NCL Jewel South East Asia March 2019 - 12 day cruise.
We are a couple from Montreal, Canada and travelling with a 6-yr old who enjoys adventure and travel as much as we do. This is not our first cruise, but first time on an NCL cruise.
Day -1 Singapore Sat Mar 2, 2019
We landed in Changi Airport at 10 pm on Saturday Mar 2, 2019.
Singapore Tourist Card is a 1 day pass offering unlimited travel on MTR and buses for S$10 (plus S$10 refundable deposit). Kiosks sell them at the Airport, but they close at 9pm, and there are no self-serve kiosks at the airport.
Strongly recommend this card, unless one does not intend to use public transportation. If you have previously travelled in any MTR, then you will have no problem at all with MTR in Singapore.
Kids under 7 and under 0.9m travel free. I enquired with the MTR inspector regarding my child being under 7, but over 0.9m and he replied free. I like that answer.
I booked the M Hotel at 81 Anson Road, Singapore 079908 which is situated at the Marina Bay. We did not book their fairly comprehensive breakfast (about S$20 pp), as we wanted to have an early lunch at the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice restaurant.
The hotel is:
18 mins drive (21 Kms) from Airport
5 mins walk to nearest MTR Tanjong Pagar)
8 mins walk to China town.
8 mins drive to Marina Cruise Centre, where NCL Jewel docks.
Day 00 Singapore Sun Mar 3, 2019
9.15am walked towards the Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore.
We decided to go for Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice Restaurant, simply because of the many positive Yelp reviews and also the fact that the place was featured by Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay. The restaurant opens at 10am and already there is a very long lineup. Other places serve similar menu and get only customers who have no patience for waiting in line. Service was fast, but do not expect too much, except having a chance to taste this famous dish as this is a food court and tables were not necessarily spotlessly clean.
I ordered 2 Hainanese Chicken Rice and 2 vegetable dishes for S$18. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking away with my order.
The chicken was very tender with practically no fat. There is a sauce that you get in a small side container that would spice the food up, and I find the meat to be quite bland without.
Not expensive, and worth a try.
We took MTR to Mustapha Centre, very interesting place but could not find anything worthwhile to purchase there.
I had ordered tickets online from Klook for Garden by the Bay for admission to Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.
US$ 22.70 adult
US$ 13.85 (Child 3-12)
Total CAD $74.35
This ticket is only good for the day that you select. Check the dates as the place is sometimes closed.
While there is a discount when purchasing tickets from Klook, in our case, it was a hassle to exchange the Klook coupon with an actual ticket only at the Red Dot Design Museum at 11 Marina Blvd, 018940. The entrance to the Garden by the Bay is 18 Marina Garden Drive, 018953. This is a minimum 16 mins walk (or 12 mins taxi ride).
This superbly magical place is truly a must see. You do not have to be a flower lover to enjoy.
Best time to visit is 6 pm-10pm as you have time to see everything during day time and savour the lights during the evening spectacular show time. Do bring a sweater as it is chilling cold inside and there is a lot of walking with no bench or chairs anywhere to rest.
I could have easily stayed there for the entire day
NCL Jewel South East Asia March 4, 2019
March 6, 2019
Ko Samui is the only Port (in our itinerary) that the ship docks close to Port, and you need a boat transfer (free - provided by the ship) to get on land. This is a 20 mins boat ride one way. It was announced that transfer ticket would be distributed on Deck 12 starting at 7.30am on the same day. Passengers could pick up tickets for other members in their party.
Already at 6.45am (we were lucky to be walking through this location back to our room) long lineup (about 75) for the transfer tickets. As planned, distribution started at 7.30am. We were in Group 4 for disembarking. We later met some in Group 11 who stayed near the Docks as they disembarked too late, with no time to explore.
At 8.00am the ship docked at Nathon Pier right on schedule.
8.30am Passengers were let off ship, starting with privileged members and those who booked excursions through NCL
At 9.50am, our group was called, and at 10.15am we were on solid ground on our way to a 7-11 (less than 10 mins walk from where we landed) to buy a data sim card. They sell for 299 Bhat (CAD $13), and a copy of your passport is needed to process purchase. They sell only DTAC. We then pass by a Morya Pharmacy, very close by, which sells AIS, which I read is Thailand's fastest internet. We were happy with the DTAC Internet speed, and was able to use the same card the next day in Bangkok.
Now equipped with Google map, we started our self tour. I approached a driver who was parked outside that 7-11 and negotiated a reasonable fee to hire him for 4 hours and back to the same spot (10 mins from the docks). I ensured the fee is for our group of three and not for 1 person. On top, with his limited English, I made him repeat, so there is no disagreement later. I stayed away from drivers at the docks, as they seem to be more aggressive.
Under my driving directions, Mr Nut Phiphop, our driver (a true gentleman) drove us around the Island starting south, with our first stop at 11.30am at Grandma/Grandpa rocks.
At 11.55am we arrived at their famous Chaweng Beach where we had a good swim, as we came fully prepared. The sand is very comparable to that of Varadero, Cuba, with lot less waves. We changed in the hotel outside washroom.
