Category Archives: travel

Red Rose of Petra Truly Rocks!

A Magnificent Jewel among Jordan’s Tourist Sites

I visited this amazing site during my two day trip to Amman, the capital of Jordan recently. It was a long, tedious four-hour drive from Amman in a not so comfortable tourist bus which had seen better days. But it was well worth the visit.

Petra city is the capital of the Nabataeans. The city was built more than two thousand years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains! It thrived in the first centuries BC and AD and was a vital link of a major trading area connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.

Trade then was mainly in frankincense, myrrh and spices. It was later annexed by the Roman Empire. Much of the city was destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 AD. It appears to have been largely deserted and abandoned partly because of a change in trade routes too.

Rediscovered by a Swiss Explorer

Thanks to the persistence, skill and cunning of a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt this wonderful place was rediscovered in 1812. Johannes dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.

As a result of this rediscovery, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating city. It also began attracting visitors in large numbers.

Gains UNESCO World Heritage Site Status

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.Like the famous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the equally famous Borobudur Temple Compound and Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Red Rose of Petra is a most worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

No mere description, photographs or even a video recording of this site can do justice to the wonder and glory of the Red Rose of Petra. In Petra, you actually get to see and marvel at great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features that truly merge in an awesome display of nature and human habitation at its best.

Why is it called the Red Rose?

It gets this name from the wonderful colour of the rock. I was informed that the many impressive sandstone mountains in that area contain iron and that also partly explains the colour.

Many of the city’s structures were carved from these impressive sandstone mountains. The same mountains also contained intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountainsides. The Nabataeans buried their nobility in these tombs.

Discovering Petra

After a four-hour journey, I finally arrived at the site. I saw a large, well-planned visitor centre with all the modern conveniences that are needed to make this walking tour a reality.

There are fast food outlets, restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, and more than adequate, clean toilet facilities. For those not so inclined to walking all the way through the various trails, they had the option of taking a horse ride ( part of the way only ) or a horse-drawn carriage all the way to the main attraction i.e. the Treasury.

Petra_TheTreasury
The Treasury

The Treasury, Petra’s most magnificent facade soars almost 40 metres high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. No such treasure, however, was ever found.

Leisurely Walk Along the Trails

I was with a group of fifteen other Malaysian men and women and all of us chose to walk down the gently sloping trails to the Treasury. It was a cool afternoon when we began the 2 km walk and as we walked we were gently cooled and caressed by breezes that kept us comfortable.

We were advised by our experienced tour guide not to choose the horse-drawn carriage because it could turn out to be quite an uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Those with back problems especially had to be very careful.

Amazing Sights to Behold

The sights along the way were mesmerising, to say the least. The beauty, majesty and grandeur of those glorious sandstone mountains were a sight to behold. Over time, mother nature ( wind, rain, snow and earthquakes ) had taken turns to wear down portions of the rock.

In one particular place, as we passed, we could make out the side profile of a fish! As we passed that rock and turned back to look at it again, we could clearly make out an elephant with its trunk! At other areas, we could make out shepherds and even camels but nature had exacted its toll.

The Incredible Siq

Petra_TheSiq
The Siq

This is a narrow gorge that leads visitors into Petra. The Siq actually resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to it.

Two water channels run along both rock sides. What an amazing piece of imagination to have constructed such a water conduit those many, many years ago. It also presents a dramatic entryway into Petra.

Good Workout and Great Time

The walk back was a lot different.

Most of it was pretty easy going except for the few hilly portions. I could feel the perspiration on the back of my neck. But all of us in our group, including a senior lady who had knee surgery on both knees and who had the use of a hiking stick to ease the walking process, made it back with relative ease.

A seasoned traveller in my group informed me later that evening that the apps on his smartphone showed that he had taken a total of 11660 steps in all. Not bad for a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon workout.

Some Other Relevant Matters

Part of the trail we took was paved with limestone slabs from the time of the Roman annexation. These were meant to enable the Romans to drive their horse-drawn carriages over them. Over time, these limestone slabs had turned quite smooth.

Petra_TheCollannadedStreet
The Collannaded Street

We also had to put up with the smell of fresh horse dung which was liberally excreted all along the way. But the good thing is that there were workers around at certain sections to sweep these droppings. So we had to be careful and watch where we put our foot all along the way.

The other matter that annoyed me was that the horse-drawn carriages were using the same trial as the walkers. There was no separate trail for us. From a safety angle, this was bad because the drivers of the carriages were all out for the dollars and so they drove the carriages at speed.

Sometimes, they rudely shouted out warnings for us to keep out of their way.  In such circumstances, accidents are just waiting to happen. I do hope the Jordanian tourism authorities will look into the matter and make it safe for the walkers.

Interesting Observations

Petra_BenJordanMorais
Ben Jordan Morais

Throughout our bus journey to Petra and also while cruising around in the city of Amman, I did not see a single motorbike. I checked with our guide Talal and he informed me that the government had some five years ago allowed for the importation of motorbikes but somehow it did not seem to have taken off.

There were no signs of the usual Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki small bikes nor of any big Harley Davidsons! Coming from S. E. Asia and especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I would also like to commend the motorcar, bus and truck drivers of Jordan who seem to be very level-headed and responsible. Throughout the four hour journey to Petra and even in Amman itself, everyone seemed to drive in a responsible and careful manner.

There was absolutely no speeding on the highway and likewise, there was none of the recklessness you see on Malaysian roads and highways. I did not expect to witness such self-discipline by vehicle drivers in Jordan. But there were, however, some instances of double parking in the city.

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Discovering the Delights of Tanjong Jara in Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia

Ensconced in Lush Greenery, Tranquil Surroundings and the Zen-like atmosphere of a Semi Rustic, Rural Landscape

Sometime last year, my wife Patricia purchased a 2 night 3-day promotional package from our friendly travel and tour agency, AF Travel. We had intended to go to the YTL luxury resort sometime in early November last year.

However the weather conditions then and the almost daily rains forced us to postpone the drive to Dungun. This state lies on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia and almost 95 percent of its inhabitants are Malays.

We decided to make the leisurely drive to Dungun a two-part journey. Part One was the drive to Kuantan, in Pahang state. Part Two was the drive to Dungun after we had a good night’s sleep at the Vistana Hotel in Kuantan.

Prior to this drive to Kuantan, I had driven to that city on a couple of occasions. It was always a tedious and tiring journey with many trucks and buses clogging the two-lane old highway. This, in turn, slowed traffic considerably as we had to contend with a number of winding trails and uphill climbs. One had to be alert at all times.

Super East Coast Highway

On this occasion, I was somewhat surprised to see a relatively brand new East Coast Highway all the way to Kuantan and even if we so wished to Dungun. We stuck to our plan and made the pleasant drive to Kuantan in my comfortable, sturdy, eighteen-year old, well maintained Toyota Camry. The drive took about three hours in all, including making two brief pit stops for comfort along the way.

