Ahoy from Singapore! We just disembarked from a culturally rich 14-day cruise starting in Hong Kong through the South China Sea, stopping at ports along the Vietnam coastline, Cambodia, Thailand to Singapore.
Captain Mark Rowden was in command and navigated our ship, the m/s Westerdam. It is a spacious and elegant mid-size ship, one of Holland America’s Vista-class ships with 1,916 guests and 800 crew. “Recently updated in 2017 with a new bar, entertainment and dining venues, plus completely reimagined suites, Westerdam is a fascinating destination in her own right,” noted Jerrol Golden, Deputy Director of International Public Relations for Holland America.
We visited local markets, lounged on white sandy beaches, took cooking classes, saw UNESCO sites, temples, palaces, learned about the Southeast Asian culture from local experts, and had dozens of adventures and memorable moments.
Sharing our itinerary and Top 50 Tips … what to do on the ship and in each port-of-call.
Be sure to check out! Our photos on Instagram: click here
TOP 50 TIPS
- If you like this itinerary, the most efficient and affordable way to see these destinations is to Book a Cruise! The pricing for the Holland America 14-Day Far East Discovery Holiday on the Westerdam Ship starts at only $699 usd per person. Pricing changes daily, so check the pricing terms and conditions. Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses are additional up to $196.
Holland America holds the bar high delivering a consistent standard of excellent service to its guests. U.S. News & World Report lists Holland America Line as one of the Best Cruise Lines for the Money, with lodging, food and entertainment PLUS traveling to several destinations all included in one price.
Do the math – this is a better value than any comparable land-based vacation you can find in this region. There’s less hassle factor too, with the Holland America crew assisting with guest’s immigration papers and the process to visit multiple countries. A bonus is you don’t have to carry your luggage from city to city, since you can unpack and move into your room on the ship.
2. Arrive a couple days early to explore this city – there’s lots to see and do. By the time you board the cruise, you’ll be over jet lag. Click here to see our recommendations in Hong Kong.
3. Where to Stay? Cordis Hotel in the heart of Mongkok. Check into the award-winning Chuan Spa and choose from a range of treatments inspired by traditional Chinese Medicine. Dine at the Michelin star Ming Court where you’ll enjoy Cantonese cuisine at its finest.
4. Discover the markets in the Mongkok neighborhood – bird market, flower market, goldfish market, fruits & vegetables market, ladies market & sneakers market.
5. Arrange for your transfer to the ship at your hotel since ports aren’t always easy to find, and your concierge will ensure you arrive to the correct destination to join your cruise.
6. Once on board the ship, highly recommend walking every floor and staircase to orient yourself and find out where the restaurants, pool, spa, front reception desk, decks are. You’ll even see art in the stairwells! There are many cozy places to relax, read and visit on the ship. Some favorite places are the Observation Deck library, pool area, and The Retreat cabanas.
7. Check the schedule when the crew opens the bow of the ship for guests, and you’ll experience amazing outdoor views while cruising.
8. Download the App called “Grab”! Similar to Uber, but Grab is used throughout SE Asia, and you don’t waste time bartering with the driver for a taxi ride, plus the driver speaks/understands English. Also, you pay the quoted price after the driver drops you off at your destination.
9. Book your Excursions BEFORE they sell out! Holland America offers a variety of excursions as well as options for the independent traveler. We choose a combination of both. We were impressed with the quality of the shore excursions, guides, drivers, and also enjoyed our own adventures while exploring the city.
Good to Know: Sign up in advance for the overnight excursions so you can visit the ruins and temples at Angkor Wat, or stay a night in Bangkok at a hotel, and spend almost 2 days to see more sites in the city. Check with your Shore Excursions Director to see what is available on your cruise.
Ha Long Bay
10. Book a morning cruise through the islands, then an afternoon 30 mins flight with Hai Au Aviation over Ha Long Bay to see many of its 2,000 islands from another perspective.
Note: Bai Tho Mountain – don’t waste your time trying to climb this mountain for views. Many instagrammers have climbed through people’s entryways and gardens to climb up the mountain behind to get an aerial view of the islands. Until the local government can find a careful way to allow tourists to stay on the trail and visit this mountain top with a local guide, this trail has been closed.
