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Explore the world with Pete & Judy on the 2018 Holland America Grand World Voyage

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Day 66 – At Sea - March 11th


Coffee Chat


Laurie Ashworth and Spencer Moran of “Eterni Amici” – were the guests at Coffee Chat this morning. Everyone assumes they are married, or at least seeing each other, but their relationship is purely professional. Laurie was discovered by Spencer when he heard her sing in an informal setting and approached her about singing professionally on cruise ships. Spencer had been performing on ships as a musician in various bands and knew the business and what type of acts might be popular. He created Eterni Amici with Laurie singing Soprano and play the piano while he would sing tenor and play the sax.


Activities at Sea


Played in two Texas hold-em tournaments today – losing in both.

Judy attended Ben’s drawing class where he demonstrated how to draw figures using shadows and highlights.

During Crafts today, Judy made Chinese Good Fortune Ear Rings.


Red Lantern Dinner


This evening was a gala night advertised as a Red Lantern Dinner. The dining room was decorated with red lanterns throughout while the entrance had two large dragons guarding the doors. Red chopsticks were placed at each place setting while a red hibiscus arrangement was the centerpiece for each table.


Noel, the on board marketing manager, was our table host. She is responsible for many of the on board revenue generating entities on the ship including: retail, casino, spa and the photo lab.


Adagio was playing during dinner on a small stage in the dining room on Deck 5. They filled both levels of the dining room with their wonderful music.


Featured menu items were consistent with the Asian theme including such choices as:


Nevertheless, most people stuck with the classic gala night choices of Surf and Turf. Or old standby surf and turf with lobster tail. As always, copies of the complete menu are available on the blog.


Queen's Lounge


Entertainment tonight was provided by the talented Holland American Line singers and dancers as they performed “Ala Mode” which was billed as “A musical journey around Europe, stopping in Italy, France, Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Great Britain”. They are exceptionally talented singers and dancers and they performed such hits as ----Abba’s “SOS” and The Four Season’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.




Hamish was under the weather, so Event Manager Mark did a fine job of filling in as the Master of Ceremonies.


After the show we finished packing for our overland tour to Angor Wat. We were scheduled to meet our driver around 9 AM outside Phu My’s port gate.

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I was far behind in reading this blog this year and was working to catch up. Now I’m surprised and worried that there have been no entries from Pete for the past month. I’ve seen entries up to date from other world cruisers as recently as yesterday. Thinking of you, Pete, and Judy, and hoping you are ok.



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Day 67, March 12, Phu My - Vietnam


Phu My is the launching point for our overland tour to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where we will visit Angkor Wat, the famous temple and one of the many temples that make up the collection of temples in Siem Reap commonly referred to collectively as Angkor Wat.


We visited Angkor Wat during a similar overland tour in 2016 and we enjoyed our trip so much we decided to visit again, but now with a little more insight and a different schedule.


HAL offered an overland tour for $2,499 per person. Our tour ended up costing about $1,200 per person. Before I go into the details of our trip, I will walk you through my planning process for this trip for the benefit of future travelers who might be interested in planning a similar excursion. Planning an overland trip may seem overwhelming at first, but once you break the trip down you will find that it is quite manageable on your own and you can not only save money, but travel in a smaller group and be able to adjust your schedule on the fly as the situation changes.


General Independent Overland Prerequisites


Before considering an independent overland, you should be flexible and creative in dealing with the unexpected and know how to make lemonade out of lemons if your best planning goes south for unforeseen reasons. You should also:

  • Know how to use a mobile phone in foreign countries and have an appropriate data plan.
  • Have at least 2 major credit cards and an ATM card.
  • Know how to make your own flights and hotel reservations.
  • Be comfortable hailing a cab on the street where the driver speaks no English.
  • Be willing to spend the night in a foreign airport sleeping in a chair.

Before you commit to an independent overland tour consider the following factors:

  • Is the destination suitable for an overland excursion? If the ship is sending an overland to the same location, then you can be certain that the trip is possible. Sometimes the ship may be willing to schedule with a smaller margin of error than I might because they know that the ship will be more tolerant of a late arrival than they may be for an independent.

For example – On our 2016 independent overland to Angkor Wat we were scheduled to fly from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, take a city tour and then proceed to Sihanoukville by bus to meet the ship. As it turned out, our flight to Phnom Penh was delayed, leaving us with little buffer to drive the 100 miles from Phnom Penh to the ship. We elected to cancel our city tour and proceed directly to the ship to maintain a 2-hour buffer. The ship’s tour was on our same flight, following an identical itinerary, but they pressed on with their city tour and arrived exactly at the All Aboard time – with no time to spare.

  • Likelihood that your launch port will be cancelled. Always possible but unlikely, especially if you are leaving from a port where HAL is launching their own overnight tours.
  • Do you need VISAs for any of the countries you will be visiting and can you get them on your own since the ship won’t get you a visa for a country the ship isn’t visiting.
  • Do you need a VISA for the country where you will meet the ship at their future port and can you get it on your own? Sometimes the VISA requirements are different if you are flying into a country as opposed to entering on a cruise ship.
  • What are your options to meet the ship at future ports if the original rejoining port is cancelled? If you are meeting the ship at the same port as the returning HAL overland tours this probability is low, but not zero. I prefer to plan overlands to meet the ship at ports where they will remain overnight as this allows you to still catch the ship if your departure flight is delayed or canceled.
  • Will the ship grant you a deviation to leave the ship and rejoin at a different port? There are some ports where due to local immigration laws they won’t allow people to leave the ship or rejoin the ship. If you are mirroring a HAL tour itinerary, the chances of being refused a deviation are low, but you can’t assume one will be granted. The port may limit the number of people that can depart the ship or may restrict immigration for other reasons which may not be obvious. Your travel agent or PCC will be able to get approval for your deviation.