The East Coast Highway seems well constructed and we also noticed that the rest stop areas were much better looking, clean and well maintained compared to the ones on the North-South Highway. The other noticeable fact was that there was much less traffic on the way to Dungun from Kuantan and also from Dungun to Karak.

From Kuantan to Dungun there were just a few cars and almost no trucks on the road. From Dungun to Karak too, there was exceptionally light traffic. In short, you could be forgiven for thinking, even if momentarily, that you were the ‘ king of the road ‘.

Kuantan was a Revelation

While in Kuantan, we decided to check out the town in order to get a feel for the place. Kudos to the town’s civic authorities because Kuantan seems a well-planned town, spaced out and it has some excellent directional signs all over the town. This made it easier for us to move around the town with confidence.

Some interesting observations from a city dweller: shops close around 6 pm and there seem to be ample parking spaces. What a surprise. How refreshingly convenient!

People are friendly, kind and helpful. Someone recommended we try a well known western restaurant called La Casa. We found the place easily but were disappointed that the place seemed deserted. This was on a Saturday evening! So much for it being a happening place.

Tanjong Jara Resort

This luxury resort started life as a Terengganu Development Corporation resort. Over time, it changed hands and is today one of the jewels in the YTL luxury collection of top resorts.

The resort is situated a short distance from the estuary of the lovely, clean, beautiful, free-flowing green Dungun River ( aka Sungai Dungun ). This is in stark contrast to that muddy, dirty Klang River in Kuala Lumpur.

Aga Khan Award Winner

The sprawling resort occupies a 17-hectare site of undulating semi-rustic landscape facing the South China Sea. I understand that the basic design motif of the building was replicated from the grand and beautiful 17th-century palaces ( istanas ). These were elegantly crafted wooden palaces of the Malay sultans.

For the courage, the determination and the foresight to discover, successfully adapt and develop an otherwise rapidly disappearing form of traditional architecture and craft, the Tanjong Jara Resort was deservingly recognised internationally and applauded by the jurors of the prestigious Aga Khan Award.

One of the Best Beaches in Malaysia

The resort is blessed with a truly wonderful beach with shimmering light brown sands glistening in the hot noonday sun. This scene was contrasted against a dazzling blue-green South China Sea.

I have only noticed such a truly lovely sight once outside my Accra Hotel room by the beach in Barbados.

The only difference with the famed beaches of Phuket and Bali is that while those beaches are lined for miles by deck chairs and people relaxing on them, this beach was practically deserted!

I guess the visitors were being cautious because swimming in those open waters may be too much of a risk. This is because weather, wind and water conditions can change rapidly.

Nice Mix of Trees and Shrubs

I believe that some serious thinking must have taken place to determine the type of trees and shrubs chosen for the resort. I liked the way the various trees and shrubs were planted all over the resort. It was as though an inspired artist had planned this in minute detail.

I was suitably impressed to see the following trees on the grounds: Angsana, Flame of the Forest, smaller varieties of coconut trees, red palms, royal palms and the majestic Ketapang tree.

Thrown in between all these trees were a variety of interesting shrubs including the mighty Mengkuang. There are also many Bougainvillea plants adding much colour and variety to the landscape. I detected examples of the colourful plant with flowers in pink, magenta, red, purple and orange.

Facilities at the Resort

  1. Restaurants

The place boasts three restaurants i.e. Di Atas ( for breakfast and dinner only ) and The Nelayan ( for lunch ). There is also another place which we decided to skip.

The dishes prepared here are basically Malay, mainly Terengganu cuisine. On arrival for breakfast, you can choose to sit anywhere unless a group has made a booking for its members. For dinner, you are given time to look at a food list – no, not menu but food list to look at the choices and then decide.

You are later approached by one of two resident, friendly and knowledgeable ladies. They are known as the Walking and Talking Chefs – one is called Chef Ann and the other is Chef Maz. Their job is to meet you, discover what catches your fancy in terms of food choices and then make recommendations on styles of Malay cooking.

We were lucky to get Chef Maz who is a genuine ambassador for the resort. Maz was friendly, patient and accommodating. We enjoyed the Malay cuisine especially their famous Nasi Dagang for breakfast.

  1. Mini Istana

The chalet – no, not chalet but mini istana  – that was allocated to us was an impressive structure. It has loads of solid wood on the outside as well as polished timber flooring and even our ceiling was surrounded by lovely wooden panels.

The front section of the mini istana contained twin beds ( very narrow ones ), two writing desks for him and her and even a day bed! The housekeeping staff did put on a mosquito coil each night just as a precaution.

The back section of the mini istana contained twin sinks and facing the sinks a decent sized gleaming bathtub. On both sides of the bathtub, in properly enclosed areas, are a toilet bowl and a shower cubicle. It was a truly majestic experience.

Range of Activities

For guests who need to engage in some activity, there is a range of activities to choose from. There is guided jungle trekking, two tennis courts, two swimming pools, a gym and a spa that focuses on traditional Malay massages.

For those into eco-adventures and day trips, these can be arranged. Diving and other water-related activities are also available. There is, after all, another fascinating world beneath the waves. There are opportunities for outdoor games like Top Spinning, Volleyball and Sepak Takraw.

There are also opportunities to accompany the chef for a visit to the wet market and also a chance to catch a cooking demonstration.  You cannot, however, partake in only one activity – you need to register for both as a package deal! And the cost: RM 270 per person and it is on if there are a minimum of two participants. My wife was only interested in the visit to the wet market. So she opted out of this activity.

She was not disappointed however because I quickly and gallantly volunteered to drive her to the market. We spent about half an hour there and ended up buying some lovely keropok lekor and salt fish. The wet market was a mere ten-minute drive over the scenic bridge that spans the Dungun River.

Quick Facts on Dungun

We also decided to have a quick look around the town. The town has a population of 156,000 inhabitants and there is extremely light traffic in town. It was easy to drive around.

Some parts of the old town near the jetty still retain the old shop houses featuring half brick and half wooden buildings.

And unlike many nut cases in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya who like to zoom around recklessly on their motorbikes, the residents here are more sensible.  Their motorbikes are used as a means of transport.

There are also opportunities to go bicycling around the place with a guide but there must be a minimum of two participants. And the cost is RM 55 per person. There are even trips organised to see elephants near Lake Kenyir which is a good two-hour drive away. The cost of most activities is unexpectedly quite high.

Ideal Resort for Targeted Travellers

We did not see the need to engage in any organised activity throughout our brief stay. Walking to and from the beach or a restaurant was activity which led to some effort. This activated the sweat glands in our bodies and soon we were drenched. The walks were long and on paved walkways which were not always flat and easy to walk on. One has to be alert and wear the right kind of shoes.

