Singapore to Thailand

After a couple days in Singapore to rest up after our 17.5 hour flight from San Francisco, we checked out of our hotel near Chinatown and took a taxi to the Mari Bay Cruise Centre. Along the way we passed the iconic Marina Bay Sands Resort, the tall tri-tower hotel with the “ship” on top connecting the three towers. In the background we could see the Singapore Flyer with its 28 cabins that make one complete revolution every 28 minutes. As we went through thte Gardens by the Bay we could see some of the metal sculpture Supergrove Trees that are quite the lighted sight at night. Arriving at the terminal, our check-in process was super-efficient and we were on board the Celebrity MILLENNIUM sipping a glass of champagne by 12:40.

Our sailaway began about 6 PM under a sky of gray clouds that eventually opened up to wet the decks. Spirits weren’t dampened, however, as the guests were excited to begin our journey through Southeast Asia. The special cocktail, Singapore Sling, helped to brighten the mood along with the party band playing some high-energy songs.

The first two days were spent at sea as we sailed east and then north into the Gulf of Thailand where we docked in Laem Chabang, Thailand. We did a long tour on our first day in port, going into Bangkok – a 2+-hour drive each way. I thought our first stop – Suan Pakkad Palace Museum, aka, “Cabbage Field Museum” – was going to be very interesting. The garden area was nice, but the decaying wooden walkways and the rushing from “house” to “house” made the visit less than memorable.

Because King Rama IX died recently, streets around the Grand Palace were barricaded and so we had to walk about a mile in the heat to get to the entrance. The place was crowded with tourists and school children. Once inside our main sights were the Emerald Buddha – Thailand’s most revered image of Buddha – and a few other ornate buildings and structures.

Leaving the Grand Palace we once again set out on foot, this time walking to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is difficult to take it all in as he 46.5 meter statue is in a building that was built to house it, not to display it.

We all boarded three-wheeled tuk-tuks for a ride around the city. These little “taxis” can dart in and out of traffic, making them a desired choice for the locals. We went up and down so many streets and traffic circles in our 25-minute venture around the super-crowded city, ending up at our lunch hotel where we re-boarded our bus to head back to the ship.

It was a long day, and it was nice to get to the cool environment of the ship

Our second day was much shorter. Our bus ride into the beach town of Pattaya was less than an hour to our first stop, the Sanctuary of Truth. The massive wooden structure is very difficult to describe, yet the workmanship that is constantly being done to add to, to repair, etc., is truly unbelievable.

We went for a drive along Pattaya’s super-busy beach before arriving at the man-made Floating Market. Basically a tourist trap, it didn’t hold much appeal to us. What was good, however, was the large bottle of Singha Beer for under three dollars – that was nice.

Then it was time to re-board the bus back to the ship so we could head back out to sea and make our way to our first port of call in Vietnam.

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Going Cruising in SE Asia

We just got back from two glorious weeks in Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico. The weather was beautiful(remember that we left sub-freezing temperatures and lots of snow on the ground in Idaho); the food was delicious (as always!); we had a great time with my brother, his wife, and a friend (including our annual lobster dinner at Maro’s), and then we returned to Boise where most of the snow had melted freeing up the streets and the lawns. Relaxation time, right? Well, not exactly. We have to get our taxes done, do some shopping, and then lots of packing before we head over to SE Asia for two months.

Speaking of Cabo, I’m leading a third annual Los Cabos Highlights Tour next year — June 17-23, 2018 — that I guarantee you WILL enjoy. If you’re not interested, tell your friends because I’ve been going there every year since 2003; I know the people; I know the best places to go — and we’re going there! CLICK HERE to learn about the tour and see how to register.

Get your EARLY Booking Discount when you register by April 1, 2017!



Did I say, “Cruising for two months?”


Yes, We’ll be on four cruises (total of sixty days) on Celebrity MILLENNIUM that I’ll be speaking on as we visit many, many ports in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and mainland China. I’ve been to most of the places before, but these will all be new experiences for my wife. We’ll be going on many ship excursions, but we also have a couple private tours set up for us — the main one is a 3-day tour in Beijing where six of us will be treated to many of the main highlights of this 6,000-year old capital city.
CLICK HERE if you’d like to see the cruise schedule.

I’ve been on the MILLENNIUM several times previously, and the crew and staff are marvelous. The ship’s Master of the Vessel is really fun, and he attends many of the talks and evening shows — he truly cares about everyone who’s on the ship. And Steve, the Cruise Director, and Manuel, the Activity Manager, are awesome folks to work with; they make it so easy for me and all the other speakers and entertainers to put forth our best so the guests have a magnificent time. After all, isn’t that what cruising is all about? Of course it is!!!

I hope you follow along on our two-month set of cruises in SE Asia. I know we’ll enjoy the journey; I hope you do, also.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Versailles—A Worthy Day Trip from Paris

P1100104The golden main gate at Versailles is closed to the aristocratic ways of the 18th century, but the side entrances welcome you inside this marvelous estate.

What used to be a several-hour carriage ride from Paris is now just a short train trip, and it’s one that everyone should take. Many people think of Versailles as the lavish palace and the reason for the French Revolution in 1789; but it’s more than that, which is why you should schedule it in your next Parisian adventure. For more information about Versailles, visit its website (http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage).

