Southeast Asia Cruise on the Azamara Quest - Page 3

2/20/10 to 3/6/10


Page 1:  Pre-Cruise in Singapore; Ship Information

Page 2:  Bangkok, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Page 3:  Danang, Vietnam; Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong, China


Danang, Vietnam

When I looked out at the port of Danang from the ship, it looked as though it had snowed.  The ship next to us was loading white sand or silica to be used for making glass.  The workers were shoveling the excess back into the massive buckets.  It did look like they were shoveling snow.


With our only being in this port for one day, we had to pack in a lot.  When docked at Danang, tourists have to make a choice to go north to the ancient capital city of Hue or south to the charming city of Hoi An; since there isn’t much to see or do in Danang itself.  With Hoi An only being a short ride compared to Hue being around 2.5 hours away over the mountains, we chose the easier tour.  I think we made the right decision.  Hoi An would become our favorite city in Vietnam.


Since we weren’t going to Hue, I thought it would be a good idea to take a ride to the ancient Hindu Temple ruins of My Son that were built by the Champa people between the 4th and 14th centuries.  I hadn’t realized that it would be an hour and a half ride to get to them.  Our tour guide, Minh, provided us with a lot of historical and cultural information on the ride to the ruins.  He was very knowledgeable and wanted to tell us everything he could.  During the trip to the ruins, he did make a couple of comments that could be considered anti-American, but we hoped that it was his attempt at humor; since we had found our guide Nghia and other Vietnamese people we met to be very friendly and helpful.


When we finally got to My Son, we were tired from the ride and it was quite hot because there wasn’t much of a breeze.  Minh showed us the various sites we would be visiting on a posted map.  We expressed our concern that it did look like a lot of walking and that some in our group might not be able to do all of it.  He said that it wasn’t as bad as it looked on the map.


The first site was the main one and it was over a half mile walk, much of it uphill.  The ladies were more interested in sitting down in the shade to rest and get out of the sun then touring the ruins at this point. 



Minh wanted to show us the different buildings and give a complete history of each one.  Several of us wanted to walk around and take photos of this beautiful historic site rather than listen to all of Minh’s presentation.  He was displeased that the entire group wasn’t listening to what he was saying.  My main goal was to see as much as I could, take as many photos as possible and then move on so that the girls could get out of the heat and back to the van as soon as possible. 



Periodically, I would go over to listen to what Minh was telling the few members of the group that were still listening to him.  Since he was standing in the sun, I asked him if we could move along faster because it was uncomfortable for us.  He kept on talking and proceeded to another structure.  When Jim asked him if we could move to the next site because the girls were very uncomfortable and wanting to go back to the van, Minh got very mad and said we were going back to the van.  He walked way ahead of the group and didn’t say anything to us.  When we finally got to the van we tried to find out what his problem was.  He said that we should have wanted to listen to him to learn about the culture.  We explained to him that we were concerned because our wives were feeling ill because of the heat and we were worried about them.  He didn’t want to hear any excuses.  He said that we had insulted him and that he couldn’t continue the tour. 

On the drive to Hoi An he called Ha and told her what had happened.  He was very angry.  He gave the phone to me so that she could hear our side of the story.  She apologized repeatedly and said she would find us another guide for the rest of the day’s tour.  When we got into Hoi An, Minh left the van and we met our new guide for the rest of the day, Thanh.  He turned out to be a great guide and just a real pleasant person. 


Her being able to fix a problem without affecting our tour itinerary showed us what a good tour arranger that Ha is.  Many people can set up a tour; but when there are issues to fix, that is when you need a top notch tour arranger like Ha.  I had previously read how she was able to fix any of her clients issues that were related to her tours; but I didn’t foresee that we would be needing much help with what we were doing.  However, when our problem arose, she certainly lived up to her reputation.  She handled it in a very professional manner and to our complete satisfaction.  When traveling in Vietnam, having Ha on your team makes a big difference.

Driving into Hoi An, we could tell that it was going to be a wonderful place to explore.  It was a very old authentic Vietnamese town. There are many original buildings there, because it was not bombed during the Vietnam War.



