17 -19 April: Muscat and Dubai

Muscat

We were not much interested in visiting the Grand Mosque, the principal attraction in Oman, nor the Souk, and we booked day passes and a return coach journey to the Intercontinental Hotel which was on the beach, and about twenty minutes from the cruise terminal. Our plan was to return at 3pm and then have a walk into the nearby town, but in the event the coach taking us to the hotel got a flat tyre and we had to wait for a replacement coach. That arrived very promptly but it meant the departure from the Intercontinental was delayed and we had no time, when arriving back at the ship, to go out again. But our guide on the coach was a charming and humorous Omani and we saw a little of the city on our journey.

The hotel was lovely, with two very good pools, and lots of shade on what was a formidably hot day. The temperature reached 35 centigrade which was significant because the Port Lecturer – forever referred to by a table companion as “Useless Graham’ and whose research is partial and advice unreliable, told his audience that the peak temperature would be only 24.

The nearby beach was just a strip of sand, without shade and not really offering an attractive alternative to the pool. I had a quick wade into the waves believing there was a lot of floating seaweed. In fact the sea was coloured black, not by weed, but by millions and millions of small fish which immediately began nibbling at my feet. I’ve never seen such a density of living things.

We abandoned the pool and had a pleasant lunch on the terrace of the hotel restaurant. We both had some excellent Focaccia bread and Penne Arabbiata with beer and wine (unexpected because we believed Oman to dry) for about £50.

Later, back onboard, we sat on the balcony while a beautiful crescent moon and, I think, Venus emerged. Hard to capture in a photo, but here’s an attempt:

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Then, still recovering from the heat, Jan resorted to stealing my beer in the Commodore Club:

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Dubai

This is, regrettably, the last of our overnighters. they’ve been a great success and, in our experience, almost everyone has loved the opportunity to stay out later.

We arrived at noon. there was some anxiety from the Hotel Manager that the face to face immigration required by the UAE authorities would mean heavy queues to leave the ship. But this was not like the process in Singapore – where the delays were severe – and each of us spent two or three minutes with an Immigration Officer. Instead there was the most cursory of checks and after a delay of little more than ten minutes we were on another Cunard shuttle bus, this time to the Dubai Mall.

It’s a while since we’ve been to Dubai and we’ve never been to the Dubai Mall. We anticipated something huge but full of international designer shops all selling overpriced luxury goods. Such shops were there but there was a much wider variation and with retail brands from different countries represented. There was a Hamleys from the UK; Galleries Lafayette from France and Pottery Barn, West Elm and Bloomingdales from the USA. Downstairs there were also lots of local shops selling local crafts including beautiful carpets.

I bought a very nice blazer from Banana Republic’s sale, replaced my first generation (and recently broken) Apple watch for Apple’s version 3 (saving quite a bit on the UK price) and we got a present for our daughter. But mainly we wandered around, drank coffee, and gazed at the quite incredible Aquarium into which you can see from the Mall.

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As the heat of the day started to abate we wandered outside into what is known as the Old Town but which is, in fact, a recent creation but with traditional architecture and containing a small Souk and lots of restaurants. We searched for the highly recommended Rivington’s Grill which had good reports for some classic British dishes including what they describe as a Brick Lane Curry. But it had closed, presumably having gone out of business (despite its reputation). In its place however was a new branch of Shake Shack the US Burger chain which we like very much indeed. We sat on their terrace with a fantastic view of the Burj Khalifa as the sun sank behind it.

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Later we watched one of the remarkable musically accompanied fountain shows:

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We were back at the hotel for eight and watched an excellent film in the cinema, The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and sure to be in the Oscars reckoning next year.

For our second day I’d arranged a taxi to pick us up from the ship and take us to Le Royal Meridien Hotel at Jumeriah Beach. It was outstanding with three pools, four or five restaurants and on an attractive beach with excellent swimming.

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We drank coffee, beer and had a simple lunch at our sun beds. Our day passes cost £40, but it was money well spent and we stayed all day. After dinner back on the ship, and as we made our way toward Aqaba, we returned to the cinema again and watched Beauty and The Beast.