Moreover, I also understand that for more than a month before our arrival, the whole place had not received any rainfall – one of the effects of climate change. None of the restaurants had an air-conditioned section. Dining at the Nelayan Restaurant however was an enjoyable experience because of the constant cool breezes from the South China Sea. This is truly resort living at its best.

Even at Di Atas Restaurant, although we had ceiling fans, I had to request for a stand fan to cool me down. I also noticed a few others making such requests. One of the attractions ( or curses if you like ) of Di Atas Restaurant is that there are four resident peacocks presiding over the place. At odd times these proud birds make loud, irritating sounds which, after a while, can be quite unnerving.

Active and sports-minded Malaysians who do not mind the heat and humidity and others from cold climes will find this resort a unique and unforgettable experience. In addition, the employees at this resort do actually make a huge effort to please.

Penang remains a favourite holiday destination for many

Malaysians and Foreigners Alike

I recently returned from yet another holiday spent in Penang, that glorious tropical island. Surprisingly even after numerous family holidays spent along the beaches of Penang, especially the famed Batu Ferringhi beach, my entire family are still enamoured by the island’s many charms.

Looking back over the last sixty years or so, I can still remember my first experience of Penang. It was way back in the early fifties when my late father, Victor Morais was the editor of a newspaper in Ipoh, Perak called the Malaya Tribune. My parents took us for a holiday to Penang in a brand new Austin A40 motor car.

I remember vividly that we stayed for a few days at a then prominent and well patronised two-storey hotel with the quaint name, Springtide Hotel. This hotel was situated along the then famous Tanjong Bungah beach. Today, that beach plays second fiddle to Batu Ferringhi beach.

Springtide Hotel Beckons

Springtide Hotel was unlike our modern hill rise hotels and resorts. It was basically a two-storey bungalow that was converted into a small hotel. It was patronised mostly by British civil servants, planters and tin miners. Most locals then chose to stay with relatives or friends when on holidays because it was much too costly to check into a hotel in those days.

The hotel was able to serve both western as well as Chinese dishes. We normally had a western breakfast of toast, butter /jam, scrambled or half boiled eggs and occasionally some sausages. For our lunch, it was the all-time favourite of nasi goreng ( fried rice ) or sometimes fried seafood noodles, Cantonese style.

The rooms had ceiling fans to cool us and I think we also had nets over the beds to keep out the pesky mosquitoes. It was a different time and a different era but it nevertheless remains a wonderful, cherished memory.

Impressive Park Royal Hotel

On this visit, we took four rooms at the 300 plus rooms, Park Royal Hotel, a 5-star property located along Batu Ferringhi beach. My two daughters and their families had a room each as well as my son. My wife and I took the last room.

As luck would have it, the hotel had just completed a refurbishment exercise. A few years ago, we had stayed at the Park Royal Hotel during another holiday. So it was great to see the hotel looking spick and span and the lobby lounge itself was totally transformed into a modern and spacious lounge. A three-piece band comprising two young female singers and a male musician belted out lively songs during the evenings to entertain the guests in the lobby.

The buffet breakfast at the Cinnamon Asian Restaurant was pretty impressive and there was something for everyone’s taste. There are western, Chinese and even Indian dishes on offer. The waiters and waitresses at this restaurant were on the ball and were quick to attend to our requests with a smile.

The hotel has a large, well-maintained garden with many medium-sized coconut palm trees offering guests lying on deck chairs plenty of shade as cool breezes from the sea blew in periodically. However, it was disappointing to note that a few of the deck chairs were broken! The hotel also has two swimming pools, one with a slide which young children seemed to enjoy. There is also a tennis court and two table tennis tables for those looking for some light and fun work out.

Wall Paintings Adorn Some Buildings

One of the unique attractions in Penang, over the last ten years or so, are the many wall paintings of local scenes, especially children at play, that adorn some buildings in George Town. This trend in Street Art was started by a then little known Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic.

His paintings are regarded by many as funny, captivating, fascinating and certainly open to interpretation by individual viewers. Later on, a few other foreign street artists added to this effort to make the city even more interesting.

Penang, I suspect, believes in re-inventing itself from time to time and that makes it doubly attractive to visitors. No wonder, it is often referred to as the Pearl of the Orient! And shine the pearl does quite beautifully.

Amazing Penang Hill Railway

A must do for any visitor to the island, with time to spare, is to take a leisurely trip up Penang Hill. The Penang Hill Railway first started operations in 1923. It was then a two section railway. In 2010, a major overhaul was undertaken to improve the level and comfort of service.

In the sixties, when I first travelled up the hill, it was on a wooden train that took about half an hour to reach the top. The trains then had no air-conditioned carriages. After the overhaul, the new funicular trains, one section railway, were smarter looking and  Swiss made, I think. They were much faster but still afforded us lovely, breathtaking views of the hill as we ascended and descended. The new trains are air-conditioned and the one-way journey now takes a mere eight minutes.

Some Suggested Activities on the Hilltop

What do you do when you reach the top?

There are a few options. I have been up the hill thrice in the last seven years. My wife and I always take a ride around the hill in an eco-friendly electric tram that seats maybe four to six passengers.

The half-hour drive around the hill is a most pleasant and enjoyable experience. During the slow drive you pass under a canopy of tall trees affording much shade and you can feel the cool and refreshing air. You can also get fantastic views of George Town from different vantage points along the route. One can also go for leisurely walks or even rent a bicycle and go for a ride if one is so inclined.

To cap the day off before you descend, you can stop by David Brown’s Restaurant for Afternoon English Tea. But do be warned, this place is expensive. There is also a cheaper option, a food court, for those just looking for a drink and some bites.

Exotic Array of Hawker Food

Visitors to the island, who enjoy indulging in exquisite hawker food, can do no better than visiting and dining at some of the world famous hawker stalls in George Town, Penang. I do remember reading about Penang being listed as one of the 10 Best Hawker Food Destinations in the World some time ago.

Then recently, the famous TV personality cum travelling chef, Anthony Bourdain reported that he was going to include some of these Penang hawker foods in a new place that he was going to open in New York. This is true global recognition indeed.

Some Hawker Food Favourites

What are some of these famous hawker foods?

Char Kway Teow, Loh Bah, Hokkien Mee ( Prawn Mee ) and not to be confused with another dish with the same name in Kuala Lumpur called Hokkien Mee. This is noodles cooked over a very hot wok and with the generous use of dark soy sauce. Another winner in Penang is Nasi Kandar. I once attempted this dish in George Town but decided against it after I noticed rats scurrying around the place. This was at one of the more famous outlets!

And finally, there is that famous Assam Laksa from Ayer Itam. However, this is now, in my opinion, not worth the effort. I happened to discover by chance, a very good Assam Laksa in a 5-star hotel, the E & O ( Eastern & Oriental ) once owned by the Sarkies brothers. I enjoyed this dish at Sarkies Corner ( quite misleading actually ) because the restaurant is huge. It also has an outdoor seating area facing the sea.

