A Very Eventful Week

Carla Sue bottle feeding a tiger at Tiger Park in Thailand.

By Carla Sue Broecker

We are currently on Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager, a medium size cruise ship that holds approximately 750 and has a crew of more than 450. It is a ship we have been on a number of times and one that we enjoy very much.

In previous years we have taken Regent’s World Cruise which starts in a U.S. port, usually Miami, Los Angeles or San Francisco. The cruise lasts approximately 130 days and returns to one of the aforementioned U.S. ports. Because the 2018 World Cruise on the Regent Navigator was not going to spend much time in Asia and we wanted to go back to that part of the world, we chose a trip of about the same length but composed of four separate segments on the Voyager. This meant that in some cases we would wind up being in the same ports several times before disembarking.

Instead of boarding in the U S., we flew to Beijing, China. We stayed there for three days and then boarded the Voyager in Tianjin, China, the port for Beijing, which is about three hours inland by coach.

All of this is by way of explanation that previously on this cruise we were in Laem Chabang, Thailand where we needed to dock because our ship, while of medium size, is too large to sail into downtown Bangkok and dock there. Now we are back in Laem Chabang because this segment of the cruise has picked up new passengers and repeats some of the previous stops. We don’t care; we love them all.

Anyhow, since we now find ourselves back in Laem Chabang we decided to go to the nearby city of Pattaya and visit that city’s Tiger Park. We had hoped to go back to the Siracha Tiger Zoo, which I mentioned last week, but it was further from the ship and the 20-minute cab ride didn’t seem so bad.

Warning – anyone who is unhappy with zoos and wild animals being kept in enclosures might want to skip the next paragraph or two.

Tiger Park says in its literature and on its website that it is not a tiger farm. They do not raise the tigers to sell or exchange for other wildlife animals and that they want the tigers that are under auspices to live in a natural environment.

Visitors pay an entrance fee to be able to walk around the entire park and see all of the tigers from full-grown adults to months-old babies. They have a nice restaurant where you can also watch the tigers at play and a terrific tiger-stuff-only gift shop. For an additional and reasonable fee, you can go into various caged areas with a trainer to visit large, medium, small and/or baby tigers. We took the babies. That said, don’t think of your household kitty cat. The five-month-old babies we got to play with and feed were probably 35 pounds.

We were told to keep our hands behind the baby’s head. Rub or pat the neck and back. Even as relatively newborns, they do have teeth that could do some serious damage, even if they are only playing.

We enjoyed the tiger kittens for about 15 or 20 minutes, which included giving them bottles of warm milk. We left their area and walked around more to see the full-grown beauties in their outside play areas and then it was time to go home to the ship.

We had plans for dinner that evening with two members of the production cast that put on fairly elaborate musical shows several times a week. When we first boarded the ship we were pleased to meet Kyle Braun, a Southern Indiana native and graduate of New Albany High School, who is in the cast. He and another cast member, Milly Boyce, who is from Alaska but now living in New York, joined us for drinks and dinner in the Compass Rose Dining Room.

Previously Kyle had worked at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and also at Derby Dinner Playhouse, so we had plenty to talk about. He is not sure how long he is going to stick with shipboard entertainment, but he is enjoying it for the moment. Milly has several scientific degrees that she can fall back on when she tires of travelling. But for the moment she and Kyle both see their jobs as an exciting way to see the world. The ship treats its crew very well when it comes their meals. But they seemed to enjoy the break and the different menu in the ship’s main dining room, which husband Brad and I lovingly call “The Lunch Room.”

We sailed for Sihanoukville in Cambodia. Cambodia has had a checkered reputation for years, so this port promises interesting sights and traditions. Cambodia’s government has had a cloudy reputation for years, but there was no need for concern. We arrived at 9 a.m., docked and having had breakfast an hour earlier, left on a six-hour shore excursion by coach. The first stop was a Puthuong village where we visited an elementary school. Interestingly, even though by most standards it was a fairly primitive facility, it was quite well-organized and teeming with charming and delightful youngsters in school uniforms.

From the school we moved on to a village where we visited several homes. We were well-received by the occupants who were only too happy to share their homes with us.

The next stop was at a Buddhist Temple. Architecturally it was attractive, but I must admit we have seen so many temples they are beginning to all run together. It was nice to move on to a local beach-side resort for a buffet lunch, which was delicious. It included a Cambodia noodle dish that was really spicy and tasty. It was accompanied by a cold Tiger Beer that wasn’t so bad either. Many in our tour had brought swim suits and walked the beach. We had met some new friends and sat and talked. Discovering new friends is one of the best pleasures of long trips like this.

For after dinner entertainment that night, the ship brought on board a troop from a local cultural group. The costumes were pretty and we enjoyed the show even though we didn’t understand the story. Did I mention that the ship serves, among other things, pretty good gin and tonics during the shows?

The next day we were back in Saigon for the second time. We did a panoramic tour of the city and got off the bus downtown to do some shopping and visit the Rex Hotel. Years ago we were at the Rex and went up to the rooftop bar and restaurant for a drink and lunch. This hotel is a landmark and was where the press spent a great deal of time during the Vietnam War. It is right in the heart of the city, and the view of its surroundings is spectacular.

They serve lunch on lovely blue and white china, similar to what is exported to Europe except that is marked with the hotel’s name. On our first visit I felt the need to “own” a salt shaker from the china set. Since my husband reminded me we were in a communist country and had no bail money, I relented. Luckily, on the first floor of the hotel I found a complete assortment of all of the hotel’s china for sale. Definitely a smart capitalistic idea. A good selection of it came home with us.

While downtown we checked on the shipment of some lacquer ware be had bought several weeks ago, had a perfectly marvelous manicure and returned to the ship for another poolside barbeque. We opted out of going topside in favor of having dinner with our friend, Ray Solaire, who is the cruise director. He is very British, and lives in a 22-bedroom home in England’s Lake District that he and his brother inherited and now operate as a B&B. He is a longtime music hall performer and has 10 trunks of puppets that he made himself, which he uses in his act when he isn’t cruise directing.

After dinner we sailed off to Nha Trang, and we’re still in Vietnam. VT

Show performers New Albany High School graduate Kyle Braun and Milly Boyce from Alaska and New York with Carla Sue in the Seven Seas Voyager Atrium.

A local villager’s home in Cambodia.

Cambodian classroom near Sihanoukville. Teacher in white shirt, tour guide in pink shirt.

Local Vietnamese cultural group performed for guests on the stage.

Fountains in the central square of downtown Saigon.

The rooftop bandstand of the Rex Hotel in Saigon, Vietnam.