- and partaking of the free refreshments in the fridge.

When I got hungry, I decided to head out to a mall because I wanted to check out some malls in Singapore (since shopping is apparently a major thing here) and I figured I'd be able to get some decent but quick food. I headed to the ION Orchard mall, and then followed the signs to the food hall. After wandering around a bit, I decided that a plate of lemon chicken appealed to me- it was delicious (and pretty inexpensive for what you got... well, compared to US food court prices)

One reason I wanted to go to this particular mall is because they have a Sephora. ;) I didn't buy anything but I enjoyed wandering around. I bought a Wild Cherry soap at the Body Shop because my hotel only has shower gel (Kiehl's brand, so it's good stuff) but I find it hard to use shower gel without a shower puff.

When I came back to my hotel, I used the correct exit from the MRT and was able to find my way back more easily than earlier in the day. I also noted that the Chinese New Years banners looked even more vibrant when alit. The hotel pool (which I pass when walking upstairs to my room) also looked nice lit up. However, I had a bit of a stomach ache (I don't think the lemon chicken completely agreed with me) and ended up going to sleep super early.
Trishaw in hotel lobby Chinese New Year decorations Chinatown Market Chinatown Market Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Masjid Jamae Mosque, Chinatown Tong Heng Confectionary Telok Ayer Green sculpture Thian Hock Keng Temple Downtown Singapore Merlion Statue at Merlion Park
I started the day sampling a large number of items from my hotel's breakfast buffet; this time, I tried some of the Chinese offerings in addition to the eggs, bacon, and small chocolate chip muffin. I was rather anxious because my mom had promised to send me a report about my cat, Belle, on Monday and I hadn't received an email from her.

My first planned destination was the Singapore Botanic Garden. Although I'd looked up what bus to take, I decided to ask the front desk for travel advice since I figured they'd know better. Except, they didn't. When they told me to go to some station and then take the 174 bus, I asked them if that bus didn't also stop at the station near the hotel. After looking it up and the internet and making some phone calls, they did in fact confirm that it stopped here.

The gentleman gave me directions to get to the bus stop... except I think he gave me directions to the wrong stop. :P In any event, I did eventually find the correct stop- as noted by the signs listing the buses and their destinations. When a bus stopped, I asked the driver for confirmation that it stopped at the Botanic Garden. However, apparently the driver didn't understand me (err, I thought English was the official language here?) and I was hot and annoyed and confused, so I got off and decided to head back to the taxi stand I'd seen across the street. I ended up getting in a taxi that had cnbc video on the seatback in front of me, lol.

Once at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, my first stop was the Swan Lake- and, oh yes, I had the music from Swan Lake and ghosts of skating programs from the past swirling through my head. A guy tried to talk to me, but I really don't like meeting anyone when I am hot and sweaty and focused on trying to improve my photography. I also don't like letting random people know that I am traveling alone, so when he asked, I invented a friend who was at a work conference. Heh. Eventually he left me alone. (he was not very cute or anything...)

One of the main attractions of the Botanic Garden is the National Orchid Garden, which costs a small fee to enter. Very nice to walk around- and lots of purple! I was getting thirsty, and I was happy to see that the drink machine had the Japanese beverage Pocari Sweat.

Some more photos around the Botanic Gardens: I found a taxi stand, and conveniently there was one waiting. I headed next to Haw Par Villa, which I really had to see since it was mentioned in 2 of the novels I'd read about Singapore. Haw Par Villa contains dioramas that bring to life Chinese stories (and, err, apparently there is a random Statue of Liberty there too- there was no sign explaining this...). The most famous area (which cost a very modest price to enter; the rest of the area was free) is the cave with the Ten Levels of Hell; in one of my novels, the young boy was taken there and was scared by figures such as the ones where someone is cutting off a man's tongue. Apparently parents took their kids there in hopes that the gruesome scenes to scare them into living a moral life. Or something like that. There were very few people around, and some of the statues seemed to need some care- however, I did see people restoring some of the art work so I guess they've been working on restoring it. (here is a photo of one of the dioramas that has been restored) Haw Par Villa has a bit of a fascinating history- it was founded by the 2 heirs to the Tiger Balm fortune and was originally free. At some point, it was converted into an amusement park, but that idea was not successful so the rides were removed and it's back to being (mainly) free.

Random pig shoutout-- pigs are flying to Vancouver, ya know! ;)

Haw Par Villa is a bit in the middle of nowhere, but I didn't want to take another cab. Fortunately, I found a bus stop- this time I didn't ask if it was going where I wanted (heh) and just put in my money. I'd already accomplished the 2 main things I'd planned for the day, so I started to go with my whims. Since the bus headed directly to the Harbourfront, that was where I would go!

There are 2 malls there- Harbourfront and Vivocity. I easily navigated the overpasses and found my way to Habourfront mall. This is also the terminal where I will be boarding my cruise ship, so I followed some of the cruise signs to orient myself. I happened upon a quick serve restaurant called Pastamania- that totally seemed like it was designed for me, so I had to stop there for a tasty dish of spaghetti with chicken bolognese sauce. Yum!

After walking through Vivocity, I decided to head over to Sentosa island. Although I could see that the monorail was close by, the signs were not that clear and I ended up taking an amusing diversion through the park on the roof of the mall. But ultimately I found it.

Sentosa is currently under heavy construction- Resorts World casino complex has started to open (the casino itself is still not open) and Universal Studios should be opening there shortly. There are also a bunch of attractions- many of them too exciting for me (like a zip line) and a beach. I just really wanted to walk around a bit, and see what's around.

The first thing I saw was a large Merlion statue. Apparently you can go to the top of the statue to look out- but not so much when I was there; there were signs that it was closed for cleaning. I followed the signs and took a bunch of escalators to the Imbiah Lookout. I had thoughts of going to the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom but it seemed a bit too expensive, so instead I walked on a nature trail at Sentosa Nature Discovery. Which seemed to be endless. There were so few people on the trail that I wondered if I'd be left there for a really long time if, by chance, I sprained an ankle or something. Did I mention that it seemed to go on forever? ;) It was beautiful and peaceful at first- but eventually it just seemed long.

Eventually, I found my way back to civilizaion and walked along the Merlion Path to the Beach monorail station. (A couple final photos of Sentosa, taken near the station are here and here.) I thought of stopping at the Resorts World complex to check it out on my way back to the main island, but it seemed to be under too much construction. Well, that and the fact that although the monorail stopped there, you couldn't actually exit because there were boards erected at the exits. (curiously, in the other direction, it seemed like there were no such obstacles preventing exits)

I walked around the Harbourfront and Vivocity malls some more. (they are connected to each other) I passed by a Pizza Hut, which reminded me that even though the same brands may be sold throughout the world, they may not be the same everywhere- I don't think I've ever seen Cherry Blossom Pizza in the US. ;) When I came acorss the New Zealand Natural ice cream shop, I decided that it was a perfect time for ice cream. I also had to try their "Hokey Pokey" flavor (Crunchy butterscotch pieces hiding in creamy butterscotch flavored ice cream)- that's what it's all about, right? ;)

Fortunately, my hotel was only 1 MRT stop away. When I got back to my hotel room, I realized that not only were my feet killing me... but they were also bleeding a bit. Yikes! I took a short nap and then went downstairs to see if I could eat dinner at the hotel's restaurant which has received great reviews. I am glad it wasn't full because I don't think I could have walked any further! At the manager's suggestion, I had a soup with noodles, crab, and egg- I wasn't really that hungry so it was perfect.

After dinner, I finally heard from my mom- apparently my emails were not getting to her so she was worried about me. I reconfigured something on my email client so hopefully that fixed the issue. (odd thing was that a friend of mine had no problems getting my emails) I also finally posted another blog, after going through my Chinatown photos.
Singapore Botanic Garden: Swan Lake, viewed from Swan Lake Gazebo Singapore Botanic Garden: National Orchid Garden Haw Par Villa: Entrance to Cave of 10 Courts of Hell Haw Par Villa: 7th Court of Hell Haw Par Villa Haw Par Villa Sentosa Merlion Statue Sentosa Nature Discovery Sentosa, view from Beach Station
After breakfast, I headed out to follow my guidebook's walking tour of Little India. Upon exiting the MRT, the first thing I noticed was a delicious smell that reminded me of curry... and which really set the atomosphere of the neighborhood. I also enjoyed the cheery bright colors of the shops along Little India's Arts Belt.

The Sultan Mosque was also rather impressive- although I didn't actually go inside because it was too hot to wear a garment over my shorts and t-shirt. Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple was truly amazing, and it made up for not being able to see Sri Mariamman Temple 2 days earlier.

I diverged from the tour when I realized that I'd have to backtrack to see the Tekka Market since it was back to its permanent location, instead of the temporary location listed in the guidebook.

When I had enough of Little India, I took the MTR to another walking tour- this one to the colorful Joo Chiat section. After exiting the MTR, I got distracted by pretty decorations, but then followed my map to the start of the walking tour. Or, should I say, the end of the walking tour since I was following it backwards. ;) On my way, I found a hawker center where I stopped since I was very thirsty. I was going to get a Pocari Sweat, but I was intrigued by the F & N cool ice cream soda. I'm sure some would find it sickeningly sweet, but I liked it.

My walk through Joo Chiat wasn't really about the places I saw, but more about how I was doing exactly what I love most: walking through a relatively quiet neighborhood filled with bright and colorful architecture... where I could stroll, snap random pictures, and just feel like I am in a dream. I really enjoyed my walk through this area- and appreciated how you could almost look in any direction and find a regular building that was worthy of being photographed. I loved seeing hotels, restaurants, stores, even karaoke bars... to me, they were like little jewels.

There were a few sites of special note, including 3 sites of worship. One of these was a Christian Church of the Holy Family. The second was a Chinese Temple, Kuan Im Tng. The 3rd was a really amazing Hindu temple, Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. On Koong Seng Rd, there was a row of colorful conserved shophouses. I also saw the most adorable row of conserved terrace houses- could I buy one of them and move it to the US? ;)

After walking back to the MTR stop, I decided to get off a few stops early at City Hall so I could see a couple central sites that I hadn't seen on Monday. Of course, this being Singapore, I got distracted by another mall (where I bought some more memory cards for my camera). But eventually I found the famous Raffles Hotel. For some reason, it surprised me that it was right in the middle of a city block; I guess I expected it to be elevated on its own plateau since it is so legendary that it seems above mere average stores. I also saw St. Andrew's Cathedral.

When I got back to my hotel, I acutally did a little programming! (hope my boss is reading this...) I wanted to add a counter to the photo link on my travel site front page so people would know if there were new photos to see or not. Also, I'd written a little application that I've been using to convert my travel blogs from html to the format that can be used on my skating board so I can re-post them there; after using that app a few times, I realized that there were a few things that annoyed me... so I changed them.

I was tired, but this was my last night in Singapore and I really wanted to see the Night Safari. Since I was too tired to navigate subways and bus transfers, I decided to just take a cab. Also I only took my pocket camera. Once I got there, I had some pasta for dinner because I was super hungry. As I ate, I saw a tribal performance on the nearby stage. And then I took the tram ride through the park. I have mixed feelings about the tram ride- the guide was very enthusiastic and entertaining, but I felt like most of the animals were on the other side of the tram. It was neat to see them at night, though- and to hear the sounds of the crickets in the background.

