The distance between Brunswick Heads and Gold Coast was only 77 kms. It was a quick run, but without a working GPS, it took us a little extra time to locate Rob and Donna’s house at Broadbeach Waters. Rob and Donna are friends we made on our tag-along Kimberley trip in 2015. We arrived all excited and had a good chat prior to setting off to a little Chinese yum cha restaurant in nearby Robina. Katie shouted, and ordered an extra dish of special fried rice to take away for our dinner tonight in the motorhome, wherever we may be.
Rob was interested to know where we were going in the afternoon, but we honestly did not have any plans other than vague thoughts of heading north to either Brisbane or the southern end of the Sunshine Coast. We were offered the chance to stay for the night at Broadbeach Waters. We declined their offer of sleeping inside the house, as it is easier to stay in Matilda with Dexter while parked on the street. Rob passed us a 15 amp power lead over the front fence, we had a full water tank and an empty toilet, so we had everything we needed.
After lunch, Ian and Rob had a lovely afternoon strumming their guitars on the back patio. Rob is incredibly good with guitar and has been playing for 17 years, while Ian has been slowly “learning” for 14 years, with side tracks towards the ukulele and the flute. They enjoyed playing together while Donna and Katie relaxed with the music. Rob’s business partners and neighbours, Peter and Judy, dropped in to visit and gave us some tips for travelling in the Northern Territory.
For dinner, Rob barbecued the best steaks we have had this year—so tender and juicy—even better than what we has at the Crown Bar and Grill on the Majestic Princess. They rivaled the mud crab we had on our last visit. Donna made a noodle salad, and with the special fried rice, we had a feast. During and after dinner, we had more guitar demos and tips from Rob.
Rob and friend, Sophie, went water-skiing at 7:00 am the next morning (Friday), and Rob invited Ian to be the spotter on the boat. Rob owns a 1992 ski boat that he is very proud of. Ian had never had anything to do with water skiing before, so this was quite an exciting opportunity. He took some action images and video, and was very impressed with Rob’s strength and stamina.
After Rob’s ski run, Donna made toast with peanut butter sandwiches with coffee for breakfast. Donna then photocopied some music that Ian selected from Rob’s collection, and Ian promised to learn all the songs during our trip.
Dexter had a run and paddle at the private beach of Rob and Donna’s house beside the Nerang River. As usual, he thoroughly enjoyed his romp on the sand, but did not venture very far from the shore.
We are very grateful for all the hospitality that Rob and Donna gave us. We disconnected the power lead, said our goodbyes, and continued our drive northwards.
Ian contacted Robyn, who he worked with at Rockend and had retired to Byron Bay with her husband, Denis. Robyn invited us for lunch on Monday, so we left Arrawarra and headed north. It took nearly 3 hours to drive to Byron Bay, with a lot of roadworks between Grafton and Ballina. Neither of us had been to Byron Bay before, so this would be a new experience for us, as well as a chance to catch up with Robyn.
Byron Bay was best known as a hippie area many years ago, but this demographic has changed dramatically as many relatively affluent people have moved in, built beautiful houses, and adopted a carefree lifestyle in a tropical climate with trendy shops and cafes. We got stuck in traffic in the Byron Bay town centre. It was hard to believe how busy it was here. When we drove up to Robyn and Denis’ beautiful house, we saw many young people sunbathing on the grass outside one of the cafes! It has been many decades since we had done that sort of thing.
Robyn and Denis love Byron Bay, and had been visiting Byron for 26 years prior to buying their first house here a few years ago.
Robyn prepared delicious sandwiches for lunch, accompanied with a curried pumpkin soup. Dexter was a bit excited at first, but being a good boy, he laid down quietly on the front lawn while we had lunch on the front veranda. Robyn looked great, and both her and Denis lead a very healthy life.
It was good to catch up with Robyn, and to find her at home and available for us. We lamented that we didn’t take any photos of our lunch, as we were so busy chatting.
While at Robyn’s, we booked a powered site at the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park at Brunswick Heads for 2 nights. We had a little difficulty finding the place as our Tom Tom GPS was not receiving a GPS signal.
The Ferry Reserve Caravan Park had good facilities, although the cleaners closed the amenities near us at 9:00 am when we decided to have a shower. Not impressed. It is located next to the motorway, so it is a bit noisy, although this was not a problem inside Matilda. The location on the Brunswick River was picturesque.
On Tuesday morning, we decided to check out Brunswick Heads. We had been encouraged to visit the pub, which is owed by John Cornell (aka Strop) and David Gyngell. However, we could not find anywhere to park Matilda. We found several likely parking spots, but there were always signs nearby indicating that only vehicles less than 6 m were allowed. Matilda is 8 m long with the bike rack on the rear. Brunswick Heads is definitely not RV friendly.