12.30pm stopped at Big Buddha, but first, a bite at a restaurant nearby to taste their famous pad Thai 120B (CAD$5)
Visited the Pagoda and the many small souvenir and clothes shops around.
Not enough time to pass by the Bophut's fisherman's village and we drove north and west, through the scenic roads back to our starting point and arrived at 3pm.
We had time to do a last shopping stop at the numerous souvenir shops around, and walked towards the Pier, where there was a huge line up, with no one from NCL to confirm that we are in the right queue.
25mins later, everyone in the queue was rushing towards another embarkation point, over 100m away. The elderly, and those not physically fit had trouble keeping up with the crowd to retain their place in the new queue. In fact, there were no queue, just a herd who was trying hard to stop people from pushing from the back.
Finally at 4pm, we were relieved to be on board. Everyone was just in shock, as no one has ever experienced anything similar. And not one word of explanation or apology on that day.
I have later read that NCL had announced some sort of vague apology 2 days later, that we were not aware of.
Besides the fiasco of NCL, Ko Samui is a great destination to spend time at, good people and great beaches.
March 7, 2019 Laem Chabang
NCL Jewel South East Asia March 4, 2019
While the nearest city is Pattaya, our plan is to visit Bangkok which is about 130 Kms away. What makes this port (Laem Chabang) a challenge for cruise passengers:
- There is nothing in the vicinity of Laem Chabang to visit
- The sun and heat is intense
- There is a very large number of aggressive taxi drivers waving excursion flyer in your face
- GRAB (the UBER equivalent) may show a cheaper rate to Bangkok 1,460B (CAD 61), but will show all drivers busy. Busy making more money from cruise passengers. Once all passengers are off ship and left, you might get lucky with GRAB.
- The gate is over 1km away, in the middle of nowhere and there is a 400B (CAD17) fee per vehicle coming to the Port, through the gate. Not going out (as one taxi driver tried to discourage me, claiming that I would pay 400B if I walk to exit the gate - hence taxi is cheaper after the gate).
- Trying to find transportation outside the gate is equally challenging, as the nearest life form is about an hour's walk from the gate.
- Traffic is insane in Bangkok, as our taxi ride leaving at 10.15am ( on Thursday) from Port to Giant Swing (Bangkok) took 3hrs 25min. Our return journey to the Port leaving at 11.30am ( on Friday) took 2 hrs 30min.
- Unless you have already booked an excursion, or a taxi ride, your option is to fall in the hands of some opportunist taxi drivers at the Port.
I had previously declined an online offer received a week prior, from a reliable taxi service for 1,500B + 400B entrance fee (CAD$80), thinking that I could do better.
We finally found a couple who was in the same situation to share the ride. At that time, many of the taxis have left and the cheapest one we could find is 2,500B (CAD$105), as most were just interested in excursions.
While the ship docked at 8am, we arrived at the Giant Swing in Bangkok at 1.40pm (Half a day wasted).
Good thing that I have booked an Airbnb close by, as our ship leaves the next day at 4pm.
The SIM card I purchased a day earlier in Ko Samui worked perfectly well.
I had booked a Tuk Tuk hop on hop off, online for 1 day, ideal if you are new to the city, and stay in the centre of attractions, e.g, Wat Pho, Golden Mount, China Town etc.
Tuk Tuk operates from 8.30am to 6pm and use their app (hence wifi a must - they will also rent a wifi box) to capture your location, the nearest pickup location, the time of your pickup, and your intended destination. The app is relatively simple to use, and that means of transportation is just perfect, as (1) no need to bargain for taxi or TukTuk, (2) unlimited ride for the day, (3) an overhead cover to escape the intense heat, (4) you can see on the app where your ride is and how long it will take them to meet you and (5) they know exactly where to drop you off.
Children under 100cm free, if travel with a paying adult.
The cost is
1 passenger 399 Bhat
2 passengers 599 Bhat
3 passengers 699 Bhat (CAD$30)
Our first TukTuk stop is to Saphan Hua Chang (River boat stop). We took the boat going West for 10B (CAD $0.50) Per adult (children free). You do not need exact money, as the operator will return you change. This is an interesting boat ride.
We got off Phan Fa Lilat Terminal (last stop) and cross the bridge to Golden Mount.
Entrance is 50B (CAD $2) Per adult and you climb 244 small steps to get to the top of the Pagoda. Great place to take pictures of the city.
Tuk Tuk to Wat Pho, world famous Reclining Buddha. Entrance fee 200B (CAD$8.50) Per adult. A site not to be missed.
Tuk Tuk to Grand Palace. Unfortunately, it was closed at 5pm when we arrived.
Tuk Tuk to China Town arriving at 6.10pm.
It was a pleasant adventure to walk along the different streets in China Town and savour the numerous food stalls. The city came alive and buzzing. Lots of fresh seafood sizzling on the BBQ. The aroma was just too much that we finally gave up authentic Thai food and chose seafood instead. Fresh and so good
Bangkok is indeed a great destination to visit.
People are courteous and welcoming, proud of their rich culture, splendid architecture and cuisine that you instantly fall in love with. All combine to offer any visitors an unforgettable experience.