The first place that we stopped was a silk manufacturer.  They explained and showed us the silk making process.


We also got to see the tedious intricate work of making silk pictures.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  Of course the purpose for the free tour was so that we would get an appreciation for the silk process and want to purchase items in their store.  The prices were very reasonable and everyone stocked up on various items.  I got three silk ties for $6 each.  One of the benefits of traveling in Vietnam is that everywhere we went, the vendors preferred US dollars to the Vietnamese Dongs.  The exchange rate was 18,500 Dongs to $1 US.


On our way down the lovely streets of Hoi An to our next stop, we passed all sorts of enticing shops.  We tried to control ourselves, since our suitcases were already getting filled from previous souvenir purchases.  Jim stopped at an art store when he saw a piece of art he couldn’t live without.  The price was very reasonable and shipping it to the US was only about $20 US extra.  This was great news, since I was falling in love with a painting that I saw in the store while waiting for Jim to complete his purchase.  Not that we needed any more artwork, but I really liked this one.  It would be a wonderful reminder of the beautiful places we had seen on this SE Asia trip.  Carol confirmed my feelings and said it was time to move some of the artwork around at home.  Sold!  The cost of the painting and shipping was less than what it would cost to just frame a picture of this size at home.  We were happy.


Continuing our walk we arrived at the oldest house in Hoi An, the Old House of Phung Hung.  It is a two story house and is 230 years old.  A guide told us about the house and showed us upstairs.  There is a nice view from the house of the top of the 500 year old Japanese Covered Bridge, the most famous landmark in Hoi An.



From the house we walked through the covered bridge and got some photos of it from the other side.


The bridge led us to a lake that still had decorations from the recent New Year’s celebrations.


It was after 1:00 PM and we were getting hungry.  Thanh took us to the Tam Tam Café (  It was not air conditioned but felt very comfortable inside.  Their prices were very reasonable, especially the Tiger Beer, which several of us had been looking forward to all day.  Most of us decided to have spring rolls and a dish called Caramelized Pork in Clay Pot.  When the food came, it was delicious.  The main course only cost about $3 US.  What a deal! 


After the wonderful lunch we continued our walk through the lovely and fascinating streets of Hoi An.  There was just so much to see there, and it was so different from where we live.  All of the girls agreed that they would have loved to explore the stores a little more had time permitted.



Thanh told us that the town was more crowded that day because there was a celebration going on.  When we came to our next destination, a temple, we could see that there was a pretty good crowd there.  The temple grounds were lovely with all sorts of statues, plants and decorations. 



Inside the temple there were incense coils for sale hanging from the ceiling along with many religious statues.


We hated to leave Hoi An, but we needed to continue our tour.  Our next stop was to see the Marble Mountains, particularly a stone carving manufacturer and store.  Normally I wouldn’t get too excited about a statue store; but this was a great place.  The statues were very intricate and just gorgeous.  Barbara found a lovely piece that she wanted.  The shipping was quite reasonable, so she bought it.  There is no place we could put a statue of that size in our house, but it was enjoyable to browse through the showroom.  Based on the prices, it is probably just as well we couldn’t use one.



Our last stop would be at China Beach, made famous in the TV show.  With the large condominiums and major construction projects along the beach, some parts looked a lot like South Florida.  We stopped at a less commercialized section of the beach and it was quite lovely.  I was glad to finally be able to get a photo of the round basket boats that the local fisherman used.  Quite unusual.



Across the water was a very large Buddha statue.


Thanh had told us that we would be getting to meet Ha during our tour.  As I was coming back from the beach, she was waiting for us.  We were both thrilled to finally meet each other.  I think we both felt like we were meeting old friends.  She was as sweet and sincere a lady in person as she seemed to be in her emails.  She is a true professional and I consider myself very fortunate to have chosen her to arrange our tours in Vietnam.


The tour was over, so we went back to the ship.  We were once again thankful for the beautiful weather and wonderful day’s touring.  As we were departing Danang, the sunset made for a lovely close to a great day.



