To Manila and Taiwan We Go

Chiming Tang of Southeast Palace Temple in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

By Carla Sue Broecker

Continuing our trip on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, we headed into a day at sea after the two previous days. One was in the tiny and rich country of Brunei and the other in the more third-world city of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. There were big contrasts in these two experiences, and that is part of the fun.

Days at sea can also be fun. The ship plans a lot of activities to keep us busy, including enrichment lectures, which are often on the history of upcoming ports and the culture, politics and sometimes the arts. Sea days also include lots of games – some silly and some challenging. Then there are bridge lessons, ballroom and line dancing lessons, bingo bonanza, mahjong, blackjack tournaments and crafts like needlepoint.

For the athletically inclined, you can start the day with Walk-a-Mile on the open deck followed by Morning Stretch in the aerobics studio conducted by a very fit young man who is the fitness instructor. Then, in the afternoon, that very same fit young instructor conducts a Total Body Conditioning class followed by Total Tubing. I am told that these are both great classes, but they interfere with Trivia, Cupcake Teatime and cocktail hour preparations.

On this particular sea day, the ship’s Seven Seas Society had a cocktail party. The society recognizes returning guests and their longevity and loyalty to cruising on Regent. The deciding factor is the number of collective days a guest has spent on Regent. The more days, the higher your rank and the more privileges you get – like free laundry/dry cleaning, free internet and discounts on other things.

At this cocktail party, four couples were recognized for having reached the Titanium Level of 400 days sailed. We have one friend who is all the way up to Commodore level, which requires 2,000+ days. The honored couples stood in front of the captain and a few of the other officers and were toasted as they received their Titanium pins. Then, we were off to dinner with new friends from Boulder, Colorado, and Vancouver, Canada.

Coy pond on the second level of the Chiming Tang Temple in Taiwan.

Bright and early the next morning, we docked at Manilla’s South Harbor Cruise Terminal for a two-day stay. We had really looked forward to being back in the Philippines after an almost 10-year hiatus in our cruising itineraries.

After breakfast, we set off on a local shore excursion called “Charms of Old Manilla.” We went by coach to the Intramuros District, which means “within the walls” of the oldest district in the city. It was a fortified area when the Spanish built it for defense in the 1500s. As the area has developed over the years, it now has lots of shops that are great for finding souvenirs.

We then visited Fort Santiago, which is within the Intramuros District. Throughout history, prisoners were held and tortured in the fort. Local hero Dr. José Rizal was imprisoned there prior to his execution in 1896 for anti-colonial writings. We visited a park and monument to his memory later in the day.

Our next stop was San Agustin Church and Museum. It is a wonderful stone “pile” constructed in 1606, and it has an impressive Baroque altar. The museum has an air-conditioned (whew!) area where ceremonial vestments and other artifacts are displayed.

After a drive to the aforementioned Rizal Park, we continued on to the famed Old Manila Hotel located around the corner from where our ship was docked. Originally built in 1909, it boasts an elegant lobby with white-gloved doormen and bellhops who greet all guests with the same gracious charm that is characteristic of everyone in the Philippines. The hotel’s penthouse served as General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters as military advisor to the Philippines from 1935 to 1941 when he went off to command troops in Australia.

Many other guests chose to take a nine-hour excursion to Corregidor, a famed rocky island located at the entrance to Manila Bay. It fell to the Japanese when MacArthur left, but true to his promise – “I shall return!” – he recaptured the island in March of 1945. Many came back from this excursion very moved since they either had relatives or friends lost in the island’s defense.

Later that evening, we had dinner with Ray Solaire, the cruise director that I have told you about before. We have really become quite good friends and hope to go visit him and his brother in the Lake District of England some time in the future. We can’t wait to see the 18-room hotel he and his brother now own as a home/bed and breakfast. He is always cheerful, but that night there was a touch of melancholy in his voice.

We realized that he was at the end of this contract with the ship and he would be going home from Hong Kong, not too far off on the calendar. Ray loves what he does but knows it isn’t a 52-week job. Being on board the ship, tending to guests and performing on stage at least once a week is his whole life. We polished off a pretty good bottle of wine that evening.

Our second day in Manila was actually spent on a two-hour drive outside the city to Tagaytay Ridge. On the way, we stopped at Las Piñas Church, and what a fascinating stop it was. The old stone church was started in 1797 and completed in 1819. It has been heavily damaged and restored a number of times over the years, but its real claim to fame is its bamboo organ. With its pipes made completely of bamboo, it was completed in 1824. The church organist played three well-known organ pieces for us and we enjoyed the performance enormously.

Then, we were off again to the Tagaytay Volcano area with great anticipation. Regent does everything really well, so we knew we were going to see a real volcano experience. However, about halfway there, there was a bathroom stop and a two-block long flower and fruit stand market. We saw all sorts of the usual and unusual fruits and flowers. This was in a rural area where all the surrounding hills and fields were covered with pineapples.

When we finally got to Tagaytay, a resort community on top of a mountain, we stopped at a beautiful hotel overlooking the valley that has the volcano. The backside of the hotel has a wonderful viewing area with coin-operated binoculars for close-up looks. No action, but it is pretty. After shooting plenty of pictures, we had a great buffet lunch that included custom-made spicy tom-yum soup, custom-cooked noodles of three different kinds and a choice of meats and veggies. There were lots of other things, but the soup and noodles with a little ice cream at the end satisfied our hunger.

The ride back to the ship consisted of a long nap. Then it was cocktails, dinner and a spectacular virtuoso performance by English guitarist Byron Johnston on the stage of the ship’s Constellation Theatre.

All this excitement in the Philippines was followed by a really laid-back day at sea that included doing laundry. There was a time when we had to do it ourselves. Husband Brad called the self-service launderettes the “Rub-A-Dub Club.” But now, since we have traveled with Regent a good bit, free laundry and dry cleaning are one of the perks we enjoy. You just put things in a bag, fill out the ticket and drop it outside the door. It returns freshly done quite quickly.

Ki-Au Presbyterian Church of Taiwan.

We sailed into the harbor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan at 7 a.m. the next day. It is a huge port city in southern Taiwan with a population of nearly 3 million people. It is modern and bustling, but our stay was to be short – only nine hours – so we wanted to see a lot.

Our “Glimpse of Kaohsiung” shore excursion took us to a number of different temples. The first was the Kaohsiung Confucius Temple built in 1974 in the style of a palace in northern China. Then, we were off to Chiming Tang of Southeast Palace. This three-story edifice is a knock-out. It has Buddhist, Taoist and Confucius elements all in one building. There were as many as five altars per floor, plus an enormous koi pond on the second level. Across the street were the dragon and tiger pagodas in a massive water lily pond.

Our final stop was a four-block long street market with all sorts of foods, vegetables and souvenir goodies for sale. A lot of the food needed explaining to Western customers such as ourselves, but all of it was fun to see, even the piles of little worm-like shells that were cooked and heavily spiced that you sucked the meat out of.

Now, we’re getting ready to sail to Hong Kong. Stay tuned. VT