Great Times in Thailand

New tilted Singapore skyscrapers.

By Carla Sue Broecker

Sailing on the Seven Seas Voyager, we spent a couple of days in Singapore. This was the second time we had visited this city/state/country since we boarded the ship in December. If that isn’t enough, the schedule has us back in Singapore one more time before we head toward Sri Lanka, India, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and home.

Anyhow, heading off toward Thailand, it was good to get away from Singapore. Not the city but the gateway to that country – the ship terminal! Lordy, it is bigger than St. Matthews! It has an indoor mall that is humongous. After passing through the mall, which also happens to be attached to another mall, you walk at least half a mile through elevated halls to get to the “gate” to your ship. Next door, there is a tall office tower with a cable car station that is built into the complex. The cable cars go to Sentosa, an island resort off the coast of the city. One of its major features is a Universal Studios theme park.

Big Buddha at Ko Samui, Thailand temple.

After sail-away drinks on the top deck and a delicious dinner in the Compass Rose main dining room, we headed toward the penny slot machines in the casino. Then, we were off to the ship’s theater to be entertained by a most unusual concert with two-time world champion harmonica duo – Aiden and Evelyn from Malaysia. Sound corny? Well, let me tell you that they were spectacular. This young couple wowed the audience. Part of the time, either Evelyn or Aiden play a baby harmonica that is only one inch long. When they played “The Flight of the Bumble Bee,” the audience went crazy.

The next day was spent relaxing while cruising the gulf of Thailand. We arrived and docked the next morning at Laem Chabang, located a couple of hours from Bangkok. Knowing we were going to be in Bangkok next year, we decided to stick around the Laem Chabang area. We had been there in January for three days, but there is always something else to see or do.

The terminal has an extensive shopping area with lots of souvenirs. The problem is it is sucker priced, and they don’t like to negotiate. Finding absolutely nothing that needed us to take it home, we decided on a massage in the terminal.

In case you weren’t aware, Thailand is the land of massages. They have more places to indulge this guilty pleasure than there are Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFCs combined. In one city block, you can find multiple offerings to have your “feet and legs,” your “neck and back” or all of the above worked on really inexpensively. You would think the Thai people are the most relaxed people in the world.

There is a small spot in the terminal where several enterprising locals have really comfy reclining chairs where they do feet, leg, back and neck massages. Like the 30 minute ones we recently got in Bali for $10, these were 60 minutes for $19! Such a deal.

The after-dinner entertainment that night was a concert by Helen Wilding, an English singer/entertainer. She offered a wonderful program of Broadway, opera and popular songs. She also offered charmingly funny banter about her life, travels and career. She looked gorgeous in a floor-length, sequined, red gown.

The next morning, we anchored in Ko Samui, Thailand, an island that was an isolated and self-sufficient community until the early 1970s. Living without roads, it would take an entire day to trek through mountainous central jungles to get to the other side of the island.

All of that has changed now, and some 55,000 inhabitants have built roads and a successful tourist industry along with exports of coconuts and rubber. They are doing quite well.

We decided on a six-hour shore excursion all around the island in a delightfully air-conditioned eight-passenger van. First, we drove to what was described as a Safari Elephant Camp. With stalks of bananas to feed the elephants on sale at the gate, we walked into a small covered arena with benches on each side. Three elephants that looked quite well-cared for put on a show for us. It mostly consisted of the elephants coming close to the crowd to forage for bananas from the audience members. They also played soccer with audience volunteers, and two ladies and two gentlemen received elephant massages. This is done by lying down on a rug on the ground with another rug covering their backs. The baby elephant then comes over and pats them ever so gently.

Elephant show in Ko Samui, Thailand.

At the camp, we also saw how small monkeys have been trained to climb coconut trees, sense which coconuts are ripe, spin them on their stem until they break and let the coconuts fall to the ground.

In another area, there was a cooking demonstration where a typical Thai “side dish,” green papaya salad, was prepared and samples were served. Our version of the salad was the “three Thai chili” version. Before you knew it, you had a two-alarm fire going off in your mouth.

A local rubber plantation was our next stop and the whole process was demonstrated in about ten minutes. Then, we were off to see Big Buddha at an enormous Buddha Temple where with your shoes removed you could climb up 100 steps to be up close and personal with Big Buddha. Having been there before, the busy souvenir area surrounding the “religious” part of the stop got our attention.

The final stop was at a seaside restaurant overlooking a beautiful beach. We were served a delicious, family-style meal with coconut milk, chicken and lemongrass soup to start. Then it was a whole grilled fish with vegetables, sweet and sour chicken, curried vegetables and rice along with the ever-present dessert of watermelon, pineapple and honeydew. Husband Brad, who is a soup-freak, finished three bowls before any of the other offerings arrived.

Then, it was back to the ship to test its capacity for delivering long, hot water showers.

You won’t believe this, but the next day we sailed back through the Gulf of Thailand to Singapore. It was the end of a cruise segment for many of the passengers including a group of 160 Nissan employees from Mexico. Brad always greeted them with “Buenos Lunchos,” which they understood and thought was funny.

While they and others disembarked, it was an opportunity to indulge in more of what Singapore had to offer. It is such a beautiful place, and the contrast of the traditional colonial architecture with the smart, contemporary architecture is striking. And the whole place is so clean!

We took the cable car to Sentosa Island, much of which is an amusement park, earlier this year. How could I forget the street busker who offered an enormous banana yellow python to go around your neck for picture taking? Never again.

The excursion titled “Spirit of Singapore” was selected. After first driving through the Colonial District, we stopped at Merlion Park for a photo opportunity. The Merlion, which is half lion and half fish, is the symbol of the city and functions as a fountain with water spraying from its mouth into the river.

Then, we were off to drive by Raffles Hotel, which is completely closed for renovation and will open at the end of the year. After a brief visit to yet another temple (we have seen a lot of them on this trip) we were off to see the highlight of the day, the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The SBG, as it is known, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is no way to tell about all of it, and in truth, we didn’t see it all because we were so stunned by the National Orchid Garden within the SBG.

We arrived at just the right time. Not only do they have 3,000 different kinds of orchids on display, they were also having a competitive orchid display competition at the time; just like our state fair only better. Anyone who likes orchids would have assumed they had died and gone to heaven.

After this sensory overload, we returned to the ship in time for Brad to search out a “chili crab.” That is a local delicacy featuring an enormous whole crab cooked in a spicy sauce and served with a shell cracker to get at the meat inside. Eaten more or less with your hands, you wind up with spicy sauce up to your elbows and all over your face. He loved it.

Next week, we’ll be in Port Klang, Kuala Lumpur and some of the world’s tallest buildings. VT