I took a quick break to have a cone of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream- yum! And then it was time for the last performance of the "Creatures of the Night" show. This was a very cute show, featuring some nocturnal animals. Actually, the cutest part was when they brought out some otters who demonstrated how to put recyclables in the proper can (especially since one seemed to play with the cans for awhile before actually depositing them in the bin!)

I was tired, but since I don't know if I will ever get back to Singapore, I decided to walk along some of the paths that are not part of the tram tour. I think this was my favorite part- there weren't a lot of people around, and it was a very unique experience to walk through dark, foresty paths punctuated by animal display areas. It was hard to take photos but I got a couple halfway decent ones of a serval and a sleeping cheetah.

Once I got back to the hotel, I just about collapsed into bed after another very full day. If you paid attention, you'll notice that I visited places of worship for many different faiths today... one of the things that intrigued me when I was reading about Singapore is the diversity.
Little India Little India Masjid Abdul Gafoor Mosque Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple Joo Chiat: Conserved Shophouses Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple St Andrew's Cathedral Singapore Night Safari
Once again, I awoke before my alarm- though not as early as on the previous mornings. This was my 4th day in a row of having eggs and bacon for breakfast- since they always ask me if I want coffee/tea (no) and if I want eggs; there are other options available on the buffet but eggs are ok and I would have felt bad not ordering anything from them. Still, I will be happy to not have eggs for a long time!

After breakfast, I finished packing up my stuff- I'll miss that room. In addition to being adorable, the bed, which had ploh bedding, was very comfortable. The hotel's bathrobes that felt super soft and cozy. I dropped off my bags at the front desk so I could go out and not worry about being back by checkout time- which turned out to be a good idea.

For my last morning, I decided to do the Southern Ridges Walk- this is a hearty walk through trails, much of them high above Singapore streets, linking 3 parks. I figured I'd start at Mt Faber- and rather than walking uphill, I'd take a ride up there; normally, there are cable cars to connect the Harbourfront with Mt Faber but these are under renovation so there is a shuttle bus. Given that I hate heights, I was glad to be able to take a shuttle bus instead! However, I had to actually find the bus... after not locating it at the bus depot, I had the bright idea of following the signs for the cable cars; I figured they'd at least have signage about where to find the bus. Good idea as that was actually where the buses stopped- and there was one coming in 10 minutes.

After a ride twisting up one way roads, the little bus arrived at the Jewel Box, which is normally the terminus for the cable cars. (I saw some cable cars sitting unused there) I walked around admiring the view before journeying onwards through Faber Walk; when I got to Faber Point, I was assaulted by tour groups- so much for a peaceful hike, eh? Actually, it wasn't that bad- although I did have to wait awhile to take a photo of a Merlion statue. (because no, I didn't want to include Random People posing in the front of it) There was also a group of school kids- I don't know if it was the same group that would intersect with me throughout the walk or another one.

After stupidly backtracking because I wasn't sure I was going in the right direction, I made it to the next section of the walk: the Henderson Waves which connect Mt Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park. This section intrigued me the most because of the undulating design (like a sine curve) of the walkway. My guidebook said that it was not for those who are afraid of heights (which, as I've said above, is me)- and when I got a closer look, it did seem terribly high. Would I go forward or would I decide to just take my photo and backtrack? And the answer is... I didn't come all the way to Singapore to go back! I walked rather briskly across- always looking ahead- while admiring the design elements. It's definitely one of the coolest walkways I've experienced. I wonder if my guidebook's admonishment freaked me out more than I would have been otherwise.

After walking through the rather ordinary Hilltop Walk, I came to the zig-zagging iron pathways of the Forest Walk. Due to my fear of heights, I was nervous about this walkway (despite my guidebook not saying anything about it being potentially scary) since it was narrower than the Henderson Waves. But it was mostly very nice- at a couple points where I was a little nervous, I just looked straight ahead. At the end of the Forest Walk was the Alexandra Arch.

As I walked through Hort Park, I was starting to get tired. And hot. In fact, this walk served to redefine my definition of "hot and tired" ;) Remember- Singapore is hot. Think "hotter and more humid than Disney World in the summer" So... yeah. But there were a lot of beautiful displays at Hort Park.

At this point, I had entered a 3rd park: Kent Ridge Park. When I saw that the pathways to Canopy Walk were uphill, part of me wanted to turn around to Hort Park and be done with it. But, again, I didn't want to come all the way to Singapore not to do the full walk. I'm hard core that way. So I persevered- along with the group of schoolchildren who were walking all around me. However, all the kids went in another direction, so the Canopy Walk itself was a very peaceful- but short- walk on elevated wooden platforms.

OK, whee, I was done the main walks... err, now what? It was nice being isolated from urban Singapore-- until it came time to want to get back to my hotel! I meandered through Kent Ridge park and was unsuccessful at figuring out how to find some civilization. It was actually a little eerie to feel that there was no one around if I had an emergency. After running into a dead end that required me to use strength I didn't have to walk up several flights of stairs... I decided to just backtrack to Hort Park, where I knew there were people who could help me try to find a cab. I continued to redefine the words "hot" and "exhausted"- yet, at the same time, I was also feeling very inviguerated from my walk. You know I was tired because I wasn't interested in taking any more photos. ;)

At Hort Park, I stumbled on a snack kiosk- paradise! I purchased a bottle of water (the one I'd taken from my hotel was long gone) and a big chocolate chip cookie. Yumm! At the main info desk, I asked about a cab- they said I could walk to a main road or they could call me one but it would take a few minutes and would cost a couple dollars for a cab to be called. Ummm, being beyond exhausted (at this point, I must have been walking for about 3 hrs)... I asked them to please call! The cab came pretty quickly; I'm not sure why the cab driver asked me if I'd had lunch, but I said "yes".

After getting back to my hotel, I reorganized a bit and caught another cab to the cruise terminal. Unfortunately, the cab left me off at one of the mall entrances rather than the proper entrance for checking in bags so after checking in with the cruise line, I had to backtack downstairs to check my bags. On the bright side, that diversion made me cross the path of a shop where I could exchange some of my leftover Singapore money for chocolate. ;)

Then it was a loooooooong line for Passport control/ security. Followed by a looooooong line to turn passports over to the cruise ship. Was I having fun yet? Non! Although it was exciting the first time I saw my ship in person; I'd hoped to catch sight of it on my walk earlier but I didn't see it. While in line to board the ship, I stopped to get my boarding photo taken- I figured I looked like crap, but I was showing my Phillies pride and it was a rare chance to have a photo taken of myself.

I was glad to finally get to my cabin- I had a balcony room and since it was in the aft (back) of the ship, it had a super large balcony. Niiiice. The room itself also seemed bigger than my previous hotel- definitely more storage space. The only negative was that the shower was tiny. But all in all, it seemed very comfortable. I took some photos of Singapore from my balcony.

After I took off my shoes, I realized that I had some monster blisters! Eek! Eventually, I hobbled up to the buffet because I was starving. I got some pasta, which was mediocre, and some fish, which was pretty good. However, I had to walk so far to get a table that I didn't want to go back for seconds. I also didn't think I could carry my food and something to drink at the same time; buffets aren't made for single people.

Despite my feet bothering me, I had to take my camera and explore the ship- I particularly liked the Chinese New Year decorations in the main atrium.

I enjoyed a chance to take some photos without random people in them since everyone must have been getting ready for the muster drill. Which, of course, I had to attend myself. It was hot and humid standing around for the muster drill- not to mention that the blisters on my right foot were killing me. I felt like I was going to pass out and was thrilled when it was finally over and I had to battle the crowds to get back inside.

As you might have surmised, I wasn't having the best day; it occurred to me that I was having more culture shock on the cruise ship than I had in Singapore, where I felt immediately at home. Back in the cabin, I turned on the TV and flipped the channels; I stopped when I found the movie "Up" dubbed in Japanese! Subarashii! I love that movie and took it as a sign that I should cheer up; I even understood some of it.

After the movie, I walked around the ship some more, and chatted with a friendly American who works at the rock climbing wall. Definitely want to try that- but not when my feet are aching so much. At some point, I signed up for wifi at the Internet kiosks- I tried to check my email but I wasn't able to connect to any sites. Grr. I thought about going to the welcome show at 7:45 but my luggage finally arrived in my room and I really wanted to shower and change before my 8:30 dinner.

We still hadn't set sail by dinner time- the captain had made an announcement that our 6pm sail away would be delayed by 3-4 hrs due to fuel or customs... at least I think he made the announcement; I may have been the only one to hear it, though, because everyone else I talked to seemed perplexed as to why we weren't moving. At dinner, I was seated with a family from Singapore and an older couple from Ireland. They were all very nice, but I felt a little out of place... I'd been hoping to be seated with some people more my age. The food was pretty good, although it seemed like all the other tables got served before us: I had a vidalia onion tart, salmon, and a chocolate mousse type dessert. The dining room was gorgeous and I was glad my table was by the large glass windows. I was also glad when the ship finally set sail at about 10pm!

After dinner, I wanted to work on my trip report but I was truly worn out so I went to sleep- after going out on my balcony to take photos of Singapore which was fading away. It was a weird day- I went through periods of being excited about my cruise which alternated with periods of not loving the cruise. We'll see how this plays out. It'll be good to have a day to relax my feet after my whirlwind tour of Singapore.
Southern Ridges Walk: View of the Harbour from the Jewel Box Southern Ridges Walk:  Mount Faber Merlion Southern Ridges Walk: Harbour View Southern Ridges Walk: Henderson Waves Southern Ridges Walk: Henderson Waves Welcome Aboard photo My cabin Main pool Sentosa monorail, seen from the ship
We turned the clocks back 1 hr last night for Vietnam time; I'd gone to sleep very early so when I woke up at about 6, I decided to get out of bed. I looked outside- apparently I missed the sunrise, but the view of the early morning water was still peaceful.

Figured I'd try the wifi before everyone got up. I found a nice spot in a common room on my deck mid-ship (wifi is only available at certain locations). Lovely view of the water- very quiet. Unfortunately, I got an access failure when I tried to log on. I went up 1 deck to the public computers and tried to get on one of those but I received an error message to see guest relations. So I headed down to the purser's desk... where a lady was going on... and on... and ON about how there was something above her cabin making it dreadfully noisy for her, while the purser kept saying there was empty deck above her. (I think she was insisting the kitchen was there?) When it was finally my turn, he told me the computers were down, no ETA for coming back up. That's just great. Don't they know I need my internet and that they are disappointing thousands of people who haven't heard from me in 24 hrs?!? (ok, maybe "a handful" more than "thousands" but still...) :P

Went to breakfast in the main dining room because buffets can be a pain if you are traveling solo and the nearest table is far away. I was seated at a table with some older people from Singapore, as well as a couple who has been living in Australia but who were originally from Hong Kong. They were all very nice, but I didn't have much in common with them.