Reputation Built Over the Years

The international fame and reputation for Penang’s hawker food started way back in the seventies. This was when Adelaide and George Town became ‘ sister cities ‘ after the Prime Minister of South Australia, Don Dunstan and the Chief Minister of Penang, Dr Lim Chong Eu initiated this historic move.

This resulted in a Penang Week or Penang Fortnight in Adelaide on an annual basis. A number of the then well-known hawkers were sent on a mission to Adelaide to introduce the hawker foods and in the process to whet the appetites of South Australians.

This exchange programme… both ways incidentally went on for a number of years. I believe this Penang Week, forty plus years ago, paved the way for George Town’s current culinary fame.

Foreigners Who Visit Penang

Among the foreigners who choose to visit Penang, sometimes on a yearly basis for months at a time, are Germans, Brits, Russians and Australians. The Germans and the Russians choose to escape the cold winter months in sunny Penang.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) once had an airbase in Penang for a good number of years. Many of these visiting Australians were once stationed here while with the RAAF. Quite a number were also born in Penang. Mathew Radcliffe Ph.D, the author of the book published in Australia titled ‘ Kampong Australia – The RAAF at Butterworth  ‘ was born in Butterworth. He had served with the RAAF too.

These days many of the visitors are from the PRC. The citizens of this growing middle-class nation now have the money to spend on travel and the luxuries and they do travel extensively. According to some, they are also big spenders. They can sometimes be a little too loud too.

The Incredible Pull of the George Town Festival

I have sometimes visited Penang merely to attend some activities associated with the now famous George Town Festival. The George Town Festival or GTF is an annual month-long celebration of arts, culture, heritage and community. Some may remember that George Town was listed as a Unesco Heritage Site in 2008. GTF venues include historic mansions, landmark streets and arts-related sites like the Penang Performing Arts Centre.

The indefatigable and creative Joe Sidek is the festival director for the hugely successful GTF and he is also responsible for initiating two other fairly well-known festivals i.e. the Butterworth Fringe Festival and the Rainforest Festival.

From time to time, a one day Eurasian Fiesta is organised alongside the GTF and this fiesta is basically a heady mix of typical Eurasian food and music from well known Eurasian musicians and singers…… both past and present. The people behind this fiesta are James Rozzels and Kathleen Rodrigues.

I could go on but this should suffice for now. Penang is too big an attraction to be covered in a single blog post. Hopefully, this sharing has whetted your appetite to get to know this amazing island and its many delights.

 

Phuket Continues to Pulsate

excitement, entertainment and leisure activities

My wife and I recently returned after a refreshing four day break in good old Phuket, Thailand. This was, for the record, our seventh visit to that tropical isle. Why do we keep returning to this gem of an island?

The reasons are many and varied. For one, it is just over an hour’s flight time from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. If you book early, the air fares are very reasonable compared to flying to Kuching ( over two hours flying time ) or to Kota Kinabalu ( about three hours flying time).

There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation to cater for every budget in this island. There is an equally wide choice of food available throughout the island and that too at reasonable rates.

Types of Accommodation

These range from five-star hotel or luxury resorts to four-star, three-star, two-star hotels and even hostel accommodations. The hostel accommodations too, believe it or not, have their own category depending on your budget. So this is a big draw for the tourists, especially those on a shoe string budget.

Quite a number of the five-star luxury hotels and resorts are at well-known beaches like Patong, Kamala, Karon, Bang Tao, Khao Lak and Kata to name a few. These are truly lovely white sandy beaches that seem to stretch for miles on end.

The Thai front desk personnel at hotels are fully aware that they are often the first contact for most visitors. They together with a few other nationalities, mainly from the Philippines, do an amazing job and are good ambassadors for Thailand.

For the sake of variety on this trip to Phuket, we chose to spend two nights at a three and half star hotel (Holiday Inn Express) and then another two nights at a five-star hotel (Swissotel Resort). Both are located within the Patong Beach neighbourhood.

Restaurants and Bars on the Island

There is a wide range of good restaurants, bars and eateries on the island. The average ones are the restaurants near the popular tourist spots on the island. These are the ones catering mainly to tourists on a budget and they seem to have a member of staff whose sole job is to ‘ guide ‘ tourists to their restaurants.

These places are usually non-air conditioned and they rely on fans to cool the patrons. The menus at these places have coloured photographs on what is on offer, dishes wise. So there is no communication problem as such. The prices here are also quite reasonable.

A Range of Quality Restaurants

Then again, for those more discerning and who are prepared to pay a little more, there is a wide range of decent, up market restaurants. We discovered a few of these. One had a pretty misleading name – The Coffee Club with about four outlets all over Phuket.

This chain of restaurants was able to offer a combination of Thai as well as western dishes. The quality of the food, the presentation and the attention to service was pretty impressive. You could also get different types of coffee beverages here. We dined at three of these outlets during the four days on the island.

Another almost fine dining style of restaurant is Le Siam at the upmarket JungCeylon Shopping Centre within the Patong Beach neighbourhood. The food and dining experience at Le Siam was wonderful and we also enjoyed the attention to service.

For those seeking more exciting, lively, albeit noisy outlets, there is a Hooters place near the Swissotel Resort in Patong. Quite close by to this place and almost next door is Phuket’s own Hard Rock Café. Both these establishments seemed to enjoy brisk business whenever we passed by on our way to other places.

Microbrewery and Restaurant

The impressive JungCeylon Shopping Centre also boasts a microbrewery cum restaurant nearby as well as inviting open air café style pubs and a Japanese Sushi outlet, all close by. There is also a really good spa in the shopping centre with a range of massage options, facials, manicure and pedicure treatments.

The typical bar scene in Phuket is not my cup of tea, so to speak, and so I did not venture into any of these pubs. From the outside, they did not appeal to me. Some appeared a bit grubby. Some others were much too noisy and crowded. Others seemed to have bored, young girls in short skirts or tiny shorts and t shirts that promoted a brand of Thai beer, cajoling those walking past to come in for a drink.

What was noteworthy, however, was the attractive price of a cold beer (Singha or Chang) at 80 Bhat during Happy Hours! In a tourist type restaurant, the beer costs 130 Bhat!

Leisure Activities Galore

There are a whole range of leisure activities on offer if one is so inclined. These include the very popular elephant trekking, a visit to a crocodile farm, zip lining, water sports of all types, day long boat trips to nearby islands like Phi Phi and James Bond islands etc.

Do note, however, that recently a few of these activities have been on the receiving end of some valid criticism. For instance, there have been comments about the torture inflicted on elephants by their mahouts to carry out these daily activities.

