2013 Southeast Asia and Vietnam cruise tour

Truly a region of beauty and mystery

From bustling, modern cities to quiet, mist-shrouded jungles, our guests on this cruise tour discovered that Southeast Asia truly is a place of beauty, history and mystery.

Upon arriving in Singapore, one is immediately struck by the modern atmosphere of this thrilling metropolis of nearly 4 million people. This melting pot of people from Malay, China India and Europe provides your senses with extraordinary smells, tastes and sights.

The Republic of Singapore is situated at the southern tip on peninsular Malaysia just north of the equator and has the highest standard of living in Asia after Japan. Singapore is often called the “Garden City” because of its attractive green park like areas and features the new Harbor Botanical Garden.

A visit to the Harbor Botanical Garden is necessary while visiting Singapore. The garden not only features an outstanding variety of plants but also has a domed conservatory featuring plants from around the world and a one of a kind cloud forest conservatory, which houses the world’s largest indoor waterfall. The gardens and conservatories are accessible with modern accessible restrooms. There is also an accessible cart tour of the outside gardens.

Our group tour also included a ride on the accessible Singapore Flier. Currently the largest Ferris wheel in the world, the Flier provides you with outstanding views of the city and harbor area. Below the Flier is the Singapore Food Trail that provided our guests a great opportunity to taste the local cuisine of Singapore.

Luckily, for our group, Singapore was preparing for the Chinese New Year Celebration – the year of the snake. We were able to experience the liveliness of Chinatown as people were preparing for the celebration as well as the elaborately colored decorations. The recently renovated Chinatown area maintains its old charm with a maze of narrow streets, shops, restaurants, traders and temples.

Our next port of call Thailand, welcomed us with the sweet smell of Jasmine wafting through the air. On our first day in Thailand, we visited the beach resort area of Pattaya and the Nong Nooch Village. The village is home to a world-renowned botanical garden, Thai cultural show, elephant show and Thai food. After an afternoon at the village, we also visited the World’s Largest Jewelry store that features many of the local gems found in Thailand.

Then we were off to bustling metropolis of Bangkok. Established in 1782 by the first king of the Chakri Dynatsy, this fascinating city is filled with striking contrasts. From modern skyscrapers to magnificent Buddhist temples, there is always something amazing to experience. Our group visited the Temple of the Golden Buddha first. The temple contains an impressive 10 foot tall, 5.5 tons solid golf Buddha image. The sculpture was rediscovered just40 years ago.

After our tour at the temple, we entered the amazing grounds of The Grand Palace, Bangkok’s major landmark. Bangkok’s founder, King Rama I, built his palace and walled city at this location in 1782. Succeeding monarchs enlarged the compound with most buildings used for state occasions. Today, the grounds encompass more than 100 buildings, which represent 200 years of Royal history. The most famous building in the compound is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and is the most sacred temple in the Kingdom. No other temple in Thailand is so ornate and so embellished with statues, murals and gold. The 31-inch Buddha image is carved from a single piece of jade and is one the most venerated images of the Buddha.

The third country on our cruise tour was Vietnam.  As our ship slowly maneuvered through the mouth of the Mekong Delta, one is overwhelmed with expanse of the delta mangrove forest. The port of Phu My lays just a 2-hour drive south of Ho Chi Minh City and provides an interesting view of small villages, rice fields and the new modern Vietnam that is developing.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a lively and bustling city of nearly 10 million people. The number of scooter and motorbikes is amazing, as it is the primary transportation option for most people living in Vietnam.  The city is the largest in Vietnam and all of Indochina and is the economic engine of the country.

Once a colonial French possession, the city has a beautiful historic center with stately yet elegant buildings framed by wide tree-lined avenues. These beautiful sights gave the city its nickname as the Paris of Indochina. Today one is still amazed at the magnificent buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral, the central Post Office, the Opera House and the old City Hall.

Our group had the good fortune of visiting southern Vietnam during the Tet, Lunar New Year, holiday. The decorations of red lanterns, and gold chrysanthemums were glorious throughout the countryside and city. Because of the timeliness of our visit, we were able to enjoy the Tet flower show in central Ho Chi Minh along with a visit to the temple of the Emerald Emperor, the War Museum and a stroll around the French Colonial district.

On our second day in Vietnam, we had the opportunity of strolling along the streets of the small village of Long Huong. We were greeted by many local people who took a break from their New Year’s celebration to express their good wishes for the year to us. We stopped for a refreshment of sugarcane juice and visited the local temple before continuing on to the seaside city of Vung Tau.

Vung Tau was a customs and immigration center for Saigon and today is a well know resort city. The major beach, located on the east of the peninsula, is called “Back Beach.” At one time, this beach was a rest center for French officers and later, for American and Australian soldiers during the Vietnam conflict.

One of the main attractions in Vaug Tau is The Giant Jesus. The statue is 98 feet high and was constructed on the site of a French lighthouse in 1974. The Rio de Janeiro-style figure gazes out across the South China Sea from Small Mountain.

Our next port in Vietnam was Chang May. From there we traveled to the beautiful Vietnamese town of Hoi An. It sits on the banks of the Thu Bon River near the South China Sea. It was untouched during the Vietnam Conflict and retains its centuries old Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European architecture. We visited the most famous landmark in Hoi An, the Japanese Covered Bridge, which is thought to have been built in the 16thcentury.

Our favorite activity while in Hoi An was strolling along the river and admiring the architecture, local merchants and of course, stopping for an authentic Vietnamese lunch.

We were also lucking to experience on of the most scenic areas in the world, Halong Bay. As we cruised through these magnificent islands which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, one is in awe of the limestone structures and islands carved by many years of erosion. More than 2,000 islets form this splendid bay with many looking as sentinels standing guard over this peaceful natural reserve.

Our last port of call was Hong Kong. More than just a shopping Mecca, Hong Kong’s bustling harbor, towering skyscrapers and shops may be its familiar images, but Buddhist monasteries, majestic mountains and beautiful vegetation are equally important to its identity. In Cantonese, Hong Kong means “Fragrant Harbor” and this former British colony indeed hosts many fragrances to be enjoyed.

We began our accessible tour of Hong Kong with a visit to the world famous Stanley Market. Our group enjoyed browsing and shopping the numerous stalls in the market. Then we ascended Victoria Peak. This part of Hong Kong has been the place to live ever since the British moved in. The top viewing platform on the peak is 1,312 feet and provides an excellent view of the city and Victoria Harbor. While on the peak, we enjoyed a traditional Cantonese lunch that featured traditional dim sum items.

  After our time on the peak, we descended the mountain and continued our tour to Aberdeen, which was once a quite fishing village. Today this area houses a community of 6,000 people who live or work on junks anchored in the harbor. There are also three large floating seafood restaurants.

Southeast Asia is truly a region of wonder, excitement, taste and yes shopping. Our accessible group tour took us to many exotic and interesting sights. This cruise tour is definitely one that should be on every ones “bucket list.”

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