Internet still not working after breakfast... gah. Looked through the shops, and purchased my boarding photo since I didn't look half bad for as exhausted and sweaty as I felt. ;) Checked out the breakfast buffet- I tried a donut but it was eh, so I didn't finish it. Back in the cabin, I checked out the Japanese movie station... "Julie and Julia" was on. Sweet! I kept it on so I could see Erin dubbed into Japanese. Hee. Very surreal... While watching, I worked on my trip reports, in hopes that the Internet will be back up sometime.

I decided to go to the "Learn Basic Chinese" seminar in the Schooner Bar- it was only 1/2 hr so I didn't expect to learn a heck of a lot, but it was a lot of fun. I stuck around for the Team Trivia and joined 2 couples from Australia- they were glad to have an American for their team. It was a lot of fun- and I helped our team by knowing who wrote "Gone with the Wind" and how many keys are on a piano. (I knew some of the other ones, too- but they would have been sure of them without me) And we actually won! Our prize... Royal Caribbean highlighter pens! Wooo hoo! LOL

Before lunch, I checked the internet kiosks again (I'd been checking every so often all day)- they were working! However, it was hella slow using them and I never even made it to check my email. I wanted to eat lunch in the main dining room, so I quit the internet and planned to try using my laptop with the wifi later. At lunch, I was seated with a bunch of people from Australia as well as a woman from England (her partner wasn't feeling well). I had pasta carbonara and a peanut butter tart; I felt like a bit of a pig because I was the only one having dessert. A few of the women had left to see if they won the raffle for a diamond; I joked that I prefer chocolate to diamonds.

Soon afterwards, I met up with my trivia team for another round of trivia- I caught the tail end of the line dancing class beforehand (I just watched). We didn't win this time- and I let my team down by not getting the first Disney feature film... but at least my answer of "Steamboat Willie" was better than their answer of "Fantasia". I stuck around for Bingo, where I didn't win any cash prizes and also didn't win the upgrade to a kickass huge suite. It's just as well that I didn't win the upgrade since I really wouldn't want to pack everything up after just unpacking- this cabin is plenty big for me. (except for the shower) I went to the library on my deck and checked out the wifi with my laptop- much better than using the ship computers. While relaxing in my room and tiffing myself up for formal night at dinner, I caught a lovely sea sunset.

When I went down to the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception, I ran into a couple I knew from trivia- awesome! They waited for me to get my photo taken (at a station they had set up if you wanted formal photos taken) and then walked me to the reception so I didn't have to be by myself there. This was the first time I saw our cruise director- apparently he's Scottish, so he was dressed up in a kilt. *swoon* Each member of the chief cruise staff introduced themselves, and the whole thing was done to the tune of "Anchors Aweigh" which was probably a bit cheesy but it seemed right.

Dinner was lovely- lobster bisque and sea bass. Skipped dessert because nothing was that appealing- also, the seas were a little choppy so I was feeling a tad queasy. On that note, I skipped the show and went to bed right after dinner- an early day in Ho Chi Minh City was coming up! (cute towel animal greeted me in the room) I was definitely starting to warm up to the whole cruise thing today.
Serene view of the South China Sea from my balcony Chinese New Year tiger Learn Chinese with Fang, lesson 1 Sunset from my balcony Portrait in front of the ship back drop Captain's Welcome Reception
Once again, I woke up before my alarm- I stepped out on the balcony and saw land. Vietnam! I also saw the sunrise- but I was more excited that today would be the first of 4 days in Vietnam. I went to the library mid-ship to check my email (no wifi in the cabin) and then back to the cabin to eat some Froot Loops that I'd scarfed from yesterday's breakfast buffet- was watching the ship sail into Phu My port at both times.

Today I am taking my ship's "Saigon On Your Own" tour- essentially, I will take the ship's transportation into the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and then I will be able to explore on my own. Just taking my pocket size camera into port with me today, because I was a little concerned that having a conspicuous, large camera around my neck could be a bad idea since I've read some stories about crime in Ho Chi Minh City. (I plan to take the dslr into my other ports in Vietnam because I will be on organized tours)

We had to go to the theatre to get organized and get bus stickers. It was a little chaotic, but not too bad. Eventually I was on a bus for the 2 hr ride to the Rex Hotel at the center of Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arriving in Saigon, I was slightly intimidated and thought of trying to follow other people from the bus. That thought lasted all of maybe 2 minutes. ;) Then I was all "ready or not, Saigon, here I come!" We only had 3.5 hrs so I had to get moving- I had a map in hand, with the key sites I wanted to see circled in pink.

My first test was crossing the street... I'd been reading reports of how you have to just walk steadily across the street and the multitudes of motorbikes will weave around you- as someone who doesn't really like crossing streets, I wondered if I would end up spending all my time walking endlessly around the same block, being too afraid to attempt to cross the street. But, actually, it wasn't nearly as scary as I'd feared; in fact, it was rather exciting. There were a couple of busier intersections that made me pause- but I just kept my patience and had no problems.

I can't emphasize enough how the motorbikes helped create an atmosphere that was very distinct from any other city I've visited. I don't think I will ever be able to call to mind memories of Saigon without visions of tons of motorbikes darting around to the tune of various horns honking in cacophony. It just created a unique and vibrant energy- and it was amazing to be part of it. (people even carry dogs on their motorbikes)

The one negative to Saigon was that, as I was walking, I was constantly being offered motorbike rides by drivers. I need to learn the Vietnamese for "Hell no, the idea of riding on one of those things freaking scares the crap out of me." A polite "no" clearly wasn't enough. And hello, if I am walking, it is because I already refused 10 other people offering me rides. :P People were also aggressive about selling postcards and drinks- not really in a threatening way, but it was tiring. Especially when they tried to tell me how nice and cold their coconut drinks were after I said "no". The phrase "I hate coconut" worked better than "no". ;)

As I said, I had very limited time but I had a plan and I was able to see all the sites I'd circled so it was a good day. After exiting the bus, we were right at the People's Committee Building (aka the Hotel de Ville) so that was an easy choice to start with. After that, I walked a bit further and saw the Opera House. My next stop was the main post office. Why would I visit a post office? Well, because this one was designed by Gustav Eiffel (of Tower fame) and it's really quite impressive inside. Just across the way is the Notre Dame Cathedral, another Colonial era building. It also has a lot of lovely touches inside. I love interesting architecture so this was a great start to my day.

All the organized tours from the ship were stopping at the Jade Emperor Pagoda, and it was on the walking tour I'd adapted from my guidebook. It was a bit of a long walk- but I don't feel like I have any understanding of a city unless I walk it. On the way, I enjoyed the sights and sounds surrounding me, and stumbled across a park. The pagoda itself was a nice little place to take a break from the hectic streets. In the effort to get a good photo of the turtles outside, I inadvertently walked on a hose that was leaking water and got one of my jeans legs wet. Ooops.

After my Pagoda break, I walked back in the direction of the Reunification Palace. It is closed from 11am-1pm, which was most of the time I was in Saigon. I knew it wouldn't be open yet (even before the cyclo driver told me it was closed. Heh.) but I figured I'd head in that general direction so I could get there easily when it reopened.

I spotted a little cafe called "The Box" diagonally across from the Reunification Palace and stopped there for a bite (after confirming through a bit of miming that they would take US $) For $4, I had some Pho and an apple juice- they also gave me some kind of iced tea before I ordered. The lady working there didn't speak good English, but she was very friendly.

I only had time for a quick breeze through the Reunification Palace- actually, I wasted precious minutes attempting to go in the wrong entrance (for which I totally blame my guidebook map). But it was interesting, nonetheless- and I paid special notice to the replica tanks outside the entrance.

And then it was back to the Rex Hotel for my bus back to the ship. Quite a whirlwind, but I knew the time would be short. I took some photos from the bus- including some of a theme park and a monument that our guide had pointed out on the way down (when I was on the wrong side to see them).

Back at the ship, I checked out the photos from last night and purchased a couple. Then I headed up to the Solarium (indoor pool area) for a self serve soft serve ice cream cone- very refreshing! Afterwards, I checked in online for a bit and then chilled out in my room- worked on trip reports, saw the sunset, watched us depart from the port, filled out Taiwan and Hong Kong landing cards.

Dinner tonight was crab cake, tortelloni and yummy dulce de leche cheesecake! The Irish couple wasn't at the table, so it was just me and the family from Singapore. I like them, but it was a little boring because they often talked amongst themselves in another language. I'd definitely hoped for more compatible dinner companions, but it's ok.

It was another early night after posting my trip report- it's tiring seeing all the amazing. ;)
Disembarking at Vung Tau port Statue of Ho Chi Minh in front of People's Committee Building Main Post Office interior Notre Dame Street decorated for New Years Motorbikes crowd the streets Jade Emperor Pagoda The Jade Emperor Outside Reunification Palace Passing Suoi Tien Theme Park
Today I had to meet up for my tour at 7:15 am so I set my alarm for 6am. And I still woke up before my alarm and caught the sunrise. The only time I can get up so early is when I am traveling; I guess it is because I am so excited about seeing new places that I don't want to miss anything.

Today's port was Nha Trang, a small beach town and fishing village. We had to take tenders ashore, which is more annoying than just being able to simply walk ashore. I was getting especially claustrophobic waiting to get off my tender boat.

I took the "Nha Trang City Tour" which was a delightful 4 hours zipping through some city sights. Our first stop was Long Son Pagoda, with stairs leading to a dramatic white Buddha that overlooks the city. I was amused at the live chickens in the complex. Although the pagoda was gorgeous, it was a little tiring visiting there because Vietnamese women and children were constantly hawking postcards, fans, etc. They don't really seem to hear the word "no" :P

Our next stop was overlooking the beach- I'm not sure exactly what it was called since it seems our itinerary differed slightly from what was advertised (I definitely wuzrobbed of "a visit to the Dam market"). The water was the most lovely shades of azure blue, and it was a nice spot to take photos.

Our third stop was Po Nagar Cham Towers- which was another beautiful and dramatic site of worship. From the top, you could barely make out our ship in the distance.

We also stopped at an embroidery shop- although I admired the craft, I felt that this stop was a bit of a waste of time- I'd rather see more outdoor sights.

The final stop was at a beachfront cafe to drink a refreshing coconut drink. Or, in my case, to take a photo of a coconut drink that I wouldn't even sample due to my severe aversion to the taste of coconuts. ;) I sat down with a nice couple from Australia who offered to take my photo. (my hair is a mess from the humidity and all... but I'm showing my Phillies pride!) The scenery was lovely- but once again, we were constantly bothered by people trying to sell postcards, fans, etc. In this case, they were on the beach that the cafe overlooked (i.e. not in the cafe itself, but just as close)

After the tour, I lingered around the stalls at the port where we could catch the tender back to the ship and took some more photos. Nha Trang is very beautiful- and it seems like it is becoming more developed (there is a Sheraton that will open soon, and I believe that I saw a sign for a Marriott under construction). I'd be curious to see what the city looks like in 5-10 years.

