There’s nothing more gorgeous than a sunset sailaway from just about any port of call. The downside is that I can’t remember the last cruise I took where the ship stayed in port long enough to let you sample nightlife in any kind of relaxed (or hedonistic) fashion. Azamara aims to change that by offering lots of overnights. So while you’ll visit fewer ports of call on its itineraries than on competitors, you also get more experiences in the places you do visit. On my 14-night cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong, I’m planning to investigate after-dark options in three places where Azamara Quest is spending the night.
First up: Bangkok.
What’s to see? Azamara offered evening excursions such as “Thai dinner and classical dance with trip to Patpong Night Market” and a “Rice Barge dinner cruise” (which also stopped at Patpong), but my husband and I wanted to try something less traditional. So we headed over to Patpong on our own (it opens at 6 p.m.) and then moved on to Bangkok’s famous Sky Bar for an alfresco cocktail up some 64 floors.
We negotiated a rate with the car service parked at the pier, paying about US $15 to go directly to the market. Once there it was a blend of bizarre and weird with a little bit of pathetic mixed in. The night market, which consists of a variety of stalls selling mostly counterfeit goods, is in the heart of a red-light district (ok, the ship’s concierge had given us a heads-up about this). So you might be pawing through some Thai scarves or checking out a “Louis Vuitton” golf bag while just behind you young girls are pole dancing in various states of undress. Furthermore, assertive vendors try to persuade shoppers – tourists all – to either visit the bars (there’s a whole list of, um, services you can buy) or buy fake stuff.
Next! Since Bangkok is spread out, we flagged down a taxi (you can also take a tuk-tuk, a motorized three-wheeled cart that’s open to the elements) to go to the Sky Bar.
Wow. Every bit as touristy as Patpong – but a world away – you ascend to a high-rise’s 64th floor, where the inside/outside bar and a restaurant (Sirocco) towers over the city lights. If you want to dine there you need to book ahead (you can do that via its Web site), but most people go for drinks. In the standing-room-only Sky Bar, basically a corral with glass walls to waist height (those with vertigo may want to head elsewhere), travelers from all over the world are chattering away. A live band plays music. It’s a great scene.
But we opted for the quieter Distil, another bar in the complex with equally magical views. It’s got the same glass walls – maybe neck high – but it’s got an advantage: a built-in banquette that lines the glass. There’s also a sleek indoor bar where a DJ spins thump-thump music. The complex has a dress code (resort causal is fine) and a strict behavior code (on our visit a couple was kissing and were told to stop). Beware: You do pay for the view with the cost of your drinks. Our four cocktails were $95, but at least the martinis were inventive and prepared with fresh ingredients (my rose apple version was the tastiest I ever had).
Bottom line? Bangkok’s a tough city to navigate, and beyond Patpong Market we had a lot of trouble getting taxi drivers to take us where we wanted to go (even though Azamara had given us the directions in Thai for both the port and the Sky Bar). Unless you are very determined to try something different in Bangkok, I’d suggest you stick with a ship’s tour. Azamara did offer a shuttle in and out of the city until about 9 p.m., but that meant that late-nighters still had to find their own way back to the port.
Read Carolyn’s other reports from her Azamara cruise, including why she thinks Quest is one of the world’s best ships.
Have your own favorite ship? Maybe it’s one of the Most Popular Ships of 2011.
Bangkok awaits: Get all the details in our Bangkok port guide.
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