In addition, for some of these sea-going activities, there are safety concerns. Many boat operators do not supply life jackets to the passengers! Activities like zip lining need to be properly and professionally managed for obvious reasons.

There have been casualties in the recent past. Tourists and travellers need to be fully aware of these risks.

Simon Cabaret Show 

This is an impressive and enjoyable one hour show put on in a typical Las Vegas style concert venue by the organisers. The venue is comfortable, modern and air conditioned and the parties concerned have gone to great lengths to ensure that the whole event is handled in a truly appropriate manner.

Whole families could be seen enjoying the spectacular show. Great credit is to be given to the attractive ‘ lady boys ‘ of Thailand for including aspects reflective of the region in their spellbinding show. The costumes too are really fabulous and the music was really lovely. This is one classy show suitable for all ages because it is performed with taste and style.

Other Interesting Aspects

In no fixed order, these are some interesting aspects that I noticed in Phuket during this visit.

  1. Alcoholic drinks are very reasonably priced in Phuket and in the rest of Thailand.
  2. There is, however, a very sensible ruling in place in Phuket. In an effort to curb rowdy, obnoxious, anti social behaviour and brawls, no establishment is allowed to serve alcoholic drinks before 11 am. The outlets observe this ruling.  I salute the Thai authorities on this wise move.
  3. All taxi fares within the Patong Beach region are at a fixed rate of 200 Bhat. This is regardless of whether you hail a regular taxi or a tuk tuk which also has a sign proclaiming it to be a taxi! Most of the taxi drivers observe this ruling but there are a few rascals around.
  4. One needs to use the seat belts in taxis or the individual concerned will be fined 1000 Bhat for the offence by the local traffic police. We were reminded about this by the taxi drivers on each occasion. Good move too.
  5. In the past Australians, Germans, Brits and Russians used to be the major visitors. On this visit, people from the PRC seem to be around in huge numbers. They are all over the island and you know of their presence when they begin to converse, often quite loudly!
  6. Motor cyclists here ride their bikes sensibly. They use the bikes as a means of affordable transport. They do not race around the streets of Patong recklessly endangering the lives and limbs of pedestrians.
  7. Phuket does not seem to have a ‘ snatch theft ‘ problem in the city. The traders and workers in this area are ever so mindful of the negative impact this will surely have on the tourist trade. So visitors, on the whole, do feel fairly safe while holidaying on the island.

Benign and Gracious Attitude of Thai Society

The Thais, as a society, are to be commended for exhibiting a benign, understanding and gracious attitude towards their fellow countrymen and women who are working in the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries.

They do not adopt a sanctimonious, judgemental attitude towards those who are forced by circumstance and socio- economic difficulties to work in lowly, poor paying jobs.

These jobs include the following: doormen, cleaners, waiters, security guards, massage therapists, manicurists and even those in the oldest profession in the world. They treat these individuals with dignity, courtesy and kindness. How very refreshing to note.

 

Drive and Discover Kuala Kubu Bahru

An Idyllic and Picturesque Small Town in Malaysia 

There is on Malaysian TV a popular travel programme titled, Ride and Seek, featuring a young, slim, vivacious American female motorcyclist and her thrills, occasional spills and adventures in a few South East Asian countries. It is quite an interesting and fun programme, especially for armchair travellers.

I would like to think and actually suggest that one can have almost as much fun and excitement if one were to make the effort to take a leisurely drive and discover the many, sometimes quaint, small towns in Malaysia. My wife and I have been doing so on an almost monthly basis for over four years now. It has been real fun and often times an eye opener of sorts.

Others Control Your Free Time

After completing high school or college/university, an individual usually enters the job market. He joins a local company or a multinational in the private sector, enters government or quasi – government service or alternatively gets a job with an NGO.

In all these cases, the company or government in many respects, ‘controls‘ your available time. You have the usual nine to five job or so you think. This is because it is never nine to five these days! Terrible traffic jams getting to work and back home again is the new normal in big cities.

On top of that because of the mobile phone, impatient bosses are prone to call you at all hours of the day. This again is another new normal because you are on the company’s payroll and you are considered the company’s man. And finally, if you are lucky you get about a fortnight’s leave on an annual basis, plus the usual public holidays.

In Retirement, You Make Your Own Plans

In retirement, however, some individuals who do not seriously plan for that phase in their lives are left rudderless and lost! These individuals while away their time with too much TV watching or occasionally meeting old friends and colleagues at a coffee shop to chat and recall the past.

There seems to be a lack of clear purpose in their lives and they are still expecting others to plan for them. Dream on! They forget that their children have their own lives to lead, demanding jobs to deal with, families to bring up and all the other activities that go with that process.

Some get unnecessarily and unfairly tied down being guardians ( or some sort of maids ) for their grandchildren the whole day. This is a needless imposition when it should be time for them to be free to pursue their own interests because they have earned that right.

Drive and Discover Small Towns in Malaysia

Over the last four years or so, we have visited a number of small towns in peninsular Malaysia. From Banting, Morib and Kuala Selangor in Selangor to Gopeng, Lumut, Pangkor and Taiping in Perak to Alor Star and Kulim in Kedah and to Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam in Penang there is so much to see and discover. There are still so many towns to drive to, see, marvel and discover.

Kuala Kubu Bahru (KKB) is Most Interesting

Recently, we went on a day long driving expedition to KKB as the locals refer to their town. Where exactly is KKB? It is the town that you have to pass if you wish to go up to Fraser’s Hill. It is about an hour and half drive from Kuala Lumpur if you take the North South Expressway. You make the turn off after noticing the Tanjong Malim and KKB sign post on the expressway.

It was, I understand, the first properly designed town in Malaysia by an English town planner named Charles Read.

As you drive into KKB, you will marvel at the lush greenery on both sides of the federal road. The traffic is pretty light and soon you will enter the town of KKB. It was, I understand, the first properly designed town in Malaysia by an English town planner named Charles Read.

Gazetted a Garden City

In 1883, as a result of vast tin mining activities in the surrounding areas and coupled with a heavy downpour, the existing dam in the area burst and flooded the town. In the ensuing tragedy, 35 people died and over 1500 residents were affected.

The British rebuilt the town but this time around sited it on a hillock a few kilometres away. Charles Read, the government town planner was given the task to design a modern, liveable city.

Charles had the idea to turn this into a garden city and went about it with enthusiasm. Much later, there was justice when his dream was realised as the government in the 1980s formally gazetted KKB as a Garden City… the first of its kind in Malaysia.

Neat, Compact and Well Ordered Place

The town which is situated between two tributaries of the Selangor River gives the first-timer an impression of being neat, clean, compact and well ordered. The town appears well maintained with adequate parking lots ( no parking charges ), and well kept stately trees add a touch of class to this charming town.

On a clear day, we could see the lovely, surrounding mountain range from the town centre. We could see four hills in the background, each of a different blue/green hue silhouetted against the blue/grey sky. Sometimes, one needs to stop for a while and gaze at this phenomenon to appreciate nature’s unspoiled splendour.