We drove off in disgust to Byron Bay. Our Tom Tom had died, so navigation was challenging. We pulled up at one place to check where we were on Google Maps, and found that we were near the Stone and Wood Brewery, one of Ian’s targets for this trip. Parking was easy, so we went in. The courtyard was dog friendly, so Dexter came too. Ian had a tasting of 3 beers—Cloud Catcher, Jasper Ale and The Prequel—all great. As time was getting on, we decided to stay for lunch. Ian ordered a Korean chicken burger while Katie had a char siu bowl with noodles and vegies. Both dishes were yummy. Ian washed down his burger with Pacific Ale, but felt that it had been watered down from what he remembered it to be. Ian postulates that their Cloud Catcher pale ale is the new Pacific Ale, so he bought a carton. He also bought a 1 litre squealer of The Prequel to share with Grant. Stone and Wood was our first beverage producer of the trip, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Next door was Byron Bay Cookies, and Katie checked that out and bought some very Moorish biscuits. Katie enquired about the ugly tall silvery statue erected right at the nearby busy roundabout and was told that was supposed to be the Byron Bay Lighthouse. The statue is a bit controversial among the locals. Unfortunately, we could not visit the lighthouse with Dexter, as it is in a national parkl.
Suitably fortified by Stone and Wood, we wanted to check out the Byron Bay town centre. Again, we found lots of parking signs allowing only vehicles under 6 m, but there is a nearby, large park for day use by RVs. Signs prohibited camping, but some vehicles appeared to be set up for an overnight stay.
The shops were much higher class than we expected. Katie was not attracted to any of the clothes on offer, so we headed to Belongil Beach, which is dog friendly and off-lead. Dexter enjoyed a swim and a frolic with other dogs at Belonjil Beach.
We decided on seafood for dinner, so we searched for a fishmonger. We found a shop called the Fishmonger, but it was a restaurant. We finally found a real fishmonger and bought locally caught mackerel for dinner to accompany a pumpkin, cranberry and macadamia salad!
We arranged to meet up with friends Rob and Donna from our Kimberley trip in 2015 at their home on the Gold Coast. Rob suggested yum cha, and after careful consideration for a microsecond, Katie responded with YES.
On Wednesday morning, Ian took the Trek mountain bike off the rack for the first time since we left home, and rode into Brunswick Heads. There is parking for longer vehicles, Ian found, not too far from the town centre on the Old Pacific Highway. However, we were off to the Gold Coast today, so Brunswick Heads was not going to benefit further from our visit.
Back at the caravan park, we emptied our toilet and filled our fresh water tank, and set off for Queensland.
We wanted to get to Byron Bay on Sunday, but we lingered a bit longer at Old Bar than we intended. We had twice stayed at a caravan park north of Woolgoolga on returning from the Sunshine Coast, so we decided to stay there again this time on our way north. We remembered it had the word Lorikeet in the name, but we were unsure exactly where it was. We found one caravan park in the approximate area, but it was not the one, and there were no powered sites available. However, we took a wrong turn on the way out, and ended up in a cul-de-sac after going down a steep hill. The road was sealed, but the Fiat Ducato struggled to get traction on the way back up the hill. This was the first indication that we will have to be very careful about where we go, as the motorhome is front-wheel-drive which is not ideal for a truck where most of the weight is over the rear axle.
We eventually found the Gateway Lifestyle Lorikeet Park at Arrawarra, and we booked an ensuite site as we have done on both previous occasions. The record keeping of both Lani’s On the Beach and Lorikeet was impressive as they had our details already registered in their system from when we stayed previously.
After driving 273 kilometres since Old Bar, Ian was very tired. We had leftovers of spag bol, watched a bit of TV, and hit the sack early.
The next morning, the three of us took a walk along the beach adjacent to the caravan park. For the second day in a row, Dexter had the beach to himself.
We delayed leaving home for our lap of Australia by about a week to let Ian get over a bug he brought back from Hong Kong, and to come down from our big cruise and family reunion. We also had to finish a few jobs around the house before handing it over to our house sitter, Isaac.
So, the is the first post of our travel blog on the third, and largest component of our travel in 2019. It is posted two weeks after the event, but we have been flat out in the first two weeks of our Australian lap.
We planned our trip on an Excel spreadsheet, but we felt far from organised! The general idea is to drive anticlockwise around the island, keeping as close to the coastline as we can with a front-wheel-drive motorhome. This means we need to go inland after Normanton, through Mount Isa to the Stuart Highway, then north to Darwin to avoid some rough unsealed roads. We will also head north after Melbourne and attend the CMCA annual rally in Elmore, and then head home via Canberra.
It is an awesome trip over 6 months. We have the option of coming home early after Cooktown, or after Darwin and the Top End, if we feel we have had enough, and then we can complete the trip next year. Once we are in the Kimberly region we will be committed to the full lap.
Matilda, our motorhome, finally left the Anambah Sanctuary (our home) at 1:00 pm on Saturday with Katie, Ian and Dexter on board, as well as Ian’s Trek mountain bike secured on a new bike rack. We finally started our long-anticipated adventure, and drove north under a cloudy sky with drizzling rain!
Our first destination was Lani’s On the Beach Caravan Park in Old Bar for a night. We planned to catch up with Ian’s auntie, Audrey, and cousin, Avril, next morning. We could choose our spot, as it was not that busy. It is really on the beach, and is in a top location.
Ian’s signature dish for the first night of every trip—spaghetti bolognaise—was again created and enjoyed, with some leftovers for tomorrow night.