Dubai has surprised us. There’s much about it which is vulgar, but we had a terrific two days.

 

April 13 – 16th: Visiting Cochin (but not disembarking) and more sea days.

Getting visas for this mammoth cruise was remarkably straightforward. Everywhere we have visited, with the exception of Australia and India either did not require UK visitors to have a visa or granted them upon arrival. Getting a visa for Australia was gloriously straightforward (and free) the whole process being completed online within minutes.

India was the problem. First of all the Indian Government only allow tourist visa applications to be made within 6 months of travel and at just the time I needed my passport for work travel. Secondly, according to Cunard and their visa specialists, CIBT, we could not disembark at Cochin with an electronic visa and would need, instead, to apply for a full visa, the obtaining of which is time consuming and the cost, including agency fees, is about £175 each.

India is a wonderful place and we have been lucky enough to holiday there on a number of occasions. And we have visited Cochin before. It is – at best – an unremarkable place. So, before embarking in Southampton I sought from CIBT specific advice on whether or not we needed a visa if we were prepared to stay on the ship throughout our stay in Cochin. CIBT were evasive, if not dishonest, insisting that was impossible. Eventually, after a number of terse exchanges with Cunard they confirmed – in writing – what I had suspected, which was that those staying onboard would not require a visa.

In the event, it seemed very odd indeed to be in India and not to be able to disembark. But we were not alone and I would estimate that about half the passengers stayed onboard. With that number, along with hundreds of Indian day visitors, the ship seemed as busy as on any sea day.

Why Cunard choose to allow the QM2 to stop in Cochin, and only Cochin is a mystery. It would have been very easy to visit Madras before or after Colombo, and after Cochin we could have visited Goa (perfect for the many passengers onboard who were experiencing India for the first time). And yesterday we sailed past Mumbai, which we know to be an exhilarating and friendly city. The Celebrity Constellation, which has been following us from port to port, was, apparently, dropping into both Goa and Mumbai.

Deciding not to get off at Cochin has meant an extra sea day, making four between Colombo and Muscat. As usual, we’ve spent a lot of time reading on the promenade deck. I’ve walked a lot of laps as the fight to prevent any weight gain continues. We both attended a well presented and amusing musical Who Done It in the Theatre and there’ve been a couple of worthwhile things on at the Cinema (including the rather odd Phantom Thread and, somewhat predictably, Lawrence of Arabia (which would have been more appropriate on the next sector, approaching Aqaba which is central to this brilliant but very long film).

The Veranda

One highlight was eating with Jo, Joyce and David at the Veranda Restaurant, Cunard’s speciality French restaurant. There was a supplement of $49 each but it was first class and ran to about six courses. Jan had veal and I had some outstanding lobster:

 

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There were some excellent desserts and a very good cheeseboard. I’m sure we shall go again.

Pirates

Today (the 17th April) there was a special passenger drill to prepare us for the possibility – however remote – of an attack by pirates. As has been explained to us, and as we approach Oman, we’re entering the area which has been protected for some years now by the United Nations. Although we have not yet seen any evidence of it we know there is a UN naval task force nearby and observing our progress. The drill required us to leave the decks, including our balcony, and congregate in the hallway outside our room. Meanwhile, on the deck at the back of the ship temporary look out posts have been established and the promenade deck is locked shut at dusk for the next week or so.

Muscat in Oman tomorrow, and then two days in Dubai.

April 12: Colombo

We were excited about this stop having heard so many good things about Sri Lanka.

We docked at about seven. I walked the deck as we did so and then, skipping breakfast, and at about nine, we left the ship. Cunard were providing shuttles from 10.00 but the Port Authorities allowed us to walk out of the dock area where armed guards were numerous. We were to discover that there was similar evidence of the still delicate security situation throughout the capital.