Other Interesting Sights to Behold

1.Sun Sun Nam Cheong Eatery

Many of the shop houses in the town centre were built nearly 100 years ago. We entered a pretty famous shop house named Sun Sun Nam Cheong Eatery, ( quite a mouth full ) for a light lunch.  Before ordering our drinks and lunch, we looked over the place.

The shop house appeared to be well built, properly maintained and clean. It has a very high ceiling of solid timber beams and there is a fairly steep staircase at the back leading to the second floor. It is the living quarters for the family that runs that establishment.

The speciality here is Hailam noodles. The late accomplished, award winning writer and journalist, Rehman Rashid, who had retired to KKB for its peace and quiet and also to write, used to frequent this place for both his breakfast and lunch on a daily basis.

He also used to order scrambled eggs with butter and kaya toast together with Hainanese coffee. His regular lunch order without fail was for nasi goreng ( fried rice ). Rehman’s books are also on sale here. The owners’ have a fondness for the writer and remember him well. This place is in Jalan Mat Kilau.

2.Teng Wun Bakery & Confectionery

This place, also in the town centre, and a street in front of Sun Sun Cheong Nam is quite famous for its kaya puffs, butter cakes and cup cakes. On first impression, it seems quite cramped and cluttered.

But it does offer good value for its limited range of products and is well supported by the town’s inhabitants. This place is in Jalan Dato Muda Jaafar. The owners have been in business for close to forty years.

3.Sungai Selangor Dam

This dam is certainly worth a visit and if possible bring along a well-stocked picnic basket and some drinks. There are park benches nearby and a shaded rest area too.

The first impression on entering the area where the dam is sited is one of peace, serenity and tranquillity. It is quite a beautiful sight to take in. On looking closer, we noticed the huge dam which incidentally has a storage capacity of 235 million cubic metres.

It is situated a mere 6 km from KKB.

4.St Paul’s Catholic Church

There is also a small Catholic church here named St Paul’s Church. This church was consecrated by the late Archbishop Dominic Vendargon in the fifties. It is a thriving community with close knit parishioners. One of my old friends is the chairman of the Parish Council.

Some Other Activities in KKB

For those individuals keen on a round of golf, there is the Kuala Kubu Bahru Golf and Country Club nearby.

For those into extreme sports, KKB is the place to go for White Water Rafting. Please check out those companies that will be prepared to take you on these expeditions. One needs to be careful and go with an experienced guide/instructor.

Final thoughts

I can now better appreciate why some individuals and expats like to relocate to charming towns like KKB, Port Dickson and even Taiping when they retire. One needs to change gears, slow down and smell the roses occasionally. This is the ideal time to do all that.

I understand that a Canadian couple of Indian ethnic origin is building a retirement home in KKB. This place catering for vegetarians will be an ideal location for such a community of seniors.

No traffic jams, adequate parking in town, better weather ( cooler with so much greenery all over ) all make for ideal living conditions. Throw in better mannered, helpful, courteous and friendly residents and you will have your own shangri la  here in Malaysia. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santorini is Stunningly Splendid in Every Way

Towering Cliffs, White Washed Buildings and Turquoise Blue Waters

My wife and I embarked on our fifth cruise recently. We chose a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship, the Norwegian Star for the seven-night cruise to the exotic Greek Islands.

How many of us know that Greece has actually 1200 to 6000 islands depending on the minimum size one takes into account? Of this huge number, only about 160 plus islands are inhabited.

We also went on a shore excursion in Kotor, Montenegro at the start of the cruise and another shore excursion in Dubrovnik, Croatia on the last leg of the cruise. ‘Kotor’ in Bahasa Malaysia means dirty. I was, as such, intrigued by the name.

Montenegro is one of the six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia under one of the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) strongman named Tito.

Montenegro Was a Disappointment

Kotor was not dirty but it was drab looking. It was a real waste of time because it took about an hour’s drive to get to our first destination through a bleak and dreary countryside with no redeeming or outstanding features. The ancient city of Budva was a little better and it is kissed by the open Adriatic Sea. It had some interesting buildings.

However, the people of Montenegro did not seem friendly to the throngs of people visiting the area. In addition and this is a big point, whilst they desperately want the tourists, they have yet to provide proper and easily accessible clean toilets. This is a major drawback. Many in our group found this absence of proper and accessible toilets a real turn off.

Dubrovnik Is a Beautiful City

A day before we returned to Venice, Italy we made a stopover in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We had heard rave reviews about Dubrovnik and many commented that it is a beautiful city.  In fact, we know of a couple, friends of ours from Canberra, Australia, who spent four weeks on vacation in Dubrovnik two years ago. They liked the city a lot. And so it was a great relief that all these reviews and commentaries were actually spot on.

Dubrovnik is certainly a beautiful and well laid out city with a charm of its own. We chose to go on the Croatian Riviera and Dubrovnik tour. It turned out to be a great choice. The drive through the picturesque villages was most enjoyable and we got to see cattle and goats grazing in the fields against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains.

Cascading Waters of Ljuta River

The highlight of the tour through the fertile Konavle Valley for us was the stop for a light snack at a restaurant located in an old mill next to the cascading waters of the Ljuta River. The setting was simply ideal and one could see and hear the rush of crystal clean water from the nearby mountain as one contemplated the unbelievably scenic and peaceful surroundings.

The delightful light snack consisted of local specialities such as Croatian smoked ham, cheese, homemade bread and a glass of local wine. The charming waitresses dressed in their colourful national costumes offered us a choice of red or white wine.

Corfu Captivates the Visitor

During our cruise, we had a chance to make three other shore excursions to the following Greek islands: Mykonos, Corfu and Santorini. Of these, Santorini really impressed me a lot.

In Corfu, we chose to go on the Achilleion Palace and Corfu Town tour. We drove through the lovely countryside dotted with lemon and olive trees to reach the charming village of Gastouri where the majestic Achilleion Palace stands. While driving throughout Greece we noticed that the roads are in good condition and well maintained. The palace has beautiful gardens full of exotic flowers surrounding the building.

We also enjoyed our walk from the tree-lined main square to the Old Town. Here we saw historical sites such as the Venetian quarters, the Town Hall and the Church of St. Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu. The shops and sights of the Old Town were quite interesting and my wife did some shopping here. We also had time for a light snack in one of the many breezy cafes.

Santorini: Breathtaking in its Beauty

As we got into the tender from our cruise ship which had anchored some distance from the port and headed out to the island of Santorini, I was struck by its imposing sight. The island has an incredible majesty about it as one approaches.

The island formed as a result of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago is a sight to behold with its rugged and craggy face. According to experts that volcanic eruption was ten times more powerful than the one from Krakatova, Indonesia in 1883!