Hanoi, Vietnam

DAY 1 -

Our port for Hanoi would be the World Heritage Site, Halong Bay.  Captain Smith had told us that we would start passing by the unique limestone island formations about an hour and a half before we arrived at the port.  As expected, the bay was foggy like it normally is this time of year.  We had hoped that it would clear off later in the day.  The ride through these huge rocks has got to be quite a challenge, since there are thousands of them in the bay.  The Quest had slowed down considerably to make for a safer passage through the islands. It felt quite mysterious as different islands would come into view through the fog as we got closer to them. 



As the morning progressed, the fog thinned out some, but the fog wasn’t going to go away.  It was a truly beautiful sight to be able to see the unusual formations. 




Some of them had lighthouses and other structures built on them, but most were deserted. 



I was surprised at the amount of boat traffic that was going through there.  When we got to the dock, we could see that it is a major industrial port.


There were lots of busses waiting for the Quest to arrive to provide the ship tours.  Once again we had a tour arranged by Ha.


When we got off the ship, our tour guide for the next two days, Tuan, was waiting for us.  He led us over to our van and driver for our trip to the tourist wharf.


We had planned to take a boat trip around Halong bay, since we only had a half day left and would go into Hanoi the next day. With the drive to Hanoi being over 3 hours, it couldn’t be done the first day, unless we overnighted in Hanoi, as some of our Cruise Critic group had chosen to do.  Others had chosen to overnight on a junk in Halong Bay so they could see more of it.  We compromised and did a little of each, but stayed on the ship overnight.

I could tell that we were going to enjoy having Tuan as our guide, he spoke very good English, was informative and a very likeable guy.  When we got to the tourist wharf, I was very surprised to see how many large touring boats were there.  This was a big business.  Since we had our own boat for our group of eight, I didn’t know what size boat had been booked.  When Tuan took us to our boat, I couldn’t believe how big a boat we were going to have all to ourselves.  This was going to be a nice cruise.



As we pulled away from the docks a small boat of kids selling fruit pulled beside our boat trying to sell us some.  Everyone wants to sell something to the tourists.


The downstairs section of the boat was very comfortable and the upstairs was a great place to observe the beautiful scenery.


Our first destination was the Thien Cung Cave.  We didn’t know what to expect from this cave, so our expectations weren’t great; but we knew it would be another unique experience.    Tuan said that we would have to climb steps to get to the cave; but that it wasn’t too far up.  His definition of far and ours was not the same.  Luckily, Carol had decided to remain on the boat. 



It was a quite a good hike; but we are glad we did it.  When we walked into the cave, we were thrilled to see a large room with lots of formations highlighted by colored lights.  This was much better than I had expected.



We were amazed that we were the only people in the cave.  We couldn’t believe it wasn’t more popular than this.  It turned out that we lucked out because we arrived so early.  By the time we left more people were coming in and it was getting a bit crowded in places.




About half way through the cave, Tuan pointed out the original entrance that was much higher up.  It must have been quite a treacherous climb down into the cave back then.


Everyone was really impressed with the beauty of the cave; but when we left it, Tuan asked if we wanted to go to another cave.  He said it was a bit further up the mountain, but not very far.  Right!  I asked him if it was as pretty as the one we had just seen.  He said it wasn’t lit up.  That made it an easy decision.  Back down the hill to the boat we went.


It really was a very pretty island.  There were a whole lot more boats there now than when we had arrived a half hour earlier.


The rest of the afternoon we would just cruise around the lovely islands taking it all in.



At one point, Tuan pulled out a 200,000 Dong bill, about $11 US to show us one of the islands that is printed on the back of the bill.  That island was right in front of the boat.  It was the small island, just to the left of the center of the photo.


Once again we saw people selling their wares on small boats.  I hoped that this lady hadn't had to row all the way from where we picked up our boat to get her fruit for her potential customers.


It was such a pleasure to be on the boat watching the gorgeous scenery pass us by.  Halong Bay is one gorgeous place.



We passed one small island that Tuan indicated was a special Vietnamese symbol and an important formation.  Other boats were also coming to the spot, so it must have been special.


It seemed like all of the boats started to return to the dock at about the same time.  The day was over for the Halong Bay day tourists.  For those that were spending the night, it was just beginning now that the crowds were leaving.