Getting out to Versailles is really pretty easy. Take a look at your Metro map and find the most direct route to any RER “C” train connection. For more information about the trains, visit the train system website (http://parisbytrain.com/rer-c-train-map/). Go the Metro station and buy a round-trip ticket to Versailles-Château that covers both the Metro rides and the train rides. Remember that you want the train that takes you to Versailles-Château, and NOT the one that goes to Versailles-Chantiers! When you get to the train station (the end of the line), just follow the crowd — you can’t get lost!

P1100112The model of Versailles shows the grand scale of the estate that was the envy of all European rulers.

    There are some important logistical details to remember when heading out to Versailles.

  1. The palace and the grounds are closed on Monday, so make sure that you properly plan your visit
  2. Because it’s all closed on Monday, the crowd on Tuesday is almost twice the normal crowd (many of them are those who forgot it was closed on Monday and they’re leaving Paris on Wednesday!)
  3. Main admission is covered by the Paris Museum Pass, but certain exhibits might require a supplemental charge — for more information about the Museum Pass, visit the official website (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/)
  4. Make sure that your camera batteries are fully charged because there are so many photo opportunities that you won’t be able to pass up
  5. Even if you have your admission ticket, museum pass, press card, etc., you still have to stand in the line outside the main entrance — everyone (except tour groups) goes through security from that one line

Unlike other palaces and castles around the world, your visit to Versailles should be built around an entire day. There are fewer crowds in the morning (along with its reduced admission for entrance before 9:45), and that allows you ample time to wander throughout the main Château at your leisure. You’ll want to roam from floor to floor, room to room to room before the tour groups and larger crowds arrive.

P1100120The magnificent pipe in organ in the two-story chapel is framed by massive columns that are more evidence of the palatial scale of the main Château.

The best entrance is on the east side of the courtyard where you’ll see the Hercules Drawing Rooms and the Chapel. If you’re fortunate, you might be able to hear the organist playing the pipe organ in the Chapel where the King’s visitors came to worship, and it was usually to worship him. As you weave your way in and out of each room and hallway, you’re bound to be in awe of the magnificence of each area and the way that the rooms are able to take advantage of sunlight and views to the outside.

P1100148The Hall of Battles is filled with light from above that accentuates the busts of heroes and the enormous paintings of decisive battles.

The one constant as you make your way through the Château is the ceiling height. Higher ceilings naturally evoke a grander feeling, even if the rooms weren’t already large. But it’s the high ceilings that allow for the large paintings, multiple levels of windows, and the grand visual experience of looking through a long series of arched doorways.

One surprising feature of the main Château is the size of the King’s Bedchamber. It appears to be one of the smallest rooms although it was centered right on the palace axis, and it had a marvelous view right out onto the Marble Courtyard. I don’t believe that the King spent a lot of time in his “bedroom” looking out to see who was coming to visit (he usually knew anyway), but the design was done to represent that the King was “at the center” of everything.

P1100142The view out of the King’s Bedchamber was right out onto the central Marble Courtyard.

Although you could spend an entire day absorbing the beauty, the grandeur, and the history inside the main Château, it would be a loss if you didn’t go out to the gardens and groves. Remember when I said that Tuesday crowds were typically quite large compared to the other days? I didn’t give you the entire reason up front.

Each Spring, from April to mid-May, and then from July through October, the groves of the Versailles Château come alive with energetic classical music. Called “The Musical Gardens,” the piped music plays from morning till early evening as do the water displays in the Mirror Fountain. The music’s not in every grove, but when you walk from one fountain or grove to another, and there are twenty-eight of them, you’ll enjoy being surprised when the music comes alive.

P1100166Geometrical patterns adorn The Orangerie where plants are stored and trees are stored during the winter.

The Mirror Fountain is especially delightful as the water fountains are timed to frolic and dance along with the music. There is plenty of grass for seating, and the rhythmic beats bring smiles to all those around the 300-year old fountain. Not to miss out on marketing opportunities, the Château de Versailles sells a CD of the music that’s played, and there’s a new CD each year — how’s that for marketing genius!

The expanse of the groves and fountains covers so much more area than the main château, and you’ll definitely get in your walking steps as you go from one area to another. It’s a little deceptive as you walk through the groves as you move away from the château; there is a slight downhill incline that you don’t notice until you’re ready to head back — back uphill.

P1100191Gardeners use wooden cutouts to precisely trim the bushes into geometrical shapes.

Shapes are abundant, whether they’re whimsical or plain ornamental. Framed cut-outs are used to ensure consistency in the decorative bushes, and the “faces” in the fountains aren’t readily apparent at first glance. But once you see one of them, they all come into focus.

P1100200The shell faces embedded into the water fountains look like South Pacific islanders.

After you make your back up the hill to the château, visit the WC and the gift shop, it’s time to stroll to the train station. There’s no need to be in a rush because the frequency of trains makes it very convenient for returning to Paris. And since all the trains go into Paris, there’s no need to worry about getting on the right train or the wrong train. The short 35-minute ride gives you time to think about the majestic sights you just saw, to organize your digital photos, or maybe it’s just enough time for you to relax so you can head back out into town once you’re back home in Paris, the City of Light.


Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, writes a monthly newsletter, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com.