The city of 15,000 inhabitants is situated on an island in the Southern Aegean Sea. It certainly has highly acclaimed and dramatic views and stunning sunsets. And to make matters really dramatic, Santorini is perched on the rim of a massive active volcano.

White Washed Buildings & Towering Cliffs

White washed buildings are a regular and most pleasant feature in Greece. If your building/house faces the sea, then you are only allowed to paint your wooden window frames in the colour blue. If your house faces the hillside, then you can paint the window frames in brown. All houses must be white-washed. This decree by a dictator many years ago still remains in force.

Dancing to Zorba the Greek

We had our lunch in a modern, well-built Greek restaurant named Pyrgos Tavern situated in one of the oldest settlements and the highest village on the island. We enjoyed traditional Greek food, music, wine and dances. The food was very good but I thought they should have included lamb, octopus and squid in the buffet menu.

The fun part was the Greek style celebration – OPA! A couple of dances were performed by four Greek lasses in traditional costumes and this was followed by a livelier version of dancing much like in the movie, Zorba the Greek starring Anthony Quinn. This time, a male dancer joined in and he was equal to the task and gave a spirited display of his prowess in this field. Then the lasses and the male dancer approached the diners and invited them on to the dance floor. Soon the place was throbbing to the sounds of good music and lively dancing.

Finally, all present had a smashing time breaking plates with much joy and gusto. I must mention here that throughout our trip to the Greek islands, there was easy availability of clean and well-maintained toilets. For some of them, one has to pay a small fee to use.

Some Interesting Facts about Santorini

Here are some interesting facts about Santorini.

  1. The seas around Santorini are a shimmering turquoise blue. Really beautiful to behold. The only other place where I have seen the seas so beautiful is in the Caribbean island of Barbados.
  2. There are more churches on the island than homes. These small churches were built by grateful sailors in honour of the saints who saved them from a watery grave while at sea.
  3. The export of pumice stones is a big business on the island.
  4. There are more than 100 varieties of grapes on Santorini. The island produces good quality wine and more than 89% is white wine.
  5. There are more donkeys than men on the islands. Donkeys are used to carry goods and the luggage of tourists up the steep, winding slopes and steps all around the islands.

How Did We Get to the Top of the Island?

We travelled up to the mountain top in a comfortable bus driven by a very experienced and capable driver. He needed to be experienced to be able to drive with some degree of sure-footedness up the very narrow winding road. At some points, it was quite scary to look out at the scenes below us but it was not a white-knuckle drive all the way. We enjoyed the breathtaking scenery as the bus slowly snaked its way up the narrow mountain roads.

We had three options for descending from the mountain. One was by slowly trekking down the 500 plus steps to the bottom. The other was to hitch a bumpy and smelly donkey ride down. We all opted for the third option and that was to take the cable car down in just a few minutes. Incidentally, the cable car system was built and donated by a rich and well-established family on the island as its community service contribution.

One Final Thought

If I have the opportunity and the time, I would certainly like to re-visit both Santorini and Dubrovnik. There is so much more to know, experience and enjoy about these two amazing places. One needs to spend at least a week in each place to soak in the atmosphere and explore the hidden nooks and corners of these exotic places. And this time around, I will certainly be a traveller and not a tourist.

#travel #Dubrovnik #Santorini #Corfu #Montenegro

Going on a sea or river cruise

A one of a kind experience

 

In a 1996 Harper’s magazine essay initially titled  Shipping Out  celebrated novelist, short story writer and essayist, the late David Foster Wallace was critical of cruising as a holiday option. David was also a professor of English and creative writing. This article of his appeared in the magazine with the revised title ‘ A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.’  That was David Wallace’s opinion.

However, there are literally thousands who are regular cruisers who beg to differ. Some have gone on five cruises; others have been on more than 12 cruises!

There is even one senior widow with means to match, who rather than stay in an upmarket retirement home, chooses to go on cruise after cruise in the same ship. She likes the way she is treated by the crew, all the cleaning is taken care of in a professional manner and the meals are excellent. There is nothing more she could ask for.

My wife and I embarked on our very first cruise some years ago when we went on a  Royal Caribbean International cruise from Shanghai, China to Fukuoka and Kobe in Japan and then to Seoul and Jeju in South Korea before returning to Shanghai. It was a short cruise lasting a mere seven days. It was a unique and joyful experience.

Many Intriguing Stories

We had heard many intriguing stories about cruises… both good and bad and were, therefore, somewhat apprehensive.  However, we both really wanted to experience this holiday option for ourselves.

We also took the necessary precautions and brought along some special pills to take to prevent sea sickness. We were joined on this cruise by a couple from Australia. The husband happened to be a schoolmate of mine from St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Both my wife and I took the special pills as a precaution before the ship sailed from the port of Shanghai. My friend and I enjoyed the experience but both our wives were initially affected by the cruise. It was not all that plain sailing for them.

They felt seasick, wanted to throw up and decided to retire to their cabins to lie down. By the way, cabins on cruise ships are given grand names i.e. stateroom. However, I must say that both recovered soon enough to enjoy the rest of the cruise.

Rough Seas and Stabiliser Fins

Crossing the seas to get to the Japanese port cities proved to be quite an experience as the seas were quite rough. However, modern cruise ships are equipped with huge stabiliser fins on either side of the ship. When conditions warrant it, like in this case, these fins were deployed and that helped a lot. I must also add that the rest of the cruise was plain sailing and enjoyable all the way.

Major Benefits of Cruising

We have gone on two other sea cruises since then and recently we experienced our very first river cruise. That is a whole different experience altogether.

So what are the benefits of cruising?

1.It is a very relaxed and enjoyable way of having a holiday

Yes, as you might have suspected most of the passengers are retired senior citizens…  some in their seventies, others in the late eighties and a few in their nineties too! Quite a few are with their walking sticks and a some get around in their comfortable, high-tech motorised wheelchairs.

2.There is a wide variety of good food in the various dining locations on board the luxury cruise ships

Passengers can choose to dine in a formal setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner or they can choose to go for the informal, buffet options. We chose the formal settings because in the Royal Caribbean International cruise ships, you are assigned a particular table for all your meals. You are also assigned a particular waiter to serve you during the meals. In addition, there is no pushing and shoving especially by some uncouth passengers in the buffet locations. In the buffet locations too, you can also invariably witness a few passengers displaying their ugly side by piling food on their plates!

In addition, food is available at no extra charge throughout the day and even late at night, if you are still hungry. However, you will need to pay for beer, wine and martinis if those are your preferred poisons!

3.We were able to keep up with our exercise regimen throughout the cruise

We went for brisk walks on certain decks and were able to walk all around the huge ship. We normally aimed to complete three rounds. This was certainly a most pleasant way to exercise while taking in the lovely scenery and at the same time watching the ship sail majestically through the calm waters. At times, in the morning and also at sunset, the views were simply breathtaking.

