Asian Vistas & Arabian Sights From Hong Kong to Dubai in 15 DaysMarch 19 - April 3

On March 20, we went to church for mass as we transit the South China Sea, then set a South Westerly course which we maintained through out the day. We passed through the Parcel Islands and continued on our merry way towards the coast of Vietnam.

At this point we were informed that the currency machines do not accept back the Hong Kong Dollars but they would be accepting the excess Hong Kong dollars at the Purser’s Office. We were further informed that the landing cards would be delivered to our stateroom and that we would have to show this to the Immigration Officials as we left the ship.

We were advised that a local bank and post office from Nha Trang, Vietnam would be coming on board to offer their services. The Vietnamese Dong would therefore not be available before the arrival but then US dollars are widely accepted in Vietnam.

We checked out the movie entitled ‘Lake View Terrace’ starring Samuel Jackson but it was too slow and the plot lame so we left. We also saw show time at Royal Court Theatre featuring Four Hands, One Piano with Worbey and Farrel-Katzenjamer. We also checked out the Queen’s Room and were surprised to see what good waltzers the Asians are. Our day was not over for we had to read all about Vietnam in preparation for QM2s maiden call to Nha Trang, Vietnam.

From Daily Program, we read that the name Nha Trang is derived from a false Vietnamese spelling of a geographical name in the Cham language (an Austronesian language) of the site Yo Trang. Traveling down, one can observe the quiet life of the villages.

From the name of the Cai River, the name was adopted to call the place Nha Trang, which was formally made Vietnam’s territory in 1653. From 1653 to the 19th century, Nha Trang was an isolated area with plenty of wild life from 1653 to the 19th century. Then after twenty years, Nha Trang went through a swift change.

On 30 August 1924, Nha Trang was regarded as a town or a centre urban when it was formed from several ancient villages. During the French Indochina, Nha Trang was seen as de facto capital of Khanh Hoa Province which is the site of the Pasteur Institute, the Institute of Oceanography, the Institute of Vaccines and Biological Substances, the Green Berets‘ Headquarters and summer home of the last emperor.

The colonial administration offices were located in Nha Trang while the royal offices were in a walled military city in Dien Khanh which is 10 km south west of Nha Trang. Dien Khanh is one of the oldest fortresses in Vietnam and an important resource in the study of ancient citadels.

There are two parts in Modern Nha Trang. One takes the form of a smaller Danang (Vietnam’s fourth largest city) - a busy Vietnamese city buzzing with commerce but with access to a beautiful beach. The Hon Mun marine protected area is one of four first marine protected areas in the world admitted by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

The other is a quiet Western resort town surrounding several blocks of tourist shops, hotels, bars and international restaurants. Entering the protected enclave you could be anywhere. The city is unquestionably beautiful surrounded by mountains, with the beach tracing an extraordinary long swoop by the bay which is spotted with islands.

A new addition to the tourist industry is the Vinpearl entertainment complex on Hon Tre Island (Bamboo Island) near Nha Trang, a luxury five-star resort accessed through the cable car that crosses the bay. So Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi visitors often miss Vietnam’s spectacular curving midsection.

The lengthy shoreline extends more than 1800 miles. Top conservationists talked about how to protect the bio-diversity of this Truong Son mountain range. It was said to use chip setting to save the threatened plants. The Nha Trang region was part of the Champa Kingdom, an Indianised culture that goes back to 1st century AD.

The Chams who remained seafaring and devoted to trade, were ultimately defeated, but the Champa Era was one of the most progressive periods in the nation’s history. Chams took care of the art, letters, and culture. Lying on Vietnam’s central region, the Da Nang-Hue-My Son region has some of the Cham’s best legacies, but iconic Cham towers are still found all over the coastal region.

The ancient community, Kauthara was located in modern Nha Trang in the province of Khanh Hoa. Its cultural and religious centre was the Po Nagar Temple. Several towers of this are still around. Dating from at least 781 AD, a stele at the site has a message declaring that Cham King Statyavaman (sorry, we could not authenticate this) restored the temple that year.

An attractive summer resort, modern Nha Trang was recognized by order of a Nguyen king in 1924. According to legend, the name is from the Cham phrase that means river of reeds. More and more wealthy merchants from Ho Chi Minh City looking for seaside retreats come in recent years.