Planning your trip


Now that you are ready to plan your trip – here are some considerations.

Start your planning by researching your transportation options to get to your destination and then return to the ship. Now is the time to consider your options if something happens to upset your plans and determine how difficult it may be to recover. In the case of this Angkor Wat Trip where we will be rejoining the ship in Singapore, there are many flight options to get to Singapore if our original flight was scrubbed.

Look at how easy it would be to get to the next scheduled port in case the original port in cancelled. Our next port for this trip after Singapore will be Phuket, which is pretty easy to get to as it is a major tourist destination with plenty of flights arriving there from all over Asia.

In 2016 I used a tour company called Ann Tours which made all our arrangements, including airfare. They put together a fine tour for a price similar what you can do totally on your own. I prefer to choose my own guide, hotel and have more control over my flight so I will usually make all my own arrangements whenever possible. HERE is a link to the web site for Ann Tours if you prefer to have a tour company make all your arrangements.

For our trip this year to Angkor Wat I needed to arrange for the following:

  • Land transfer from Phu My port to Ho Chi Min Airport (SGN)
    • Several private tour companies offer this service. I chose a company called Xin Chao Private Vietnam Tours since because they had a great price for the transfer and city tour and didn’t require up front payment. One big difference between Ann Tours and Private Vietnam Tours was their ability to get their vans directly on the wharf. Ann Tours charged $40 more per person than Private Vietnam Tours ($120pp vice $80pp) but Ann Tours has the permits to get directly onto the wharf next to the ship. Depending on where the ship moors, you may be able to walk to the port gate, but more likely you will have to take a shuttle bus to the port gate. If avoiding the shuttle bus is worth $40 per person to you, then go with a company like Ann Tours.
    • Things to consider when booking this transfer.
      • Get a van big enough for your group to spread out in the vehicle. Having 7 people in a 7-passenger van is not as comfortable as getting a 13-passenger van and usually only costs a little bit more to get the bigger vehicle.
      • Plan on 1 ½ to 2 hours for the transfer from Phu My to Ho Chi Min City.
      • Decide if you want to add on a city tour before your flight – or if you only need the transfer. Your price will be cheaper if you only get the airport transfer.

    [*]Flight from SGN to Siem Reap Airport (REP)

    • Use any airline flight search service to find your flight options. Consider the airline’s membership in one of the large alliances (e.g Skyteam) if you have status on a USA airline. We have elite status on Delta and since Vietnam Airlines is in Skyteam, our Delta status allowed us to use the Viet Nam Airlines lounge in the SGN airport.
    • The Angkor Wat ticket office in Siem Reap closes at 5:30 PM and if you find a flight that arrives before 4 PM you will have time to get your Angkor Wat ticket the same day you arrive. If you buy your ticket after 5 PM, it will be valid for the next day and you can avoid an extra stop early in the morning if you plan to visit a temple for sunrise.

    [*]Transfer from REP to hotel

    • Most hotels in Siem Reap will pick you up from the Airport at no additional charge. Taxis and Tuk Tuks are available otherwise.
    • If you have a tour company like “Ann Tours” make your arrangements, this transfer will be included, and you will probably meet your guide for the trip at the same time.

    [*]Transfer from hotel to REP

    • Your hotel will provide this transfer or be able to arrange a transfer for you.

    [*]Flight from REP to SIN

    • We found many options for this flight, however, every option except a SILK air flight required changing planes. Even though the SILK air flight was over twice as much ($480 to around $200 for the other airlines) we chose this option to avoid the hassle and time of a connecting flight. This option also gave us the entire day to see more in Siem Reap since this flight left later. Consider the VISA requirements if you chose to take a connecting flight. In most cases, you don’t need a VISA if you remain in the international zone of the airport, but sometimes you do, depending on the country, so be sure to check.

    [*]Transfer from SIN to Ship

    • Taxis from the Singapore airport are easy and inexpensive. You need to confirm the location of where the ship will moor in Singapore, so you go to the correct cruise terminal. Singapore has 2 different cruise terminals and your ship may be in either one. There isn’t any need to book this transfer in advance unless your group size won’t fit in a single cab and you don’t want to split up into different cabs.

Where to stay in Siem Reap.


Hotel prices are inexpensive in Siem Reap and you can find very nice 4-star properties for $50 a night. For around $130 a night you can find a very luxurious property that will include many extras like free local mobile phones, massages, airport transfers etc. The location doesn’t really matter as you probably won’t be walking very much, and the difference between the various properties is only about 5-15 minutes by car no matter where you stay in the area. We picked the Golden Temple Residence because of their exceptional reviews on Tripadvisor and the location was within easy walking distance to the night life and night markets in Siem Reap. As it turned out we never did take advantage of our proximity to the central business district so next time I may choose a different location. HERE is the link to the hotel's website.

Nevertheless, you can’t go wrong with the Golden Temple Residence. The HAL tours usually stays at the Intercontinental, which is another great choice.

Here is what to consider when picking your hotel.