It was already very sunny and very hot and the walk out of the port, and along a dual carriageway before we got into the city itself was hard work. Once in the city we rested for a while in an air-conditioned bank from where I withdrew about £50 worth of Sri Lankan Rupees. And then around the corner we stumbled upon an old, once colonial, tearoom where we stopped for coffee and a savoury pastry and planned our day. It was a great find, rather elegant and with coffee at about 40pence a cup:

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We wanted to go to The Pettah, Colombo’s busy commercial/market district but were keen to walk and see what else we might stumble over. That itself was a challenge in Colombo because Tuk Tuks in their hundreds kept pulling alongside and offering – dishonestly – to take us anywhere for a dollar. One would stop, we’d politely say we were fine and then another, which had just observed our refusing a ride, would stop. They couldn’t be ignored and the drivers would generally not go until they’d received their own personal rejection.

The walk took us about 30 minutes. It was very hot but worthwhile because on the way we saw lots of the sights: the Independence Hall, The Twin Towers and, most engagingly, Cargill’s Department Store, now closed but with its past grandeur very evident.

The excellent Lonely Planet Guide to Sri Lanka warned that The Pettah might be overwhelming and that we’d need a break from it after a relatively short time. It was an extraordinary experience. It’s not a market as such; the traders all operate from stores or semi permanent kiosks. But it’s incredibly loud. There was no personal importuning, just countless shopkeepers shouting out details of their wares. And amongst the considerable crowds, Tuk Tuks and motorbikes dodged their way through. It was as intense an experience as we’ve had on this holiday, but it was fantastic.

There was nowhere to get a cold drink or a coffee, the handful of cafes being without air conditioning and, as we discovered, being warmer than the outside and more stifling. Fortunately for us we stumbled into here:

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This was a department store, considerably faded and somewhat eclipsed by the chaos and energy of all the ships and traders which surrounded it. It was an oasis. It sold primarily fabric and men and women’s clothing. Jan found a very pretty Indian dress, conscious that we are expecting to attend an Eid party at our daughter in law’ parent’s house when we return. She tried it on and decided to buy it. We would not have missed that experience for the world. First the young, barefoot man, who served us, agreed the price (which appeared to be about 90% of the ticket price but which, when I then accepted that without any hesitation, rose to about 95%). We agreed the newer higher price and he took us down two flights of stairs to a supervisor who wrote out a receipt for the agreed amount. I then had to take the money to a cashier. The cashier took our money and with, by now, a bundle of receipts, we were able to go to the door of the shop where the dress was parcelled up and handed over to us. Throughout this process the original attendant hovered in the background to ensure all was well. It was great.

By now it was close to noon and we decided we’d have a change and visit the Colombo promenade, Galle Force Green. We agreed a price with a Tuk Tuk driver, obligingly agreeing the first price offered of US$5 (which was about double the going rate). All we then had to do was hold on as he forcefully and recklessly threw the Tuk Tuk into the crowds.

The promenade was pretty and in front of the beach there were innumerable kiosks selling refreshments, toys, food and kites, which were being flown in some number. But there was a complete absence of shade and although the walk was pleasant it was formidably hot. So when we saw – somewhat surprisingly in Colombo – a Sri Lankan take on a Bavarian Bier Keller, we almost flung ourselves within where I tried, some Sri Lankan rather than German beer. We cooled down, had some French Union Soup (so that was a French dish, served in a faux German Bar in Sri Lanka) and more beer (and wine) before steeling ourselves for the return walk along the promenade.

We found our way, very nearly, back to the ship but the first security guards on one of the Port gates wouldn’t let us through. A Tuk Tuk pulled up and the driver insisted he knew which gate we needed and took us on another hair-raising drive dropping us at a much bigger set of gates. He insisted that because it was a Friday afternoon that the fare was US$20. I gave him two and when he protested suggested we might discuss the reasonableness of his fare with a nearby police officer. But in the heat of the argument I’d failed to establish that we were now at the right gate. We weren’t. A very helpful soldier intervened with one of the port drivers and he took us into the port and around its perimeter to the QM2, driving us to the gangway just as torrential rain arrived. We’d agreed a “fare” of $10 but I gave him $20. It was a worthwhile investment at the end of a great but exhausting day.