The capital of the Khanh Hoa Province, Nha Trang has been altered by the development but the beaches have stayed well-preserved. Nha Trang is Vietnam’s top traditional seaside resort surrounded on all three sides by mountains and located in Nha Trang Bay, one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

Nha Trang has two parts. One part is the quiet one offered as a sheltered, beach-side town with streets lined with trees colonial style buildings There are quiet store fronts and nice villagers suggest a peek into traditional Vietnamese life. The other part is the commercial Nha Trang, north of Yersin Street, which is busy with Chinese stores and industrial-looking buildings. Most favour the quieter side of the city and go to the north only for particular activities.

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944), French author who is admired today not as a serious author but as a resource of sayings. At 44 years old, he disappeared while on an exploration flight. He has a book circulating in Vietnam.

Nha Trang’s Cham Po Nagar is a temple tower founded before 781 AD. It really is a complex of towers known locally as Thap Ba built on Cu Lao hill, two kilometers from Nha Trang. The complex still functions as a working temple.

The main tower is dedicated to Yan Po Ino Nagar, wife of Prince Bac Hai and Shiva’s female incarnation who is still the patron saint of Nha Trang. There’s a statue dedicated to Ponagar or lady Thien Y-ana. Sadly, the statue’s head was taken to Paris some years ago where it is displayed at the Guimet Museum.

The Pasteur Institute was established by admired French scientist, Dr. Alexandre John Emile Yersin in 1895. It was one of the most important research centers of its time. Dr. Yersin, one of Dr. Louis Pasteur students, immigrated to Nha Trang in 1891 and established a research Institute there.

He developed an antidote for Bubonic Plague and brought quinine trees to Southeast Asia to fight malaria. The lab is still functioning, but a part has been put aside as the Yersin Museum. This displays the scientist’s library and equipment.

The seat of the Catholic Diocese of Nha Trang. the cathedral was built in 1933 above the city centre. It is built in provincial French Gothic style and is one of a few remaining remnants from the despised French colonial days. The bishop of Nha Trang still resides in the church and mass is recited every day. The construction’s simplicity is incredible.

Mieu Island, also known locally as Hon Tri Nguyen, is just offshore near the port district of Cau Da. The government runs a fish research centre on the island and a small café is built over the water there, maybe an effective method of disposing research subjects.

The island’s main town is Tri Nguyen where you can rent a canoe if you wish to explore. Hon Yen (Swift Island or Bird‘s Nest Island) is a pair of islands right in the middle of Nha Trang Bay. No one lives there and there are no facilities so the islands are closed to human visitors.

There are swift nests that serve as an important rookery but they are also used not only as a traditional medicine but also as a delicacy in Bird’s Nest Soup. It is now a peaceful fishing community but when it was known as Panduranga, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Champa.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Vietnamese Dong Shop: 9:00 am- 7 pm Info: Visitor Office, Le Thanh Ton St. (where there are bars, restaurants hotels and pubs) or www.vietnamtourism.com PO: Le Thanh Ton Street near the War Memorial Browse: Central Market (Cho Dam - Nguyen Hon Son St) Buy: Embroidery, lacquer ware Transport: Taxis and cycles waited near the port Arrival Information: The ship anchored off Cau Da Port (Nha Trang Harbour) so we took the tenders to the pier.

Nha Trang is usually warm and humid so people cool off by enjoying a dip in the sea. The main attraction is the magnificent town beach with clean and extensive shores facing a beautiful bay spotted with pleasant coastal islands. There are hotels, resorts lining the beach but there’s nothing too interfering, including the local vendors who ply their trade.

Swimmers and snorkellers love the clear coastal sea. The biggest local crowd come in the early morning hours between 5 am and 8 am to avoid the hot sun. They come to play volleyball and beach soccer, do tai chi, and listen to the daily news, aired from pole-top speakers along the shore.

There are other popular beaches just outside of town but you have to take a taxi to go there. Visit Hon Chong Beach near a fishing village or Dai Lanh Beach located in Ninh District. It is also nice to take a dip at Ba Ho Falls (with three waterfalls and pools). which is a quiet place only 20 minutes away from town.

On March 21, we got ready for the tour and Vino sent Juan Felix to help us and he did. So we finished in plenty of time. Wheel chair users were informed they had to negotiate some steps at the tender pier but that there would be people there to help.

