The flight to Singapore was great - upper deck of the A380 and the entertainment system was very good - big seat-back flat screen, loads of movies on demand, loads of TV shows on demand and hours and hours of music too - the 13 hours flew by!
Singapore 26th April
Upon arrival at Changi airport we made out way to passport control and baggage reclaim, and our bags soon appeared. We went through customs and then out into the arrival hall, and there was someone from Tour East holding a sign with my name on for our private tour. We explored the older parts of Singapore and discovered the Chinatown area, the Arab Quarter and Little India and it soon became apparent that there is much more to this place than just Orchard Road and shopping. We drove to Raffles Hotel for photos and a look around, shame it was too early for a Singapore Sling! The local people were all really friendly with plenty of good mornings and hellos coming at you - would you get that in London? The Merlion statue sits at Raffles Quay and is the symbol of Singapore, looking out over the water to Sentosa Island. A quick photo stop here then we were off to the botanical gardens to see the orchids, and then it was lunchtime and on to the cruise terminal to board Crystal Symphony for our 16 night cruise.
After dropping off our suitcases and getting our stateroom number (9030) we made our way to the gangway security. We walked down the gangway and were escorted to our stateroom on deck 9. Nice sized room with large bed, dresser area, flat screen TV, fridge stocked with soft drinks, veranda and really good air-conditioning.
As our suitcases had not yet been delivered we went for a quick explore around before returning to get showered and changed before lifeboat drill. There were only a handful of people at the drill and it went quickly. After the drill it was up on top deck for the Sailaway Party. Singapore Slings were being handed out by the bar staff and were going down way to easily!
Dinner was in the main dining room and was served by our waiter Goran . I had the steak and it was cooked to perfection, washed down with a full bodied red. It came to 9pm and as much as we wanted to see the show we were so tired we turned in - by this time we had been up for like 2 days or something silly and needed a good nights kip!
Sea Day - 27th April
Woke back up around 7:30, got showered and headed up to breakfast at the Lido, greeted by Norman from the Philippines - he was funny, chatting cockney to us, and had a real nice breakfast - I had various fruits and a cooked breakfast which was very tasty. That day we attended some of the lectures that were very interesting and spent the day relaxing onboard. There was the Captains Cocktail party early evening and it was also formal night where we met the captain and his senior officers. After the Captains Cocktail party we went to dinner, lobster was on the menu, along with Château Briand which was delicious.
28th April -Phuket
Alarm was set for 6am so we got up showered and got ready. Went to the Lido for breakfast and then had to meet in one of the lounges for our tour to be called - 8.15! We were issued with bottles of water and then made our way to the gangway to disembark. We all boarded the coach and off we went for our trip to James Bond Island. The ship docks at the bottom of Phuket island and we drove all the way to the north and onto the mainland via a bridge - took about 2 hours - thank heavens for the air conditioning. Our guide Chai was very good, he even sang, and was very informative. We got to our first stop, which was a rubber plantation, and we saw how they tap the trees to drain the latex out of them, and then the process of how they turn that into rubber. All very interesting and thankfully short too. At this place they also had orphaned monkeys that they looked after - so cute but they did look a little sad - all chained up. Back on the bus and another ride to our second stop - James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay. From our bus we transferred to a longboat and then headed out into the bay, cruising around the massive limestone mountains jutting out of the sea and eventually made it to where they filmed "The Man With The Golden Gun"
We sailed around that island for a bit and went into a cave, then headed to Koh Panyi, a village of 200 houses built on stilts. It was really interesting to see how they lived and of course we went through the obligatory market, passed bags of dried shrimp, squid, and other fishy items that were fairly pungent in the heat and humidity - suffice to say we didn't buy anything.
Then it was back on the boat to go to the local hotel for our lunch. The food was delicious - Thai Soup, tempura covered vegetables and prawns, chicken with cashew nuts, a fish dish, crab meat balls and loads of rice! Back on the coach and time for a nap before arriving at Wat Suwankhuha, a cave temple in which there are several reclining Buddha's, and further into the cave, bats! Outside the cave were wild monkeys, hassling tourists for food. Then back on the bus for the long journey back to the port, via a 2 storey shop selling gemstones and other local handicrafts.
By this time the sun had come out and it was the perfect opportunity for a photo of the Crystal Symphony - just in time as they were pulling up the gangway!.
