This cruise, taking in Dubai, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore was booked through Imagine Cruising in 2016 and comprised a part of the Holland America Rotterdam Far East Cruise with overnight stays in both Dubai and Singapore. We flew from Gatwick airport overnight to Dubai arriving at around 7am.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is famous for its shopping malls and its impressive buildings. We had a sightseeing tour of Dubai included as part of our package which gave us an overview of the city and included the mosque, the Sheik’s palace, palm beach and the Dubai Museum. After the tour we checked into our hotel, the Hilton Doubletree and after a shower and change of clothes decided to explore the city for ourselves. We wanted to visit the Dubai Mall so we took the hotel shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates and then took the public metro to the Dubai Mall. The public metro is a great way to see the city and we had a good view of the buildings and people of Dubai.
It was begining to get dark when we arrived at the Mall so we decided to take a look at the dancing waterfalls. The waterfalls perform every half an hour to a range of music and are well worth a visit. The buildings surrounding the lake are also illuminated making quite a spectacle. After watching the waterfalls we found a place to eat and then paid a visit to the Dubai Aquarium.
The aquarium is the second largest in the World in terms of size and is the largest aquarium in the World with a walk through. Although you can view the aquarium and watch the fish from the shopping mall free of charge we decided to pay 120 AED for an explorer ticket to see what else the aquarium had to offer. We were not disappointed. We spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes viewing the fish and also seeing other aquatic animals including crocodiles, penguins and turtles that had been rescued by the aquarium. After viewing the exhibits we got to have a trip around the aquarium in a glass bottomed boat. We were able to feed the fish but tried to avoid disturbing the sharks in the aquarium.
After our visit to the aquarium we took the metro back to the Mall of the Emirates and then walked back to our hotel and went straight to bed. The next morning we left the hotel and were taken to the port to board our ship the Holland America Rotterdam. Having had just seven hours sleep in two days we were glad that we had three sea days ahead of us to laze around in the sunshine before we reached our first port of call.
Our first port of call was Mangalore, India. We had researched this port before we left the UK and decided that there was little of interest in Mangalore so we had decided that we would walk to Panambur beach 3km from the port. All tourists entering India have to have a face to face inspection with the authorities as well as having a valid visa. The Indian authorities came onto the boat and we filed past them one by one and eventually left the boat. We were very shocked by the filthy condition of the port. We were docked in an industrial area full of containers, the roads were covered with a 3cm layer of oil which spoilt our shoes, and the area was filled with large lorries belching out noxious fumes and stirring up dust and grime. The smell of the area was equally obnoxious.
We declined the number of tuk tuk offers to take us anywhere we wanted and decided, despiete the heat and humidity to persevere and walk to the beach. Once there the beach was lovely and we dipped our toes in the blue water. The sea is quite rough and dangerous for swimming so after our paddle in the sea we enjoyed a cold drink in the shade before taking a tuk tuk back to the boat.
Our next port of call was Cochin in the Kerala region of India. We had booked a private tour with Carnival Tours to go to Aleppy for a house boat trip and also a tour of Cochin. The trip was very reasonably priced at £53 per person, about half the price of the ship excursion. We were met at the port by our guide Jude K Peters and driver Praveen and our day began with a two hour drive out of Cochin to Aleppy. Along the way Jude pointed out the sites and also gave us a lot of information about the Kerala region of India. We eventually reached Aleppy and boarded a houseboat for a very relaxing 2 hour trip on the river.
During our river journey we were served a traditional Kerala meal of chicken, curry, pompadoms and fresh fruit. After our boat journey we returned by car to Cochin where we walked through the streets looking at the architecture of the buildings. We then paid a visit to the church where Vasco da Gama was originally buried. Next we walked back to the coast where we saw the Chinese style fishing nets that are still used by fishermen today. All too soon it was time to return to our ship ready for the next leg of our journey.
Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka
We had booked a Holland America Shore Excursion to see the Elephants of Udawalawe National Park. Leaving the port of Hambantota we drove North through Sri Lanka for about 2 hours. During the journey our guide told us a little about Sri Lanka and also about the relationship between humans and elephants on the island and how each are vie with the other for living space.
We reached the Park at about 10.30am and transferred into 4 x 4 high-sided vehicles for our Safari around the Udawalawe National Park. Each vehicle seats 8 people and a driver and has comfortable seats and a good view of the surrounding area. We were lucky to catch a first glimpse of elephants early into the 2 hour safari but then had to content ourselves with sightings of colourful birds and lizards before we came upon a herd of water buffalo enjoying the coolness of the lake.
A short while later we spotted a herd of elephants by the water. Some of them disappeared into the bush as we approached but two stayed and treated us to a close-up view of them enjoying a mud bath, spraying themselves with mud from the edge of the lake to keep cool.
We saw some more elephants and water buffalo as we returned to our coaches to be taken to a nearby hotel for lunch. After lunch we visited the elephant orphans. It was feeding time and we saw them rounded up and brought for a feed of milk and leaves.
After spending our remaining Sri Lankan Rupees on souvenirs we returned to our coach and arrived back on the ship in time for afternoon tea.
We were docked in Yangon, Myanmar for three days and chose a Holland America excursion for each of the days. On the first day we chose a half day Introduction to Yangon tour. We left the ship at 8.30 in the morning and boarded our coach which took us to our first stop, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Leaving our coach we removed our shoes and socks and then took the lift up to the pagoda complex. The Pagoda is an amazing spectacle of marble, gold and statues of buddhas.