We didn’t get a sunny day, but it didn’t rain and we got to thoroughly enjoy the world renowned beauty of Halong Bay. 


DAY 2 -

We knew that this would be a tough touring day, because the drive to Hanoi was supposed to take around 3.5 hours each way.   Since the ship didn’t leave port until 9:00 PM, we certainly had enough time to see the sights of Hanoi and get back in time.  Once again the traffic was most fascinating with all of the motorcycles.


Once again we saw lots of rice fields with many people working in them along with their water buffalos.  There were also many of the graves that we had seen on our way to the Mekong Delta while in Ho Chi Minh City.


Even though there was a lot of traffic, it rarely ever stopped, since there weren’t many traffic lights and people just kept moving around anything that wasn’t moving.


We saw many tall houses along the highway.  Some that I couldn't take photos of were quite large and elegant.


2010 is the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the City of Hanoi.  There were lots of special events planned for the year.  One of the biggest is the creation of the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural.  It is 6,000 meters or 3.7 miles long.  We saw some of it along the highway we were on during our tour.  It is quite a big project and very well done.  I wish I could have gotten better photos, but I did get some out of the van window.



Our first stop in Hanoi was to see the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.  We would have liked to be able to go inside and see his embalmed body that is on display; but when we originally made the itinerary, we didn’t think we would arrive in time to enter.  It only opens for a few hours a day; plus there is normally a very long line to get in to see him.  As it turned out, we did arrive early enough; but we didn’t have time to wait in line and we hadn’t worn the required long pants to enter.  I was thrilled just to be able to see the mausoleum.  It is a tribute to the leader who freed Vietnam from the French.


Hanoi had by far the worst pollution of any of the cities we visited on this trip.  It was very hazy and a bit uncomfortable to breathe at times. 

From the mausoleum we walked past the lovely yellow Presidential Palace.  It would have been a nice to go inside; but it isn’t allowed.


We walked past a garage that contained cars previously used by Ho Chi Minh.  We continued around a tranquil lake where Ho Chi Minh enjoyed relaxing and pondered the issues of the day.


Uncle Ho, as he is fondly called, had built the House on Stilts next to the lake.  He chose to live in it rather than living in the opulent Presidential Palace.  Unlike the Palace we could see the inside of that house.



On the way to the One Pillar Pagoda, we passed behind the mausoleum and got a nice view of it.  It is quite an imposing structure.


I was surprised how most of the things that we wanted to see were so close together.  This allowed us to just walk to each site rather than have to get in and out of the van.  The One Pillar Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples.  It was built over 950 years ago and was designed to resemble a lotus blossom.  The original temple was destroyed by the French forces when they left Vietnam in 1954.  This replica was built several years later on a concrete pillar.  It might not be the original, but it is highly revered. Close to the pagoda was the Ho Chi Minh Museum.


I climbed the stairs to find out what there was to see in the pagoda, but I found out that the best part of visiting this pagoda is to appreciate it from across the pond.

We got back on the van and took a short ride to the Temple of Literature.  It is a peaceful retreat in busy Hanoi.  The temple was founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius.  It was built to honor scholars and men of literary accomplishment.  The carvings on the sides of the entrance were pretty and had a special meaning.


There are five separate courtyards.  Each of them is lovely in its own way.



I particularly liked the 82 stone monuments dedicated to individual scholars.  Each one rests on top of a large stone tortoise. 


Each time we would walk through an entrance gate, the next courtyard would be larger.  There were many statues  in each one.


At the end of some of the courtyards there was a temple.  They were some of the nicest temples we had seen in Vietnam.


While walking through the temple Tuan told us that it was good luck to rub the foot of the large bird statue.  Everyone seemed to be doing it, so all of us also took a turn.


After leaving the temple grounds, our next stop was to go see the Hanoi Hilton, where many Americans, including John McCain, were imprisoned during the Vietnam War.  Most of the prison has been torn down, but a small section has been made into a museum.




Because I had previously read that it was an anti-American propaganda display, I didn’t bother to read too many of the posted articles.  John McCain's flight suit that he was wearing when he was captured was proudly displayed.  Although there was some fiction about how well they treated the American prisoners, most of the museum was devoted to the cruel treatment that the Vietnamese had received from the French.  I did find that it was more interesting than I expected. 