  • Air Conditioned
  • Wifi
  • Airport transfers included
  • Restaurant on property for early breakfast and dinners if you don’t want to venture outside the hotel. Some hotels will prepare box lunches for breakfast, so you won’t have to return to the hotel to eat breakfast if you start early.
  • Pool and spa are nice if you think you will take advantage of them. We found that we were so exhausted from touring that all we wanted to do while back in the hotel was take naps – so we didn’t take advantage of the many amenities the hotel offered.

Guide and Local Transportation


Guides are worth the very modest cost (about $35 to $45 a day) as they will assist you with logistics during your visit in addition to explaining the history and background of everything you will see. If you have a travel agency plan your trip they will arrange for a guide and transportation. If you are planning your own trip you can ask your hotel to help arrange a guide or you can find one by reviewing Tripadvisor. We used an independent guide named Rin Nom (Contact him HERE on Facebook) or via email HERE who we used on our 2016 trip. We had such a wonderful time that we contacted him early in our planning process and arranged for him to be our guide during this trip. He charges $35 a day ($45 if you start for sunrise). He was also able to arrange for an air-conditioned van for $45 a day including the driver.






The ship will get your Vietnam Visa which will either be a group visa if you plan to stay in Vietnam, or an individual visa if you plan on staying overnight or leaving the country. The cost for the individual visa was $75, which was cheaper than any place I found to get my own visa in advance. They require a passport picture, but the ship used the picture from their photo database of check in pictures. The VISA was issued on a separate sheet of paper and placed in our passport and given to us when we picked up our passport from the Front Desk the day we arrived in Vietnam.

Regardless of which type of VISA you get, you will also get a Vietnamese Landing Card, which must be presented to the officials in the Immigration Tent at the bottom of the gangway.


You will need a visa for Cambodia and you must get it on your own. There are two options:

  • Visa on arrival in Siem Reap – This involves waiting in a separate line before clearing immigration and costs $35. The line was about 15 minutes long when we arrived.
  • E-Visa online – This can be done before you leave and costs $35 plus a small processing fee. You will need a scanned copy of a passport photo. Even though they say they will issue the visa 90 days in advance, they didn’t issue ours until 60 days prior, so it would be possible to enter on the 60th day and leave before the 90 days expired. They held our application until we were 60 days out then they emailed us our visas as PDF attachments which we were able to print out on the ship.


USA citizens don’t need a VISA to enter Singapore


Arrival in Phu My


We arrived in Phu My around 6AM and this allowed the local officials to board early to ensure everything was ready for our 8AM estimated official clearance time. I learned later that the ship had received all the official individual VISA forms electronically and were able to prepare them on board and have them ready for review on arrival, so we could retrieve our passports and visas by 8 AM.


One thing to keep in mind is that the official arrival and departure times listed on the ship’s itinerary may not be the same as the time you may be able to get off the ship or the time you might be required to be back on board. Sometimes these times are different due to delays in immigration arrival clearance, departure requirements or participation in mandatory departure lifeboat drills. When planning any independent shore excursions be mindful that it may take longer than you expect to get cleared in certain ports and try to build in some flexibility with your tour operator.


After we were moored I called our guide to check that we were still on track and that he would be meeting us by the entrance to the port. I was a little concerned that the place where the shuttle bus would drop us off would not be the same place that our driver would be waiting. Once I was able to talk to our guide I was confident that we would be able to get connected even if the port gate location was different than originally expected.


About 8:45 AM we met our traveling companions, Rick and Margaret, near the gangway and headed down to the wharf. The officials in the immigration tent looked up our names on a passenger manifest, stamped our Landing Cards and we were on our way to the waiting shuttle bus. We did notice that there was a small craft market set up on the wharf, but we didn’t take the time to look around. While waiting on the shuttle bus, someone poked his head inside and offered anyone was interested in transportation to Saigon and back for $25 per person. You probably could have negotiated a cheaper price, but no one was interested so we never learned the bottom line price. The ship offered a round trip transfer to Central Saigon for $59 per person.

The distance to the port gate from the ship was about .75 miles. Here is a screen shot from MAPS.ME with the exact locations of the ship, the port gate and the town of Phu My.





Our guide, Andy, met us next to the van holding a sign with my name. Ours was the only van in sight and there weren’t any taxis, vendors, or anyone else other than the port guards in the area. The town of Phu My was still 3 miles away. One other passenger got off the shuttle bus looking for a taxi, but we were gone before we ever found out if any taxis ever appeared or if he went back to the ship.


Driving to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)


We left the port gate at 9 AM with Andy and headed to Saigon, arriving 90 minutes later. Along the way we passed several road side markets and shops, but we spent most of the trip travelling on a modern multi lane toll expressway. There wasn’t any traffic today, but there could have been more at other times, so I would plan for this trip taking 2 hours to give you some buffer.

Andy (his adopted western name) was enthusiastic and full of knowledge about Vietnam and since he was also familiar with western customs and culture, he was able to offer interesting comparisons and contrasts in ways that were easy for us to understand. We learned that everyone in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) refers to the city as Saigon and the name HCMC is only used in official correspondence.


He carefully explained the tonal variations used in the Vietnamese language and how they change the meanings of words. For example, the word PHO – the popular Vietnamese noodle dish – means “prostitute” when pronounced by most western tongues with a long “O”. The correct pronunciation requires a careful pitch change with the accent on the “H” with the “O” sounding more like a soft “a”. After several attempts we received passing marks from Andy, but he remarked that Vietnamese are used to the western pronunciation of common words and will not be confused by our lack of tonal nuance and we will be understood when using the word in context.