Around the central area are stations with a buddha statue and elephant symbol for the day of birth. We walked around and found our birth days and poured water for the statues. We then spent the remainder of our time looking at the surrounding buildings.
After our visit we returned to our coach for the journey to the Scott’s Market in the centre of Yangon. This is a large market full of stalls selling a range of goods but predominantly local crafts, jewellery and jade. We managed to haggle a few bargains before returning to our coach for the journey back to the ship.
On our second day in Myanmar we chose an all-day excursion to Bago which is a two-hour drive north of Yangon. We boarded our coach at 8.30am and drove out of Yangon towards our first stop, the World War Two war graves. This cemetery commemorates 27,000 Commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives fighting the Japanese in Myanmar during World War Two. It is a beautifully kept graveyard with pillars commemorating the fallen soldiers.
After a quick toilet stop we headed on to our second stop the Shwe Pagoda. This was another huge pagoda complex which is currently being re-covered in gold. Although impressive it was not as impressive as the Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
Next stop was a monastery where we looked at the living area of the monks and learnt that all boys spend a period of their life as a monk and this brings favour to the family. Boys spend time as a monk when they are about 8 years old and again when they are in their teens. After visiting the monastery we were taken to a local restaurant where we were given a traditional Burmese lunch. We purchased a few souvenirs before boarding the coach again. Our first stop after lunch was another pagoda but as we got off the bus we spotted some street sellers so we opted to use our half hour stop to do some bargain hunting instead.
Our final stop was at the site of the Sleeping Buddha. This enormous statue is very impressive due to its size and richness. A short distance from the building housing the buddha was a weaving shops where girls were weaving material on bamboo looms. They then use the material to make the longyi (wrap-around skirts) traditionally worn by both mem and women in Myanmar. After this there was just time for a bit more local shopping before boarding the coach for the two hour journey back to the ship.
Our third day excursion in Myanmar was a visit to Thanlyin village. We left the ship and travelled by coach to our first stop which was the Thanlyin monastery. Here we removed our shoes and socks and had a tour of the small local monastery. After looking around the monastery we were given a walking tour of a small part of the village. It was interesting to see how the people of this village live in total contrast to how we in the UK live. We managed to communicate with the locals through gestures and smiles to get over the language barrier.
After our walk through the village we returned to our coach for a short journey to the local village market. We were then told about local transport and given a ride on a horse and cart and a tricycle. All too soon the visit was over and we returned to our ship and prepared to say a sad goodbye to Myanmar.
Our excursion in Phuket was a visit to the Sian Elephant Safari which is supported by the Born Free Foundation. We left the ship and boarded the coach for the drive to the safari site. After a while we reached a car park where we transferred to 4 wheeled drive vehicles to take us up the hill to the site. Along the way our guide pointed out a huge Buddha statue built on top of one of the hills. We soon reached the Safari site and were greeted by our Safari guides and split into smaller groups. We were shown demonstrations of coconut oil making, weaving, cooking and ploughing before meeting an 8 year old female elephant who was very friendly and let us pet and feed her.
Next was the highlight of the visit to the Sian Elephant Safari, a 30 minute ride on the back of an elephant. Our elephant was a 46 year old female named Boo Boo. She gave us a very safe ride through the jungle paths where we had some amazing views of Phuket from our high vantage point.
All too soon the ride was over and we left the Safari site to travel back down the hill and back to our coaches.
Our final port of call was Singapore where we left the ship and transferred to our hotel, the Furama by Riverfront. Not wanting to waste any time we stored our baggage then left the hotel to explore the surrounding area. We were approached by a taxi driver who told us of a special jewellery sale that we should visit so we hopped in and were taken the short distance to the factory. We had a loo around but didn’t find anything we wanted to buy. Leaving there we found a bus stop and took the bus to Raffles Hotel.
After taking some photos of the hotel we went to find the hop on hop off bus. As we were waiting at the bus stop a tour representative approached us and said that we could by discounted tickets inside the train station so we followed him into the station and to his travel kiosk where we purchased a two day pass for the bus as well as tickets for the night safari tour that night. We then spent the rest of the afternoon on the hop on hop off bus enjoying the sites of Singapore.
After our bus journey we returned to our hotel to check in and change ready for the night safari tour. We were collected from our hotel and taken to the city centre where we were divided into groups for our respective tours. The Night Safari is attached to Singapore Zoo and features nocturnal animals in their natural habitat. There are four walking tours and also a tram ride which goes through all zones. We began by taking one of the walking tours and enjoyed spotting the animals in the twilight.
After completing the walking tour we took the tram ride. A guide gave us information about each of the zones and the animals that live there. He also pointed out the animals when it was difficult to spot them. After the tram ride we had hoped to have a meal but due to the ridiculously high prices we decided to make do with a packet of crisps and can of coke. We got back to our hotel at 11.15pm and went straight to bed.
The next morning we were up early and after breakfast checked out of the hotel and stored our luggage before taking the bus to the centre of the city. We then took a taxi to Mount Faber where we took the cable car to Sentosa island. We had a look around at the flowers and the waterfalls before taking the cable car over the island.
We took the cable car back to Mount Faber and then took a taxi to Chinatown where we spent our remaining Singapore dollars. Then it was back to the hotel to wait for the bus to take us to Changi Airport for our flight back to the UK.