In the evening we had booked to eat at "Silk Road" - the Nobu restaurant onboard next to the Sushi Bar. We were a little overwhelmed by the menu, but luckily we were seated next to some other guests who helped us decide. To start we had a selection of sushi and sashimi, which was out of this world - the raw tuna was amazing - so delicately flavoured and there must have been about 20 different pieces. Then I had a mushroom soup served in a tea pot that you poured out into a little cup and sipped like tea. Then we had the Nobu style salad that had tuna covered in a sauce - then for mains we had the Wagyu Beef that was amazing! Seriously the best food I have ever had onboard a ship, or indeed anywhere - absolutely fantastic and so flavourful and you did not feel over full afterwards- we are going to book up again for sure - maybe a few times after that too!
After dinner we went to see the show - a mind reader guy from the UK who was very good, then we hit the nightclub - LUXE
The next afternoon we docked in Myanmar and our tour left at about 5.30pm - it was an hours drive to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Thankfully the bus was nicely air-conditioned and as we drove along with our police escort clearing the way, many locals were waving at us - I don't think they get to see many tourists! We arrived at the Pagoda and it was incredible - built 2,500 years ago, adorned with 6,500 gemstones, covered in gold and has 8000 images of Buddhas! The pagodas spire soars 326 feet into the air - it was very impressive and as it was dark by the time we got there - looked amazing all lit up at night! After an hour it was back on the bus and back to the ship for a buffet dinner, that was a bit disappointing compared to the rest of the meals we have had. Tomorrow we have another full day tour - back to the Pagoda again plus lunch at the posh The Strand hotel, a few more pagodas, some Buddha's and a market!
An early start as our "Yangon Delights" tour left at 8am. We drove straight to the Shwedagon Pagoda and slipped off our flip-flops as you cannot wear any shoes or socks walking around. The pagoda was great at night time last night but even better during the day - shimmering in the sun, the gold-covered dome contrasting with the brilliant blue sky -it was photo heaven! Lots of people here - all locals - we did not see any other westerners there other than us on tour from the ship. In fact driving along the roads getting here with our police escort elicited stares and smiles at our convoy of coaches from the locals!
We had to walk around clockwise, as is the custom, but rather than stay with the rather slow tour guide we took off and went exploring ourselves - getting some great photos and discovering places that we did not see last night. The locals seem to love having their picture taken - especially the kids, as long as you show them the photo on the cameras screen they are more than happy to pose for you - bless them. Many of them have a yellow cosmetic smeared on their cheeks - this is a locally made lotion that protects from sunburn and supposedly keeps the skin smooth - everyone seemed to have it on! After a good hour here it was getting hot (and so was the floor on our bare feet!) so it was back to the base of the Pagoda and back on the bus.
Next stop was a visit to Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda - basically a HUGE reclining Buddha housed under a sheet metal roof. Its head was two and a half stories tall and it is resting on its side with toes together, the classic parinibbana or dying position. However the Buddha is also facing south so it could mean it's simply resting - it didn't look like it was dying! Took a good panorama photo of the Buddha and them back on the bus!
Next we went to the centre of town, when there are still some old colonial buildings, (in fact we stopped here yesterday) and were greeted by locals selling postcards, and birds (basically you buy the bird/finch/sparrow and set it free) Not much to see to be honest - it was very busy with locals getting on buses and the roar of the traffic, but there is the Independence Monument.
Then it was off to the Strand Hotel - a proud national landmark, the hotel is a model of colonial repose, featuring marble flooring inlaid with teak, rattan furniture and potted palms. We had lunch (chicken curry) and a few beers that were very welcome after the heat and humidity of the morning, then we were off to go to the National Museum.
Then we were supposed to go to Scott Market, a marketplace consisting of 1,641 shops selling luxury items, handicrafts, food, clothing and more - however as it was a National Holiday it was closed so we went to another shopping experience that again had opened up specially for us - basically it was 3 stories of gems, jewellery, wood carvings, puppets, books and the like
Then we headed to a park for a view of the Shwedagon Pagoda
So after the view from the park (and soft drink) it was all back on the bus for the trip back to the ship!
That afternoon they had brought onboard a local dance troop to entertain the passengers called the Shwe Minthamee Art Group. We got front row seats for this authentic and traditional dance show. It was about 45 minutes in length and the singing/dancing was good and enjoyable, the puppetry was cute - we did enjoy the Aung Say Paing Say dance and the Oil Lamp Dance.
Another early start, but thankfully on this tour no Shwedagon Pagoda! First stop was to a local market - a really local market. We got dropped off at the entrance and basically had to fight our way through the locals who didn't mind at all that we were there. It was very narrow and crowded but I did not feel threatened at all - the locals are all very friendly. Weaving our way passed all manner of stalls selling fruits (I spotted Rambutan, Jackfruits and others more familiar like mangoes with shrimp paste, apples and various citrus fruits), fish stalls (dried and rather pungent) clothes, textiles, and the like.