Dexter had a wonderful run along Old Bar beach early in the morning. We checked out of Lani’s, brought bread and apple slices at the Old Bar bakery, then had delicious morning tea of apple slice and cream with Audrey and Avril. Even though we had been to Old Bar with Matilda a couple of times previously, this was the first time that Audrey had a chance to come inside and see how we are going to spend the next half a year.
Time is the most precious gift one can give to others. Spending time with family is therefore very important to Katie and Ian, especially now that most of our families live a long way away, including overseas. Family reunions in Singapore and Hong Kong were especially valued parts of our travels in 2019. Ian and Katie were therefore excited when the Majestic Princess docked at the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong, as we were going to catch up with a lot of Katie’s family. We disembarked in a very smooth process, which has been typical of Princess, found our luggage without hassle, and caught the free shuttle bus from the cruise terminal to Hollywood Plaza at Diamond Hill MTR station while most passengers were still waiting on the long taxi queues.
We met Katie’s brother Cecil who lives at Galaxia, a set of residential towers adjacent to Hollywood Plaza, and Agatha (Katie’s sister), who was visiting Hong Kong from Manchester. Agatha treated us to a very delicious yum cha breakfast at one of the restaurants in Hollywood Plaza. Back at the apartment we watched the Princess Cruises Reflections DVD, especially the section on our ukulele concert. We think both Agatha and Cecil were amazed with our performing talent.
Cecil drove us to The Salisbury YMCA Hotel where we checked in and unpacked. We were exhausted and slept for two hours before getting burgers and fries for dinner from trusty old McDonalds. Ian started to read A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron, which he bought at Hollywood Plaza. This is a sequel to the No. 1 New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling novel—A Dog’s Purpose—which we read last year.
During our stay, the weather in Hong Kong was not great, but very murky, grey and humid, and at times, very stormy.
Hong Kong is famous for shopping and eating. It is very congested, and the population is still growing. There is not a lot of open space in the city. A favourite past time of the residents is meeting and eating. In contrast to Australia, however, you do not see a lot of overweight people in Hong Kong apart from visitors from Australia, north America or the UK.
Besides Maccas, we enjoyed a couple of inexpensive meals at a local Food Republic food court in Tsim Sha Tsui. These eating outlets are frequented by locals and offer a variety of delicious dishes, just like some food courts in Australia—inexpensive and quick. Katie loves congee (rice porridge), and was so disappointed that Maccas in Hong Kong does not have McCongee!…….
During this trip Katie bought a new pair of prescription glasses with red frames, and closed her inactive Hong Kong bank account.
Early in our trip, at Cecil’s suggestion, we took a ferry trip with Cecil to Cheung Chau, an outlying island of Hong Kong. The ferry ride from Hong Kong took half an hour. The weather was very murky and not conducive to photography.
Fast ferry to Cheung Chau
Cheung Chau is a small outlying island with a quaint fishing village. It is popular with both Hong Kong residents and tourists. It is an ideal destination for school outings and for family campers, and we shared the ferry with a large group of school campers. Katie remembers when she was young, one of her school outings was to camp at Cheung Chau where her tent was blown away.
There is a variety of street seafood restaurants along the waterfront. A Bun Festival is held annually, but it was later in the year. The winner is the one who collects most buns from the top of a Bun tree (buns are tied together to form the shape similar to a Christmas tree).
Ian and Katie were amazed to see an open area for fish drying and a large food market
On Cheung Chau there are many tricycles by the roadside for hire. Tricycles and small tractors seem to be the main transport in the village. Seeing rows and rows of tricycles idle on the roadside and waiting to be hired, Cecil and Ian couldn’t help themselves but to hire two tricycles at HK$40 each for an hour. Katie spread herself between these 2 tricycles as passenger. As the bikes are not set up for tall people, Ian found it a bit uncomfortable to ride. We had a great time riding around the waterfront. Cecil admitted that it had been 40 years since he had ridden a bike.
We also tasted some gong cha (a strong black tea) which can be drunk with some honey or sugar. Katie tried some bubble tea (tea with tapioca pearls, like sago). We devoured steamy freshly baked Portuguese tarts from a food vendor.
After returning from Cheung Chau, we took the MTR to Wong Tai Sin in the hope of seeing the Wong Tai Sin Temple and having a vegetarian meal there. Unfortunately, the temple was closed, but instead we had a delicious dinner at the Shanghaiteng 1930 restaurant in the Temple Mall.
During most nights Ian wrote up summaries for the day, sorted and resized photos, and posted them to our travel blog. He has been extremely diligent while Katie was a bit slack!
As we missed our vegetarian meal at the Wong Tai Sin Temple, we aimed to have a vegetarian meal at the Chi Lin Nunnery next to Hollywood Plaza. The vegetarian lunch was lovely, and Ian tried his first beer in Hong Kong at Cecil’s place. We also bought some Chinese tea for our friends Norm and Lee who were so generous with their time by minding our dog Dexter. The tea was the same as that we had at the vegetarian lunch.
The next evening, Agatha took us to the Empire City Roasted Duck Restaurant in K11 where we enjoyed a first course of the Peking Duck dish—duck skin with a little flesh, wrapped in crepes and dipped in hoisin sauce.