9 April – 11 April: Phuket; And Sea Days and Routine

Phuket

Phuket, specifically Patong, was the first port we visited on our first cruise (on the Queen Victoria in 2009). It was vile then and it’s vile now.

About a 750 passengers were visiting the so-called James Bond Island (along with a similar number from Celebrity Constellation). That didn’t appeal to us, and we decided to make the best of the town. But first, taking advantage of the fact that more than a thousand passengers had left on excursions by 8am, we had a long and very civilised breakfast in the formal dining room.

After that we had a pleasant day, but there’s no denying Patong is about as unsuited to the Cunard demographic as one can imagine. It has some redeeming features, including a pleasant beach and good swimming, but they are overwhelmed by the tawdriness of the front, the shops all selling the same T shirts and bags; overpriced and often grubby restaurants and cafes; and huge, noisy and unattractive bars. Behind the road, which runs along the beach, there are other slightly more attractive streets and we wandered away from the front to find a reputable massage shop (one with the reassuring ‘No Sex” sign hanging prominently). Jan had a very good aromatherapy massage (about 75 minutes for £10). I sheltered from the by now ferocious heat in a small and very quiet bar. I was the only customer because this is a place where the majority of visitors, invariably young, are sleeping at eleven in the morning, emerging in late afternoon and then drinking through the night. Later we had a very poor although not inexpensive lunch, before returning, gratefully, to the ship by three. Patong served to emphasise how pleasant Malaysia had been…

Sea Days and Routine…

After booking this cruise, which we did almost two years before our departure, we wondered whether, wonderful as it might be, we might get bored with days at sea. Today, Wednesday the 11th of April is our 56th sea day (and yesterday was our ninetieth day, meaning the cruise is three-quarters completed).

Blogs from past World Cruisers seem to suggest there is a bit of a trough in terms of enthusiasm at about this time and indeed, we have seen some evidence of people losing a bit of enthusiasm. There’s more and louder dissatisfaction expressed – generally about small and irrelevant issues – and impatience about issues such as the weather. Our tender journey back to the ship at Patong was dominated by people complaining about the heat, as if the entirely typical temperatures we have been experiencing, have been unreasonably imposed by Cunard.

One or two people admit to having had enough and deciding that 120 days is too long. Indeed, one couple, a mother and adult son, and who perhaps foolishly booked the full world cruise as their first experience of cruising, found it not to their liking very early on and permanently left the ship at Cape Town. As David, our table companion has accurately described it, a holiday like this, on a ship, even one as large as the QM2, imposes restrictions and the experience becomes to feel routine.

That’s certainly true. Things do become repetitive. We note that more people are opting out of formal dining each evening (not surprising when there are 120 consecutive days in the same restaurant). And for the first time, this week, we too shall have a change attending the pop up Chinese Restaurant in Kings Court tomorrow and the Veranda Restaurant on Sunday (albeit with our usual table companions).

We certainly feel a sense of routine on sea days. But we have not been bored. I think there are two main reasons for that. First of all, we have always loved sea days and they’ve been as important to us on previous shorter cruises as port visits (when we hear people mutter that they don’t like sea days we wonder why they choses this particular cruise). Secondly, we have both read voraciously. I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read which totals forty five at the moment, and both of us are happy to spend much of the day on the promenade deck – mostly in shade for me – reading and drinking tea and coffee. This is generally my view:

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We don’t join in many of the activities. Our table companions variously dance, attend Chairobics, paint or learn line dancing. We do none of those although we have attended a good proportion of the Cunard Insight Lectures.

The speaker profile has dropped somewhat since the appearance of Mary Robinson, David Gower, Michael and Sarah Howard and Martin Bell in the first month or so. But the standard has continued generally to be high. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a very good speaker from NASA; Andrew Barber (who describes himself as an ex diplomat but may have been in GCHQ or somewhere equivalently sensitive) speaking about spying and espionage; and most recently an ex Metropolitan Police detective who has spoken of the intrigue around some notorious murders. His first example, which drew a large audience, concerned the murder of a first class passenger on an Ocean Liner in 1947.