After the market, we were led to a row of horse and carts for our next part of the tour - yes you've guessed it's a horse and cart ride! We clambered in and off we went - got up some good speed trotting along the road which was fun - lasted a good 15 minutes. Then we clambered out after tipping the driver and headed back to the bus.
Next stop was by the river to visit the Kyaik Hmaw Wun Island Pagoda, an ancient pagoda built on an island in the Bago River. We had to line up to climb on a rickety boat - It was only a short ride to the island and we jumped off for a tour of the pagoda - it was pretty much the same as before- Buddha's, shrines, monks, etc.
After the tour we got back on the little boat and taken back to shore where we were given a green coconut to drink - basically they slice the top of the green coconut and insert a straw and you suck up the fresh milk - really good and tasty.
Next stop was to see a sitting Buddha, a few stories tall, then we went to a local village for a walk around. We even got invited to look at someone's home - a very basic house built from bamboo with a thatch roof. This village was great to walk around and see how the locals live - very simply but they all seemed really happy - this was one of the best things we have seen on the tour and really humbling.
Back on the bus and after a brief stop at another pagoda we went back to the ship for lunch and sailaway.
That evening there was jazz in the Crystal Cove that was excellent - just before dinner, then after dinner it was the Route 66 show in the Galaxy Showlounge - better than the first show and more modern.
3 May - Sea Day
We went down for breakfast in the main dining room - Eggs Benedict - my favourite! Then we relaxed around the pool reading before going down to see the Oceans 20 buffet extravaganza set up in the Crystal Cove area outside the main dining room. There was an amazing display of food, with caviar, salmon, oysters, lobster, beef, and loads of deserts along with a chocolate fountain.
That evening we dined in Prego with Otmar, one of our table mates which was great then we went to watch the show .
The show was Standing Room Only - a really great show featuring selections from modern musicals including Wicked, Jekyl and Hyde, Whistle Down The Wind and it ended with Hairspray! The cast looked like they really enjoyed performing it.
May 5th Sea day & May 6th Cochin
Sea days start out for us with a nice big breakfast in the Crystal Dining Room. We do like the Lido buffet, however there is something very civilised about having your eggs served by one of the waiters! I tend to go for Eggs Benedict (with extra sauce) After brekkie its up on Observation Deck forward for a few hours sunbathing - we like it up here as its quiet, no other guests are here, and you get a really fresh breeze that keeps you cool. The pool area is real nice but a bit stuffy in these humid cruising conditions, so the breeze is really welcome. Then it's back to the dining room for lunch!
After lunch we attended the Art Class. One of our tablemates goes every sea day and so when the instructor beckoned us in we decided to give it a go! We did block paintings! Pretty fun to be honest and we will go back for the next one.
Then at 4pm it was Mozart High Tea - served in the Palm Court. All the waiters were dressed up in costume of the period, the 3-piece classical music group played Mozart and there was a great sweet buffet spread! Really yummy - I had a slice of Chocolate Torte - you could really gorge yourself at this one if you're not careful! We also had hot chocolate laced with dark rum with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top.
Then at 5pm it was a tour of the galley, then it was time for showers and to get changed for dinner!
The next day we arrived early in Cochin. Our tour departed at 8.45 am and we were soon on our bus and on our way. Our guide was the thin but excitable "Mark" and he did a great job pointing out the various sights along the way to Fort Cochin. First stop was the Parade Ground (where the Brits used to parade when we occupied the area) - then a short walk to the church and local market. On the way we saw a snake charmer and one of the pax went and sat down next to him as he "charmed" the snake with his playing. I thought it was a fake snake to start with attached to the lid of the basket by a thread, but when it lunged at the snake charmers leg I soon realised it was real! We all gathered for photos of course and it was pretty scary when the snake went for the charmer - still the pax wasn't hurt (although I question his sanity!) and it was great for photos!
Then it was on to the famous Chinese Fishing Nets - plenty of photo opportunities although I would have preferred a bit longer here to be honest. Said to have been introduced between 1350 and 1450 by traders from the court of Kublai Khan, the nets are strung on wooden frames and dramatically cantilevered over the harbour. The system uses weights and levers, allowing the fishermen to raise the nets periodically to check the catch. They raised one set of nets whilst we were there but they were empty - perhaps this was the Tourist Net and for display purposes only!
Then it was off to the Jewish Synagogue in Jew Town - we didn't go in and opted instead to walk the local streets around Jew Town looking for spices - it was all a bit touristy and obviously set up for the tourists - lots of "hello hello come see my shop" etc that got a bit wearing after a while. Still it was good and a few photo ops presented themselves! Then it was back to the bus and back to the ship. Cochin was a lovely laid back sleepy Indian port that had a lovely relaxed charm about it - popular with back packers as we saw a few during the day, and the centre for Ayurvedic massages.