Before Agatha returned to Manchester, Katie went to iSQUARE shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui to buy two USB drives for copying the Majestic Princess Reflections DVDs—one for Agatha and Michael in Manchester, and one for Cecil in Hong Kong. Of course, the highlight on the DVDs is the ukulele concert. Ian then did the copying from his laptop computer.
Katie was very grateful when Agatha bought her a scarf (because of her cold), a gift of two bracelets, and a handy travelling hot water flask to ease her throat in the hot, dusty and sometimes smoky Hong Kong atmosphere.
We are very grateful that both Agatha and Philomena changed their business plans to be in Hong Kong while we were there. Philomena arrived the day that Agatha flew home, but they overlapped for a couple of hours at The Salisbury, where Philomena was staying.
On Philomena’s first full day in Hong Kong, Katie, Philomena, Cecil, Jon and Flora went to the Tseung Kwan O Columbarium to pay respects to Katie, Philomena and Cecil’s parents, and Jon’s maternal grandparents. As it was the Easter public holiday period, the columbarium had many people paying their respects. The columbarium is on the side of a hill and has a panoramic water view. Ian stayed behind as he developed a head cold and was feeling crook. After paying our respects, the family lunched at a nearby shopping mall.
Back at The Salisbury that day, Ian slept in and eventually walked the short distance to Starbucks for a heart-starting black coffee. Ian walked around a while, ending up at the Ocean Terminal. He discovered a large food hall, and he was surprised that all the fresh food was wrapped in plastic, except for a lot of seafood. He counted 12 different types of oysters, all huge. He found the wine area, but you would need at least A$60 for a reasonable bottle of Australian or NZ wine. Eventually he came across the beer department, and he spent a pleasant half an hour selecting some samples to take back to the hotel. Two IPAs brewed in Hong Kong—Yardley Brothers Hong Kong Bastard Imperial IPA, Gwei-lo American IPA—were beautifully hopped with a tropical and citrus flavour. The Wilderness IPA and Bodinton’s were from the UK, while Tsingtao is probably the most well known Chinese lager. The Tsingtao had to be consumed immediately on Ian’s return to The Salisbury, as the 600 ml bottle was too tall to fit in the small bar fridge. Tsingtao is one of Ian’s favourite lagers, and it made him feel a little better.
While at The Salisbury, we had breakfast with Philomena twice in the dining room on level 4.
It was rewarding on this trip to Hong Kong to catch up with Philomena’s son, Jon, and his wife, Flora, and their beautiful daughter, Olivia. Jon was born in Hong Kong and migrated to Australia with his parents in 1990. He moved back to Hong Kong for work, met and married Flora, and Olivia was born five years ago. On Philomena’s first night in Hong Kong, we all shared a banquet at a Thai restaurant at Admiralty, near where Joh and Flora live.
We also enjoyed the company of Jon, Flora and Olivia at the Golden Palace Seaview Banquet Hall on Level 26 at iSQUARE for yum cha, a Chiu Chow dinner in the Chiu Chow Garden in Star House (near the Star Ferry), and afternoon tea at The Peninsula, which is next to The Salisbury. The most interesting dish of the trip was Chiu Chow fried noodles—a pancake of yellow noodles eaten with a sprinkling of vinegar and sugar. Jon said that they could really only have this dish at special occasions when there were enough people to share it.
The Peninsula is a long-established hotel and is acclaimed for its afternoon tea (sometimes called high tea) served daily in The Lobby. This is a very British tradition! The Lobby in Peninsula is an elegant meeting place. You can listen to the beautiful live, string music by acclaimed musicians while having afternoon tea. This is a MUST DO activity for visitors to Hong Kong.
We were treated by Jon and Philomena to enjoy this unforgettable experience! The Peninsula does not take table bookings for afternoon tea—it is strictly run on a first-come, first served basis from 3:30 pm, and there is always a long queue of guests waiting for a table. Indeed, the queue put us off when we were in Hong Kong last year. However, this time we were with Philomena, who secured a table between lunch and afternoon tea for a quick snack! Philomena ordered a charcuterie plate, and Ian took the opportunity to have a Tsingtao or two. We simply took our time and continued into afternoon tea at the same table. Good to be with people in the know.
It was a perfect afternoon tea, with tea in a silver service, and scones, savouries and sweet delicacies presented in a triple decker stack, just as it should be. We lingered for several hours. We enjoyed the live music from a four piece band behind us on the next level up.
Earlier in the year, Ian bought a new pair of ASICS runners, and he found them to be very comfortable and hard wearing. He hoped to pick up another pair in Vietnam where they are made, expecting to pay much less for them, but we did not get the chance to do any shopping in Saigon. He found an ASICS shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, but most running shoes in the shop were for skinny little feet. He eventually found a size 10 shoe with a wide fitting, but the only colour available was bright orange-red. He was really trying to keep a low profile in Hong Kong, but it was difficult…
On our last day in Hong Kong on 22 April, the long-awaited sun finally shone which was a welcome relief to both Katie and Ian. Ian started the day with an early walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which has recently been developed around the foreshore.