Our original plan was to visit the following places:

  • Ben Thanh Market: Typical Asian market - with everything from fish heads to silk
  • Saigon Square: A little more upscale market - now airconditioned, but still a local market
  • Bitexco Financial Tower: Eat lunch on the Café Eon on the 51st Floor - Nice Views - tallest building in the city
  • Dong Khoi Street: People watching & shopping - this is the high-end shopping street in Saigon.

After discussing our plan with Andy, he suggested that we visit some totally non-tourist markets where we would likely be the only westerners around. We quickly agreed, and we were off to visit some spots off the beaten path.


Visiting the local markets


Our driver dropped us off near the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market and Andy led us through the streets, both narrow and wide, as we mingled with residents going around their daily shopping. The variety of items for sale was huge and it was as if all the products in a WalMart supercenter were dispersed onto the streets with each product being sold from a separate street stall.

Next to all the shops selling food and products we found a private billiard club with a group of men playing what looked like something similar to 5 pin billiards. The room was open to the street and we were able to approach very close and observe for a few minutes. Billiards is very popular in Vietnam.


About once or twice in every block we spotted roosters kept under a semispherical chicken wire cage. Andy explained that these roosters were fighting cocks that would be used in fights about once a month. While cock fighting itself is legal, the gambling that accompanies most fights is not, and illegal cock fights are routinely raided in Vietnam.

We came across a building with a large photo of Ho Chi Minh along with a red sign with gold lettering that indicated that this was an official government building. Andy explained that this was the equivalent of a USA community center and it was used for local meetings and other events. There was also an exercise facility inside with some basic cardio equipment and weights that required a membership that cost about $10 USD per month.


Above the streets were a haphazard web of electrical wires that were used to provide power to shops and apartments. Apparently whenever a wire malfunctioned they would string new wire as it was easier that trying to find the break.

Andy led us inside the common areas of a typical Saigon apartment building. We climbed up to the fourth floor – no elevators – and noticed wooden planks running across the steps. These planks allow people to ride scooters up the stairs, so they can park them inside their apartments or right outside their doors.


We spent about 90 minutes wandering around this area before we met our driver once again and headed to a local restaurant for lunch. Andy took us to a nice restaurant, Quan An Ngon 138, near the Independence Palace museum that he said served local dishes. Andy ordered a variety of dishes for us to share and he explained each dish as it was served. We enjoyed a Vietnamese Pancake, Broken Rice with grilled pork and two bowls of PHO – (pronounced FO-Ah) along with a salad.


As we were wrapping up lunch we ran into a few people from the Amsterdam who took the $59 shuttle to Saigon to tour the city on their own.


Ho Chi Minh Airport


It took about 20 minutes to get to the airport and we arrived about 1:45. Checking in took another 20 minutes. Going thru immigration took 8 minutes and security took another 8 minutes. We were flying to Siem Reap on Vietnam Airlines, which is part of Delta’s Skyteam, so we were able to access some of the Sky Priority Lines, which probably cut some of our waiting times in half.

To summarize, it took about 45 minutes to get from the curb to the lounge. I would add about 15 minutes if you didn’t have status and had to wait in all the normal lines.

We started to board our flight about 30 minutes before our scheduled take-off time and we pushed back 6 minutes early. The flight boarded more quickly that USA flights because many of the passengers didn’t have any carry-on luggage so there was less time spent waiting for people to muscle luggage into the overhead bins.

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants passed out Cambodian Immigration and customs cards. The forms were in English and easy to understand.


Siem Reap


We landed a few minutes early and taxied to our parking spot. There aren’t any air stairs connecting the aircraft to a terminal building, so everyone gets off the plane using portable boarding stairs and then walk outside until you get to the terminal building.


Once in the terminal building you will see a sign with three arrows:

  • Visa on Arrival – straight ahead
  • Transit Passengers – to the right
  • Passport Control – to the left

If you already have your VISA from the eVisa system you can proceed directly to the immigration officials seated in a line of booths off to your left. There weren’t separate lines for Cambodian citizens or anyone else so pick whatever line appears to be the shortest. We arrived at the same time as several other planes so the lines for immigration were probably about 30 people in each of 10 lines. The wait turned out to be about 45 minutes. At one point we were approached by someone who offered to expedite our passage thru immigration for a fee of around $10 per person, which appeared to be negotiable. We weren’t sure about the legality of this service, so we elected to wait in line. We did see some large tour groups get escorted thru a separate gate and we heard, but can’t confirm, that this group paid $15 a head for priority service. If you sit toward the front of the plane and have an eVisa, walk fast to the terminal and your wait to clear immigration should be less.


After immigration, you must pass by a customs official who will collect the customs declaration you completed while on the plane before landing. Once you clear customs and leave the terminal building you will find a line of people from taxis and hotels holding signs with various names. If you have a prearranged transfer, this is where you will find your driver. If you don’t have a prearranged driver, you will be able to find someone who will be more than happy to help you get to your hotel.

We quickly found our representative from the Golden Temple Residence and he phoned our driver who arrived in a few minutes. Once in the van we were offered cold beverages as we sped off for the 20-minute drive to our Hotel.


Golden Temple Residence


The lobby for the hotel is covered, but while open to the elements remains surprisingly cool, despite the higher temperatures on the street. We were seated on comfortable chairs to complete our check in process and get an orientation to the hotel’s many amenities and features. I called our guide, Rin Nom, who came over to the hotel, so we could discuss our plans for the next day. We were able to make some adjustments to my preliminary schedule based on his extensive experience. The most important decision is whether you will view Angkor Wat at sunrise and if so, from what vantage point.