We were also reminded on how to get ashore via the tender and the safety measures in its use. In addition from our very own experience it is best to extend forearm to forearm to the one helping us to go on or off the tender. Gripping the hands of the helper has an unintentional way of immobilizing the person assisting.

That said we met our group at the Royal Court Theatre and then went via a ten-minute drive to the pier. There we boarded Bus # 7 and had an interesting tour. The tour guide name is Hian but she said we can call her Helen. The driver’s name is Lucky Man.

We noticed at the pier a building called Maritime Administration of the Nha Trang. According to Helen, there are 450,000 people living in Nha Trang and 84 million in all of Vietnam. Hi Cho Minh has 8 million people and Hanoi is the capital..

Nha Trang used to be a fishing and farming town but now adds tourism as a source of revenue. We saw the Navy Institute to the left. Later, to the right is the Love Beach. They have mountains and it never floods. It looks like a valley and no typhoons. At night it’s a football stadium.

Then we saw an old airport that now is used for training pilots and the airport was moved 32 km away. At the right is one of the best resorts. There are two seasons: rainy and sunny. There are 300 days of sun and two months of rain but not much just a few hours in May. At the right is the Water Park.

Every morning they have the habit of going to the beach to do tai chi and aerobics and then go swimming. Beach is safe for there are no sharks. The pink building is the symbol of the city sandalwood flowers. There are many motorbikes because the streets are narrow.

People start work at 8 am to 11:30 and go home for lunch and siesta. They work again from 1:30 - 5. At this point we saw the grammar school at the left. Catholics are 20%, Buddhists are 70% and the rest is 10%. Then we arrived at the Nha Trang Cathedral which was built in 1933 above the city centre.

It is one of a few remaining relics from the hated French colonial days. The bishop of Nha Trang still lives in the church and mass is recited daily. The simplicity in its construction is remarkable. We said our prayers here, made three wishes and bought a fan from a little girl.

At 11:15 on the left is the Independence Victory Monument. They had their independence day on April 30, 1975. We passed by the street of trading where motorbikes could cost $500 if it is made in China and $1000 if it is made in Japan. The automatic ones cost $1500.

They work five days a week M - F and are off on Saturdays and Sundays. Then she showed us the fishing village where some live floating on the water but the government will relocate them because the river floods and it is not sanitary for people to live there because it is dirty.

She also pointed at a temple that’s 1000 years old made of bricks for Hinduism. There are 54 groups of people with the ethnic groups forming 10%. There are two colours in the fishing boats: red for luck and blue for the sea. She studied 12 years to learn English.

She pointed to the house in the middle of a small island and jokingly said that was her house and then said it was a temple. Then we went to the Dam Market where we were warned to bargain as much as 50%. There we bought a pinkish necklace with matching bracelet, two hairpins and a fake Tommy Hilfiger shirt for Roger.

After the market she pointed to the cable car that goes to a resort island 3.3 km long where there is a recreational park. She showed us Jessica Hotel and said November and December are the rainy months. June to August. are the summer months which is the high season for the Vietnamese. January to May is for Western tourists.

On the right side is the Cultural House. The life span is 70 years and those who live in the countryside live longer. To the left she said is the Love Stadium but at night it is a football stadium. They have 250 islands like the coral reef which is good for snorkelling and diving.

Then we went to the Vietnam (XQ Nha Trang) Hand Embroidery Co. LTD ADD: 64 Tran Phu - Hha Trang Tel 058. 3526579 xqnhatrang@dng,vnn.vn Http://www.xqhandembroidery.com There I bought a beautiful purple scarf for $28 and Roggy a tie for $22. Their embroidery workshop is amazing.

Then we went to the Bao Dai Villa Complex which used to be a summer palace for the last king of the Nguyen dynasty, Bao Dai. The setting is spectacular where we had views of most of the city, the beach and Queen Mary 2. She said the last king was over by 1945. He had eight wives and was a puppet king.

As you can tell, the relaxing picturesque drive showed the major sights of Nha Trang from the comfort of the tour bus. It was a scenic drive along the coast revealing coconut and Philao trees as well as the statue of Tran Hung Dao (viewed as one of the best military tacticians in history), a Vietnamese hero who fought against the Khublaikhan troop in the 13th century. It has been here opposite the sea for many years.