4. The Eagerly Awaited Shore Excursions

We were able to make brief visits to interesting places when we docked at the ports of certain cities. These excursions were quite enjoyable but I must confess that these were often fairly rushed visits and somewhat overpriced. The best part, however, is that they are properly organised and comfortable transport is provided. The onus is on the ship’s crew to see to it that we return to the ship in proper time and before the ship sets sail again.

We are also advised by the ship’s crew in charge of the shore excursions on the difficulty level of each shore excursion. They even recommend the type of shoe to be worn for certain walking tours. In a few cases, even bicycle tours are arranged for the more athletic types!

There are cases of individuals who decide to go on their own to explore the city and in some unfortunate instances get lost or arrive late at the port. The ship does not wait for such passengers. It is their responsibility then to get to the next port of call in order to rejoin the cruise! Hopefully, it is a lesson well learnt.

5. Pack – Unpack – Repack

Unlike well conducted and escorted tours of cities with reputable travel and tour companies like Trafalgar and Insight in the United Kingdom, there was no need to pack, unpack and re-pack at each port of call. This was a real hassle during escorted tours. Here your stateroom travels with you and it gets properly cleaned and maintained twice a day by the housekeeping staff.

6.  Entertaining Shows Every Night

Every night there are two shows that one is able to watch in the ship’s large, grand and comfortable theatre. If you decide to go for an early dinner, then you can opt to catch the second show for the night. Those who decide to go for a later dinner are able to catch the first show.

These daily shows last for about an hour plus and feature mostly talented crew members. Occasionally, some of the entertainers come on board at certain ports. Though these are not great shows, they are nevertheless quite entertaining. There is a different show each night. While the show is on, waiters and waitresses walk up and down the aisle taking your orders for drinks.

7. Other Facilities and Services

For those who love to gamble, all these cruise ships have casinos which only operate while we are in the open seas. The casinos are closed while the ship is in port. We gave this activity a miss because it is not our cup of tea! There were many who we noticed making a beeline for the casino when the ship was at sea. We chose instead to spend time in the comfortable library which was most conducive for some light reading. At other times, we joined a few passengers and played deck games.

8. Shop till you drop

And for those who like to shop, these big cruise ships have shops where you can shop till you drop. There are shops selling watches, pens, clothes, liquor, sweaters and shawls etc.

9. Swimming pools

There is also a decent sized gym on board and usually at least two swimming pools within the ship.

10. Personal care

In addition, these ships also have a beauty parlour for the ladies and a spa for those who wish to be pampered with a variety of massage options.

11. Delightful Champagne Jazz Brunch

Finally, for those looking for that extra oomph, there are usually a few speciality restaurants on board each cruise ship. One has to pay a fee of between US 10 to US 25 per head to dine in these restaurants. We felt the food was good enough on board the ship and so did not opt for this extra.

However, on one of our cruises, we opted for a promotion i.e. A Champagne Jazz Brunch for which we paid a mere US 10. It was well worth the price because the brunch and drinks were delightful and the jazz music by the 7 piece band was simply wonderful.

River Cruises Are Also Interesting

In addition to that first cruise, we also went on a Baltic cruise with RCI and a Mediterranean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line. Of the three cruises, I rate the Mediterranean Cruise the best thus far.

It was simply very relaxing, the seas were super calm and delightful and the seas seemed to shimmer with a beautiful shade of blue and green. By the way, NCL is partly owned by a Malaysian gaming company that is based in Genting Highlands in Pahang, Malaysia.  Cruising with NCL offers one the opportunity to enjoy their version of it, minus the formality of other cruise lines. They refer to theirs as “ Free Style Cruising ‘. They do not assign you a table, nor a particular waiter throughout your cruise. You are free to choose your table. In addition, there is less formality on board.

Cruising On The River Rhine

In September 2016, we went on our first river cruise with another company called Ama Waterways. This is a fairly established company and they offer cruises not just in Europe but also in Asia and Africa.

We decided that we wanted to experience a different type of cruising. We also thought that the majestic River Rhine would be a great way to enjoy this new experience. Our 7 night The Enchanting Rhine cruise began at Amsterdam and took us on a leisurely trip initially to explore the legendary canals of Amsterdam.

After that, the cruise proceeded to Cologne, where we were able to catch a city tour and view the imposing Cologne Cathedral. From Cologne, we moved on to Koblenz where we had the pleasure of a pleasant evening walking tour of the small city. From here we moved on to the impressive Rhine Gorge. We saw many quaint medieval castles here as the ship sailed slowly past them.

We had two options to choose from when we arrived at another ancient city called Rudesheim: either a Wine Tasting session or a Gondola ride. We chose the gondola ride and we were surprised when what was on offer was a ride up to a hillside in a cable car!

Well, I guess, the choice of terminology can sometimes give you a wrong impression.  The ride up the hillside was exhilarating, to say the least, and the weather was just perfect for such an outing.

We continued on to other interesting towns like Heidelberg, Speyer and Strasbourg in France before returning to Breisach. The last leg of our journey was to Basel in Switzerland.

Differences between These Two Types of Cruising Options

In a sea cruise with the more established cruise lines like RCI, NCL and Holland America , it is quite common to have as many as 2,200 plus passengers on the ship together with a crew of 1,200. However, on a river cruise, the ship is much smaller and can accommodate only about 130 plus passengers with a crew of around 60.

The river cruise is much more sedate. There are no rough seas to deal with. There are, however, locks to contend with. So from time to time, we have had to patiently wait to go through locks before proceeding to the next destination. This marvellous engineering option allowed the ship to travel both upstream as well as downstream.

The staterooms are about the same size and like in sea cruises are thoroughly cleaned twice a day. On our ship, there was a tiny swimming pool, an even tinier gym where at the most only two people could exercise at the same time and a hair salon plus a spa.

All the meals were served in the main dining room which was small compared to the ones on sea going vessels. Those who did not wish to have a proper lunch or dinner could go to another part of the ship for a light meal. I must add that there was a free flow of wine and beer during lunch and dinner at no extra charge. At other times, one had to pay for a beer or a glass of wine.  Water, coffee, tea and biscuits were always available for hungry passengers in the common and comfortable lounge.

As you can see, cruising is gaining in popularity and they even have cruises for young adults who wish to have a more rugged and less costly experience. In addition, to further differentiate, there are also cruises for the more well-heeled passengers …. these are more like 6 or 7-star cruises, with a much smaller passenger load and with loads of extras thrown in.

So do consider taking the plunge and go on a cruise. My advice is to opt for a relatively enjoyable and safe cruise especially in the Mediterranean, the Baltic region or even the Greek islands. Then go for a river cruise to experience the difference. And finally, if you are prepared to brave the seas and the unexpected, go for an ocean cruise.