The most popular spot to view sunrise is adjacent to the north reflecting pool inside the Angkor Wat Compound. This spot will be crowded with people jockeying for position and some people arriving an hour before sunrise to get a prime spot. We elected to go to a spot outside the main compound, which we felt was a good compromise, between arrival time and crowds. There is a map on the blog showing the choices. Do some Google Searches for Angkor Wat sunrises and you can decide for yourself if the difference is worth the extra hassles. Keep in mind that the rising sun is usually hidden by an agricultural haze and doesn’t come into sharp focus until it is higher in the sky than you may expect.


Based on my previous visit, we decided to end our touring the first day at noon and relax in the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon. On our second day, we would start a little later – 7 AM – and end our touring around 1 PM. The weather is so hot and humid that the enjoyment of touring late into the afternoon goes way down and you can’t really enjoy much of what you are seeing. If you have limited time, you may want to stay busy all day, but brace yourself for hot, humid conditions in the afternoon.


We agreed to meet Rin Nom at 5 AM and headed off to dinner in the hotel, which was included in the room rate, and watch a traditional Apsara Dance. You will inevitability have an opportunity to see the same show at almost any hotel in Siem Reap. The show consists of 6 traditional dances and if you are interested, you can find more information about these performances on the You Tube.


Our 4:30 AM wakeup call would come soon so we headed off to our rooms to get some sleep. The rooms are first class all the way, with large bathrooms. The internet is free and very fast. There were plenty of electrical outlets (220 volts – euro style plugs) and a nicely stocked mini-bar.



Please see the blog for detailed photos and maps

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I was far behind in reading this blog this year and was working to catch up. Now I’m surprised and worried that there have been no entries from Pete for the past month. I’ve seen entries up to date from other world cruisers as recently as yesterday. Thinking of you, Pete, and Judy, and hoping you are ok.



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Refresh your computer screen. They have a post on this page 19. look for The-Inside-Cabin

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Refresh your computer screen. They have a post on this page 19. look for The-Inside-Cabin




Was reading the inside cabin blog and here on cruise critic. Refreshed both sites and couldn’t find an entry or a point in the map after March 11 which is a month ago until Pete’s post from 3 hours ago. Very glad to see a new post.



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I am about a month behind on posts. All is good here - Will post a few more before our next port. Will get all days posted eventually.



I know that you are about a month behind, but the details you give are fabulous.

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Enjoying your posts. I figure that if you are a month behind it will extend the postings for the world cruise and my vicarious enjoyment of all the world cruise bloggers will be extended. I'm interested to read how your Crystal cruise experience is. Keep cruising to the fullest, blogging can wait. It is interesting to see the port experiences you choose and your appreciation of other cultures


Keep on blogging!!!.



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Enjoying your posts. I figure that if you are a month behind it will extend the postings for the world cruise and my vicarious enjoyment of all the world cruise bloggers will be extended. I'm interested to read how your Crystal cruise experience is. Keep cruising to the fullest, blogging can wait. It is interesting to see the port experiences you choose and your appreciation of other cultures


Keep on blogging!!!.



Mary, not a Crystal cruise.


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Mary' date=' not a Crystal cruise.


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Sea viewer is spot on. At the end of the World Cruise Pete and Judy usually stay on as the ship goes through the Panama to California repositioning for the Alaska Season. This year, Amsterdam is going going into drydock. With the Amsterdam not continuing, Pete and Judy will be boarding the Crystal Symphony on April 30 to Los Angeles. It will be their first Crystal Cruise.



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Sea viewer is spot on. At the end of the World Cruise Pete and Judy usually stay on as the ship goes through the Panama to California repositioning for the Alaska Season. This year, Amsterdam is going going into drydock. With the Amsterdam not continuing, Pete and Judy will be boarding the Crystal Symphony on April 30 to Los Angeles. It will be their first Crystal Cruise.





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I am thrilled that you are a bit behind in your posts because it is extending "my" adventure. Your posts are great and the info can be used even by those not on a cruise. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!! Cherie

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Day 68 - Mar 13 - Siem Reap (ms Amsterdam at Sea)


Planning for sunrise at Angkor Wat


Viewing a sunrise at Angkor Wat is popular but different than what you may be expecting. For some sunrise events around the world, you can see the sun’s first bright rays as it breaks the horizon. Due to the terrain and the ever-present haze, it’s unlikely you will see the sun actually break the horizon, but more likely you will see it appear as a red ball once it rises above the trees. Viewing the sunrise here is not so much a visual spectacle as it is being a part of the serenity and ambiance of this shared event.

There are many different spots you can watch the sunrise, the most popular being on the west side of the north reflecting pool inside the Angkor Wat Compound. I advise you to google “Angkor Wat sunrise” on You Tube and observe the sunrises and the crowds at the various locations.


My original plan was to climb to the top of the Phnom Bakheng temple for Sunrise. Phnom Bakheng is a popular spot for the sunset viewing. It is so popular and crowded that they limit the number of people which results in people lining up hours in advance of sunset to secure a spot. Sunrise here is not very popular as it requires climbing up a rocky trail in near darkness using flashlights. After discussing our sunrise viewing options with our guide, Rin Nom, we decided that navigating the rocky climb in poor light was probably not worth the effort, so we elected to go to a less popular / less crowded viewing spot outside the main Angkor Wat compound.


