Sailing the high seas, dining on delicious meals, enjoying one-step unpacking of luggage, all while reveling in fascinating sights, sounds and tastes of faraway places — cruising through Southeast Asia offers all that and more.
Whether you choose to travel with a tour group or you plan your cruise independently, with careful research and planning, traveling by ship can be an efficient and fantastic experience.
We chose an 18-day Diamond Princess cruise that visited eight cities in six countries: Yokohama and Osaka in Japan; Busan, Korea; Shanghai and Hong Kong, China; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore.
After flying from Honolulu to Tokyo on Japan Airlines, we stayed for two nights at the Grand Nikko Hotel Daiba near Yokohama, prior to embarking on our ship. While in Hakone, we took in views of Mt. Fuji from the subway, bus, cable car, ropeway and boat, tasted tamago onsen (hard-boiled eggs cooked in the steaming volcanic springs) and sailed down the Lake Ashi on a pirate ship. What a way to spend a day waiting for the real cruise to begin!
We boarded the Diamond Princess the next day, the culmination of months of preparation. Shortly after signing up for our cruise, we were provided with a detailed itinerary and notification the cruise line would take care of visas for all countries except China, which travelers had to handle on their own. When cruising, find out what legal considerations are your responsibility and take care of them well before your trip.
Keeping your passports and other documents organized will help you avoid delays and stress as you board the ship with hundreds of other passengers, all jostling to find their way through the maze of checkpoints.
On our way!
Walking up a long gangplank, a host of smiling staffers welcomed us with music, light snacks, cool lemon tea and water. Barely settling in after the ship embarked, we were ordered to meet at our assigned stations for mandatory safety training. It was a grim reminder that despite the luxuriousness of our accommodations, we should never take for granted the forces of nature.
We were greeted at our very first port of call by a rousing band that, at 7:30 a.m., wakened and energized us. Day-trip opportunities included visits to the world-reknowned Osaka Aquarium, Osaka Castle (with a boat trip around the moat), shopping along the famous streets of Dotombori or a rail trip to nearby Kyoto, which was our choice.
Busan, South Korea
After sailing through the Kanmon Straits we arrived in South Korea, a country of interesting contrasts.
Deeply religious, South Korea has carefully preserved a number of old, beautiful temples, such as the Bulguksa Temple or the “Temple of the Buddha Land,” one of the country’s seven national treasures and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Between sacred sites, the area is crammed with the lively vendors of the Jagalchi Fish Market filling the air with noise and laughter while marketing their products and bargaining for the best prices for their wares.
Shanghai is a gigantic, modern city teeming with people but dotted with oases of quiet, beautiful ancient gardens and buildings preserved from bygone times.
Our tour took us to the state-of-the-art Jin Mao Tower, which offered a panoramic view of the city from the 88th floor. Later we walked through the narrow, winding streets of the city to the breathtakingly beautiful 5-acre Yu Garden. There we toured a historic home surrounded by gardens and saw a water puppet show. Then we made our way to a shopping area filled with street vendors selling Chinese toys and wares and some nice restaurants.
Hong Kong, China
In Hong Kong, we were once again reminded of the forces of Mother Nature as our ship was unable to dock for about 11 hours due to rough seas caused by a Category 3 typhoon churning nearby.
Hong Kong was considered a highlight of the cruise, and some passengers were extremely distressed that our full-day visit to the city was reduced to a two-hour evening stop. With such a tight time frame, we ended up taking a quick trip to a nearby mall, braving wind, rain and long bus lines to get there. Though hurried, we were at least able to touch the soil of Hong Kong.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The 1-1/2-hour bus ride from the ship to the city revealed extremely humble dwellings. As we arrived in the city, however, we were swarmed by some of the millions of Vietnamese motorbikes that scurry like ants through the city.
The startling contrast of the old and new, coupled with the smiling, friendly people beckoned us to return to fully explore the city. But since we are unsure whether or when this would happen, we sought to see, taste, touch, feel and experience this and each port of call, with as much intensity as possible.
Sometimes real-time state of affairs break in on your touring. Such was the case in Bangkok where everyone was solemnly dressed in black and white, mourning the death of their beloved Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned over Thailand for nearly 70 years.
Thoroughfares were blocked and traffic snarled throughout the heart of the city. Despite this, we managed to visit Wat Suthat, the early 19th-century temple housing the 25-foot-tall bronze statue of Phra Sri Sakyamuni Buddha; and Wat Pho, the site of the huge reclining gold Buddha. We ended with a memorable wild ride on a tuk tuk, a brightly-colored, motorized rickshaws.
Our final destination was the small, vibrant country of Singapore that only established its sovereignty in 1965. Since then, it has become a major economic power. This ethnically diverse country with four official languages is fiercely proud of its verdant “City in a Garden,” and its port, which is the second busiest port in the world.
Our brief stop included a visit through a bustling marketplace, a fascinating tour showcasing the gorgeous flora of the National Orchid Garden, a boat tour of the Port of Singapore and a quick stop to enjoy the famous Singapore Sling cocktail at the Raffles Hotel.
As we disembarked and bid farewell to our fabulous voyage, we were filled with memories to last a lifetime. Embrace your love of adventure and passion for travel, you’ll never regret it.