Danang & Hoi An
11. Go on the evening excursion where you’ll have a few hours of your own time to explore this ancient UNESCO town called the “City of Lanterns” where all the lanterns light up at night. Take a 30 mins boat cruise along the river where you’ll see the lanterns reflected in the water – it’s magical!
12. Get a dress or suit custom-made at Blue Eye Tailor – they only need 24 hours to tailor your outfit. Be sure to bargain before your item is made. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org located at 48 Nguyen Thai Hoc Str.
13. Hire a local guide at Vietnam Locals – ask for Mr. Bean
14. Get a foot massage for only $10 at Anpaz Spa email: email@example.com
15. Book a dinner reservation at La Maison 1888. A memorable fine dining experience, just about 25 mins taxi ride from the port. La Maison 1888 is the first restaurant in Vietnam to feature a world-renowned Michelin-starred chef, Pierre Gagnaire. Located in the Intercontinental Danang property, along the private bay of the Son Tra Peninsula, the antique French architecture with Vietnamese design is exquisite. Arrive before sunset to see the spectacular views!
16. Book a Danang Food Tour: we heard from fellow guests (Nick & Laura, food and travel writers/owners at Savored Journeys) that this tour is excellent, where you can experience Danang from the Dragon Bridge to My Khe Beach and bustling side streets to dine at local eateries.
17. Further Out….visit Hue, the Imperial City of the Nguyen Emperors, or My Son UNESCO Site where the lost Champa kingdom where 70 temples were built to worship Hindu gods.
18. Visit ancient temples and the Po Nagar Cham Towers from the Cham civilization dating back to the 7th century.
19. Ride in a Rickshaw to see the city!
20. Walk the beach promenade in Nha Trang
21. Visit Su Spa for a 60 mins foot massage – only $15 usd.
22. Get a Vietnamese coffee at Cong Caphe – Pick up a croissant or French pastry at a bakery.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
23. Book the ship’s transfer shuttle and you’ll be dropped off in the heart of the city to explore on your own for the day, then transferred back to the ship. So much history here and lots to see – Independence Palace, Cathedral, Post Office, City Hall and the main square, souvenir shopping at Ben Tanh Market, and the Saigon Skydeck at Bitexco Tower where you get panoramic views of the city and beyond. If you have time, take a boat ride along the Song Sai Gon River.
Don’t Miss! Dong Khoi Street to see many French colonial buildings.
- Best coffee spot: Trung Nguyen Coffee Shop
- Great art gallery: Galerie Nguyen, fine art and contemporary art
- Best pastry shop: Brodard Restaurant – afternoon tea, light bites & pastries
24. Take a day to relax at the beach and hire a tuk tuk to drive you to Sokha Beach Resort.
25. Experience a traditional ceremony where monks sprinkle water and flowers over you, while chanting prayers. This Khmer blessing ceremony is believed to cleanse bad spirits from the past and bring good luck for the coming year.
26. Shop at the local market Psar Leu, main market in Sihanoukville to see local life and pick up a souvenir.
27. Visit a school to see the younger generation in Cambodia show you their school and share their projects with you.
28. Visit the Kdat Fishing Village and Le Kep in the countryside where you can enjoy a seafood/crab lunch. You’ll see scenic countryside and French colonial architecture in Kampot.
29. Select the excursion option to stay overnight in Bangkok, so you have two days to see all the sites – temples, markets, and savor the Thai food.
30. Take a longtail boat ride on the river and explore the canals and waterways. Visit the flower market, Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn, and Wat Pho with its giant reclining Buddha & the Grand Palace (don’t miss! The Emerald Buddha).
31. Get an authentic Thai Massage! You’ll find there are many ways to get a good stretch.
32. Further out….sign up for transfers to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO site that dates back to 1350, or the beach town of Pattaya.
33. Hire a tuk-tuk for a few hours (only about $8-10 usd per hour) to drive around the island, and stop to visit a beach, see a temple, shop and eat some Phad Thai.
34. Get a local Thai massage for only $10
Don’t fly out until you’ve seen the main sites in this vibrant city.
35. Visit Old Singapore, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, City Hall and Padang. Stroll the Esplanade Walk to see the architecture of the historic Colonial District. Walk Arab Street to see the gold-domed Sultan Mosque and don’t miss, Chinatown and the alleyways around Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple.