Once back aboard the ship, I went to the Solarium to have some pizza for lunch, took some more photos of Nha Trang, and then crashed into bed for a leisurely nap. When I woke up we'd already set sale- I missed the Chinese class I'd planned on attending, but I was right on time for Bingo. Our team won again- woo hoo! This time we got pens, (more) highlighters, and a coupon for a free Bingo game if you bought a set of Bingo cards.

My Australian friends from my team invited me to the Viking Crown Lounge for some sunset drinks and conversation. Very nice! I had some kind of berry smoothie which was terrific. The sunset over the coast of Vietnam was quite lovely although the location really wasn't conducive to taking photos.

After working on my trip reports, it was time for dinner. Once again, the Irish couple wasn't there... so it was awkward again. I ate quickly and after I was done, I immediately asked to change my table starting tomorrow night. Hopefully my new table will feel more comfortable!

Also of note- at dinner, one of the ship's children's groups marched in doing pirate shtick. I couldn't really hear them from where I sat, but even if it was sorta cute... I thought that one of the reasons that cruise ships had children's activities is because some adults don't want to see a bunch of kids on their vacation. ;) (actually, there seem to be very few kids aboard this ship)

Thanks to my long nap this afternoon, I wasn't so tired... so I spent some time editing pictures and posting 3 more travel blogs. It felt good to be getting close to caught up with my blogging! Since Internet here costs by the minute and uploads are slow, I've been pickier about how many pictures I edit and include. This also makes it take less time to complete each blog.

Starting to feel very at home on the ship.
Long Son Pagoda Long Son Pagoda Long Son Pagoda: White Buddha Hon Chong Promontory Po Nagar Cham Towers Nha Trang Beach Nha Trang Beach Boats by Nha Trang pier
Today we docked at Chan May Port in Central Vietnam. As usual, I got up early enough to admire the sunrise from my balcony- it seemed hazy but still very nice. At home? I can't even think of getting up in time to see a sun rise!

The ship offered excursion options from Chan May to 3 places: Danang, Hue, and Hoi An. I chose the tour to the Imperial City of Hue, since I wanted to visit Hue even before I booked this trip. The road from the port to the main road was a tad scary- a dirt road that is apparently under construction. The 2 hr drive to Hue passed quickly- I enjoyed the scenery which included rice fields, rural markets, shops, the ubiquitous motor bikes, various animals (especially water buffalo),... and even people standing on top of water buffalo. ;)

After a brief rest stop at a local hotel, we proceeded across the Perfume River through the walls of the Imperial Citadel- which intrigued me in part because it included the Forbidden Purple City (it would have been way cool if the city had actually been purple). Some parts of this area were destroyed by bombs and are being reconstructed. Once again, I think it would be interesting to come back to Vietnam in 5-10 years to compare. Still, it was a beautiful place and it was interesting to imagine what it must have been like during the height of the Imperial era. And we saw a couple of elephants. ;)

The 2nd stop was Thien Mu Pagoda (aka Heavenly Lady Pagoda). This was also quite lovely, although it felt rushed. One of the downsides to organized tours is that you can't go at your own pace- and it also kinda sucks when 4 people are late returning from the first tour stop which makes you have to rush through the next stop. :P

We returned the the local hotel that we'd stopped at earlier for a buffet lunch with local entertainment. I met some more people at my table- a couple from New Zealand, some people from Ireland, and a woman traveling solo from Belgium. I love how this cruise has attracted such an international crowd. Lunch was a little chaotic because a bunch of tour buses from my ship all arrived there at about the same time. The lines for the lunch buffet were quite long so I decided to try to wait to get my food- bad idea as they were out of some things I would have tried by the time I got there. :P Still, I managed ok. And the Coke Light was free! (I haven't had any soda on the ship because it costs money)

After lunch, I ran into the Irish lady who had been seated at my dinner table the first 2 nights. She was on another bus to Hue; she confirmed that she'd switched to another table because she felt the same way I did about the other family talking amongst themselves in a language we don't understand. I told her it was even worse when I was there by myself- but I don't blame her for switching. She was glad to hear that I'd also switched.

Our final main stop was the tomb of the 4th king of the Nguyen dynasty. I almost missed the actual tomb area- along with about 1/3 of the other people on the bus- because our tour guide was moving too quickly.

Finally, we stopped at a row of souvenir stands where they make incense- and where there were colorful displays of incense displayed for sale.

I enjoyed the scenery once again on the way back to the ship. Rememeber how I said the road by the port was kinda scary? Just in front of us, it appeared that a bus got stuck on in an accident so we were at a standstill for awhile. Then we had to back up and cross over a narrow pass to get to a parallel roadway to get around the bottleneck. Let's just say that we all clapped when we were past the area of concern. ;)

Back on the ship, Internet was down. Grrr. I have to walk halfway across the ship just to get to the wifi enabled area so I was not pleased. I complained at guest services but they just smiled and sorta brushed me off. So I went back to my cabin, enjoyed a sunset that was just as gorgeous as the one yesterday (the one that I hadn't photographed) and took a shower. I finished my blog and thankfully the internet was back up so I could post it.

After strolling around a bit and snapping a few photos on the ship, I headed down to the Schooner Bar and played Logo Trivia on a team with 2 of my Aussie friends as well as 2 new friends from Tasmania. We didn't win, but we did very well and I even helped the team. But most importantly, it's always fun just playing the game and chatting with people.

Dinner was at my new table- and it was a breath of fresh air to not be sitting there all the time waiting for the next course to be served! I had pork dumplings as an appetizer, and the catch of the day (cod). I was seated with 2 very charming and friendly couples from England who were expecting me. I even liked the waiters better at this table- they were a lot more fun.

After dinner, I headed over to Quest, which I discovered to be a silly twist on a scavenger hunt. Good fun! (and it never hurts to hear my cruise director's Scottish accent...) I was sitting with the same people from trivia earlier today.

I'm looking forward to a day at sea after tomorrow's 4th straight port day! It seems like somehow there are always so many things to do that I still haven't had a chance to just sit and relax on my balcony. But I will say that it's awesome to be able to see so many different places without having to change hotels, lug bags, etc.
Sunrise near Chan May port Men atop water buffalo, seen from the bus Imperial Citadel Imperial Citadel Imperial Citadel: dragon detail on roof Phuoc Duyen Tower, Thien Mu Pagoda Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc: Du Khiem Pavilion Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc Incense display View from the bus Sunset
I set my alarm early so I could see some of the ship's approach through Halong Bay and its many islands. The weather was foggy but it was still beautiful. I went down to the restaurant for breakfast- the big glass windows allowed me to continue to watch the lovely scenery.

Today I'd opted for the "Hanoi in a Day" tour- a marathon 11 hr tour. While waiting to tender to shore, I met a couple ladies from California who were on the same bus; the couple I'd met yesterday from Tasmania were also on my bus so I knew a few people in addition to familiar faces from some of the other tours I'd taken.

I knew when I signed up for the tour that the ride to Hanoi was long- about 3.5 hrs to be exact. I enjoyed the scenery- rice fields, shops, etc- as I tried to drink up every minute of Vietnam that I could. Halfway through, we made a rest stop (or, as the Vietnamese seem to call them, a "happy stop") at a place that also had a gift shop. I could have bought a large statue and had it shipped home! ;) (No photos because there were signs all over saying not to take photos)

Once we arrived at Hanoi, we had a fabulous buffet lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. I really enjoyed the fish in soy sauce, as well as salmon, chicken, and rice. We spent about an hr on lunch. Although it was an excellent lunch, I would much rather have spent some of that time seeing more of Hanoi; if the ship had offered a "Hanoi on your own" option (like they did for Ho Chi Minh City), that might have worked better for me.

After lunch (and after waiting a few extra minutes for people who weren't back on the bus at the appointed time), it was time to breeze through the highlights of Hanoi as our guide rushed us through various places of interest. I barely had time to take photos, and didn't have any time to really take in all the sights. While driving to the center of town, we passed a monument to John McCain- it was on the other side of the road so I couldn't take a photo. Pretty cool.

Our first stop was at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum- we couldn't actually go inside because it is only open for guests in the morning. After someone took my photo, I took a couple more pictures... and then realized that I completely lost my group! I saw a couple other groups from my ship- someone told me to just follow one of them since they'd all be going to the same area to get the buses. Eventually, I rushed ahead to the area of Ho Chi Minh's stilted house and found my people.

When we came to the One Pillar Pagoda, which is supposed to be one of the most famous sights in all of Hanoi, we were given 5 minutes to take photos. Now, I generally tend to move quickly when sightseeing so if I felt rushed, you know it had to be pretty fast paced. Other people in my group felt similarly to me re: the pace. The sites were all crowded- partially because of the 5 other groups from my ship. ;)

We boarded our buses and battled the Hanoi traffic to go to the Temple of Literature. Again, we had to rush through and take our photos.

After more Hanoi traffic, our final stop was through the old quarter of Hanoi. We had to follow our tour leader- since it was not a leisurely pace, I felt like I was engaging in guerrilla photography- just taking as many photos as I could (of markets, goods for sale at the markets, the narrowest house in Hanoi, people walking, people working etc) and hoping that some of them would come out ok. At the end of our walk, we crossed a busy street to see to a famous bridge and had a few minutes to walk around there- again, one of my CA friends offered to take my photo. Although we were still rushed through this area, I think this was my favorite part of the tour.

And then... back to the ship, with a "happy stop" on the way. I know that I've written a lot about feeling rushed, but I did enjoy the tour and am glad I did it. I don't blame our tour guide- he wasn't in charge of the timing and I have a feeling that he rushed us through the main sights so that we'd at least have some time in Old Hanoi. I just think that the time could have been managed better- I can have a fabulous meal back home rather than spending an hr on one (which left only 2-2.5 hrs for actually seeing Hanoi). Also I'd have preferred shorter rest stops, at places that didn't also sell souvenirs. (because people lingered at the store)

I want to say that all the guides on the tours in Vietnam were terrific. In addition to speaking good English, they all seemed very informed and very proud of their cities and of the country. It was interesting when some of them talked about the war- from at least one of their perspectives, the war is over and they want to move on and have peace. Additionally, they all had great smiles and were quite pleasant and dynamic.

Once back aboard the ship, it was just about time for dinner (Caesar Salad, Rigatoni, and warm chocolate cake). One of the couples at the table was late because her Hanoi tour bus had broken down on the way. She was a little lucky in that she arrived after the 6 other tour groups from the ship were at each site, so everything was less crowded. We sat and talked for awhile after dinner.

When I got back to my room, I saw that the ship was having another special for washing everything that could fit in one bag for a flat price. Score! I was starting to be running low on T-shirts and now I will be sure to have plenty left. After sorting through my dirty laundry and choosing what to send to the laundry, it was time for me to check email. Before going to bed, we had to turn the clocks ahead to get back to Hong Kong/ Singapore time.
Halong Bay Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Presidential Palace Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts One Pillar Pagoda Temple of Literature Hanoi traffic, seen from the bus Old Quarter Hanoi Me on Huc Bridge Den Ngoc Son Pagoda
I slept in this morning to all of 8am. ;) At breakfast, I met more people from Australia as well as someone from California.