But although we’re not bored it is the case that we are becoming increasingly excited about returning home and seeing our children, grandchildren and friends. When we booked this cruise we did not have grandchildren. We now have two and we have missed them terribly. Numerous videos and Facetime conversations keep us in touch but also accentuate the extent to which we miss them. And we’re also looking forward to returning home. We moved house just a few weeks before departing and we’re excited about living in a new home (even if it is next door to the one we’ve lived in for the last 12 years).

If we were to offer advice to anyone contemplating a cruise like this I think we’d suggest that 120 days is a long time and a cruise of somewhere nearer 80 or 90 days might suffice. I don’t think that if this cruise finished now (after 90 days) we’d feel it had not been long enough. But we’d also suggest thinking carefully about a World Cruise – whether of 90 or 120 days – if you’re not pretty self sufficient in terms of entertainment. We’d have struggled were it not for the extent to which we’re both content reading. Cunard activities might fill up a few hours every day, but there’s a lot of time to fill on a cruise with 72 sea days. And some Cunard activities are themselves repetitive and those on the World Cruise make less use of them as time goes on. The shows in the Theatre, given by the Cunard dancers and singers, are repeated on each sector. The films in the cinema are repeated frequently. Murder On The Orient Express and Swallows and Amazons have each been shown four or five times. More disappointingly, the various classes in things like photography and dancing finish at the end of each sector and then start again. All this means that after the initial sector, which finished for us at Cape Town, eleven weeks ago, there’s a lot of time in which you have to find your own entertainment.

The final bit of advice we’d offer is that, if at all possible, book a room with a balcony and a view. Even when there’s little to see (and on some sea days we never see another ship) this view and accompanying soundtrack from the waves never palls.

 

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And sometimes, the view is like this:

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Being on this cruise has been, and continues to be, a privilege. We are looking forward to some more memorable stops, including at Colombo, Petra, Cyprus, Rome, Barcelona and Cadiz. We shall never forget it. But we’ll be ready for home, four weeks tomorrow, when we dock at Southampton.

 

 

7 and 8 April: Georgetown and Langkawi

Immediately on the heels of Kuala Lumpur these two days comprised our remaining two in Malaysia, a place which we have never previously visited but which we have loved. The different experiences of each of our three port visits emphasise its variation and its great value for money.

Georgetown

We were off the ship well before nine and got one of the first Cunard shuttles, which dropped us off at a shopping mall in the business centre of the town. We knew that there would be little open at this time but calculated, correctly, that we’d find somewhere with fast enough Wi Fi to download a fresh Google map, they having become the mainstay of our explorations. Sure enough we found a Starbuck’s. Rather guiltily, since we avoid the chain at home, we used their Wi Fi while enjoying excellent coffee. We may have to try them again in the UK.

We downloaded our map just in time as Starbucks began to fill with arrivals from subsequent shuttles and, as a consequence, the Wi-Fi all but slowed to a stop. As we left it was still before ten and shopkeepers were just beginning to open the shutters on their storefronts. We wandered along Penang Road, one of the main thoroughfares and soon found the main market, which, unlike the shops was already busy. It was very much a locals’ market albeit with one or two tourist stalls and we enjoyed a wander through it. I bought yet another T-shirt, this time depicting some attractive street art from Georgetown. It was about £3.

We liked Georgetown very much (with the exception, perhaps, of the mandatory skyscraper). Its full of pretty shopfronts, all rather more battered than the restored examples we saw in Singapore, but with a great deal of charm and in their original intended use, with families living above their businesses:

 

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We wandered on toward the Little India area and gambled on buying a bit of old pewter. It was a gamble because it might, in reality, have been manufactured this week and carefully aged. But we didn’t think so – the shop seemed very respectable and long established – and it was very attractive anyway. We also bought an original and pretty watercolour of some of the Georgetown shopfronts. It was less than £20.