I had been looking forward to the next planned activity, the Cyclo ride in the old quarter.  It is the newer form of a rickshaw ride, and another thing that we had seen on The Amazing Race TV show.  We were going to be driven around in a small carriage attached to the front of a bicycle.   The carriage is small and can only carry one person at a time, which does make it easier on the driver; but I did feel sorry for the one that had to pedal my large body around.  Jim took this photo of me with all my camera gear.


As the eight of us started our one hour ride through the busy old quarter streets, I could tell that it was going to be a lot of fun.


Some of our group feared for their lives as their cyclos competed for space on the road with cars and motorcycles; but the people there are very familiar with how to get around and not get hurt. 



Many of the streets were specialized with stores devoted to selling related products.  I was particularly fascinated with the street that seemed to have mostly metal works and auto parts.


I felt sorry for the utility company electricians when I looked up at the street wiring.  Quite an intricate mess.


The real joy of a cyclo ride there is to be able to observe the total craziness that is going on around you.  Between the people, the stores and the traffic there is no way to get bored.  It certainly gives you a whole different perspective of Hanoi life. 



I will say that riding a cyclo does expose you to a lot of pollution.  Being at the same height as the motorcycle exhausts can be a challenge.  This is where I really had wished I had bought one of the pollution masks that so many people were wearing.  Carol used a wash cloth to cover her nose and mouth, which worked very well.


That ride is definitely one of those things we did on the cruise that we will never forget.  It was so much fun.  I really wished that I had my midrange lens, since there were so many times when I could have gotten some great photos, especially of people.


Our last stop in Hanoi was a walk over a bridge to the Hoan Kiem Lake.  It is a beautiful lake in the center of Hanoi.  It is the lake that John McCain landed in when he was shot down during the war.  It is now a very peaceful place and a popular park.



Within the park we visited the Jade Mountain Temple.  It would be our last temple visit for this trip.  I do believe that we had been “templed out” on this vacation.


We were glad to get back in the van and head back to the ship.  It had been a long hard day of touring.  Very enjoyable, but we were ready to get back to the Quest.  The ride back, like the ride to Hanoi, was quite interesting because of the traffic and the numerous rice paddies.   I was very fascinated with how manual the rice growing process was. 



It really felt like we were in SE Asia when you see people in conical hats bent over in a rice field.


We got back to the ship at 6:30 PM, with 2.5 hours to spare before we were to leave port.  Some of the ship musicians were at the gang plank playing music and waiters were passing out champagne.  In addition, cruise director John Howell was welcoming everyone back to the ship.  It was a very nice touch and fitting end to the enjoyable two days at Halong Bay/Hanoi.


When we left port, we passed under the large bridge we sailed under two days earlier.  It was much prettier when it was all lit up.  It appeared like we barely made it under the bridge.  The ride back through the Halong Bay was quite different from the one coming in the day before.  It was very dark; but looking back toward the lights of the port; we could see the outlines of the many small islands we had enjoyed looking at so much in the daytime.


Our next day was to be a sea day before we got to Hong Kong.  Normally sea days are a great time to sleep late; but today the captain had told us that we would be traveling through the Hainan Strait, which is a high security area controlled by the Chinese military.  Going through the strait saves many hours off of the route that ships previously had to take.  He said the first part of the journey would be interesting in that there would be large round balls all over the place.  He said that they would look like mines; but not to worry, since they were attached to fishing nets. 


Each of the balls appeared to have a radio transmitter on it.  I presume that it is how the fishermen identify their nets and keep track of where they are.


With all of the white balls floating around, I was surprised that the Quest didn’t run over lots of them.  But then again maybe they did and we just didn’t realize it.


Hong Kong, China

Captain Smith had told us that we would be coming into the Hong Kong area at around 6:00 AM and that it was a sight to behold.  Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep.  With a big arrival like that coming up, I was very excited and awake by 5:00 AM.  I was out on deck soon after.  I was by myself for a while.  Slowly other people joined me to see our arrival.  Shortly before 6:00 AM, some lighted buildings came into view.  With the combination of the very low light and movement of the ship, it was not possible to get decent photos of our arrival.  But the captain was right about it being quite a sight to see.