Although I'd missed the 2nd session of learning Chinese, I decided to go to the 3rd lesson. There was a lot to remember- although it was easy to learn to write the few characters we were taught since I already knew them from Japanese. ;) The instructor, Fang, is always smiling and very enthusiastic; I've enjoyed these little sessions.

After a short break to check email, I met my friends for today's round of team trivia. This time it was led by the guy who teaches Chinese. We did well, but not well enough to win- I helped my team by knowing who wrote "A Passage to India" (although it took me awhile to recall the name) which no one else knew.

We chatted for a bit and I was very disappointed when someone told me that we were going to arrive at a containment port in Hong Kong instead of the port at the Star Ferry terminal (near where I'd stayed in 2007) I wuzrobbed of enjoying the breathtaking Hong Kong skyline during our sail in! Plus it will be a pain to have to queue for shuttle buses instead of being able to practically step off the ship into the heart of the city. Really, I had been imagining watching the sail in and seeing the familiar buildings appear into view... as well as taking pictures on deck with the skyline in the background before leaving port... so I can't emphasize how disappointed I am (although it won't ruin my trip)

Some of us headed to the backstage tour. Kinda funny since I haven't seen any of the shows, but I always love learning about live theatre productions. After a question and answer session, we were allowed onstage and the stage manager explained some of his computer equipment. One of the dancers then showed us the costume and backstage area- we were all intrigued that they spray the costumes with a mix of vodka and water to refresh them since they don't get washed after each show. The dancer leading us had been on my tours of Hanoi and Nha Trang- he took them like a guest. All in all, it was a very interesting event.

When I booked this cruise, I had visions of sitting out on my balcony reading. I hadn't had a single moment to indulge in that so far!!! So I decided that now was the time to take some moments to myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on my warm, sunny balcony with its calming view of the sea as I read some of my novel. (I'd tried to work on my trip reports but there was too much glare)

Sitting in the warm sun made me tired, so I came inside to take a little nap. Such a hard life I've been leading, I know. ;)

When I got up, the time had come for me to try the ship's rock climbing wall. I'd never done anything like that and have a fear of heights so I was nervous as to how it would go. After getting into my gear and wondering what the hell I got myself into, it was my turn to climb. I gave someone my camera to take some photos of me- I told him to take some quickly because I wasn't sure how long I'd last. ;) It seems a lot higher when you are climbing than it looked! About 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up, the height started to get to me so, despite the rock climbing guy trying to cheer me on, I demanded them to pull me down. But hey, at least I tried, right? And I did better than the person who quit right away.

After everyone took their turns, the rock climbing guys asked me if I wanted to try again; I figured why not- failing at rock climbing twice would be kinda lame, but it wouldn't be the worst thing I'd ever done. This time, I didn't have anyone taking photos since my battery was low, so I just focused on the climbing- and tried to ignore the height. And then I realized that the bell at the top was just above me- so I reached up,d gave it a vigorous ring, and raised my arm in victory as everyone watching cheered me on. That felt AWESOME!!!! (the people cheered for everyone and I think people even cheered my previous aborted effort) When I got back down, people told me it was great how I tried again and made it. My arms and legs also feel like they've gotten a decent workout. I want to do it another time on the next sea day-- and this time I will make sure my camera has batteries because I want proof that I made it.

After a stop at the water station in the solarium, I came back to my cabin to work on my trip reports.

Tonight was a formal night, so I dressed up a bit for dinner; since I had new tablemates, it didn't matter so much that I was wearing the same dress as on the previous formal night. ;) Since a request was made for a photo I purchased from the first formal night- here's one of them. Before dinner, I actually went to one of the entertainment shows- perhaps I was inspired by my backstage tour. I saw 2 of my Australian trivia friends and sat with them. The show tonight was an Elton John impersonator- apparently the best one around. At the final number, they invited guests to dance onstage- so my inner actress was in her glory. I think my dancing sucks, but my friends said I looked good.

Before dinner, I posed for some formal shots and ended up buying one of them. At dinner, I had a salmon appetizer, barbecue Thai chicken (with regular rice instead of rice with coconut and lemongrass), and chocolate ice cream. I left dinner a bit earlier than my table mates because I wanted to check out 70's Night in the centrum; they were talking about some England specific topics anyway.

70's night was a blast! When I got there, I stood in front the stage... and I guess I was getting into it because the cruise director (who was dressed as John Travolta) whispered to someone... and all of a sudden that person was leading me "onstage" (where other guests were dancing with the cruise staff) and giving me a yellow plastic bracelet. Whee!

Everyone had to clear the main area when our cruise staff's version of The Village People came out, lol. I knew 3 of the members- the rock climbing guy from Texas was typecast as the cowboy, the guy who usually leads trivia (he's from India; the cruise director joked that we had a real Indian playing the Indian), and the guy who teaches the Chinese class.

Then Cameron started a train of people, to the tune of "Love Train" When he started to lead everyone up the stairs to the stage area, a few people in front of me got cold feet. But not me. So I was the very first guest in line as we danced up to decks 5 and 6, then back down to the stage area- where we stopped the train and just started dancing. A couple of the cruise staff danced with me a bit- I think they must have recognized me.

When the staff led 70's party ended, a band took over- and I stayed on the dance floor with the couple from Ireland who used to sit at my table, and also with a guy who was on my Hanoi tour. Yes, that's right- believe it or not, I was a Dancing Queen... and all I have is a crummy blurry photo to show for it, lol. ;)

Before my cruise, I'd been worried that I'd be bored on the "At Sea" days but today was a truly wonderful day. (Except I'm still bitter about where we're docking in Hong Kong- we're in port til 7pm but now I'm hearing that you have to take shuttle buses to go anywhere, but the last shuttle bus is at 4:30 pm. WTF?!? Thank goodness I've been to Hong Kong before!)
Team trivia View of That's Entertainment Theater from the stage The stage manager explains his computer equipment Rock Climbing Posed formal photo The cruise staff's version of the Village People Dancing with a friend
Today we docked in Hong Kong, site of my first live travel blog. ;) I woke up to catch the sunset... except it was overcast and foggy, so there wasn't a sunset to see. We arrived to the "lovely" view of a container dock... not the grand city entrance I'd hoped for, although the city definitely gets points for greeting the ship with a Lion Dance.

At breakfast, I sat with people from Japan, Texas, and Australia. This time I had a bit of real conversation with the Japanese woman; it turns out she'd studied English at Columbia University, my alma mater.

After breakfast, I got off the boat... and had to wait in line for a shuttle bus. Did I mention that we are not docked at the swanky cruise terminal right in the heart of Kowloon? :P Yeah. There were 2 shuttle buses- 1 to Harbour City (near the cruise terminal where I'd expected we'd dock) and the other to a MTR stop that appeared to be more convenient to my plans. I was not amused standing and waiting so I just got on the first shuttle that came- which turned out to be to Harbour City. (I think I waited about 30 minutes; apparently there were to be more frequent shuttles after 9am)

At the Harbour City mall, I followed the signs to an ATM to get some cash. Stores were not open yet, so I had a nostalgic walk through the neighborhood where I'd stayed in 2007 to get to the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. I saw the Hong Kong skyline, though the tops of some buildings were obscured by fog. At the station, I decided to top off the Octopus card that I'd already purchased instead of buying exact fares since I wasn't exactly sure where I'd be going all day.

My plan was to go to Lantau and see the big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery atop a hill. As I rode the subways, it occurred to me that I could get off a stop early and spend a half day at Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL). Honestly, I was in a bit of a crappy mood... and I figured the weather wasn't conducive to taking decent travel photographs. I'm a bit of a Disney geek... and somehow it felt right to me to screw my plans to add some Disney to my vacation. Whee, I'm going to Disneyland! While on the MTR, I actually saw us pass our ship. When I transferred at Sunny Bay Station, the train to HKDL had Mickey shaped windows and other touches that definitely put me in a Disney mood. The train reminded me a bit of the monorails at Tokyo Disneyland.

Sometimes it pays to go with your gut instinct. Not only did I happen upon Chinese New Years celebrations at HKDL... I somehow stumbled upon the unadvertised official start of the festivities. (when I got back to the ship, I received an email informing me that the celebrations begin tomorrow) My inner Disney geek was excited... and the magic of Disney ended up creating an awesome day out of a dreary morning. The day was less about the rides (since, umm, there aren't many of them at tiny HKDL anyway) and more about the atmosphere.

The park definitely had a festive look, with various Chinese New Years decorations all around and special holiday merchandise displays. Also, there was a "Lucky Trail": a series of 8 statues featuring Disney characters. Each of these statues (which were hard to photograph because people were constantly posing in front of them) exhibits one kind of luck that could be bestowed at the New Year:
  • Happiness is represented by a topiary of Mickey and Minnie
  • Wealth is symbolised by Ariel and her treasures
  • Longevity is symbolized by Crush, the old turtle dude
  • Love/Romance is personified by Snow White and her Prince
  • Success at Studies can be seen by my favorite Disney heroine, Belle, who always was reading
  • Family/ Harmony were shown by the Seven Dwarfs
  • Achievement is represented by Buzz Lightyear who went to infinity and beyond (umm, ok...)
  • Prosperity is symbolized by Aladdin's magical genie
I started off my day on Space Mountain- it was closed in Florida this summer and the HKDL version is better, anyway, because it has a soundtrack. Good fun! That was followed by Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Then I headed for Fantasyland for "It's a Small World" which was under construction on my last trip; the HKDL version has Disney characters- such as Cinderella, Pinocchio and Aladdin- in the scenes. I also saw "Mickey's Philharmagic", a wonderful 3D movie adventure that is also at WDW, Florida; it was clearly a big hit with the audience today.

The first New Years celebration event I saw was the "Celebration in the Street" which was a short, but lovely parade down Main Street, USA. I particularly liked the section with the dragon dance. Of course, Mickey and Minnie were there.

After the parade, I used my fastpass to go back on Space Mountain, and then headed for lunch at the Royal Banquet Hall counter service restaurant; I got some yummy pork dim sum and a Coke Zero.

After browsing a bit, I was happy to purchase a proper HKDL Disney T-shirt (err, the one I got in 2007? I was rotfl when I tried it on because it totally looks like Mickey is being naughty and groping my boobs. Needless to say, I only wear it around the house!)

I headed off to attend the first performance of the day of "Disney's Jumping Jam", another Chinese New Year celebration event that takes place on a stage in front of the castle. I noticed that there were a lot of media present in a roped off area; they made an announcement that some HKDL ambassador was going to officially open the Chinese New Year's celebration. Or something to that effect. I have no idea what actually was said because, unlike park announcements that are done in 3 languages, this entire presentation was in a dialect of Chinese. A couple more people came onstage, and so did Mickey Mouse. No idea what any of them may have said, either. But nonetheless, it was extremely cool to be there!

When I got to the show area, they were giving out small drums- very cute! I don't know if they will do that for every show or if it was just because today was the opening. The show itself was fantastic- high energy acrobatics accompanied by percussion Mickey Mouse took part in the celebrations and since the new year will be the year of the Tiger, it is fitting that Tigger starred in this production- bouncing high in the air, of course. I'd picked a great area to stand for the show because we had dancers right in front of us, below the stage. After the show was over, I collected a couple pieces of Mickey shaped gold confetti from the ground.