We travelled down town, and enjoyed a photographic stop at the grey stone city cathedral. At Dam Market, we browsed for souvenirs while at an embroidery shop, we observed the process while sipping a cup of green tea in the soothing and quiet setting. Then on the drive through the main streets of the city, we saw the typical French-style architecture and the sea.

We also visited a colonial house, with a giant banyan tree outside. We found the furniture and fixtures just as interesting as the building itself. We were taken to the four miles of sand beaches fringed with palm trees and visited the Buddhist Shrine. We were tired out and ready to go home. It is scary for us to think of QM2 as home, but that is that.

After the tour we had to line up for the tender but despite the mile long line, Queen Mary 2 sent her life boats one after the other. We were able to work a little bit before some rest and the elegant casual dinner. The movie we saw was ‘Moon’ which we didn’t like so we went to see the show time at the Royal Court Theatre featuring the fast humour and variety skills of Goronwy Thom. We then left for Laem Chabang, just 176.6 nautical miles away.

Back in the South China Sea on March 22, we had breakfast at 8:30 am and then went line dancing at 10 and ballroom lesson at 12:30 which is on fox trot again as we rounded the most South Westerly tip of Vietnam and entered into the Gulf of Thailand and passed by Cambodia. We then maintained a North Easterly Heading throughout the day.

Dinner was fine after which we checked out the movie called “127 Hours” about a mountain climber but we did not like it so we went to see Bob Arno in “The Art of Steal”. He asked Roger to go to the stage and Bob stole Roger’s tie but he could not steal his watch like he did to the others.

There were three notices we had to pay attention to: One was a reminder to complete the second copy of the Thai Immigration Form and to complete the Singaporean Landing Card. The second one is on the availability of Singapore dollars in the Foreign Exchange Machine on board and the third is on the Laem Chabang Post Office and bank coming on board. We were not done yet but had to read all about the next port of call like so:

From the Daily Program we learned that modern Bangkok spreads out along the Chao Phraya River - Thailand’s lifeline and often translated as River of Kings. The waterway crosses and nurtures the central rice-producing plain before it empties into the Gulf of Thailand. The traffic in the river varies from large ships with fruits to small private craft.

The elaborate palaces and temples that Maugham delighted in are still there. You can see them in the 1400 year old Thai culture. All are like dreams decorated with gold and gems. So see it yourself by shopping around in the city and walking among the people in the crowded streets.

There are assortments of neighbourhoods just like any large city. Each one has its own central district. You will be surprised that such a fantastic setting could exist in this sombre earth. They are dazzling and glittering with gold yet they are not gaudy.

The Grand Palace was built in 1782 by Bangkok’s first King Rama. The walled palace compound stands for a mixture of different styles from classic Thai to Victoria. After King Amanda (Thailand’s eighth monarch) died in 1946, his brother and successor, King Bhumibol (thought of having shot his brother in the forehead with a Colt 45), moved to the modern (safer) Chitralada Palace (built by Rama VI) in the northern Dusit district.

The Grand Palace is used for occasional state banquets and other royal ceremonies. Visitors enter the double gate of Piman Jayasri and pass the impressive Amarinda Palace that contains the antique throne and once served as the official Coronation Hall. WAT PHRA KAEO (Emerald Buddha Temple viewed as the most important Buddhist temple), is located next to the Grand Palace.

At this point it is good to read the reminders on the dress code for visits to the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha Temple and other temples. Both men and women visitors are required to dress modestly. Shirts and blouses have to have sleeves and not rolled up or see-through even with a jacket.

No shorts, miniskirts and tight clothing are allowed and trousers must be full length and cover the ankles. As for footwear, no open toed sandals and flip flops are allowed and shoes must be taken off before entering. Videos and cameras are allowed on the grounds but not inside the buildings.

Wat Phra Kaeo is among the world’s great sights with its stunning slender spires that are covered with gold, luxurious pavilions, and statues representing mythological Gods. King Rama 1 built it in 1782 as a replica of the Royal Temple in the Ayutthaya Grand Palace which used to boast seven major halls. Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha) is the most revered in Thailand.

Wat Traimit’s Golden Buddha was found by accident when a construction company started to enlarge the port. It is 10-foot tall weighing 5 ½ tons and believed to have come from an Ayutthaya temple where it was covered with stucco in the 18th century to hide its value from Burmese invaders.