Within 45 minutes we were at the dock in Kowloon.  I was very impressed with the size of Hong Kong.  It was much bigger than I expected.  I looked forward to the two days we had to explore the area.


Quest at the Dock


In planning our activities in Hong Kong, Jim and I had decided that if the day was cloudy, we would go to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island rather than going to Victoria Peak.  With the Peak having the best view available of Hong Kong, we wanted to do it on the clearest day.  Since the Peak was covered with clouds in the morning, we planned our route to get to Lantau Island.  We hoped that by doing that we might have a clearer day for the Peak the next day.  Since Hans and Barbara had been to the Peak, but not to the Big Buddha, they were joining Carol, Jim, Kathleen and I on our excursion.

We had planned on taking the Hong Kong MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to get to Lantau Island.  We had heard that it is the best way to get around and was very easy.  After getting off the Quest, we took the short walk to the MTR station.  We went down the stairs into the very modern and clean MTR station. 


It was also very quiet.  There were lots of people in the station, but I was impressed at how organized everything was and how smoothly the people flowed to their destinations.  Jim and I looked at the MTR station Map to determine how to get to where we needed to go.  It was very easy to read and we decided on a route.  When we got on the first train we were very impressed with the cleanliness and how nice the cars were.  When the train took off, we couldn’t believe how smooth, fast and quiet it was.  This was one first class mass transit system.  We enjoyed the ad for the Sound of Music in the station



We would have to make one transfer to another train on our trip to Lantau Island.  When we got off the train, we wanted to make sure we were going to the right place.  While trying to verify where we needed to go, we remembered that we had a Hong Kong MTR app on our iPhones.   It was very helpful for the next two days.  Although with the excellent signage in the MTR and all throughout Hong Kong, we really didn’t need much help.


We got off at the Tung Chung MTR station.  That meant that we just had a short walk to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride station, where we would be taken on a 30 minute ride up to Ngong Ping Village, where we could walk to the Big Buddha.    (


Even though we were at the cable car station early before it opened, there was a line and we had to wait a few minutes to get a car.  I would not want to see how long the line is later in the day.  The six of us plus a vendor that worked at the Village had our own car to take to the top of the mountain.  As we started the climb up, we could see that the view would be really nice on this ride.  We could see that it looked like the cable turned up ahead.  I had never been on a cable car that switched cables in mid-trip. 


As we ascended further, the winds were howling and started to move the car.  It wasn’t that bad to me, but some of the groups weren’t pleased with that part of the ride.  The further up we went we started to get into clouds and the winds were stronger.  About that time, we saw a station ahead.  Everyone was relieved because they were ready to get out of the cable car.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  It was only another intermediate station where our car changed to another cable.  The winds continued and there were some unhappy tourists in the cable car.  Finally after 30 minutes, we were at the end of the ride and Jim got out of the car and kissed the ground.  He was being funny, but they were happy to get back on land.  Jim and Carol decided then and there that they would take the bus back down the mountain! Notice how happy everyone was in the first photo and how the stress built as we got further along.



As we left the cable car platform, we were disappointed to see the Big Buddha in the distance shrouded in clouds.  With the strong winds blowing, I hoped that it might clear off before we had to leave.  I took a whole lot of photos hoping to capture the beauty of the Big Buddha, but the clouds weren’t cooperating.  The clouds would come and go, but the visibility did improve some as the day progressed.


We walked through the village checking out the numerous souvenir and other shops on the way to the front of the statue.  When we got to the front of the Buddha, we could see the 268 steps that would need to be climbed to get to the top.  Since there isn’t much at the top, we passed on climbing up.  I was quite content to take photos from a lovely pavilion directly in front of the Buddha at ground level.  It was a very beautiful statue and I kept taking photos hoping that the skies would clear more.