36. See the Gardens by the Bay, Botanical Gardens, and the National Orchid Garden to see the largest orchid display in the world – 60,000 orchid plants.
37. Changi Airport – when flying out, be sure to see the world’s largest indoor waterfall.
Days at Sea….
38. Enjoy an afternoon tea on the ship
39. Check in for a spa treatment at Greenhouse Spa – a favorite is the reflexology or hot stones massage.
40. Learn how to play Mahjong, a tile-based game that originates from the Qing Dynasty in China.
41. Attend a cooking demonstration at the America’s Test Kitchen – learn how to make Phad Thai, spring rolls or Asian dumplings.
42. Go on morning walks around the deck (3 laps = 1 mile). Our favorite time to walk the deck was in the early morning as our ship approached each port.
43. Attend an Evening Show – Variety Shows, Comedy Shows, Dance Performances & more!
44. Dance your way through the Music Walk – B.B. King’s All-Stars, Billboard Onboard…
45. Keep the LBS off by visiting the salad bar – dark greens, grains, veggies, nuts & the fresh fruit station.
46. Attend a Dance Class and learn how to Line Dance, Salsa, Waltz…
47. Join a yoga, pilates, or a guided meditation class.
48. Attend the Microsoft Windows 10 Class and learn more about its features – design and make your own postcards, a scrapbook from your cruise or movie
49. Listen to a Quartet Recital at the Lincoln Center
50. Enjoy fine dining at Sea – book a reservation at the Pinnacle Grill or Canaletto, or Rudi’s Sel de Mer.
51. Lounge by the pool or play a game of ping-pong
52. Attend Port Talks: Listen to tips from the Cruise Director on the ports you’re visiting, and find out the latest updates on excursions and insights about your next destination.
More about Holland America…
Originally Holland America Line was the Netherlands-American Steamship Company dating back to 1873. Today Holland America Cruise Line has a fleet of 14 ships taking guests to more than 100 countries.
Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Line, shares “Just as our earliest travelers were inspired by new beginnings in a new world, our guests today sail with drams of experiencing new lands, new countries and cultures, and learning about the real people who call these places home.”
- EXC Encounters: Local experts and entertainers share stories of local lore at EXC Talks, and on certain cruises, you can learn from tai chi masters or learn about Feng Shui principles.
- Travel Concierge: If you prefer to have your own private plans to explore a port, Holland America has a travel concierge who can help you custom make your itinerary. The concierge will cater to your interests including – cultural experiences, food & wine, cooking classes, boating, beaches, hiking, kayaking, local performances, museums, eco-tours, photography tours, shopping & more.
- Shore Excursions: There are carefully curated excursions at every port with local guides introducing you to their culture.
- Spa: De-stress at the ship’s Greenhouse Spa Retreat and get a bamboo massage or relax in the Thermal Suite.
- Best Live Music at Sea: Listen to talented performers from the Lincoln Center, BB Kings Blues, Billboard etc.
- Club Orange: What is Club Orange? Think “first class” at Sea! Guests will receive benefits like priority access to specialty restaurants, exclusive amenities, skip lines and step on the Club Orange Mat for priority service at registration check-in, shore excursions and seating in the Dining Room. Club Orange Guests receive a complimentary tote bag, welcome glass of sparkling wine, a dedicated concierge hotline & more.
- Culinary Council: Holland America’s 8 Chefs have earned numerous honors including Michelin star ratings, James Beard Foundation and Culinary Arts Institute awards. There are a variety of dining options from specialty dining to casual: Pinnacle Grill – inspired by America’s Pacific Northwest cuisine; Canaletto – fresh pasta and Italian food; Rudi’s Sel de Mer – Master Chef and Culinary Council Chairman Rudi Sodamin presents an intimate French seafood brasserie. Casual dining options include Dive-In where guests can order grilled burgers, hot dogs, crispy French fries by the Lido Pool or dine at Lido Market – buffet stations with traditional comfort food to cuisine from around the world.
- Holland America Partnerships include America’s Test Kitchen, AFAR, FOOD & WINE, BBC Earth.
- FUN FACT: One of the ship’s Godmothers is Oprah!
Ok, there are probably more than 50 tips here, and I’m sure this list will keep growing…
Acknowledgements: Global Adventuress thanks Holland America for the invitation to join and host this cruise.