Thailand’s National Museum near Sanam Luang, Bangkok’s most famous public greens and the royal cremation ground, has a huge collection of Asian art. It is southeast Asia’s largest museum. The Buddha images are particularly remarkable. The most well-known is the 15th century Walking Buddha.

Jim Thompson House is named after American entrepreneur Jim Thompson who immigrated to Thailand at the end of WWII. He proceeded to revive the out-of-date Thai silk industry. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while visiting the Malaysian jungle and was never found. Besides his boost of the Thai silk industry, he is also known for his house displaying his Asian Art collection.

Practically Speaking Currency: Thai babt Hours Shop: 10 am to 9 pm Info: 4 Rajdamnoen Nok or: www.bankoktourist.com PO: 1160 New Road Browse: Pattaya and Patong Buy: Thai silk, sapphires, rubies Arrival Information: The ports of Pattaya and Laem Chabang are approximately a two-hour drive from Central Bangkok (if there is no traffic). Traffic is heavy most of the day in the Thai capital.

Wat Po comes from the original name of Wat Potaram. Founded in the 17th century, it is older than Bangkok and is its oldest and largest temple. Just south of the Grand Palace, Wat Po is more important when you recall that Rama III made it bigger in 1832 and turned it into a center of learning, making it Thailand’s first university.

Sometimes, the temple is known as “Thailand’s first medical university.” The main appeal is the giant gold-leaf Reclining Buddha. It is so large it barely fits into a small building at the compound‘s corner. The soles of its feet are inlaid with elaborate mother-of-pearl pattern that shows the 108 lucky signs of the Buddha.

The murals that also beautify the cozy and brightly lit building badly need restoration that has not been finished yet but they are among the best traditional paintings in Bangkok. They are the interesting vignettes of life in Thailand.

Wat Po also has some remarkable engravings showing the human anatomy and the amusing “top hat” figures. The amusing statues were offered to a group of Thai seamen as weight after they dropped off a shipment of rice to China - the additional weight guaranteed stability on the way back to Bangkok. The humour is that they stand for the “typical” Europeans.

“Liberty is a foreign word, found on a coin a foreigner dropped in the palm of my hand, but it has taken me years to fully understand its meaning.” - Pira Canning Sudham, Thai writer, Monsoon Country

Each incredible temple and palace (each a vision decorated with gold and gems) is carefully woven into the rich cloth of Thailand’s 1400-year old culture. All of them are sacred. Ethnic Thais are thought to have come from Mongolia around 650 AD. They walked across China and soon settled at Chiang Saen (now northern Thailand), in the early 13th century.

The Sukhothai kingdom (1238-1365) controlled Thailand’s golden age, when Ayutthaya, the ancient capital, became a wonderful city but was ruined by Burmese raiders in 1767. The capital was moved to Thon Buri, but when King Taksin who paid lots of attention to the country’s welfare died in 1782, Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek (aka Rama 1) took the throne and moved the capital again to the Chao Phraya riverbank.

The new Bangkok spreads along the outline of the Chao Phraya River which is Thailand’s salvation. Bangkok was before often compared with Venice because of its klongs (canals), but most have been paved over to meet the needs of the growing city. The metropolis is varied enough for a visitor to spend several weeks discovering its customs, but you can get a feel of their history and culture even for a short time just looking at the people and the buildings.

From the 19th century when it was known as the “Venice of the East” to now when one could barely recognize it as the “place of the olive plums”, it has grown to become one of the greatest cities in Asia with superhighways and skyscrapers.

Laem Chabang (’lem sha bang’) is mainly a port, but there are amenities to entertain those who operate it. The Laem Chabang Country Club designed by Jack Nicklaus is proclaimed as one of Thailand’s most beautiful courses. The 27 holes are built against a chain of hills.

The course is both charming and challenging with many lakes and creeks on the grounds. The terrain of each course is designated by name (Mountain, Lake, Valley, etc). There are golf carts, a fine restaurant, a driving range, and a pool and sauna.

One of Thailand’s busiest is Pattaya, a resort community and may be the most hedonistic beach community in the country. It is home to extravagant hotels and private resorts and it is also known for its “sinful” side and dynamic nightlife.