We planned on having lunch at the Po Lin Monastery that is close to the statue.  We had read many rave reviews about the vegetarian lunch that they served there.  The restaurant was very popular and crowded.  We had to decide on which of the two basic menu selections that were offered.  I think we must have picked the wrong one.  It was a very hectic environment.  As soon as we sat down, different bowls of strange food were placed on the table and served family style.  Each person had one small bowl to eat out of.  Some of the food was edible, but when plain white rice is the best tasting thing on the table, you know there were a lot of leftovers.  Knowing what I know now, we should have eaten at one of the many restaurants in the village.


After lunch we walked over to the small temple.  I guess we just needed to see one more.




After taking a few more photos, it was time to head back to the ship, so we could finish our packing to disembark the ship the next day.  When we got off the cable car on the way up, Carol, Jim and Kathleen had said that they were going to take the bus down rather than the cable car.  They just couldn’t go through the windy cable car ride down the mountain.  Hans, Barbara and I took the cable car and were glad we did, since the ride down was much better.



The bus actually got to the bottom at about the same time as the cable car.  Carol said that the driver was going very fast; and that ride was thrilling also.  Since we were now MTR veterans, getting back to the ship was a piece of cake.  Before we went back to the Quest, we wanted to see if we could find another carryon suitcase, since we had bought a lot more souvenirs than we had planned.  We were thrilled to find a really nice one for only $12 US.  It was on wheels and even expanded.  Hong Kong does have some great shopping bargains.

While everyone else went back on the ship, Jim and I wanted to walk around Kowloon and check out the area.  We headed to the waterfront to look over at the Hong Kong skyline.  The sights along the way were also very nice.



It was an interesting walk.  There was so much to see and so much going on.



Further down from the ship was the Avenue of the Stars, with its walk of stars just like in Hollywood.  I was able to find the two Chinese stars that I knew, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.



On the way back to the ship, we passed some more Chinese New Year decorations.


We then headed back to the ship to get ready for our last dinner on the Quest.  Since we hadn’t gotten attached to a particular waiter in the dining room due to the open seating; and because we had enjoyed Aqualina so much, we all wanted to return there for our last night.  It was a most enjoyable dinner.

We told our waiter at Aqualina that we had to be finished eating in time to see the much touted Hong Kong light show.  It is promoted as the "World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" by Guinness World Records.  Forty buildings are included in the nightly presentation.  The Quest had the best seat in town for the spectacular being docked directly across from the show with no obstructions.

People were packed around the railings to watch the big event.  Just before 9:00 PM, the show started.  I think.  You see, the show is not a fireworks show as many people were expecting.  The buildings have different lights turned on and there are some spotlights shining into the air.  Music began, but it wasn’t very loud. 


Then a few of the buildings began some synchronized light patterns which were pretty cool.  The whole show lasted less than fifteen minutes.  It was a very nice presentation, but certainly not spectacular.  I am sure it took a significant amount of work to coordinate everything; but it wasn’t very dramatic.  The view alone, even without the light show, is awesome.  So perhaps no type of light show would be able to have more of an impact on one of the most beautiful skylines in the world.


After the show we went back to our cabin to get our luggage put out for the next day’s full schedule.


Disembarkation and Post-Cruise in Hong Kong, China

We woke up early and headed to the buffet for breakfast, since we had a 7:45 AM disembarkation time.  When our luggage tag color/number was called, we walked off the ship and walked downstairs to ground level where our bags were very easy to find.  This had all been very easy.  Good job Azamara!


Our plans for the day, since our plane didn’t leave for home until 11:45 PM, were to check in our baggage, then go touring.  Hong Kong has an absolutely wonderful service called Airport Express.  It allowed us to be able to take a short cab ride over to the Kowloon MTR station, where we were able to check in for our flight.  The best part was that we were able to check in our bags; which meant that we wouldn’t be seeing them again until we landed in Miami.  The only cost to do this was that we had to purchase tickets for an MTR train to the airport before we could check in.  The tickets only cost $17 US for the two of us, and were easily bought at the Service Centre.  What a bargain and what an unbelievably easy way to get to the airport. 


We then headed over to the Langham hotel where Jim and Kathleen were going to be spending two nights before they went home.  We were going to drop off our carry-on bags in their hotel room and do some sightseeing with them.  Since we wanted to go to the Peak, we had to get to the other side of Victoria Harbor.  The most popular way is to take the Star Ferry.  It costs less than $1 US and takes five minutes.  It isn’t fancy but the view is fantastic.