We decided to go up to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island before catching our flight home at 7:30 pm. We checked our luggage in at Hong Kong MTR station at the Qantas counter in the morning. We had a small hiccup when the name for Katie’s booking did not match the name on her passport, but the guy at the counter said it would be OK, and issued our boarding passes. I wish we had checked them. Relieved of our luggage, we took a No. 15 bus to the Peak. The place was packed and looked like half the population of Hong Kong had decided to do the same as us!
By the time we arrived at the Peak, the sun was out, and we got some magnificent views, especially back down to Tsim Sha Tsui, where we had spent most of the past week. Ian took some nice scenic photos. We bumped into a couple of characters that had escaped from Madame Tussauds. Feeling peckish, we had lunch at Hungry Jacks. Back at Hong Kong Station, we caught an express train to the airport.
We had plenty of time when we arrived at the airport. This is just as well, because the mistake on Katie’s boarding pass, where her name was printed as Mrs Clarke Clarke, was caught at the first immigration check. Officers said that we could have the mistake rectified for only $250HK, but Ian maintained this was Qantas’ mistake, which should have been caught when Katie’s Frequent Flyer number was provided for the booking. Eventually they caved in, issued us with a new boarding pass for Katie in her correct name, and all was good thereafter. We bought some pasties to take home, and then waited a short while to board. On the plane, we were pleasantly surprised to find our seats behind a bulkhead, so we had extra legroom without having to pay for it.
We landed at Sydney at 6:30 am on Tuesday 23 April. We took another 6.5 hours using three trains and a taxi to get home. Top holiday, but it was great to be back home! Our dog, Dexter, almost ate us when we drove around to collect him from our friend, Norman. The third part of our grey nomad adventure is to travel around Australia with Dexter in our motorhome, Matilda. But first, we needed to unwind from a brilliant ukulele cruise where we met new friends Peter and Krystyna and John and Joy, and from a lovely time in Hong Kong catching up with family and immersing ourselves in Chinese gastronomy.
This stage of the cruise is the last 6 days, with 4 days at sea and stops at Phy My (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon) in Vietnam and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. The days at sea are pretty much the same routine that we developed earlier.
Our ukulele concert on the day before Singapore was a success on the basis of the crowd and the applause we received. Eric Ripper, our ukulele leader, invited anyone else who wanted to play the ukulele to join up after Singapore. The first day at sea after Singapore, we were flooded with enthusiastic new people who wanted to join up. All the borrowed soprano ukuleles were returned, and the new people were issued with ukuleles before the older hands could get their ukuleles back. Of course, Ian was pleased to hang onto his own tenor ukulele. In the end, I don’t think anyone missed out. We were given new music to learn, and Eric said that we would do a second concert on the day before we arrived at Hong Kong. However, this time we would only have half the number of sea days to prepare, which apparently worried a lot of people.
Numbers at ukulele classes, which again were only held on sea days, quickly dropped off, but Katie and Ian managed to hold onto a core of people, including John from Bowen. At the final concert, a smaller ukulele group played You Are my Sunshine again, as well as Hey Jude and Stand by Me. Again, we came across well. Much relieved, several of us enjoyed a celebratory drink afterwards.
Some of the ukulele group after the second concert. Eric is 4th from the right in the back.
John, Karen and Ian enjoying a celebratory drink
On the evening after our day trip to Ho Chi Minh City, we helped John and Joy from Bowen celebrate John’s 72nd birthday. The crew came out with a small chocolate cake with one candle, and surrounding diners joined in with a chorus of Happy Birthday. We got to know John and Joy a bit better at the dinner. John is a retired dragline operator at a coal mine. They have a caravan, and enjoy travelling around Australia. They also like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and we had two bottles of Nobilo 2017 with dinner. We agreed to try and catch up as we travel around Australia during the rest of the year.
Our third and last formal night (on the second last sea day) saw Katie wear her Indian silk dress from Philomena. She looked stunning. The dining room had lobster tail on the menu for the special occasion, and we enjoyed a production show after dinner. Top night, although we did not see anyone we knew.
We returned to the ship relatively early after our shore excursion in Kaohsiung, in time for afternoon tea. We enjoyed afternoon tea several times last year on the Sun Princess cruise, so we wanted to attend at least once on this cruise. We had a table to ourselves, as usual for afternoon tea, and sampled the savoury and sweet delicacies over a pot of tea. Lovely!
We were invited to join Peter and Krystyna and David and Trish for dinner at the Crown Grill and Bar to celebrate Peter and Krystyna’s 39th wedding anniversary. This was on the evening after the day in Kaohsiung, and therefore after a big Taiwanese curry lunch and afternoon tea. It was a tough job, but we felt up to the gastronomic challenge. The steaks were great, and a rendition of Happy Anniversary (very similar to Happy Birthday) was sung by staff and surrounding diners.
One of the dessert items that we all went for was a dessert sampler—what a great idea after a big meal!
That night, it was a bit cooler outside, and Ian enjoyed sitting on our balcony with a Boddington Pub Ale while watching the cargo ships pass. We were in a very busy shipping channel.
