By Carla Sue Broecker
Aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager, it took 18 hours to sail from Ho Chi Minh City to the Vietnamese city of Nha Trang. While still in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon we learned an interesting fact: We had presumed that the old city name, Saigon, had been abandoned as old fashioned. Not so. The locals are just as apt to use either name, and Saigon, which has fewer syllables, seems to win out a great deal of the time as it’s easier to say.
We arrived mid-morning in Nha Trang on a day that was somewhat dreary and overcast. Because of its coastal location, Nha Trang is popular with Vietnamese tourists. It has a number of resorts, amusement and water parks. While the Vinpearl Cable Car, a gondola lift system that links the mainland to a resort and theme park on an adjoining island, looked to be a tempting diversion, we chose a five-hour exploration of the area called “Nha Trang Ancient Civilizations” in a coach offered by the ship to keep us busy.
It started off with a drive to the Buddhist Long Son Pagoda. The pagoda has had a busy past. Established in 1889, it was destroyed and rebuilt in 1900. In 1935, after the passing of the patriarch of the family, the pagoda was donated to the An Nam Buddhist Association. It has had two subsequent renovations, one in 1940 and the last one in 1970. Its most impressive feature is an enormous white marble sitting Buddha that is in beautiful condition (Many of us felt it might be an ancestor of Mr. Clean). I don’t know who keeps the birds from soiling it, but they do a good job.
The next stop was a walk across the Ha Ra Bridge to get a glorious view of the Nha Trang Harbor. Our walking route took us down some steps, under the approach to a bridge and then on a pathway that led to the Po Nagar Cham Towers. On the way we passed a group of local people selling all sorts of interesting fruit. I wasn’t brave enough to try any.
The Po Nagar Cham Towers, a Buddhist temple, is absolutely beautiful and very old. Construction took place between the seventh and 12th centuries. According to our guide, the construction technique was nothing short of amazing. While made of brick, there was no visible mortar between the bricks as has been the practice in more modern times. It was quite a steep climb to get to the top of the facility, but well worth the effort.
Our final stop that day was the Dam Local Market. That is what it is called! Appreciation of this style of market is sort of an acquired taste. There is a large round building surrounded by outdoor stalls with everything from beautiful fresh flowers and vegetables of every description to very smelly dried fish piled up in heaps, which were actively purchased by the locals. Inside the building it was souvenir heaven with pearls, watches, lacquer panels and objects, thousands of t-shirts and silk dresses and who knows what else. It is the sort of place I love, except for the dried fish.
Then it was back to the ship for a nap. That evening we were entertained on stage before dinner by Ray Solaire. As previously mentioned, he is English and has been in the entertainment business for years.
Ray has entertained audiences on ocean liners since the 1970s, starting first on the QEII. He is slender, gray-haired, charming and extremely entertaining….both on- and off-stage. We were fortunate to have had dinner with Ray where he regaled us with stories, including a time when he spent eight hours in a lifeboat when it was necessary to abandon a ship he was on in the Caribbean!
Next stop was Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia but first, a short geography lesson.
In the grand scheme, we were headed to Borneo, which is the third-largest island in the world. On Borneo there are three countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Our first stop was in the northern Sabah section of Malaysia where Kota Kinabalu is located. Next stop was Muara, Brunei, a tiny and very rich country (think Sultan of Brunei) located between northern Malaysia and southern Malaysia, the site of our third stop Kuching, Malaysia. Got it? Get a map; it will make more sense.
From the ship we took off by coach to see “Kota Kinabalu City.” It was a tour loaded with contrasts. Our first photo stop was the Tun Mustapha Building, a very impressive 1977 Japanese-built aluminum and glass tower. It is easy to understand why it quickly became a landmark.
The next stop was at the Sabah State Mosque, and it was no less impressive in a different way. Surrounded by water with gold-decorated towers, it was completed in 1975 and holds 5,000 people.
We then went on to the Sabah Museum and Heritage Village, which is a 1985 reconstruction of the traditional housing that various indigenous groups had in the area. It is a really good preservation effort.
The next stop was at the local handicraft market for a little “retail therapy.” Bargaining expected. On the ship we use the shower for bathing and the bathtub for souvenirs. So far, the tub is not filling up very quickly. But I am up to the challenge, and we have more than 100 days to go.
That evening’s entertainment was “Broadway in Concert” and featured the singers minus the dancers from the ship’s production company. The show selection was quite good, and the performances were very nice.
Brunei is by far the smallest country in Borneo, but it is also the richest. We docked in Muara, and after we were cleared to go ashore we boarded our coach to drive to the jetty. From there we would board a local boat to cruise the surrounding waterways lined with mangroves and hopefully see some wild proboscis monkeys. I’ve seen them before, and they look a whole lot like Jimmy Durante.
On the way we made a brief photo stop to see the entrance to the palace of the Sultan of Brunei. It was very impressive. While we were there the gates swung open and a black Mercedes came through to leave the property. For a second we were sure it was the Sultan in the back seat. Our guide for the tour spent a lot of time telling us about how well loved he is. We were also told that all of the streets in the city are closed to any traffic on Sunday morning so that the Sultan and the Crown Prince, who is 38, can go cycling without interference. The Crown Prince is the heir apparent to the throne, and the first son of the first wife. There have been a couple of other wives.
Our coach then took us to the jetty to go on our river cruise among the mangroves. It was pleasant, but we saw no monkeys. We did go visit a home in the Water Village, which turned out to be what looked like primitive homes on stilts over the water. We were served tea and some delicious goodies including warm, meat-filled pastries similar to samosas, sweet roasted bananas and another sweet, green and gooey something that cannot be described.
We returned to the ship mid-afternoon in time to enjoy musical entertainment in the ship’s theater called Krew Kapers. This is a show that is put on and produced by members of the crew. The ship’s captain uses this event as a cocktail party to thank all of the guests for their patronage and to express thanks for the hardworking crew.
By coincidence, this was the same evening we were invited to have dinner with the captain and his social hostess. Another couple filled out the table for six, and we had such a good time talking with this young, handsome, Swedish-born captain and each other, that we practically closed the dining room. Captain Daniel Green, whom we have known for some time, is also travelling with his gorgeous, statuesque wife and their 13-month-old son, who wears his sailor suit to all formal occasions.
Later in evening we sailed off for Kuching, Malaysia. We’ll save that for next week. VT