From the ferry station, we took a cab to the Peak Tram.  It is the vehicle that would take us up to the Peak (  The Peak is Hong Kong’s most popular tourist attraction.   It is a building that sits 1,300 ft above the harbor and has the best available view of Hong Kong.  To get up to the Peak, we took the Peak Tram which has been running since 1888.  Before we got to the boarding station, we stopped at a Jack Chan figurine.  The tram has rather tight accommodations, but it doesn’t take that long to get to the top.  Seniors ride free with ID proof of age.



The tram climbs up at very steep angles during parts of the ride.  We were able to get a preview of what we would see at the Peak.


When we arrived we passed through lots of souvenir shops.  Since we had purchased tickets to the Sky Terrace, which is 1,400 feet high and has a 360 degree view of the city, we had to go up a series of escalators to get there.  The Peak has been modified a couple times since it was completed in 1972.  At each level, we would look out the window to get a preview of the view. 


When we reached the terrace, we were able to see why this was such a popular tourist destination.  Even though we had low clouds that reduced the visibility, the view was still incredible. 



We could see a house above the Peak that must have had a rather nice view also. 


Walking around the Terrace, we could look down at the Terrace Peak Galleria Mall.  Hong Kong does not suffer from a lack of shopping centers.  They were everywhere.


After looking at Hong Kong from every angle, we went back downstairs for lunch.  Believe it or not, we ate at Bubba Gump’s.  Who would have thought we would come halfway around the world to eat a hamburger at B.G.’s!  Carol and I also enjoyed their signature Tropical Breeze liquid refreshment.  After we bought some souvenirs, we a cab back to Kowloon.


We had intended to go to the famous Jade Market, but found out that it closes at 3:30 in the afternoon.  Carol was extremely disappointed, so we walked over to the main shopping area on Nathan Road.  That was one busy street with more jewelry stores than I have seen anywhere.  Since we were looking for some Jade souvenirs, it was the perfect place.  It was very crowded with shoppers and all the shopkeepers had people on the street trying to bring you into their stores.  It felt a lot like the Caribbean, but they used different techniques.  The street had lots of flashy signs and video billboards with loud music playing in some areas.  It really had a feel of excitement with lots of electricity.  

After we finished shopping, we went back to the hotel to meet up with Hans and Barbara, who had done their own thing that day.  We went to a British restaurant close to the hotel for dinner.  After dinner we went back to the hotel to pick up our carry-on bags and take a cab to the Kowloon MTR to catch the Airport Express train to the airport.  The train car was different from the normal MTR trains we had been riding.  It had an area to store our luggage and the seats were like airline seats.


The airport is a very long way from Kowloon, but by using the comfortable Airport Express it only took 20 minutes.  The ride was very fast, smooth and quiet like all the MTR rides we had taken.  We love the MTR. 

We had been most impressed with the Hong Kong infrastructure and outstanding signage which made it so easy for us to find our way around a very large city.  The modern Hong Kong International Airport was no exception.  It was a piece of cake to find our way to the gate.  Waiting for our plane, I thought about the wonderful trip that was ending.  I couldn’t believe that we had been on a sixteen day vacation and we never had a rainy day.  Unbelievable! As was most of this wonderful vacation to Southeast Asia.  But, as usual, we were ready to get home; even with a 28 hour trip to Miami ahead of us.


Sunset on the South China Sea


When we booked this cruise, we were excited about visiting new ports, but didn’t really know what it would be like to tour in this part of the world.  Now that we have completed it, I have to say it was about as close to a perfect cruise as we have experienced.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with our old friends and meeting new ones.  The ports far exceeded our expectations, particularly those in Vietnam.  The people everywhere were very nice to us and wanted to help us in any way they could.  There were so many beautiful places and unique things that we saw that we will never forget.  We still can’t believe that we were able to enjoy all of these places without ever being rained on and we had smooth seas every day.  All of this coupled with a smaller ship with a great captain and friendly service oriented staff did indeed make this a perfect cruise.




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