On the last evening of the cruise we had dinner with John and Joy, although Joy was not feeling well. We finished off another bottle of Nobilo Sav Blanc. After dinner, John joined us for a show put on by some of the non-entertainment crew. John shouted Ian a Scotch, the only one on this cruise for Ian, and it went down very nicely. The crew show was well done, and included Eric Ripper on his guitar singing The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.
We had a final cocktail of the cruise, and retired after a huge day. We kept the balcony door open to hear the water against the ship as we sailed on to Hong Kong.
The ship entered Hong Kong Harbour very early, and we did not wake until we were almost at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. We crawled out of bed to get our first glimpse of the Hong Kong skyline, a bit tired after our last day on board. We had mixed emotions. We had thoroughly enjoyed our cruise, and we were sorry that it was over. However, Katie was eagerly looking forward to catching up with more of her family in Hong Kong. The next leg of our big trip had begun.
Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan, next to Taipei, which is about 300 km to the north and joined by a very fast train line. Like Singapore, it handles a lot of shipping. However, we understand that when the Majestic Princess visited on this cruise, it was the largest ship handled by the port to date. The harbour has a very narrow entrance, but we squeezed through OK. Taiwan is rarely on the must see list of travellers, and we also understand that this is the first time that Princess Cruises visited this city—it usually stops at Taipei.
Princess was very late in promoting tours from Kaohsiung, and had nothing available when we first looked. After attending an information session on the setting, we decided that $20 per head shuttle bus tickets to the centre of town was the best deal. Again, disembarking was easy, and we were welcomed to Kaohsiung by jolly dragons and drummers.
The shuttle buses had two stops—firstly Central Park and then San Duo shopping area. We rode the shuttle to the second stop, but at 9:30 am, it was very quiet. The major shops do not open until 11:00 am. We wandered around a bit aimlessly at first through some back streets.
We walked up the main road back to Central Park. There was lots of traffic, especially scooters, but very little evidence of economic activity. However, when the doors opened onto a building that we were walking past, we saw into a room of poker machines with quite a lot of people playing them. We thought it funny that you could not buy a bottle of milk at 10:00 am, but that the pokies were doing a roaring trade at that time.
Another interesting thing we noticed was that the traffic lights indicated how many seconds you had to cross the road. What an obvious improvement to pedestrian traffic—why don’t we have this at home?
We walked around Central Park, and found interestingly sculptured trees, and a group of senior citizens enjoying a dancing session. There were also squirrels, which are probably regarded as normal in Taiwan, but like useful pedestrian traffic lights, we don’t have them in Australia.
Having exhausted the range of attractions of Central Park, we walked down to the Love River, which flows through Kaohsiung. On the way we tried Gong Cha, which was promoted on the Majestic Princess. This was new to us, and we understand that it is a typically Taiwanese idea. It is a variety of teas, including a bubble tea with tapioca pearls. We tried a cold tea without sugar—interesting and drinkable, and quite refreshing on what was becoming a warm morning. We also tried some sweet tofu milk, with which we were familiar from Asian supermarkets in Australia. This was wonderful!
We were told that there were cafes along the Love River, like along the Seine in Paris. It was certainly pleasant to walk both sides of the river between two bridges. It was clean, with gardens and a clear love theme, but the cafes had not yet opened.
At the second bridge, we sat down to compose ourselves—it was now hot, there had been very little shade, and so we decided to walk back to the ship. However, the map showed that it was shorter to walk back to Central Park and then catch the shuttle. Back to Central Park we went, and we came across a Catholic cathedral. Katie went inside and said a prayer (that Central Park was not far away)!
We had a chance to sit on a grassy knoll in the shade while waiting for the shuttle at Central Park. When it came, we felt much refreshed, and decided to alight at San Duo and find a place for lunch in the large shopping mall there.
On our entry to the food court, we were welcomed by staff of the first restaurant we came to. However, we decided to check it all out, so went for a walk to get a comprehensive look at what was on offer. The food court was characterised by very little writing, but we could tell that some places were clearly offering Japanese cuisine. We settled on the first place we encountered. A couple in the neighbouring table had some interesting food, and they identified it for us on a pictorial menu. We ordered the same, and was surprised by two varieties of tasty, but not too spicy, chicken curry. Ian was also successful in buying a Taiwan beer from a local takeaway shop.
When we had finished our lunch, another couple from the cruise came up to the restaurant and asked us what the food was like. We raved about it, and said it was curry, but tasty and very mild. However, they were looking for something very spicy, so they kept on looking.
We caught the shuttle from San Duo back to the Majestic Princess, and arrived back in time for afternoon tea.
That evening, we had dinner at the Crown Grill and Bar to celebrate Peter and Krystyna’s 39th wedding anniversary. More on that later.
Our day in Kaohsiung was an experiment to see how we would go on our own, exploring a potentially strange new place without a detailed plan, and taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. It was a complete success! We saw the heart of Kaohsiung’s central business district and the Love River, and experienced some tasty food.
Ian did his morning walk just after sunrise as the Majestic Princess docked at a container wharf at Phu My. Our good friend, Felicia, comes from Ho Chi Minh City, and we hosted her, her husband Nick, and her parents on the night before we left on the cruise. We were eagerly looking forward to experiencing this interesting place, including trying some of its distinctive cuisine.