Here is a map that shows the location of the various sunrise viewing spots.




If you request a travel agency to put together an Angkor Wat tour package, be sure to specify if you want to view sunrise and if so, from what location. If you want to get the best spot, along the water’s edge of the reflecting pool, you will have to buy your ticket the previous day. This requires you to be at the Angkor Wat ticket office between 5PM and 5:30 PM when tickets for the next day are sold.


The major temples and the Angor Wat ticket office (4.5 miles from Angkor Wat) both open at 5 AM. Sunrise is usually around 6:20 AM. The earliest you could get to the Angkor Wat reflecting pool, if you buy your ticket the same morning, is probably 5:30 AM and the best spots may already be taken since the people who already have tickets will be able to enter Angkor Wat as soon as it opens at 5 AM.


Based on the above, we elected to view sunrise at a location on the west side of Angkor Wat on the edge of the surrounding moat (shown on the map). We were able to park very close, sit down on a ledge and enjoy our breakfast box lunches while waiting. There were probably only 10 other people within 50 yards of our spot. If we went to the most popular spot, we would likely have to stand, shoulder to shoulder, and be constantly defending your turf against latecomers. You may get lucky and pick a time with smaller crowds, but consider the possibility of crowds and plan accordingly.


The HAL tour to Angkor Wat didn’t offer a sunrise option, probably because the logistics of moving that many people, that early in the morning, were too daunting.


NOTE: Each person must buy their own Angkor Wat ticket as they print the ticket with your picture so you aren’t able to transfer the ticket to anyone else. This requires each person to walk to the ticket office window, get their picture taken, and then get their ticket. Tour agencies can’t buy the tickets in advance for their groups. The ticket office accepts credit cards.


Bottom Line – There are a lot of options for viewing sunrise at Angkor Wat – do your homework on the internet, watch the videos, read other blogs and make an informed decision about what spot is best for you.




We met our guide at 5 AM in the hotel lobby, picked up our waiting breakfast box lunches (provided by the hotel and included in our room rate) and headed out to the waiting van. There wasn’t any line to buy tickets when we arrived at the Angkor Wat ticket office at 5:15 AM and we were back in the van by 5:30 AM. A few minutes later, we stopped to show our tickets to the ticket control people at the various checkpoints leading into the Angkor Wat complex. By the time we parked our van and walked a couple of hundred yards to our viewing spot, it was 5:50 AM.


NOTE: You will be asked for your ticket numerous times during the day at various checkpoints. I would bring a small zip-lock baggie to keep it dry otherwise your perspiration may get it soaked during the coarse of a hot day.


Throughout your visit to Angkor Wat, you will be approached by small children selling post cards and other trinkets, usually for an asking price of $1. You will also come across numerous other teenagers selling books about Angkor Wat for $10. Both the post cards and the books are of surprisingly good quality, so if you find either of them interesting they are a pretty good value.


It takes a few minutes after official sunrise for the sun to make its appearance over Angkor Wat. It appears slowly thru the haze, first as a red ball, then gradually turning yellow and brighter, before it reaches full brightness and is impossible to view directly.


Visiting Angkor Wat


An hour after we arrived we headed over to the temporary floating bridge (that is in place until they finish restoring the original bridge), crossed the moat and entered the interior grounds of Angkor Wat around 7 AM.


We took about 2 hours to cover the ¾ of a mile from the outer edge of the moat to the base of the main Angkor Wat Temple. Along the way we listened to our guide explain the various statues and engraved murals that cover the walls of the various rooms and buildings. Depending on your interest level, you could cover this distance much more quickly, but we weren’t in any hurry and enjoyed the leisurely pace. The temperatures were still comfortable and visiting the temples in the morning is far more pleasant than in the afternoon.


At the base of the main temple are a set of two very steep stairs that lead up to the upper level of Angkor Wat where you can walk around and view the area from this higher vantage point. They limit the number of people on the upper level so there will probably be a line as you wait for others to come down before they allow more people to ascend the stairs. The stairs are quite steep, and Judy elected to stay below while the 3 of us climbed the stairs and spent about 20 minutes exploring the upper level.

Around the base of the upper level we took some pictures with people dressed in traditional costumes who pose with visitors for a small donation.


There are two entrances to Angkor Wat, the western entrance across the floating bridge, or the eastern entrance which leads to an accessible road via a pleasant walk down a shaded path. We left Angkor Wat using the east gate and met our driver at the pick-up spot outside the ticket checkpoint. It was now 10:30 am so we spent almost 5 hours in and around Angor Wat. You could probably cut this time in half if you walked faster and spent less time in each area and skipped a bathroom stop.


Angkor Thom


Our next stop was the largest temple in the Siem Reap area, Angkor Thom. There are Asian elephants available for rides for $20 per person that operate from 8 AM to 10 AM. We had planned to ride the elephants today, but because we spent longer than planned at Angkor Wat, we would have to postpone the elephant ride until tomorrow.


Outside the entrance to Angkor Thom are some hands-on exhibits which allow you to practice carving one of the stone facades or use a lever and pulley system to lift some of the heavy stones.


The highlight of your visit to Angkor Thom is the Banyon Temple. Here you will find interesting face sculptures among the various rooms and open areas. While there aren’t any steep stairs like at Angkor Wat, you will come across numerous sets of stairs with about 10 to 15 steps each and other entrances that require stepping over 1-2-foot-high thresholds. There isn’t any accessible access so keep this in mind as you plan your visit. If you stay outside, you can still see several of the sculptures and carvings without having to do many stairs.