After strolling around the park some more- and fittingly running into Mulan- I made my way to the "Lion Dance", the 3rd special Chinese New Year performance. It was also terrific- the percussionists were great at setting the mood, and the lions were acrobatic and yet they also seemed like real animals. This was a smaller scale performance than the Jumping Jam, but I really enjoyed it.

After experiencing complete awesomeness at HKDL, it was finally time to head back to Harbour City so as not to miss the last 5pm bus to the ship. I had enough time to take in a bit of the still-foggy Hong Kong skyline, and some of the New Year decorations at Harbour City. While in the mall, I quickly bought a couple more memory cards for my camera since I don't want to erase the ones I have until I get home.

Then it was time to find the bus... there are a lot of exits from the mall and I thought I knew generally where the correct exit was located, but I wasn't finding it and so I started to panic that I wouldn't make the last (supposedly 5pm) bus. Then I realized that although I thought I was on the 2nd floor, I was actually on the 3rd floor. Ooops. :P I was still slightly panicked, but the exit turned out to be about where I thought it was; when I saw a representative from my ship, I was quite relieved. I ended up on a bus at 4:45pm.

After coming back aboard the ship and uploading my photos, it was just about time for trivia. Only 2 of the regular people I've been playing with were there... but we won once again! I helped by (somehow) knowing the first letter on an eye chart- and of course I knew the high school featured in "Grease" ;) Our prize this time was small tote bags. But we care more about the fun and the bragging rights than anything.

After going online and working on my trip reports, it was time for tonight's featured show- which was a husband and wife duo called "Crazeehorse" They'd won "Britain's Got Talent" and everyone thought they were amazing... but I sorta got bored by the end. I mean, they were doing fantastic feats of flexibility, balance, and strength... but, eh, not totally my cup of tea. Although I did snark that she actually seemed to be more bendy than Sasha Cohen. ;) I sat with my Irish friends for the show. (the ones who used to be at my dinner table)

Dinner tonight was Spinach Dip, Gnocchi, and a scrumptious Brownie Sandwich. Yummmmm! Afterwards, I headed over to the Anchors Aweigh bar where "Where in the World Am I?" trivia had started. The rock climbing guy was leading it, and he recognized me walking in and wanted to make sure I found a team- but then I saw 2 of my trivia friends. We weren't actually taking it seriously, and it was actually quite hard. I am embarrassed to say that I couldn't even answer the question when they gave a hint that it was the 2nd largest city in Israel.

After that, I watched the ship's version of the "Love and Marriage" game show, which is like the Newlywed Show. 4 couples were chosen- first the men answered 4 questions while the wives were out of the room, and then the wives had to answer the same questions; they'd get points if their answers matched the husband's. Then the roles were reversed. It was a lot of fun- though the final bonus question was really lame. ("what is your husband's favorite condiment?")

I can't believe tomorrow is the last full day on the cruise! I've really grown to enjoy my time here. And, although I can't believe it is ending, I look back and feel like I have enjoyed quite an incredible array of activities: from seeing temples in Vietnam to rock climbing to Disneyland...
Main pool in the morning Disembarking at Hong Kong Magic Kingdom  gate Lucky Trail: Happiness "Celebration in the Street" parade "Celebration in the Street" parade "Disney's Jumping Jam" "Disney's Jumping Jam" "Disney's Jumping Jam" "Lion Dance" "Lion Dance" Mulan It's a Small World Decoration on the ground Chinese New Year decorations near Harbour City Mural
Last night at dinner, we were all praising the hot water in the showers. So naturally, this morning when I tried to take a shower, there was little to no hot water. :P I called guest relations and they were "so sorry" that there is a problem on the ship and suggested I take a shower later. Guest relations here freaking sucks.

After finishing 2 blogs, I checked the hot water and it was finally working, so I took a quick shower before heading to today's Learning Chinese session. It's hard to learn a language in any detail in just 4 sessions, but at least now I have some more idea about (Mandarin) Chinese and can say some very basic phrases. The instructor has been very entertaining and enthusiastic- and we all clapped when he told us that it was his dream to be a cruise director and that it will be coming true when he fills in during our cruise director's vacation. He will be the first Chinese speaking cruise director on this line.

I bought a bunch more cruise photos, then was off to team trivia which today was led by the same person as the Chinese class. Unfortunately our team didn't do as well as usual, and I proved how completely useless I am at US History.... However, I still won a prize because I was one of the fastest people to answer the trivia leader's official job description. (both winners were close but not exact; I said "International Entertainment Director" and it's really "International Entertainment Host") The prize was a passport holder that you can wear around your neck. But, as always, it's not the winning that matters- it's the fun of it all.

I went to the dining room and had pasta carbonara for lunch, then headed to the library to upload the 2 blogs I'd finished earlier in the day. In the afternoon, I played Name That Tune trivia- at which I was of zero value to my team. I tried to play "Win Lose or Draw"... but no one was there to lead such an activity at the designated time and place. I would have played Bingo had I known that "Win Lose of Draw" wouldn't be happening.

After waiting in the very slow guest services line, I tried to add gratuities to my room card, but they told me the deadline for doing so was at 12pm. Nice of them to post some reminders of that on the daily event pages- NOT. :P Fortunately, I had some cash that I'd brought with me precisely for emergencies like this. However, that didn't stop me from telling guest services that their staff were going to be screwed because I may not have enough cash. ;)

The balance of the afternoon was spent mainly packing and editing the Hong Kong travel blog. It was apparently cool and windy outside, although I don't think I ever actually ventured outdoors. Later in the day, I changed some US dollars to Taiwan dollars so that I won't have to bother finding an ATM with all my luggage.

At some point in the afternoon, I stopped to chat with some people in the hallway; they were complaining about the hot water situation. While I had miserable experiences with guest services, I am not sure these people were on the same cruise as me because they called it the cruise from hell. I think I must have a better ability to focus on the positives. Or something. Admittedly, they had some legitimate complaints particularly about having to wait in the hot sun for the Halong Bay tour which I hadn't done. And they probably hadn't engaged in all the onship activities that were so fun for me.

I went to the farewell show, which featured an avant guarde type magician. There were some interesting moments, but also times when I was bored- I think I feel manipulated by magic. It was fun seeing the dancers onstage briefly- I'd met one of the dancers on my tours to Nha Trang and Hanoi but I'd never actually seen him perform...

Dinner was Cream of Vidalia Onion Soup, Salmon, and some chocolate dessert. Because it was the last night, the restaurant staff sang us a song in Italian. After dinner I finished packing- bags had to be left outside the cabin by 11pm. This was really just a laid back day- not much exciting, although not boring. I felt a bit sad that the cruise was coming to an end already but I was also ready to spend a couple days in Taiwan.

Since I didn't take a lot of photos today... here is one of all the towel animals that were left in my cabin during the cruise. ;)
Farewell Show Restaurant Staff Singing During Dinner Towel Sculptures
By the time I got out of bed, the ship was already in port at Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After showering, I took some photos of Kaohsiung from my balcony and from Deck 10. After grabbing some cereal, I finished packing.

I made myself comfortable on the ship theater for the long wait to be able to disembark; the announcements said something about needing to wait for the luggage to get scanned. I had a few minutes of prepaid internet left so I took out my laptop for a quick email check. Whee, I got an email regarding my Kenya trip this fall... nothing like having another trip planned to cure the depressing feeling of the approaching end of one's current travels.

Over an hour after we were supposed to leave, my color group was finally called to depart the ship. I couldn't find my small purple bag amongst all the suitcases at first, but a friendly official spotted it for me. Kaohsiung greeted us with cheery balloon decorations and a musical performance, which made the long line for taxis seem less annoying. Actually, it didn't take that long for me to get a taxi to my hotel- and I'm glad I'd exchanged money on the ship because I didn't see any ATM's. Unlike Singapore, it didn't seem like taxis in Taiwan took credit cards. My taxi driver didn't speak great English, but it was clear that he was friendly and welcoming me to Kaohsiung.

Today I was checking into a "Hello Kitty" hotel room- I am not exaggerating when I say that the chance to stay in this room was the clincher that locked in my decision to take this trip. ;) The hotel itself is pretty swanky- it contains only one "Hello Kitty" room as well as one "Hello Kitty" suite. When I showed the front desk clerk my confirmation, she led me to a special desk and went over some things that were included in the package such as breakfast and a discount at the hotel's Hello Kitty gift shop. I thought she was telling me that breakfast was $40 or something, but it turned out that she was telling me that it is on the 40th floor. ;) Also, I had to request my breakfast time and decide what I wanted to order so it would be ready for me. The package also included 2 free tickets to a ferris wheel... but given my issues with heights... I didn't plan on using them. ;) I was positively thrilled that the room was ready even though it was still very early in the day.

I'd seen plenty of photos of the "Hello Kitty" room... but seeing it in person, my jaw just about dropped and I felt like I'd died and gone to "Hello Kitty" heaven. The room is freaking huge- really, at least as big as a suite in some hotels. And of course there are Hello Kitty touches everywhere you look.

And if that wasn't enough? Before I even had a chance to take it all in, my doorbell rang and someone brought me a welcome tray with tea and small cheesecakes. Do you think that was enough? Apparently not, because they also presented me with a box that contained stuffed bellboy Hello Kitty. Wow. I had no idea that the room came with those amenities. I don't usually drink tea, but I will drink lots of it if it is served in a cute little Hello Kitty cup. There were 2 cheesecakes on the tray; I ate both of them. Hee.

I spent a good deal of time lingering in the room and basking in all the various "Hello Kitty" touches:
  • The desk area
  • Desk chair
  • I want this phone
  • There is a Hello Kitty design in the desk mirror
  • TV chest
  • Little table with flowers on it
  • The closet contained a robe and slippers
  • A drawer contained Japanese style yukata (a light cotton robe)
  • The bathroom...
  • Bathroom mirrors
  • The shower
  • The toiletry basket was just way too cute
  • You wouldn't expect me to brush my teeth with a plain old glass now would you?
  • Lest you think that I (or any guest in the room) could just stuff everything in a suitcase and abscond with it... there is a price list that makes it clear that the decorations are not complimentary
  • My room key
  • Another photo of me, on the bed
Greeted with a Musical Performance Hello Kitty Hotel Room Cute tea cup Enjoying the Bed Bathroom Basket of Toiletries View of the ship from my hotel room
After taking tons of hotel room photos- with both of my cameras- I finally pried myself away and wandered outside. After admiring the Hello Kitty bicycles, I successfully walked in the correct direction to reach Central Park and the KMTR subway. One silly little thing that I loved about Taiwan is that the traffic light symbol that it is ok to cross the street was a little green man... who was animated! Many of them also show the number of seconds that you still have to walk.

The subway was easy to use- like Singapore, you click on your stop and the machine tells you how much to pay. After you insert your money, the machine dispenses a blue circular chip that acts as a smart card when you enter the subway, but which you deposit as you exit.