We had booked the “Do Ho Chi Minh City On Your Own” tour, which involved a 90 minute coach ride into the city, and the return trip in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Peter and Krystyna had arranged a guide to take them around the main attractions in the city, and they invited us to join them and shared the cost.
Arrangements for leaving the ship and getting onto our coach were not as smooth as we had experienced on the Sun Princess. We had tickets that required us to meet at the Princess Theatre at 8:25 am, with instructions not to get there early. However, when we got there only a couple of minutes early, we were directed to the end of a long queue that delayed us for 10 minutes. We then had to wait in the theatre until 9:00 am, so we did not get away until over two hours after docking.
Our city guide, Tin Tin, was also on one of the coaches. However, we were not able to get on the same coach. The trip from Phu My to Ho Chi Minh City involved several tollgates, but the traffic was not too bad. We passed lots of small businesses, including cafes, that were on the main road. We also passed dry rice fields and wet rice paddies. Presumably the wet paddies are being affected by saltwater, which prevents rice from growing. Some of them are presumably now being used for aquaculture. We were told that where we see water palms, it is too salty for rice.
We ended up being dropped off outside the Grand Hotel in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, which is still commonly called Saigon. After using the hotel’s rest rooms, we were met by Tin Tin, who had been dropped off at the Rex Hotel nearby.
We viewed Times Square Saigon, a 6-star hotel across the road with lovely polished blueschist facies metamorphic rocks in the foyer, and then walked up to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. We learned to walk slowly, but confidently across the roads. Somehow, the taxis, motor scooters and bicycles allow for pedestrians who follow this approach, and we did not see any accidents. Unfortunately for Katie, the cathedral was closed for renovation. Peter and Krystyna bought T-shirts and purses from street vendors, and they seemed to enjoy the bargaining process (which Ian detests).
The Vinasun taxis were reliable and clean, but Peter and Ian had to shoehorn their way into the third row of seats, which were designed for children. Scooters were everywhere.
We all got into a taxi and drove to the War Remnant Museum. This museum was amazing and told the stories of the struggles with the French occupation of Vietnam, and the 17-year war with the USA. The latter war was portrayed by the Australian Government at the time as an honourable attempt to keep the communist regime in the north from taking over the southern part of the country. It appears, however, that the regime in the south was far from a competent and benevolent government, despite being anti-communist and backed by the USA and its allies. Of course, history knows that the USA lost, despite the widespread use of dioxin on the local people, or agent orange, and the communists took over the whole country. Vietnam has done relatively well since then, especially since President Clinton removed sanctions imposed by the USA. We were fortunate to have Tin Tin introduce us to one of her friends who is a third-generation victim of agent orange. Presumably, many US servicemen were also affected by this poison. It appears that the last Vietnam war was a disastrous mistake made be the Americans, and Australia perpetuated the mistake. History repeated itself several decades later when the USA, aided again by Australia, invaded Iraq on the pretence of the need to destroy weapons of mass destruction.
We could have easily spent the best part of the day in the war museum, but we had specifically asked Tin Tin for an opportunity to eat some local food. We took a taxi to the Quan Bui restaurant, which is very close to Tin Tin’s university. Tin Tin ordered soup, pork, chicken, vegie dishes and salad. A passionfruit with warm custard was an interesting dessert. Peter and Ian enjoyed a couple of Saigon beers.
After lunch, we took another taxi to the Bitexco Financial Tower, which is distinguished by a helicopter pad and is one of the world’s iconic buildings. There is a 360-degree observation deck around the 49th floor called Skydeck. Peter and Ian were the only ones interested in venturing upwards, and we had a good view of most of Ho Chi Minh City, especially of the Saigon River.
Tin Tin left us while Peter and Ian were on the Skydeck, as she had to get back to her rendezvous with her coach. We walked back to the Grand Hotel, and Ian and Peter managed to have another Saigon beer before our coach arrived. The drive back to our ship at Phu My was smooth, and we arrived back on deck right at 5:30 pm, which was the time for all passengers to be back on board.
We were exhausted but elated after a fabulous experience in Ho Chi Minh City. We finished the day with a birthday dinner with new friends John and Joy from Bowen in Queensland. John was 72 today.
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, was incredibly fascinating, but we only tasted a tiny sample of Vietnam. We want to understand more of the history of turmoil in this country. It would also be good to see more of the countryside away from the urban pollution. John and Joy, and others that we met on the ship, went on an enjoyable tour of the Mekong Delta where a huge range of tropical fruit is grown, as well as the ubiquitous rice. As Vietnam has a long coast, fishing is also a major industry here. Hopefully we can come back and see some other aspects of Vietnamese culture, maybe with our friend, Felicia.
Katie was so excited the night before that she couldn’t sleep. It has been a long time since Katie saw her sister, Lucy, and we have not been to Singapore since 1994.
The cruise ship docked at Marina Bay Cruise Terminal. Unsurprisingly, we passed many ships on the way to port as Singapore is one of the largest container ports in the world. We appreciated the smooth immigration process that Princess Cruise had facilitated, and we were able to disembark the ship with no delay.
