By Carla Sue Broecker
As we sailed out of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on the Seven Seas Voyager in the late afternoon, our captain gently warned us of an impending weather situation. Once we were beyond the protection of the island, the winds were going to pick up and there were going to be some formidable swells just in time for dinner and lasting most of the night. As a precaution, he told us to walk carefully and hold handrails.
He was right. Thank goodness we don’t get seasick, but that’s not the case for everyone on this cruise. One passenger said that you can tell the drunks on a rolling ship since “they don’t stagger.”
Speaking of our wonderful captain, his name is Felice Patruno and he was born in the Bari Province of Southern Italy. The only son of three children, he grew up among the vineyards tended by his father. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of an uncle who was a baker until he saw a poster with a sailor wearing a white uniform. That changed his mind, and the rest is history. His family wasn’t happy about his career choice, but now they are very proud of him.
After 10 years of experience in cargo shipping, he became interested in the passenger cruise industry. He has served on 23 Carnival ships and overseen construction of three more Carnival ships. He also has written three books on shipboard safety. Wanting to become a part of the luxury cruise ship market, he joined Regent in 2009 as a staff captain and subsequently became the master of the Seven Seas Mariner. The Mariner is very similar to the Voyager, which he commands today.
We have had dinner with him a number of times, mostly at his invitation. Just the other night, he showed up to dinner and asked to be seated at our table with six other guests. What a treat! He is a genial host and great company.
Now, back to our journey to Hong Kong. During the night, the waves were incredibly rough, but by the next morning, the sea had calmed down a lot. Unfortunately, due to the winds and the rolling sea, we were three hours late in arriving to Hong Kong. We sailed into the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which opened in 2013 on the site of the old Hong Kong airport runway. It is across the bay from Hong Kong, and it is huge! It is also a 20-minute shuttle bus ride into the city. The shuttle drop-off point isn’t as convenient as one would wish, but you play the hand you are dealt.
By the time the ship was cleared by the local authorities and we were free to go ashore, it was time for us to go on our nighttime, open-top bus city tour. We had never done this before, and the weather was just right. An earphone system was part of the tour, and all of the sites were described as we went by. The bus moved at a pretty fast pace, so not all of the pictures turned out as clearly as desired, but it was fun.
A part of this excursion also included a long stroll through the “night market” in the center of the city. It is a souvenir shopper’s paradise. A long, four-block stretch of a street is closed to traffic, and booths are set up to sell treasures and junk of all sorts. The booths resembled a church picnic on wheels.
The next morning, we embarked on a hotly-anticipated mission. It was a trip back to the Jade Market, a place where our friend Mae has a booth. The shuttle bus dropped us off across from the Shangri La hotel. We hailed a cab and 37 Hong Kong dollars ($4.50 U.S.) later, we were on Mae’s doorstep at the Jade Market, which is actually sort of a permanent tent under an overpass and it offers a lot more than jade. The tiny booths also offer tagua nuts, which are called vegetable ivory and are about the size of large walnuts. They grow in Africa and South America. Clever artisans carve them into tiny animals and other figures, and they are great to collect and to take to friends as souvenirs.
Well, it was Sunday morning and we were disappointed to find that our friend Mae must have gone to church since her booth was closed. We had taken some strings of pearls that were purchased at Komodo Island to have one of her friends restring them, but that will have to wait.
We had also taken a bottle of champagne from the ship to give to her as a gift since we know she likes it. We slipped it under the canvas cover of her booth and could only hope it would be there when she returned the next day. We satisfied our need for retail therapy at another booth that was open, and it even had some extra special tagua nut carvings. Then it was back across the bay to our floating home.
We sailed the South China Sea to our next port-of-call, Ha Long Bay, the port for Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a busy but shallow port, so we docked at sea and tendered in for tours. We spent two days there. Many people focused on the monoliths poking up from the sea, taking tours on the native fishing boats. We have seen these mammoth limestone monsters on previous visits and thought a simple shuttle bus ride into Ha Long town might prove interesting.
On the way, we passed by the Sun Wheel Ferris Wheel that overlooks the bay and is beautifully lit at night. Our shuttle bus stop was at a department store that offers many modern items that we already have at home. However, the whole area surrounding the modernity features a traditional Vietnamese market that we love. It has lots of little booths with fish, meats and vegetables and lots of locals milling about. There are also fast food booths that cook to order some amazing Vietnamese foods that I can’t even begin to describe. Everywhere, vendors and customers were carrying trays with delightful smelling foods.
Back at the ship, we had an early dinner and went to see the old Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam” in the theater.
The next day, we docked at Da Nang, Vietnam just after breakfast. This port city presented interesting shore excursion choices. Da Nang includes a typical downtown area, the famous China Beach and Marble Mountain filled with grottoes, caves and pagodas. Then, there was Hue 90 minutes from the pier.
We chose a visit to Hoi An, which dates back to the 15th century as an important trading port located on the Thu Bon River. The Hoi An Central Village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has no auto traffic, just lots of motorbikes flying around. Admission to attractions in the Central Village is purchased via a coupon system and includes an ancient house, a Japanese covered bridge and a temple.
Under a hot, clear and sunny sky, our guide led us around by foot to all the major highlights. We were free for 90 minutes to wander on our own and collect souvenirs that we had not seen other places.
Then, we were back on the coach and off for a short ride to a fantastic buffet lunch. Most of the food was typical Vietnamese cooking, and the spicy noodle soup was the biggest hit.
Next was a photo stop at China Beach at the end of the day – a real treat before cocktails and a sail away towards Nha Trang, Vietnam. VT