We asked our guide to plan our visit to avoid the crowded times at the various temples and he was successful in coordinating our visit so we weren’t jammed in while walking around. If you are not sure what you want to see in the Siem Reap area, share your priorities with your tour agency or guide and they will be able to help you better plan your visit.


We were getting tired, so we elected to go directly to our van and drive past the Elephant Terrace and other attractions in Angkor Thom. If you have the time and energy, you could walk thru Angkor Thom and meet your driver on the other side of the temple. This is another advantage of planning your own independent excursion with a smaller group – you have more flexibility to adjust your schedule on the fly.


On the way out of Angkor Thom we drove across the Rainbow Bridge which has sculptures of the good warriors on one side and the evil warriors on the other.


Balloon Ride over Angkor Wat


Before we returned to our hotel we stopped by the Angkor Balloon which is a tethered helium balloon that flies 100 meters (328 feet) above the ground for about 15 – 20 minutes. The price is $20 per person. The balloon will only fly in low winds and there are many days when it is not operating. We saw the balloon during our 2016 visit, but we didn’t have time to work in a flight. On this trip we scheduled it as part of our itinerary.


There wasn’t any line or anyone else in the area when we arrived. It doesn’t appear that the balloon ride gets much business or maybe we caught them on a slow day. Once you pay your admission, you walk about 150 yards out to the balloon and enter the semi-circular steel basket. After everyone is inside, you get the safety briefing which consists of two words “Hold On!”


The operator releases the cable brake and the balloon rises slowly over the terrain. It takes 2 or 3 minutes to reach the 100 meter maximum altitude. The operator’s English is pretty much limited to “Hold On” so don’t expect any commentary about what you are seeing.


The view from 100 meters gave a good orientation to the surrounding area with a great view of Angkor Wat. However, the haze is so thick that the visibility was less than 10 miles and it was difficult to make out many other features because everything was about the same dreary brown color. Nevertheless, we had a good time and I would do it again. I would suggest that you take a Siem Reap map to help orient yourself to the area.


Relaxing in the Afternoon


We returned to our hotel about 1:15pm and ordered some fish and chips to be delivered to our rooms. On our previous trip we spent a few hours relaxing before heading out to visit some more sights around 3 pm. Since we only had one day to tour on our last trip, we had little choice but to venture out into the afternoon heat. This time, we had a second day to tour so we elected to spend the afternoon in the hotel and start touring again tomorrow morning.


I spent the afternoon relaxing in the room and taking a nap. Judy took advantage of the complementary massage that was included in the price of the room.


Mystery Dinner


For dinner this evening we elected to try the hotel’s “Mystery Dinner”. This was advertised as a progressive dinner where we would travel, via tuk tuk, to a different location for each course. We incorrectly assumed that the mystery locations might be local independent restaurants, but it turned out that we traveled to the restaurants in the two other Golden Temple properties, the Golden Temple Hotel and the Golden Temple Retreat. The food was fabulous and the experience of driving around Siem Reap at night in the tuk tuks was fascinating.


At the Golden Temple Hotel, we saw a few of the standard Aspara Dances. Like I said earlier, you will find that you will see these dances almost everywhere you turn during the evening. We enjoyed them the first time, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to see them again.


We are going to meet Rin Nom at 7 AM tomorrow, which while early, still beats the 4:30 AM wakeup call we had this morning.


More on the blog

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This latest report along with photos from your website is one of my favorites. Would it have been possible for you to pay $20 to take your guide along with you on the balloon ride? Another fabulous post, thank you!!!!!!! Cherie

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This latest report along with photos from your website is one of my favorites. Would it have been possible for you to pay $20 to take your guide along with you on the balloon ride? Another fabulous post, thank you!!!!!!! Cherie




We wanted to pay for him to ride, but he declined and preferred to stay on the ground.




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Day 69 - Siem Reap - March 14


Meeting our guide at 7AM seemed like we were sleeping in late after our 4 AM wakeup call the previous day. We skipped breakfast and headed straight to the lobby, joined up with Rick and Margaret and headed out to the van.


Ta Prohm


Our first stop is Ta Prohm, which was made famous by being featured as a location in the 2001 movie Lara Croft “Tomb Raider.” If you haven’t seen the movie, the iconic feature of Ta Prohm are the trees that appear to grow out of the temple stones themselves. The various trees you will find here include: silk-cotton, thitpok, strangler fig and gold apple. In addition to Ta Prohm, Tomb Raider also includes Phnom Bakheng (spot for sunset views), the Bayon Temple we visited yesterday, along with Angkor Wat which was “moved” in the movie to appear on the banks of a river.


Ta Prohm is not restored as many of the other temples have been, but there is some work in progress by companies from India. There isn’t a lot of vertical elevation like at Angkor Wat, but there are many times you must walk “10 steps up – 10 steps down” to cross a threshold or enter a room as you move from area to area.


We arrived at 7:45 AM and we beat the crowds, so we had the place to ourselves for most of our visit. This is where an experienced guide is very helpful as he can plan your visit to avoid the peak periods, which vary from temple to temple. Many of the pictures you see here would have been impossible if we arrived an hour later as the place would be jammed wall to wall with people.


