By Carla Sue Broecker
After a great day in Muara, Brunei on the island of Borneo, our Regent Seven Seas Explorer sailed overnight to the next stop – Kuching, Malaysia. At most stops we have a choice of a number of shore excursions. They vary in length, usually starting with three hours and at times go to a whole day. In Kuching, there were four to choose from that included a sort of standard “Highlights” tour; one with a museum, fort and garden; and the one we chose – Sarawak River Cruise with dinner.
From its description, we figured we would see more of Kuching onboard a riverboat since it sails right through the center of town. Husband Brad always likes the excursions that include a meal of some sort because he is the adventurous eater in the family. I don’t mind as long as there are more choices than fish to eat.
We boarded our cruise bus with about 28 fellow passengers and headed toward the Sarawak River waterfront. Upon arrival we took a walking tour of the waterfront passing by the main bazaar. A thorough examination of all the souvenirs in the bazaar yielded not one purchase. I consider this something of a minor sin.
We boarded a local, vintage restaurant/riverboat made of teakwood. It had two decks, and the tables were beside large windows – great for viewing and picture taking. One of the most spectacular sites was the State Assembly Building on the bank of the Sarawak River. We sailed under a brand new futuristic-styled pedestrian bridge. It had a curious spaceship-looking viewing pod for pedestrians at the midpoint.
Dinner was served shortly after boarding and included roast chicken with a superb sauce, fried fish with dill sauce (their version of tartare sauce), a lamb curry, garlic green beans and noodles. There were other items, too, and they included the standard fresh pineapple and watermelon for dessert.
As the sun went down, the skyline of the city was shown off to the best advantage. We returned to the ship for a nightcap and prepared for the next day at sea on our way to Singapore, where we had been several weeks before. It will be the end of a segment of the cruise, and many passengers will be leaving but many more will be coming on. It will be time to say goodbye to some new-found friends and to also start making new ones.
For those of us who are continuing on, the ship scheduled several shore excursions to keep us busy while several hundred passengers departed and several hundred more arrived. Luggage for those departing is placed outside the cabin door the evening before. It disappears during the night into the bowels of the ship, only to be offloaded upon arrival in port. Then an equal amount of luggage is loaded on for the new passengers. It is a pretty daunting task for those members of the crew that need to do their regular jobs and handle the luggage coming and going. We call it the “Ballet of the Bags.”
When we arrived in Singapore it was an overcast and dreary day, but that didn’t dampen our excitement. We signed up for an excursion titled, “Cruise on the Singapore River.” It promised to show us lots of highlights that we had not seen on previous visits.
Our coach headed to Clarke Quay, and on the way stopped at a very lovely temple smack dab in the middle of town among office buildings, restaurants and souvenir shops. It was very clean and well-maintained, and had the traditional heavy odor of incense. Many of the faithful were there to pray on their way to work nearby.
The Singapore River runs through the middle of the city, and our cruise lasted about 45 minutes. It meandered along, showing us modern hotels and office skyscrapers of the latest architecture. Many of them serve as a backdrop to one- and two-story historic “chop houses” that have lined the river for a long time. Much of this part of Singapore includes reclaimed land in a country where prospects for growth are more vertical than horizontal. The tour guide told us that the whole country averages 8,000 people per square kilometer. That’s pretty dense.
The cruise ended up in Marina Bay, the site of the city’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, owned by the Las Vegas Sands Company. A picture works better than words but think of three 57-story towers separate but side by side and joined together at the base. All of this is topped off by what appears to be a “canoe” across the top of all three towers. This forms the top floor and contains Sands Park, a tourist attraction where there are several restaurants and bars and a spectacular infinity pool for guests of the hotel.
Our river cruise took us back to the pier, where we loaded into our coach and headed off to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to see for ourselves, up close, what it had to offer. The coach pulled into an underground entrance and we took an escalator to the ground floor, where we found ourselves in a spacious area that connected the hotel towers. It is sort of a promenade and has shops of all sorts and also functions as the area for guests to check in.
We took an express elevator to the top floor of Sands Park. It is a huge outdoor observatory where visitors can get a 360 degree look all over downtown Singapore. The view included the surrounding bay where hundreds of boats lay at anchor. We also looked down on the “Singapore Flyer” ferris wheel and a futuristic-style park. It is too difficult to describe. Put it on your bucket list.
We returned to the ship in time for the sail away in the evening as the sun went down. What a beautiful site it was. A few hours later we were fast asleep and never knew that shortly after we got out to sea there was a medical emergency on board. A helicopter came to air evacuate a very ill passenger back to a Singapore hospital, but the next day we got a report that the passenger was doing well.
Our next destination was Jakarta, Indonesia, after a day a sea. Sea days can be fun to read, nap, play cards or just “veg.” The ship usually shows an afternoon movie on the big screen in the theater. That day’s movie was “The Shape of Water,” the Oscar-nominated film of the season. It is about a woman who is mute and falls in love with a creature that is part fish and part human. I know most movie fans are swooning over it. I can only say, “Really?”
Jakarta was hot but tolerable. Their “Indonesia Museum” is terrific. There were beautifully preserved masks, bamboo musical instruments, puppets and garb from all over the area. It was most impressive to see the feeling and need for historic preservation in this area. Further proof of this was what they called “Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park,” which turned out to be an area for locals and tourists alike. All of the regions of Indonesia have created replicas of the houses and buildings in their particular area to show the distinctive architecture of their various locales. It reminded us of the World’s Fair of yesteryear.
On the following day it was “raining cats and dogs” when we arrived in Samarang (Java), Indonesia. It rained all day long, putting more than a damper on our sightseeing enthusiasm, so we stayed “home.” It was delightful! We slept late, ate in a leisurely manner, went to the movies, read, visited with new friends and generally had a wonderful “day off.”
The following day at sea was like a day at the spa. We went to a lecture titled “The Sunni, the Shia: Part One – Southeast Asia.” The guest lecturer is quite good. Lunch was a Greek buffet by the pool. Then there was a presentation on future cruises and a big screen movie showing “American Folk.” Before the cocktail hour, there was a ship-wide “block party” where everyone stands outside their door with a wine glass. The cabin attendants serve wine and nibbles and the captain, staff captain and cruise director come around to all of the decks in a mad whirl to say hello. The point is to get the guests to meet each other, and it is a lot of fun. Dinner conversation that night concerned our next arrival which is a two-day stop in Bali. We’re looking forward to it. VT