By this time it was incredibly hot and we began searching for a bar where we might have a cold drink, eventually finding the Kashmir Bar and Restaurant on a street corner at the top of Penang Street. Bravely, we sat outside, albeit in the shade, and were rewarded with a constant breeze as the wind blew around the street corner.

 

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It was a great spot and with much to gaze at in the busy junction in front of us. I had Tiger beer and Jan some wine and we tried a couple of what proved to be excellent samosas. Later, we had half a tandoori chicken, which the owner claimed to be the best in Malaysia. He might be right. It was outstanding as were the additional samosas we enjoyed with more ice-cold beer. All in all it was a fantastic lunch and all for about £16.

We spent the afternoon meandering back to the ship on foot, pausing to look at one or two things, including a beautiful teashop. We were back on the ship by about three.

Langkawi

This is a stunningly beautiful place. This was the view as we opened our curtains this morning:

 

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We had arranged an excursion which would drop us off for the day at one of Langkawi’s famed beaches. The coach was not leaving until 9.45 so we had a lazy start and enjoyed breakfast on the balcony:

 

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The hotel was only a five-minute drive from the pier and we were there just after ten, which meant that most of us were able to get beds on the beach where there was lots of shade from both beach umbrellas and trees. It was lovely and the sea beautifully warm and with barely a ripple. The cost of spending the day here was very little, about £35 and for that we received vouchers for four complimentary drinks and a buffet lunch. Remarkable.

The hotel itself, The Holiday Villa, had seen better days, being a bit dated but it had two beautiful pools, one with a swim up bar as well as a private beach which is where we stayed all day. We decided to forego the buffet lunch, bridling somewhat at the call for us all to attend the dining room in a single group although, by all accounts, the food was very good. Instead we had lunch at the pretty beach bar:

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Lunch was very modest: fried fish and chicken wings with chips and salad. But with a couple of drinks the cost was only £17. Malaysia provides astonishing value for money; food and drink, being, I would estimate, about half the cost in Thailand. That saving seems to apply to transport as well. We decided not to return on the coach with the other Cunarders and along with our table companions, Nick and Geraldine, got a taxi back to the ship at about five. That cost just 10 Ringits, about £1.90.

The end of three excellent days in Malaysia.

April 5 and 6: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Singapore

This was the last of our return Port visits. To accommodate passengers taking short duration return cruises (Sydney to Sydney; Melbourne to Melbourne; and Singapore to Singapore, QM2 has somewhat wandered around Australia and now around the South China Sea. But, we have no complaints. Those additional days in Sydney and Melbourne were very welcome as was this second stop at Singapore.

A fortnight ago we did the two things in Singapore we were most keen to do, spending most of our day in Little India and Chinatown. But we’d heard good things about the new Quayside in Singapore and about the Gardens On The Bay.

Despite our best efforts we rarely sleep much after 6am and this meant that by 8 we were queuing to leave the Ship, wondering what delays would ensue because of Singapore’s insistence on face to face immigration procedures, including fingerprinting. This caused significant delays two weeks ago and again on this visit. But our early start meant we avoided them and it was not yet nine when we left the Metro system at Clark Quay. We had coffee in Starbucks, using their Wi Fi to download an offline map to Google maps and were soon wandering along the river. It was all very pretty if, somewhat Disneyesque. And the bars and cafes were mostly closed this early in the morning.

We didn’t tarry long and were soon back n the Metro, re-tracing our steps to within sight of QM2 and walking – in what was now terrific heat – to The Gardens On The Bay. We’re not great fans of Gardens, botanical or otherwise, but this place was very special. The highlight was an extraordinary very tall (perhaps eight storeys) conservatory, which reproduced mountainous rainforest conditions, complete with frequent misting. A long walkway snaked its way from top to bottom. It was stunning.