I wanted to visit the sites at Lotus Pond so I got off at the stop that the KMTR station had listed as being for Lotus Pond. I was amused at one of the shops in the station. ;)

With some difficulty, I walked in the correct direction. And then... train tracks! I couldn't figure out how to get over them- the pond was supposed to be just a bit beyond. I was tired of walking and it was getting a little late, so I felt a bit frustrated. OK, I felt very frustrated. But I backtracked all the way to the subway (a bit of a considerable walk) and took it one stop to the high speed rail station; I correctly surmised that I'd easily be able to find a taxi there. I just showed the driver a picture of a pagoda I wanted to see and I was there in no time.

Once I got to Lotus Pond, all my previous frustrations vanished. So many colorful sites to wander around! Just a beautiful area. I particularly liked the Tiger and Dragon Towers, which was the first pagoda I saw. To visit, you walk into the mouth of the dragon and then exit from the mouth of the tiger. You can also climb up for a nice view. (alternate view from the dragon pagoda)

Walking leisurely around the pond, I visited Qi Ming Hall, Spring Autumn Pagoda and Yuan Di Temple which were also beautiful (entering and inside the dragon at the Spring Autumn pagoda; another area of the Spring Autumn Pagoda that extended into the pond) I have tons of photos of these photogenic sites still to sort through... just a pity it wasn't sunnier outside. Although I didn't make it to all the sites at Lotus Pond, it felt great to be able to explore them at my own pace without feeling rushed.

After I got a little tired, I wandered toward the high speed rail station- and actually found it. ;) On the way, I passed a pink dog and a cat- the first cat I'd seen all vacation. (I like taking photos of random kitties in foreign countries) I took the KMTR to the Love River area, and stolled around there a little. On the way I passed a statue, though I'm not sure offhand who it depicted. Another lovely area. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt; it was a little breezy but not bad. Many of the locals were wearing wintery coats, and I even saw Uggs. Wusses. ;)

I crossed the river on a colorfully decorated bridge. (closeup of the decoration) It was easy to walk to my hotel- it's always nice to stay at a tall hotel because you can spot it very easily. ;) Before going back up to my hotel room, I wandered through the Hanshin Department Store which was connected to my hotel. Pity that I'd already eaten enough junk food, because there was a Mr. Donut in the food court. (if you've read my previous Asia trip reports, I have a whole thing about how Mr. Donut is my friend...) There was also a McDonalds, among other fast options.

After going back to Love River to admire the sunset, I decided to go up to my room and change into a skirt to try one of the hotel restaurants. I ended up eating at Shanghai Dumpling-- chicken soup, and crab and pork dumplings. Very yummy indeed!

Back in my hotel room, I took some photos out the window using my tripod and considered going back to Love River for some night shots but my tripod broke. :P Actually it had broken a couple days before I left, but I'd tried to glue it together. It's brand new, so I'm kinda irritated; it was too late to exchange it for this trip by the time it broke. It wasn't cheap either. I vented my frustrations by writing a one star review on amazon. ;)

After taking a shower, I lounged around the room in one of the Hello Kitty Yukatas they provided. I loved wearing it and decided I needed to buy one. While going online, I ate the Ginger Ale Kit Kat that I'd purchased at my Tokyo layover 2 weeks ago. It was surprisingly good.

I was pretty tired so I decided to go to sleep relatively early, around 11pm. After I'd fallen asleep, I was jarred awake by a loud noise- turns out they were shooting fireworks near my hotel at 11:30. WTF?! When the noise subsided I went back to sleep... only to be awakened again as I drifted off. I tried to take a photo, but by the time I got my camera and turned it on, the fireworks had stopped. I was finally able to fall asleep after that; the bed and especially the pillow were quite comfortable.
Tiger and Dragon Towers Dragon Tower Shuen-sanzi-ten Temple Spring and Autumn Pagoda Spring and Autumn Pagoda Emperor of Dark Heaven Temple Emperor of Dark Heaven Temple detail Kids Fishing, with Confucius Temple in the background Statue of Chiang Kai Shek Love River
After waking up to my alarm, it was time for the breakfast that was included with my "Hello Kitty" hotel package. I took the elevator up to the 40th floor and was a little confused because I didn't see a restaurant. But then one of the hotel staff greeted me and led me into the Executive Lounge to a table decorated with adorable Hello Kitty touches which had a wonderful view of Kaohsiung. I was served little Hello Kitty waffles as well as the omlet I'd ordered. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a language issue and I thought I could order just a cheese omlet, but it came with mushroom and onion as well. So I went to the buffet and picked up a bagel and smoked salmon- no biggie. When the server saw that I hadn't eaten much of my omlet, I mentioned that I didn't realize there would be mushrooms... so she insisted that they make a replacement. Of course by that time, I was a little full- but I still ate most of the replacement. (the bacon on the replacement was much better and crispier but I wasn't hungry enough for it) I got up to leave... but then they served me a Hello Kitty dessert- some kind of custard. Too cute!

After I finished eating breakfast, "Hello Kitty's Trusted Friend" from the hotel greeted me and gave me her card; she said she was sorry she wasn't there to check me in and lead me to my room but I'd gotten in so early. She also wanted to make sure I knew about all the amenities included in the package, and mentioned that I hadn't used my coupon. I told her I was going to head down to the store after breakfast and indeed I did- I purchased a Yukata, a face towel, and a hoodie. I also got my free photo taken with the large Hello Kitty outside the store. (I think the person taking the photo should have used a flash, because the colors are kinda bad)

After packing, it was time to take a taxi to the high speed rail station so I could take a train to Taipei. I tried to purchase a ticket using the automated machines, but my credit card kept getting rejected. So I went to the counter and didn't have a problem. While on the train, I worked on my travel blogs. I felt totally wuzrobbed as the sunny Kaohsiung weather was replaced by overcast skies.

I chose my hotel in Taipei because it was located right near the train station- I just wanted something convenient. The one problem was that the exit to the hotel did not have an escalator or elevator. I started slowly inching my bags up the stairs- figuring that eventually I'd make it to the top. However, a woman and her boyfriend offered their help- and ended up carrying my largest bag directly to the hotel for me! I am so impressed at the friendliness and helpfulness of people in Asia. (I have had similar experiences in Tokyo)

My hotel room wasn't anything really special- and the bathtub looked like something totally out of the 70's- but they put me in a freaking suite with a super large living room. I had a view of the Taipei railway station which was across the street.

After getting situated, it was time for a quick exploration of the city. I decided just to bring my small camera because it was still overcast, and I also wanted to travel light. Unfortunately, it was only the next day when I realized that my small camera's settings had accidentally been changed to save the photos in jpg instead of raw format, which made it harder to make post-processing improvements. :P

I went back to the busy main train station in order to catch a MTR subway. The subways were ridiculously cheap (seriously, like 67 cents a ride) and easy to use. Like in Kaohsiung, the machines dispense a circular blue token which was used as a smartcard to get into the subway system and then deposited on the way out. Instead of clicking on your station, you had to look it up on the map and then click on the desired fare. A bit of extra work. ;)

My first stop was Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall- the impressive square consisted of 2 gorgeous peforming arts venues and a building containing a statue of Chiang. The flowers in the square were lovely- but their design was really impressive when viewed from above after walking up 4 flights of stairs to the statue of Chiang. The base of the building housing the statue contained special exhibits on Da Vinci and on dinosaurs, neither of which I visited. However, when I was there, I saw what appeared to be the start of the changing of the guard, as 3 men marched through with precise movements- very neat. On my way back to the subway, I wandered through the gardens. While at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, I teared up a bit with the thought that this was my final day of travels. (photo of a random statue)

Next stop was Longshon Temple- and wow, was it crowded! With both people and offerings. Perhaps because this was the last Sunday before Chinese New Year? Dunno. It was definitely gorgeous- although difficult to navigate and take photos due to the crowds. On the other hand, it was cool to see such vibrant displays of active worship; it seemed more alive than just a historical relic or a museum. (here are a couple photos of random decorations)

From there, I decided to try to walk to Ximending, which is a shopping area. When I found the Red House Theater, I saw that the square in front of it was crowded with merchants selling crafts and with music playing. Very fun. I bought myself a pair of pink earrings. When wandering around the area, I happened upon a store full of (U.S.) Major League Baseball memorabilia- rotfl! If I was a Yankees fan (boo!), I'd be coming home with a totally new wardrobe as they had tons of cute Yankees clothing. Including some that were purple. And some with sparkles. Although they had some Phillies things, there was nothing small and cute enough to buy. Phillies wuzrobbed! (they had a few cute things for other teams like LA and Boston, but the cutest stuff seemed overwhelmingly Yankees)

I found my way by foot back to the area of the main train station and passed by the North Taiwan Gate. I decided to take a slight detour to the 228 Peace park, which was a few blocks from my hotel. Not much English signage so I don't know exactly what I took photos of. I was LOL that the only words on the guide map were that it was a map- gee, I never would have guessed. ;)

While taking a moment to enjoy the brightly signed streets, I went back to the hotel for a break. After asking the front desk for the price of a taxi to the airport, I decided to book one of their cars to the airport since I could charge it to the room. Hey, I'm flying first class, I should do it in style. I picked up my large camera and headed out in search of Taiwan Storyland. Err, I spent quite a long time wandering through the train station before I eventually realized that the entrance was actually right across from my hotel. /stupid tourist moment. (I went back to my hotel room to check the internet... and had to check several websites before I found one that was helpful.) At least in my wanderings I'd bought a couple donuts from Mr. Donut at the train station.

By the time I got to Taiwan Storyland at about 7pm, I think some of the restaurants and stores must have been closed because there wasn't a whole lot that was open. (it closes at 8:30) But I enjoyed strolling through a re-creation of old time Taiwan. Definitely a unique and quirky place to visit and wander. While there, I ran into 2 people who recognized me from the cruise.

I walked around a bit in search of something to eat but finally decided on my hotel's buffet. I tried a bunch of local things but I didn't really love them; like most buffets, I don't think it offered the best quality of food. I finally settled on some pasta. It took forever for them to bring me my check- so long that I thought I might end up in that restaurant forever.

Back in my hotel room, I packed a bit, uploaded a travel blog and then called it a night because I was very tired. The bed seemed awfully hard but I slept well so it must have been ok. I felt like the room was rather chilly- I couldn't find any extra blankets and I didn't bring anything heavy to wear to sleep, so I improvised and slept with one of the hotel's bathrobes over my shorts and t-shirt.

Taipei wasn't on my original itinerary; I only went there because of the logistics of flying home. But I'm really glad I had a chance to see Taipei, even if it was a day with crap weather. I'm also glad I had a 2nd full day in Taiwan- definitely enjoyed my time there!
Hello Kitty Waffles Omlet Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness,  CKS Memorial Hall National Theater,  CKS Memorial Hall CKS Memorial Hall Statue of Chiang Kai-shek Park, CKS Memorial Hall Longshan Temple Longshan Temple Red House Theater MLB Clubhouse Store Ximending 2/28 Peace Park: Taipei 228 Momnument Entrance to Taiwan Storyland Taiwan Storyland
"I have danced with the first class...
It was oh, such a dream come true!"
-Titanic, the musical

I admit to being a bit of a transport nerd- at least when it comes to subways, trains, and airplanes. So I awoke quite excited to be traveling first/business class back home. Desspite the fact that of course this meant I was going home.

