We flew into Beijing on the morning of the cruise. We had spent several weeks in China previously. I had arranged a transfer for 12 cc members by Beijing Airport transfer to Tianjin. I had been assured that there would be plenty of room in the 22 seater bus for pax and luggage. We were packed in like sardines - why do some people take so much luggage?? The price was good but I would suggest that numbers be limited on future transfers.
No-one that I am aware of did a tour in Tianjin. It seemed like a very ordinary place to visit. Most had done tours to the Great Wall and other interesting places in Beijing.
Our first stop was in Seoul. We had booked 3 vans here - mainly vans of 8 pax. This was a fantastic tour and the guides were excellent. My contact was Rachel at Seoul City Tours firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.seoulcitytour.net/ We were met at the port and visited Blue House (Pass by ) - Gyeongbok Palace - Bukchon Hanok Village - Samcheongdong - Insadong - Cheongggyecheon Stream - Seoul N Tower before being taken back to the port. I can highly recommend this company. Cost was $81 per person without lunch.
Next stop was in Shanghai. On the first day I organised a tour with a private guide for a small group to Zhouzhuang (water town) and Suzhou (famous for it's gardens). Both places were interesting and the highlight was our boat trip around Zhouzhuang - not quite like Venice but fun. I organized this with Qinqin
http://www.synotrip.com/qinqin Qinqin was a knowledgeable guide. 50% payment before the cruise and 50% on the day with each couple able to make their own deposit.
Next stop was in Nagasaki Japan. I organized a private tour here for eight of us with Shannon Lefebvre who met us at the ship. The guide an Australian married to a delightful Japanese lady gave us a wonderful tour. He treated us like long lost friends. We drove directly to Isahaya to visit the beautiful Spectacle Bridge before heading toward the Shimabara Peninsular then on up the mountain to Unzen. We walked around the Jigoku area (Hell ponds) and drove up to the volcano lookout point for a spectacular photo opportunity. Then to Shannon's home town of Obama (Hot Spring town), where we had snacks and drinks to relax our weary feet at the longest foot bath in Japan at 105m long. Shannon's wife met us here with a delightful picnic. We then passed the Tachibana Shrine and received a Shinto Blessing before heading back to the Nagasaki City area where we visited the Peace Park. Then we were taken back to the ship.
Contact details http://tour-nagasaki.com/sample-page/ This was a fantastic tour and we felt like we had learnt so much about life in Japan.
Next day we were in Kagoshima Japan. We took the ferry over to Sakurajima to see the Volcano. There is a sight seeing bus that takes you right around the island stopping off at points of interest. The ferry and the bus fares worked out at approx $10 per person but you need the local currency (yen). We were lucky to witness the volcano blowing it's top twice while we were there which lead to some great photo shots.
Next stop was at Keelung Taiwan. We had a tour - Keelung Harbor - Taipei City - Martyrs (TM) Shrine - Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall - Taipei 101 Building -Confucius Memorial, Pao An Temple - Chung Cheng Park Keelung - back to Keelung Harbor It was an interesting tour which cost us approx $60 per person. My contact was Michael Yau at ALIDO Travel Taiwan.
HONG KONG was next. On the first day we took the local bus to the Stanley Markets where we were able to buy everything that we wanted to bring back home. On the second day we had arranged a local tour with Gray Line Tours "The Land Between". We picked the tour up at the YMCA which was close to the port.
Finally we arrived in Vietnam which was our main reason for booking the cruise. We had two nights in HALONG BAY. On the first day we went to Hanoi which was a long day but well worth the effort. While there is now only one Vietnam rather than North Vietnam and South Vietnam there is a marked difference between the two areas. To miss Hanoi would be to miss "North Vietnam". There were two highlights to this tour - the cyclo tour through the old quarter and the "water puppet" performance.
The second day in Halong Bay we did a cruise on the magnificent bay of some thousand limestone islands emerging from clear blue water. We enjoyed a seafood lunch while on board.
Our second stop in Vietnam was in Hue. Our private tour was to HuÃ©. We visited the former Imperial Citadel and Forbidden Purple City. HuÃ© was the capital of Vietnam until the early 20th century, and generations of royalty lived in the Forbidden Purple City, inside the walled exterior of the Citadel. We then took a houseboat boat trip to visit Thien Mu Pagoda, one of Vietnam's oldest and most beautiful Buddhist temples. The locals had lots of their well made wares available for sale on the boat and they did a good trade. We then visited the tomb of Minh Mang with their vast lovingly-tended, botanical gardens, beautiful open air pavilions and numerous shrines, were to provide the seven Nguyen Emperors noble burials as well as comfortable afterlives. This was also a very good tour.
Our last two days in Vietnam were spent in the Mekong Delta. We took a boat on Ben Tre river " one of tributaries of Mekong river. There were lively activities along the river. We visited one of plenty of coconut processing worships located along canal where we sampled sweets and had lots of the local fruits for refreshments. We finally got off the boat, then we took a motor cart (xe loi) or cycle riding under tree shades, pass by green rice fields to get a feel of real life. Lunch at a local house was plentiful and delicious. In the afternoon we took a rowing-boat along water palm creek and cruise back to Hung Vuong Pier. We then drove back to the ship.
On the second day we had a tour to Cu Chi tunnels. This was really a highlight of Vietnam. This gave us a better understanding of the Vietnam war. Everything was made very real. Some did not go on this tour because they were worried about entering the tunnels. Only some people choose to go inside the tunnels and it takes less than 10 mins so it is a chance for everyone else to have a short break and relax. In my opinion this tour is a MUST do.
All of our Vietnam tours were organized through Ann Tours. www.anntours.com
One more port before we disembarked was Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I had organized several vans with ANA Travel. (Note ANA not Ann tours as in Vietnam). This was a great tour with lunch. Ana set up the Travel Agency nine years ago. She met and married Mike (an English guy) who was backpacking in Cambodia. Mike now works for the British High Commission in Cambodia. I communicated with Mike and the company was easy to deal with and anxious to please. The tour was $45 with $5 extra for lunch which was yummy. A couple of the vans were taken to petrol/gas stations for bathroom stops - others only took us to eastern toilets. Highly recommend that you request the former. Contact email@example.com
We finally arrived at Bangkok. On the first day I had arranged a private tour to the palace. On disembarkment we were picked up and six of us did a tour of the Train Market and The Fishing Village organised through firstname.lastname@example.org It was so hot in Bangkok that it was great to get outside of Bangkok on the water and see how the locals live.
It was a great cruise with lots of interesting ports. We had a particularly friendly cc group. As usual the food on Nautica was great and we ate too much.
If you wish to contact me re any of the ports you are welcome to do so. rosmerleg at hotmail dot com (usual format) Cheers Ros