Embarkation/disembarkation: generally quite smooth. Embarkation took a bit longer than other cruises I had been on, but it may be due to the departure procedure in Singapore.
Dining: Lido buffet and Main Dining Room
In general, the food was over-salted, so much so that I had to ask for half a cup of soup and added a half cup of hot water to make it edible. You can do that to liquids, but there is very little you can do to other dishes. Why can’t they be a little easy on the salt, and let those guests who prefer otherwise add their own salt at the table?
Cabin: good sized balcony cabin. Stewards were very good, clean, detail-oriented and tried their best to be helpful. Like their colleagues on other HAL ships I had been on in the past, our stewards were hardworking and offered very good service.
The ship tries to tell you that Laem Chabang is the port for Bangkok, but in fact it’s a 2 ½ hr drive to Bangkok. Public transportation is complicated and takes even longer. So if you don’t want to stay on the ship, you have no choice but to book an excursion, organize your own tour, or use a taxi. The ship’s excursion is expectedly over-priced. We joined a one-day tour organized through Cruise Critic roll call. This has to be done ahead of time. The tour was OK except it was a very long day with the 5 hr travelling time.
The port is a cargo port and there’s no port facilities. The nearest shopping mall is almost two miles away. Travelling by bus or taxi to Pattaya is another option. Leisurely wandering around the port area is not.
Koh Samui does not seem ready for cruise ships. After a ride on the tender boats for 25 minutes, you arrive at a pier and are bombarded by tour venders and taxi drivers. The port is quite ugly and dirty.
This port is a joke. There is zero port facilities, except a shuttle bus that takes you to downtown Sihanoukville. We were dropped off in a dirty, ugly and chaotic open air market. Walking on what looks like a sidewalk is downright dangerous because it’s uneven and muddy; motor bikes and scooters can travel anywhere they like, including sidewalks. Before you even get off the bus, tour venders bombard you with local tours. But with the chaotic traffic, how would I know that they could bring us back before the ship departs? Many of our fellow cruisers didn’t even get off the shuttle bus. Some were a little braver and took a walk for several blocks before getting the next available bus back to the ship. This port is totally unprepared for cruise passengers, and they don’t even seem to care. As I said, it’s a joke, and it’s an expensive joke at that, since most passengers have to pay for a visa, even if they decide to stay on the ship the whole time.
The ship offered a shuttle bus to downtown Da Nang, but in my opinion, there are more interesting places farther away. We booked a tour to Bana Hill and Hoi An, through a local tour company, Andy. There are other choices such as Hue and Marble Mountain, but one must pick and choose since there’s just one day in port. Hoi An can be done easily by taxi, if that’s the only place you want to visit. We went there later in the afternoon and stayed till sunset to enjoy the lighting of the lanterns in the Old Town. Our ship did not leave until 11:00 pm that night.
Beautiful destination. Again, we joined an organized boat tour through Cruise Critic to see Halong Bay up close, including one of the caves with a huge chamber and interesting rock formations.
It’s a cargo port and there’s nothing to see around the port area. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is over an hour away. Again, the ship offers excursions to Saigon, but it’s better if you organize your own. Plan ahead and use roll call on Cruise Critic to gather a group and book a tour together. That’s what we did, and we ended up with something very similar to what the ship offered and paid less than half of what the ship charged.
Saigon is quite an interesting city with lots to see, but because it’s so far away, public transportation may not be the most efficient use of the limited time in port.
Here some of our fellow cruisers disembarked. For us, it’s a long day in port since we would be back on board for the next leg of our SE Asia cruise.
Among all the ports we visited on this cruise, I would say Hong Kong is the most prepared for cruise ships: modern, clean, and efficient. There is a large park on the roof of the cruise terminal building, with a nice view of the Hong Kong skyline. Lots of transportation options to choose from.
I don’t know about other cruise lines, but one thing HAL told us about this port needs to be clarified here. In their onboard talks about Hong Kong, one thing they tried very hard to do is to persuade people to buy the ship’s transfers. They showed us a picture of a couple hundred people at the taxi stand with no taxi in sight. They claimed that taxi drivers don’t like to go into the cruise terminal and so the only other option is their shuttles to the airport or to the airport express station in town. Well, they may be right about fewer taxi drivers wanting to come into the terminal, but they also conveniently omitted an option that all local people know about, which is also on the website of the Kai Tak cruise terminal – a free shuttle that takes you to two of the closest MTR (subway) stations. Even after I asked, they tried to tell me that the free shuttles do not allow you to take your luggage. That was a blatant lie. The driver does not help you load your bags onto the bus, but you can definitely take them with you. Lots of people have done that. I have done that.
I understand that this may not be for everybody, but it is a viable option that should not be omitted in any port talk. It does require a bit of planning and research, and you must have some local currency with you, and you must be able to handle your luggage by yourselves, but it’s totally doable and can save you significant amount of money, depending on where you want to go and how many are in your party. Once you get to an MTR station, you have the options of using public transportation or taxi.
Hong Kong has many, many interesting places reachable using the MTR, which is fast, clean and efficient.
Singapore can be done easily on our own. The MRT is clean, efficient, with frequent service and clear signage, and very user-friendly. We enjoyed the Botanic Gardens, especially the National Orchid Garden and Marina Bay.