 

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We might easily have eaten there because there were plenty of very attractive eating-places. But, instead, we decided to take a circuitous route back toward the Ship and visit Chinatown again. We didn’t shop (or not very much) but instead made again for Food Street and had an outstanding lunch. Singapore restaurants serve some exceptionally spicy Chinese food and we had dishes of prawns and fried chicken each fried with and served with dried chillies. With some egg fried rice, wine for Jan and Tiger beer for me, it was simply wonderful and all for about £40. And I was juvenile enough to photograph this unusual offering from the menu:

 

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Kuala Lumpur

We’re probably in the busiest period of this cruise, with this being the second of five consecutive port visits. It really feels remarkable to have a day in Singapore, sit on the balcony with a glass of wine (Jan) or a glass of Bourbon (me) and watch Singapore merge into the distance, have dinner and go to bed and then wake up in somewhere new. In this case, Port Kelang in Malaysia.

We had reserved places on the coach, which dropped us off in KL for five hours, and we were delivered to the famous Petronas Towers by shortly after ten. We had no wish to go the viewing platform on the top of the tower(s) particularly on a misty day and instead found our way into an adjacent shopping centre where we were able to have some excellent coffee and pasties at an Illy franchise while we plotted our day, once again using fast Wi Fi to download an offline map of the city (it has to be said that this is a marvellous Google innovation. Once downloaded, one needs neither Wi-Fi nor a data connection because your whereabouts on the map is shown via GPS. It makes finding your way around a strange city much, much easier and at absolutely no cost).

We were also able to find any number of ATMs in the shopping centre, buying Malaysian Ringits at an exchange rate of 5.5 rather than the 3.8 offered by the tour guide (who nevertheless got a lot of custom).

We then negotiated yet another Metro. This one, like the Singapore system is very new, air-conditioned, fast, comfortable and cheap, most journeys costing about 40 pence. But, as in Singapore, buying tickets can be a performance. The manned ticket offices (here on in Singapore) will not sell single journey or return tickets. But one still has to queue there because the ticket machines don’t take cards, nor notes larger than 5 Ringits (about £1). So, unless one has some small notes the ticket office has to help which they do cheerfully. In exchange for my 50 Ringit note I received a huge bundle of mostly 1 Ringit (20 pence) notes, and proceeded to feed them into the machine four at a time for each of our journeys.

We travelled to Chinatown, described by Lonely Planet as the cultural heart of the City and spent almost the whole day there wandering the Central Market and nearby streets. The market, largely composed of permanent stores in a large cool market hall was fascinating, more expensive than most markets visited but selling stuff of generally better quality. We admired a beautiful Kashmir Rug and I thought that if it was less than £500, I might consider buying it. It was £5,000.

Jan bought a beautiful, silk Chinese jacket and a couple of pairs of inexpensive but very pretty shoes. By a process of sign language the young woman in charge of the shoe stall told us we had spent enough (about £40) to qualify for free flip-flops for each of us. We searched fruitlessly for size elevens for me and fives for Jan but found neither. When we indicated we would manage without a local woman eagerly asked (again through sign language) asked if she could have the free pairs and was delighted when we agreed.

We hoped we might eat here and found a very attractive Malaysian restaurant on the top floor:

 

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We had Thai pancakes and a Malaysian Chicken and Chilli dish along with rice (and beer and wine) for about £30. It was good, but not of the exceptional standard we enjoyed in Singapore yesterday.

We meandered back to Petronas Towers. It was now mid afternoon and the Metro and the city was much busier. We had a look at some of the shops in the bottom floor of the shopping centre we had earlier visited. They were largely local. There were also one or two international brands here – such as Uniglo – which sold clothing at prices at about a third of those on Regent Street. Jan was able to buy The Malaysian Woman’s Weekly and I got a copy of The Kuala Lumpur Star which was entertaining, including as it did, an advert for apartments in what was described as a UK Garden City, second in prominence only to London, but which, after careful reading, turned out to be Salford.

And then, to finish the day in authentic fashion, and as we walked to the bus before its 3pm departure, the skies opened in dramatic fashion and we were spectacularly soaked. But it did not spoil another lovely day.