That night before dinner there was a Jazz jam session in LUXE club with the guys from the show room orchestra and 2 members of the "Harmonix" vocal group.
Sea Day 7th May
The usual breakfast - sunbathing - lunch - nap - afternoon tea day! That evening we had booked in to Silk Road. Had another AMAZING meal in this restaurant - we had the Nobu specialty sushi for starters, Yellowfin with Caviar and a Tuna one with jalapeño (I think) then for mains we had the Blackened Cod and the Nobu Box. The cod was delicious but I think I still prefer the Wagyu Beef. We are booked again for one last meal in Silk Road. We had dined in Prego previously which was very good, but Silk Road knocks spots off it - really love this place!
Mumbai/Bombay - 8th May
This morning we pulled back the curtains ad we were in Mumbai! Had to get up early to go to Indian immigration at 7am, then our tour left at 9ish.
First stop was the Gateway of India, next to the Taj Hotel that was bombed about 18 moths ago. The Gateway of India is an archway built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. The arch was originally conceived as an entry point for passengers arriving on P&O steamers from England - today it's remembered as the place from which the British staged their final departure before independence.
Then it was to the train station and our ride on a local train to see the dhobi ghats washing area. The train ride was interesting - we had booked first class tickets but there was nothing first class about it - we clung onto metal handles suspended from the ceiling whilst being shaken about. Still it was an experience and at the next stop some locals got on - looking a bit bemused to see the carriage full of sweaty tourists! Arriving at Mahalaxmi Station we all got off and made our way onto a bridge overlooking the dhobi ghats. Each morning washing from all over Mumbai is brought to here to be soaped, boiled, beaten and thrashed before drying and being taken back to its owners. Quite how they keep track of it all is beyond me - it looked like chaos. To get the whites white, they don't use Daz, but our guide told us they add a touch of chlorine to the water to bleach them.
After a photo stop here (I would have liked to have been able to get up close rather than just the view from above we had) we were back on the bus to see the dabba-wallahs - the members of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association. Every day some 4000 of these members deliver fresh home cooked food from the 100,000 kitchens to offices in the downtown area. Each housewife cooks the meal at their home, then the guys collect it and take it to a central area, then another dabba-wallah takes it to the hungry husband in his office, then the tin is collected after lunch and returned it to the original guy who then delivers it back to the housewife - all without the tin going astray! We were supposed to see all this in action but as it was a weekend we only saw a handful of dabba-wallahs, which was a shame. Back on the bus and we headed to the Prince Of Wales Museum where we had an hours stop. After the museum we headed back to Crystal Symphony for lunch.
Sea Day - May 9
Usual start to the day - breakfast in the Crystal Dining Room. I opted for a nice asparagus and morello omelette rather than my traditional Eggs Benedict - naturally it was yummy.
Then it was up to the Observation Deck for a few hours sunbathing - it was very windy up there but really sunny so ideal! However even with our factor 30 on we still got a bit burnt - ouch! Then it was lunchtime back in the dining room, then time for our second Odyssey Art at Sea session. This time we were still using the stampers, but had to create a diptych (I think that's what it was) basically 2 works that when hung side by side display a cohesive image - so either the same colours or a part of the image spreading from one picture to the other. We are displaying our "art" for the rest of the guests and captain to view. We get to keep the frame - thanks Crystal! I have 2 pieces in I think - maybe 3.
It was formal night so after showers and changing we met up with friends for the captains farewell cocktail party. Then it was down to dinner- delicious Beef Wellington that was perfectly cooked - so tender it cut like butter. After dinner it was on to the show - "Curtain Call" which was pretty good. Then we hit karaoke in LUXE - it was packed!
The next day was Dubai and we arrived at about 9am. As we sailed in the city rose like Atlantis out of the mist and was a wonderful sight to see. The old QEII was docked there too and it ws nice to see that classic liner.
We opted for a city tour, and we stopped at a beach to view the Burj Al Arab hotel and take photos. Then it was on to the local souk for shopping and haggling for bargains, then back to the ship. Dubai is one big mass of glass and metal - a tad soulless I thought.
That evening was our last night onboard so we said good-bye to our waiters, favourite bar tenders and staff - it was actually quite sad to be leaving the Crystal Symphony - everyone had made us so welcome onboard and all the staff we so genuinely friendly and nice - we will miss Crystal Symphony and her wonderful staff and crew - until next time!