Pattaya tries to get rid of its repute as ’Patpong South’ which refers to seedy neighbourhood. Pattaya has another side though as a growth surge blessed the resort in the 1980s when Singapore closed down its disreputable Bugis Street, now the trendiest and hottest place to shop there.

The sailors and hedonistic tourists sought a new playground and found Pattaya. It still has some of the old tattoo parlors, but there are also fine restaurants and chic boutiques. Parallel Pattaya Road and Beach Road openly sell illegal copies of Gucci bags, Rolex watches, and lots of other designer goods.

Two kilometers south of Pattaya Beach is the Jomtien Beach and both have sands so inviting but then they are crowded. There are several fine places of worship nearby. For a general idea of the country’s finest wats (places of worship except a mosque) visit nearby Mini Siam and Mini Europe Villages, on Sukhumvit Road.

The open-air museum shows mini copies of the nation’s most well-known temples as well as some memorable European models. Climb Khao Pattaya (Khao Phra Bat) Hill and enjoy panoramic sight of Pattaya and its crescent-shaped bay. There is a sacred Buddha image at the top. Wat Yansangwararam or Wat Yan has an area with a model of the Buddha’s footprints.

Practically Speaking Currency: Thai babt Shop: 10 am to 9 pm Info: What’s on Pattaya (free publication) or Soi 9 (Pattaya) PO: Soi Post Office (Pattaya) Browse: Pattaya waterfront or terminal (duty-free, souvenirs) Buy: Thai silk, sapphires, rubies Arrival Information: The ship docked at the Port of Laem Chabang. It is about 30 minutes to Pattaya and two hours to Bangkok (if there is no traffic).

There are some well-preserved islands around Pattaya. Pattaya Beach spreads for more than three miles along the sheltered Pattaya Bay. Trees line the curved shore with the Beach Road as the main commercial district. There are restaurants, hotels and lots of stores but the “Rolex” watches you will see are likely not the “real McCoy.”

The business district is near the central and south shore. Serene Wong Prachan Beach lines Pattaya Bay’s northern side. A bit quieter than the main Pattaya shore, this one km stretch of beach is ideal for swimming and relaxation in the sun. Other town beaches include Laem Hua Khon Beach on the back and Laem Lamrae.

West of Pattaya Strait, Koh Larn or Coral Island is in the Gulf of Thailand. Pattaya without Koh Larn is like having tea without a teabag. The island’s lovely beaches are where the water is clean and the coral reefs will please the divers. Among the well-liked beaches, Ta Waen with its white sand and clear seas is also called the China Beach because of the many Asian tourists who go there.

Other interesting and beautiful island beaches are Samae and Laemtien Beaches on the southwestern shore. Laemtien especially has remained remarkably peaceful and clean. A few miles further from the strait is a narrow “C“ - shaped island that has a horseshoe-shaped beach in the north.

QM2 makes it so easy for us to feel safe and comfortable by providing us with enough information at every port of call like the following Brief User’s Guide on the Bangkok Taxi:

Thai taxi meters can be a bit complicated. There are three indicators - one for time, one for distance and one for fare. Road and bridge tolls are added at the end - expect these surcharges. Note the distinction between hotel taxis (white license plates) and street taxis (yellow license plates).

Only street taxis can be hailed. Hotel taxi drivers are typically more experienced and likely to speak your language, but they generally operate at higher fixed rates. If you are feeling thrifty (and daring) you could always take a tuk-tuk (hold your breath!)

Then there’s the information we received on Theravada Buddhism: Two centuries after the Buddha died, several interpretations of the original Dhamma-Vinaya (the doctrine and discipline of Buddhist teaching) caused schisms and nearly 20 Buddhists sects were born.

Among them, Mahayana (greater vehicle) emerged. Adherents referred to other schools as Hinayana (lesser vehicle). Theravada, the only surviving Hinayana school, dominated southern Asia while Mahayana Buddhism moved to China, Tibet, Japan and Korea.

The Thai government guarantees religious freedom, but more than 80% of the people follow Theravada Buddhism. Wats (temples) predominate. During the once-mandatory 3-month service, “novices” study Buddhist principles and learn the philosophy, but like many traditions around the world, the practice has relaxed.

Laem Chabang is a township in Chonburi Province, Thailand. It is home to a Thailand’s largest port. A World Class port, Laem Chabang by 2005 is the world’s 20th busiest port, it being near the Gulf of Thailand where so much of the international shipping goes through. It’s also Princess Cruises’ stopping point.