2 April: Nha Trang, Vietnam and reflections on the onboard Art Gallery

After a succession at great days at some marvellous ports we cannot reasonably complain about a poor day, but Nha Trang was and is a pretty vile place. This wasn’t entirely a surprise, the guidebooks describe somewhere, once widely used by US Servicemen for rest and recuperation, and which has now grown into Vietnam’s most hedonistic resort. But even so, it was disappointing, particularly after we were so enthused by Saigon.

For the first time on this cruise, Cunard struggled a bit with their tender operation, probably because they encouraged those of us not on excursions to turn up too early for tender tickets. And for the 1500 new passengers who had boarded at Hong Kong, this was their first port and, not surprisingly, they were ready very early for their first trip to shore.

We were queuing for tender tickets at 8.30, but it was nearly 9.30 before our tender left the ship. But the shuttle service once the tender docked was as reliable and as prompt as ever and we were delivered to our drop off point in Nha Trang by ten.

The importuning by taxi drivers, tour operators and cycle rickshaw drivers was as intense as we’ve experienced on this trip and Jan and I almost fled into the side streets to get away from them. We decided not to bother with the market here, the market in Ho Chi Minh City having been very poor, and our having recently sated our appetite for markets in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.

But avoiding the market, the main destination for tourists, posed challenges for us. We searched first for somewhere for coffee and found a simple cafe busy with businessmen and couples. But we were not prepared for the complete absence of English and our holiday French got us nowhere. Nor we were prepared for the grubbiness. Eventually, a lot of pointing between us and the proprietor – who never removed a cigarette from his mouth during the exchange – got us some coffee. Like this:

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But even in the spirit of trying everything it was undrinkable, being cloyingly sweet and at the risk of appearing impolite we paid hurriedly and left it.

We walked back to the front where there was an attractive beach and lots more cafes and bars. But they were all pretty grim, even those recommended by Lonely Planet. They all had names like The Skylight Bar, Crazy Kim’s Bar or the Beach and Booze Bar and patently catered for a very young and night time crowd. At midday they were just dull and grubby dives. And the restaurants we looked at were little better and for almost the first time on this trip, we did not eat out during a port visit.

We found a modern shopping centre and Jan bought some Levis – not forgeries – at a very good price. But mostly there was little to interest us. We wandered and wandered along the front and up and down the main roads, but there was virtually nothing to commend the place other than, perhaps, spending some time on the beach. We gave up and returned to the ship by about 2.30.

Clarendon Fine Arts

It’s a mystery to us why Cunard cannot find a better art gallery provider than this one. There’s a captive audience onboard and one that is inclined to buy something to remind them of the cruise. If there were a gallery selling paintings depicting some of the places we’ve visited, and at reasonable prices, I suspect it would do well.

But what we have here is a gallery which while taking up a lot of space has a range of pictures and sculpture of little or no relevance to the cruise. And, worst of all, it’s appallingly priced. This well known and commonly retailed Vettriano print is marketed here as a signed limited edition. Anyone paying this price (about £450) would be very badly advised:

 

The Flat Iron Building in New York is a beautiful building and has been captured brilliantly by many artists and photographers. We’ve rarely seen a painting which portrays it as inadequately as this attempt.

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But this – which makes the Flat Iron look like the Middle Sized Iron – is described as a hand signed limited edition and is priced at £500.

There are some rather attractive reproduction vintage Cunard prints in which we were briefly interested. And there are some original works which are of better value than the so called limited editions. But overall, the value for money of almost everything available is poor and has the potential to exploit those who don’t know how affordable high quality art can be when purchased in the UK.

And this sort of drivel, promoting the work of an artist called Fabian Perez, is beyond parody. Why the Captain would associate himself and Cunard with this nonsense is hard to fathom:

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This cruise is a product of such high quality and such great value, Cunard need to think again. Anyone buying from this Gallery and doing a bit of research after returning home would feel pretty disenchanted with Cunard.