Lucy and her partner, Eric, met us at the cruise terminal, where they had parked their car. We had a short drive around, and our first impression was that Singapore is an exceptionally clean and modern city. We did not recognise the place as it had changed so much in 25 years. There are several major new attractions, and Lucy had arranged for us to experience two of them–Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay.
We had a quick breakfast of coffee and milk tea with sandwiches and toast at one of the food malls at the Marina Bay Sands. Milk tea is tea infused with condensed milk – very sweet and typically Singaporean.
Next, we visited the Sands SkyPark, which is the observation deck on the “ship” that sits on top of the three Marina Bay Sands towers. The “ship” is mostly a hotel. It has an infinity pool, but access is only given to guests. The observation deck is at one end of the “ship”. From it, visitors can get about a 270 degrees view of Singapore. It was very popular when we went up there on a clear Sunday morning. Lucy had also arranged for us to have a souvenir professional photo of our group, and we will treasure this.
Eric drove us to China Town, where we enjoyed lunch at the Peach Garden Chinese Restaurant. We had dim sum, flat rice noodles with mushrooms, yummy soup with scallops, and interesting sticky rice desserts served in young coconuts. Ian and Eric enjoyed their Tiger beers.
Our next stop was the Gardens by the Bay on 101 hectares of reclaimed land and opened in 2012. Lucy bought tickets for the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome. These are huge, air-conditioned structures that house plants ranging from cool, temperate climates to tropical rain forests, including Australian plants and olive trees. It is difficult to explain these in words, so we took lots of photos. They have cost billions of dollars, and there is some controversy about whether it is money well spent. An interesting feature of the Flower Dome is the numerous sculptures made from pieces of wood.
To finish off we enjoyed a cool drink and snacks at McDonalds. Lucy and Eric had given us a very full and thoroughly enjoyable tour of some of the best of Singapore in the short time we were ashore. Eric drove the short distance back to the cruise terminal where we said our “goodbyes”. We thanked Lucy and Eric for their time and the generous gift of the Marina Sands SkyWalk photo. We insisted to them that they visit us in the Hunter Valley next year.
We were so tired after our hectic but very enjoyable tour of Singapore and catch-up with Lucy and Eric, that once on board, Katie immediately hit the sack and missed dinner, and Ian had to refresh himself with a Bodington so he could enjoy the Singapore sailaway sunset.
The days at sea are becoming very routine. Breakfast, lunch, ukulele class and dinner provide the main framework around which we fit in our other activities.
The gym is well equipped, and heavily used. Late afternoon seems to be the best time to work out when there are fewer people there.
On this leg we dined at La Mer French restaurant. The service and the food were top stuff, and our table was located with a view of the sunset and electrical activity in the clouds.
We started with cocktails, bread, and welcome dishes of polenta chips and olives stuffed with goat cheese. For entrée, we had a lobster bisque with a pastry top, and tortellini stuffed with wild mushrooms and snails in a green sauce. The lobster bisque was wonderful. For mains, we had duck breast in a tasty gravy, and jumbo scallops with more of the green sauce. Both were excellent. Dessert was a beautifully presented chocolate tart and a very light mousse, and again, these were delicious. Ian wanted to taste the French beer, but this was no longer available. Instead, we had a bottle of Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2016, which was full of flavour that went well with the rich food.
After our French meal, we had an early night and in bed enjoyed the latest doggie movie—A Dog’s Way Home. This is based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron, who also wrote A Dog’s Purpose, which we read last year, and which was also the basis of a movie.
On the day on which we were to cross the equator from the southern into the northern hemisphere, the ship had a Crossing of the Equator ceremony. This involved the ship’s First Officer, the Cruise Director, Neptune (King of the Sea) and his wife, Queen Double-D. Several dozen pollywogs who had not yet crossed the equator were put on trial for various trumped up charges. Of course, they were all found guilty, and sentenced to be covered in spaghetti and several differently coloured sauces. This all took place in the raised area between the two pools. As was to be expected, some food ended up in the pools, that were then closed for a day to enable cleaning. After the food splattering, the pollywogs were deemed to be shellbacks. The First Officer and the Cruise Director were both thrown in the pools, and the King and Queen escaped relatively unscathed by the experience.
We actually crossed the equator at sunset, about 8:00 pm. And a spectacular sunset it was.
We spent much of this leg practising the ukulele, either in our cabin, in a corner of a bar, or at Eric’s ukulele classes. This was becoming a Ukulele Cruise. Eric announced that we would be giving a concert on the day before we arrive in Singapore, and this spurred us on to even greater devotion. On the afternoon of the concert, there was much nervous tension. We performed in the Piazza, in the centre of the ship. The audience was spread on three levels. We had to stand, and thankfully had some music stands to put our music on. Over the Rainbow was a big hit with the crowd, and we followed up with Yellow Submarine, Brown Eyed Girl and Down on the Corner. For an encore we played Can’t Help Falling in Love. I think we did really well, considering that many people had not played a ukulele before. We did it, and felt both proud of our achievements and greatly relieved. The whole concert was recorded on the Reflections DVD produced on the cruise.