The ride to the airport in the hotel car was uneventful. When I got to the Cathay Pacific counter, I was all sorts of too giddy to be able to check in at the business class counter. Even though there wasn't actually much of a line for economy. ;) In the process of checking in, they handed me a voucher inviting me to the Cathay Pacific business class lounge, and told me it was just past security.

If you've never been to a business class lounge- and I hadn't- the first thing to know is that they rock. And the 2nd thing to know? Is that they rock. ;) I expected free beverages- but I didn't expect a noodle bar (I had a yummy Asian style beef noodle soup) There were also muffins and other foods, but I wasn't really hungry enough for them. They also had plenty of alcool, for those who drink. There was free wifi and it was just generally a very pleasant and comfortable area to wait. (I think the entire airport may have had free wifi) I was even lol that the straw I got for my coke zero was purple. Whee.

Eventually, I decided to mingle with the masses because I wanted to do some shopping. I was stoked that the perfect gift ideas for some friends hit me- it should have been totally obvious in retrospect. As I made my final purchase, I realized that it was getting to (past) the time my boarding pass said to be at the gate. Ooops. I was rushing to the gate when they assured me that I didn't have to hurry. I think I was one of the last people to board. I stopped a second to squee that I was going through the gangway to board business/first class.

In business class, the flight attendants address you by name. I felt like I was at "Cheers"- sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name. ;) I was clumsily trying to take a photo of myself when one of the flight attendants offered to take one for me. The seat next to me was vacant, so I had extra space.

I had no shame in admitting that I was like Cinderella at the ball. Things that other travelers may take for granted were wondrous to me. Imagine being asked if you want a beverage while the plane is still at the gate, before takeoff! Imagine, being served water... in a real glass! Or being served an appetizer separate from the main meal! Or being offered a choice out of a box of fine chocolates after the meal! Wait a sec.. just imagine being served food at all on a 2.5 hr flight.... ;)

I have never once purchased duty free items on a plane. Ever. Nonetheless, I typically browse the duty free shopping guide, especially on Asian airlines. Well, in the Cathay Pacific catalog, sparkly Hello Kitty earrings caught my eye- WANT!!! I was glad that they had them in stock- they will totally be a perfect reminder of this trip. (and they will look too cute with my Hello Kitty hoodie, won't they? hee)

Soon enough I arrived at Tokyo Narita airport, did a little shopping, and waited at the gate. Wheeee for being able to board the plane when they announced that they were boarding first class! First class on American's 777 aircraft is pretty awesome- first of all, you don't have anyone seated next to you. The chair itself can recline into a full bed. It's like having your own private little zone to make yourself at home for 11 hrs. (the last photo has the seat configured as a bed, but with the back up like you are sitting up in bed)

Onboard, Glenn and Susan introduced themselves- and I sorta made it abundantly clear that I am in no technik when it comes to first class. (they eventually had to show me how to swivel the seat so I could sit with my legs up... and how the noise reducing bose headphones needed to be turned on to work) I took some photos of the seat area, and Susan offered to take my photo. Before we took off, I had a glass of water, ordered my post take-off beverage, and ordered my main couse.

It is going to be hard for me to travel in coach class on my next flight now that I know that the people in first class are having ice cream sundaes. Just saying. ;) (they came around with a tray and you could choose your own toppings; I chose hot fudge and butterscotch) I'm glad I didn't have room for the Haagen Dazs ice cream cups on my first flight; sundaes are better.

During the flight, I watched a movie (Motherhood) on the personal video as I ate my meal. Then I got out my laptop to work on my travel blogs (until the battery got low), and listened to Pia Douwes in "Elisabeth" on my ipod. I also figured out that I am a total idiot because after charging my cell phone the other night, I forgot to turn it off... and the battery is so old that it's already low. And of course I packed the cell phone charger thinking I wouldn't need it. Ah well. I also got some sleep- very nice being able to stretch out! I was apparently still tired when we landed though; I actually slept through the landing until we were on the ground. They'd announced that this was the final trip for one of the first class flight attendants who had been with the company for 42 yrs, so I congratulated her when I departed the plane.

There was a time when I would have been a little embarrassed by all the personal attention in business/first class. But now? I revel in it. It's the delicious cherry on top of a scrumptuous sundae of a vacation. (oh yes, I am so all about the sundaes that they are inspiring a metaphor!)

I think my biggest memory of the trip home is all the food they kept throwing at me! I had a meal on the flight from Taipei- including smoked salmon appetizer, garlic bread, and chicken teriyaki. The flight to the USA had so much food that I finally had to politely decline any options from the bread tray because I was simply too stuffed- the parade of foods started with tortillas and dip, followed by (more) smoked salmon, a pork noodle bowl and of course the ice cream sundae. Then later came a small sushi snack box, followed by M&M's, and Milanos. And after that was a swiss cheese omlet before we landed. It was funny when I called my mom from Dallas and she suggested that I get something to eat- food was the last thing I wanted, lol.

After I collected my luggage at the Dallas airport, I was randomly selected to have my luggage randomly searched. Umm, whee? I actually didn't mind too much since I had a ton of time for my layover. The guy searching my luggage asked me a lot of questions... although I think he realized I was no threat when he started asking me things like the name of my stuffed bear... and making comments that I must like hello kitty. ;) As he inspected one of my bags, he cut his finger one of my razors and he was bleeding; I felt bad since he was so nice (albeit businesslike) but then again, I didn't ask to have my luggage searched.

I was too exhausted to do much at the Dallas airport but sit at various gates and wait. (initially, people were still waiting for an earlier flight at my gate so I sat elswhere and moved there when it cleared out; then the gate for my plane was changed, but fortunately just moved 1 gate over) I struck up a conversation with one woman who asked me if I was going to Philadelphia. (no, I'm just sitting at this gate because I thought it would be a fun one to sit at....) I told her a bit about my trip and she was one of those people who was amazed that I went by myself. I had a loss for words when she said "Your family let you travel by yourself?" (no, I escaped from the dungeon they tried to lock me in...) She said that she could barely manage to get from Dallas to Philadelphia (which I sorta believed, especially when it appeared that she neglected to lock the bathroom door on the plane; to be fair, it wasn't one of the ones where the light was dimmed until you locked it but still...) But she was a sweet lady and even tried to give me some of her pizza. (just what I needed... but still nice of her)

First class on my domestic flight didn't seem nearly as special as the 2 international flights. Still, it was comfortable- and I was a little too excited to get my hands on a Diet Dr Pepper for the first time in over 2 weeks. ;) Oh yes, they gave us food. I somehow managed to eat the ravioli and a small piece of foccacia bread. Then they asked if I had room for dessert- which was vanilla ice cream on a brownie. My answer? "I don't have room, but somehow I will make some for that." Hee. (the brownie was warm and ooey- totally worth it)

When my plane arrived, I was really exhausted. I was so tired on that flight that I'd slept through the takeoff- and wondered how we were already in the air when I got up. I didn't miss this landing though- I am always eager to see the Phillies baseball park. After I got to the baggage carousel I checked my phone and I had a message from my driver that he'd be there... in about 45 minutes, at 11:25pm. I was not at all amused- especially since my bags came out just a couple minutes later. (they were tagged as priority) Since my mom had hired him to drive me (she uses him when she needs a driver) and since my cell battery was low, I called her. Allegedly he once told her that he works a regular job on Monday nights until 11pm, but he never mentioned this fact specifically in connection to her request for him to meet me at the airport. He told me that most people don't mind waiting; I said that I should have been given that option, especially since I know a couple people I might have asked to give me a ride at that time. (however, I wouldn't have asked them to drive me at 3am for my flights to Singapore) In addition to being tired and generally anxious to get home, it was a bit creepy at the airport so late... it was a bit of a crappy (and boring) way to end an amazing trip.

When I finally got home, I still had energy to do some things like unpack my souvenirs (such as the earrings I'd purchased in Taipei), post a blog, and copy files from the laptop to my desktop computer. But once I finally went to sleep, I slept quite soundly.
Cathay Pacific business class lounge entrance Cathay Pacific business class lounge Look at me, I'm flying Business class Taking off from Taipei In flight appetizer Earrings I bought Duty Free on flight from Taipei to Tokyo Look at me, i'm in First Class They serve ice cream sundaes in First Class Another photo of my seat midflight
What a trip! Thinking about it months after my return is like gazing through a kaleidoscope of so many varied and wonderful memories: the bright red of Singapore's Chinatown, the quiet green solitude of a nature walk, a blur of temples encompassing a full spectrum of both bright colors and neutrals, blue skies melting into blue waters seen from a cruise ship, the dramatic orange and pink of sunsets over the South China sea, the green of the rice fields seen from bus windows through Vietnam, the primary colors of the pegs of a rock climbing wall that I eventually conquered, the pink of a Hello Kitty themed hotel room, the neon lights of Taipei after dark, the fluffy white clouds viewed from the window from the luxury of a first class airplane cabin... Like magic, there was even an unexpected touch of Disney to make my voyage truly complete.

One of the best things about this vacation was that it led me to learn a little about 2 very fascinating countries, Singapore and Taiwan, that were also wonderful to visit. I really enjoyed my time in both places, and felt instantly comfortable throughout my travels there. I'd love to have a reason to return in the future especially since my time in Kaohsiung and Taipei was really too brief. But I knew I couldn't afford to spend more time there, so I made the best of the moments I had.

I have more complex feelings about Vietnam. While I delighted in the fascinating and eclectic cities I visited, I can't say that I fully enjoyed my time there because people were always being pushy about coming up to me and trying to sell me things. "One dollar, one dollar" still echoes in my ear months later as I write this. I like to be left alone, so I never felt fully comfortable any place in Vietnam. However, excluding that one annoyance, the places I saw were amazing. There was a lot of construction in many places we visited, so I think it might be interesting to return in a decade or so to see what's changed.

I enjoyed my aft balcony on the cruise- which was truly a bargain at the price I paid. There were things I liked about being on the cruise and things I didn't like, but overall it was a lot of fun. I can't believe how busy I felt even on at sea days! It was a great way to get a little taste for a lot of places in a relatively short time.

I continue to enjoy finding interesting accommodations- and my funky Singapore hotel and Kaohsiung Hello Kitty room are both sure to be remembered fondly for years. My hotel in Taipei was adequate; I chose it more for the location and was barely in the room, so it suited me fine.

I have to mention the weather briefly- it was HOT. At least through Singapore and the Southern part of Vietnam. Not that this was unexpected. I usually don't mind the heat too much, and I certainly didn't let it get in the way of my activities. But it was almost a relief to get back home to winter. (except, err, I really didn't need a snowstorm right after my return!)

Overall, this trip fed my ever-growing appetite for traveling to new places and learning more about the world and its people. As a kid, I always wanted to travel. I consider myself truly lucky that I've now been able to journey far beyond my wildest dreams.