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and its principal city as well as the largest. It is recognized in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or Krung Thep which means the city of angels. It was just a small trading post on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and only became the capital in 1768 after the Burmese invaders destroyed the Ayutthaya Kingdom but didn’t really begin until after King Taksin died. Don’t get us started on that one for the Thais are not allowed to talk about it.

“Travel and Leisure,” ranked Bangkok in 2008 as the world’s best city, In the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has been the economic, social and political centre for both Thailand and much of South East Asia and also of Indochina. It is considered a global city.

Here’s the full ceremonial name of Bangkok that King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke gave it and later edited by King Mongkut: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

The name is composed of the mixture of two very old Indian languages, Sanskrit and Pali. The Romanisation of these languages can actually be written this way: Krung-devamahanagara amararatanakosindra mahindrayudhya mahatilakabhava navaratanarajadhani puriramya utamarajanivesana mahasthana amaravimana avatarasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi.

Here’s the English translation: The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and by Vishnukam.

School children are taught the full name even though only a few can clarify what it means because lots of the words are antiquated and unknown except for a few. Those who can remember the full name do so because it was used in a popular song, Krung Thep Mahanakhon in 1989 by Asanee-Wasan Chotikul. Guinness Book of Records lists that name as the longest place name in the world.

Bangkok (Laem Chabang), Thailand After cruising the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea on the 22nd, we found when visiting temples on March 23, to dress conservatively and vests and shorts are not allowed. We also learned there are seaside cottages that will not stretch your budget, just $65 for a bed and breakfast.

As we approached the busy port of Laem Chabang early in the morning, QM2 slowed down to get the pilot on board. We went to an early breakfast due to our scheduled tour and we were going to eat on Deck 7 because of the wrong info on the daily program but we met a waiter on room service duty who told us Brittania is open so we went there after which we met our tour group at the Royal Court Theatre.

The tour guide said we‘re lucky because it’s raining and rain brings good luck. Normally, this is the start of summer, not rainy season but a few days ago, weather changed. She taught us some Thai words. Cap kohn Ka (thank you) Suwardee (Hi) Cap kohn Klap (for men).

There are many beautiful gardens in Phuket but seven years ago the tsunami destroyed them. It is 800 km away from Sanctuary of Truth which is the largest teak house. Teak is the best wood because it is protected from termites so it lasts long. It was built by a Chinese who was successful in business selling lots of Mercedes Benz.

There’s an outdoor museum there where he collected miniatures which made him famous. He built the Sanctuary of Truth along the sea for different religions. He wanted to teach people and work is ongoing. The wood carving tells the story of Buddhism. He hired people to do the carving from the north.

It is the centre of art and wood carving. Wage is $7 or 200 bhat for 8 hours of work but accommodation and foods are cheaper. We looked around there and taking pictures was allowed everywhere. They would celebrate the Thai New Year next month. It is a public holiday because April is the hardest time in summer.

There’s no snow here but there is snow in Laos. March to July is monsoon or rainy season but regardless, Thailand looks green all year. It rains only for an hour and stops. Winter is also nice for there is no rain. Summer vacation is three months so we’re lucky for the traffic is slower.

Schools run two semesters with a short holiday in November. English is the 2nd language. There are many Buddhists. Pattaya changed a lot for 50 years ago it was a small quiet place until tourists especially Americans came. Now most who come are Russians. It used to be Germans. Cost of living in Pattaya is high like in Bangkok.

Their king is now 84 years old and not in good health. They read and write the same with 44 letters which they have to learn and in English + 26 letters. Education is free from seven years old to 18. But afterwards you can get a scholarship if you want to go to university. People are 80% farmers.

Thai is their national language, English second. They can choose a 3rd language as an elective. Chinese language is getting popular. Chinese tourists come all year round.

They had to wear helmet at the Sanctuary of Truth. You can see bikes everywhere. You can carry the whole family in it. Tap water is clean but Thais drink bottled water to be safe. Thai massage is famous. There are 29 bahts in one US$.

There are 4 elements: earth Shiva is god, water, Vishnu is god wind Brahman is god and then there’s fire. Sun represents honour and social status, moon represents beauty, Mercury for gentleness and Jupiter for wisdom. Venus represents wealth and Saturn unhappiness and suffering.