As we were passing through one of the rooms, we came across an older woman named Yeay Tam who was making and selling “thread bracelets” which are typically made from cotton and then worn until they wear out and fall off. They are supposed to bring you luck. Yeay Tam was making her bracelets from an acrylic thread which makes them last longer. Judy remembered Yeay Tam from our visit in 2016 when she bought a bracelet from her then as well. We learned that Yeay Tam is 80 years old.

After about 90 minutes we finished our tour of Ta Prohm and headed back to our van.


There are plenty of clean bathrooms throughout the Siem Reap temple complex and most of the restrooms are co-located with small craft markets. We stopped at one as we left Ta Prohm and Judy picked up some nice silk scarves with interesting designs. Here is a picture of the scarves we took once back on the ship.


Elephant Ride


When we were here in 2016 we noticed the elephants that were available for rides around the Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple. The rides are only available from 8-10:30 am in the morning. We had planned to ride them yesterday, but we took longer than planned at Angkor Wat so we missed the 10 AM.


We arrived at the Bayon temple a little before 10 am and paid the $20 per person to a person sitting at a small table who gave us a commemorative ticket. No one would ask to see or collect this ticket. We headed over to a ladder that climbed up to a platform where we would board the elephant. There was about 2 couples in front of us and after a short wait we climbed aboard our elephant named “Kita” who was 45 years old.


Once we were seated, we headed off for one lap around Bayon Temple which would take around 15 minutes. The ride was very jerky as our basket would sway up and down with each step of the elephant. Before we boarded the elephant, we handed our camera to our guide, Nom, who took a few pictures and then handed our camera to our driver who returned it to us.


As we made our way around the temple, our driver would stop every few minutes to we could take a photograph from our elevated vantage point without the motion of the elephant.


The elephant rides were wrapping up as we returned to our starting point and climbed back down the ladder to meet our guide and walk back to our waiting van.


Over our two days in Siem Reap we passed several groups of cyclists who were on organized tours around the temples. This must have sounded better back at home in your air-conditioned house as I can’t imagine cycling around Angkor Wat in the heat and humidity we experienced during our visit.


Banteay Srei


Our final temple visit for this trip would be Banteay Srei nick named “The Lady Temple” which is located about 15 miles (40-minute drive) northeast of the major Angkor Wat temples. This temple is in remarkably good condition and has some of the best preserved reliefs in the area despite the fact that it is 200 -250 years older than Angkor Wat. This temple is made from rose colored sandstone which gives it a completely different look than the other temples in the Angkor Wat area.


There isn’t much traffic outside of Siem Reap and you will make pretty good time on the two-lane roads. A modern visitor center with a café and numerous small shops will greet you on arrival. There is very little climbing or steps here, so this temple is a good choice if you want to avoid steps.


I won’t give any detail about the various temples as there is so much information available for those interested in learning more. I recommend a book called “Guide to the Temples of Angkor”



We spent about 90 minutes here including about 20 minutes walking thru the shops near the visitor center. Our guide, Nom, amazed us all when he captured a Cicada that was sitting on a nearby tree. He was able to show us how this insect makes such a racket before he released it, unharmed, back into the wild.


Leaving Siem Reap


Our flight wasn’t until 6:20 and we planned to leave for the airport around 4:15 PM. We arranged for a late checkout, so we had a chance to take a shower after we returned to the hotel around 1 PM.


We spent 8 hours touring the first day and 6 hours the second day. There were more hours in the day available for touring, but I would caution against doing much in the afternoon unless you are confident in your ability to have a good time while enduring high heat and humidity. My advice is to limit your time out and about to 6-8 hours daily.


The hotel staff all gathered to bid us farewell and take some photos before we headed off to the airport - 15 minutes away.

We arrived at the airport around 4:30 PM. We completed our airline check-in and all the departure immigration checks and were in the departure lounge by 5 PM. Remember to have your departure card, the one that they gave you before landing in Siem Reap, filled out and ready to go. If you don’t, then you will have to stop at the counter before immigration and fill out another one.


The international departure area has a large duty-free shop area along with a convenience type store selling soft drinks, snacks and souvenirs. There was also a couple of fast food restaurants and a café. The airport has free and reasonably fast Wi-Fi.

The aircraft all park outside on the ramp, a couple of hundred yards away, so you must walk outside some distance before you get to the parked aircraft and then board using mobile aircraft boarding stairs.




Our flight to Singapore left on time and landed 2 hours later. Along the way we were served a hot meal along with our choice of beverages.


Clearing immigration in Singapore was a breeze. Their airport is very modern, well organized and well run. It took us 25 minutes from the time we got off the plane until we were in the taxi line.


The taxi line was ten minutes and we were soon on our way in a very modern taxi with an English-speaking driver. It took us 18 minutes to get to the Marina Bay Cruise Terminal and cost $27 Singapore Dollars. We paid cash, but they accepted credit cards.


The Marina Bay Cruise Terminal is very modern but there weren’t any shops and not much reason to spend any time here. There were some folks using the free Wi-Fi, but I didn’t bother to log on and find out if it was very fast.


We had a great time on our overland to Cambodia and the entire trip went off without a hitch. We enjoy Cambodia very much and will be visiting again in the future. The Cambodian people are very friendly and Angkor Wat is fascinating. There is much more to explore on future visits.


It was nice to be back on the ship.



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Thanks a bunch for posting the world cruise info. The itinerary has grown on me, will have to give this cruise some serious consideration. Thanks for all the other posts, too, of course.

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Blog updated with PDF scan of 2020 world cruise schedule


HERE is a link to the blog post. HERE is a direct link to the pdf scan


Thank you !

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