Elephants are holy animals that help protect the country. They take 15 to 20 years to mate and 20 months to conceive and then they take a break for three years so the average babe is 4 or 5. Then we went to Central Festival Mall. The start pay is 215 bhat but here it’s 250 and they get health insurance and 15 is deducted from employees for funeral. The illegals get $2 a day but in Miama (situated in Gombi, Adamwara, Nigeria) where they come from, they earn $1 a day. Buddhists are 95% so there are more than 30000 Buddhist temples. There are 3% Moslems who live in the south.

The title for Sanctuary of Truth is “The Magnificence of Heaven Recreated on Earth” It’s a towering castle, elaborately carved in teak. It rises to the great heights of the Far Estern tradition. It’s located on the seashore of Rachvate Cape, Pattaya. It’s called “The Sanctuary of Truth” revealing its top up in the sky, among many contemporary buildings.

It proudly illustrates the Ancient Knowledge of the Thai artists. Covering an area 32 acres, the indoor space is 2115 sq meters, with the height of 100 meters, and a length of 100 metres as well. It is open 8-5 pm with the Dolphin Show at 1; 11:30am 2 pm and 15:30. The ground breaking was in 1981 and since then, it shows not just a copy of an ancient art, but also the power of modern creation.

It has searched and made use of things from different cultures, mixing it with traditions of past and evolving into the new fine arts. Everything is made of wood, to meet the purpose of constructing the real “Wooden Sanctuary”. The goal is to build a wooden structure with the mission of preservation and revival of Ancient Knowledge.

As evidenced from the 17th century, Thai artists could build a wooden structure of more than 100 meters high which is equal to 20-storey modern building. But building “The Sanctuary of Truth” was not only for the sake of arrogance, but also for the wooden carvings of gods and goddesses and ornately beautiful designs.

It matters not what religion or nationality people are for the different forms of art reflect spirits and thoughts of eastern cultures. This lets the world know complete and long-standing understanding of the truth shown through the Sanctuary which is the relationship between human beings and the universe. There are the father, the mother, the earth, the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars. These are not just dreams, but the truth of being human that eastern philosophers had discovered from past.

It brightened our day to visit a magical place at Sanctuary of Truth on March 23. The building is made completely of wood without using nails or screws. The tour guide said it was built by a Chinese businessman 30 years ago. He became rich through having Mercedez Benz dealerships.

He died ten years ago but is continuing the construction employing 300 carpenters from Thailand, Laos, etc. They are paid a bit higher than ordinary workers but all have health insurance. Education is free. They have a shop there where we bought some souvenirs.

Let’s close this part of the world tour with a quote from Somerset Maugham remarking about the South East Asian stupas (temples). “It makes you laugh with delight to think that anything so fantastic could exist on this somber earth. They are gorgeous; they glitter with gold and whitewash, yet are not garish; against that vivid sky, in that dazzling sunlight, they hold their own, defying the brilliancy of nature and supplementing it with the ingenuity and playful boldness of man.”

We were able to have lunch and then did some work and rest before the elegant casual dinner after which we saw the movie called Revolutionary Road starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kate Bates and also took in Chris Watkins Fireworks on Four Strings at the Royal Court Theatre. We also watched our departure from Laem Chebang as we cleared the harbour and set a southerly course in the Gulf of Thailand.

On March 24, while cruising the Gulf of Thailand on our way to Singapore Strait, Roger picked up our passports and landing cards before the formal dinner. To facilitate our going ashore we were provided with clear passport information for Singapore. While ashore, we are to have possession of our passports and the landing card and that we are to return them when we arrive back to the ship

Then at 7 p.m. we went to show time featuring the Cunard Singers and Dancers tribute to Motown and the Lady with the Voice, Eve Sherratt. Then we saw the movie called “Code” starring Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman. As usual before reaching the next port, we prepared for it by perusing the information QM2 so kindly provided us in the Daily Program as follows.

Cambridge-educated Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of independent Singapore (1965), stepped down in 1990 when Goh Chok Tong assumed the post. As the revered father of Singapore, his leadership undeniably formed an economic wonder from a messy post-WWII colonial state.

Bugis Street was cleaned long ago and the judicial caning of Michael Fay featured in headlines in 1994 may now seem petty in light of current world events but the important issues about Singaporean law and its value are certainly not.