There’s nothing like embarking on a luxury cruise holiday in appropriately luxurious style – and so it was that I boarded a business-class Cathay Pacific flight from Sydney to Hong Kong, where I was booked into the Four Seasons for three days. The things I have to do for work!
Having once experienced the Four Seasons magic in Jimbaran Bay, Bali, sampling the hotel group’s hospitality in Hong Kong’s Central district was immensely appealing – and more than lived up to expectations. Cruise companion and I were installed in a vast executive suite which included access to the Executive Club on the 45th floor.
During our busy three days of sightseeing in Hong Kong, shopping for handbags and shoes in Shenzen and touring Macau, we also squeezed in such special Four Season treats as the Forbidden Rice Treatment in the spa; yum cha lunch in the three-Michelin-starred Lung King Heen restaurant; and an extraordinary selection of French wines and cheeses in the Caprice Bar – which also boasts three Michelin stars.
Although the Ocean Terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui is just across the harbour, a taxi ride was more practical than the ferry, particularly as it was pouring with rain. Keeping with the luxury-indulgence theme, as soon as we boarded we repaired to Silver Shadow’s Panorama Lounge for afternoon tea and discussed when we could book into Le Champagne, Silversea’s renowned Relais et Châteaux restaurant.
That proved to be more challenging than anticipated. During the following two sea days en route to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, we made booking requests via Yogesh, our butler; stalked Carl, Le Champagne’s maître d’; and even implored Captain Cataldo Destefano, when we met him in the delightful Lampadina bar, to exert his influence to find us a table.
Captain Destefano offered to steer the ship into any available storm to encourage seasickness (and abandon-table response) among guests who’d already managed to book into the restaurant but sadly, no storm was on the horizon.
While exploring the ship, I was amazed to see a ceramic jug, made by Picasso and bearing a $27,000 price tag, sitting unguarded in a stairwell. Rami Ron, curator of the ship’s art collection, took me on an impromptu tour of works by Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and many other luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ha Long Bay and Hue
We spent a day and night in Ha Long Bay, first taking a mini-tour of the industrial city of Hong Gai and then spending a half day kayaking on the famous waterway. It was grey and overcast when we were there and while it is fascinating to view the floating villages and see the dramatic limestone islands and caves up close, the level of pollution in the water is distressing. Ian Kiernan, a clean-up is required!
Our next port of call was Chan May. Here, some guests took off for a two-and-a-half-day tour to Angkor Wat, some went on a Cham civilisation tour and our group took a 90-minute drive to the former imperial city of Hue.
Hue is set on the Huong Song-Perfume river, about 13 kilometres from the coast and close to the Laos border. Its four citadels offer a smorgasbord of palaces, pagodas and ornate archways and its history dates back centuries.
Before boarding the colourful but touristy dragon boat for a cruise on the Perfume River, we walked around the serene gardens surrounding Thien Mu Pagoda. At seven stories, the pagoda is the tallest in Vietnam, and the original temple was built on the site in 1601 by the first Nguyen emperor.
A feast of Vietnamese dishes was laid on at Hue’s Hotel Saigon Morin for lunch and on the way back to Chan May, we visited the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, another extraordinary architectural complex. Historian Verla Brown’s lecture earlier on the cruise offered fascinating insights into these treasures.
Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City
A half-day pedicab tour of the beachside town of Nha Trang was a highlight of our trip. As it is in many areas of Vietnam, tourism is a boom industry in Nha Trang and there’s a mix of grand French-colonial buildings, Western-style resort hotels and narrow back streets with open shopfronts.
The pedicab tour whisked us past footpath barbers, ear-waxing salons, cigarette and lottery vendors, and dozens of car-part stores and dusty wedding-dress shops – a filmmakers’ dream.
Ho Chi Minh City (still often referred to as Saigon) was our last port of call in Vietnam. Silver Shadow docked at midday within a five-minute shuttle-bus ride of
the city centre, and we had just over 24 hours to have a look around the former capital of the country.
Despite the very good choice of ship’s shore excursions – out of the city to the heart of the Mekong Delta, the Artist’s Village, the Cu Chi tunnels; and within the city, to the History Museum, China Town and dinner at the Majestic Hotel – we decided to head to Ho Chi Minh’s biggest market, Ben Thanh, for a spot of shopping and people-watching.
We had been warned about the crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City but it has to be experienced (as a pedestrian) to be believed. Best advice: cross the road alongside a local woman who has a baby with her, preferably in a pushchair.
Visiting Ben Thanh is a larger-than-life experience, and it pays to have a mission when navigating its labyrinthine corridors and stalls. Hard bargaining is an essential skill; luckily Cruise Companion has it down pat, and vendors and customers both parted happy.
When we returned to the ship after a drink at the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel, famed haunt of foreign correspondents during the Vietnam War, a spectacular Asian-style barbecue was in full swing by the pool. The setting, overlooking the bright lights of the city reflected in the Saigon River, could not have been more perfect and the entire galley crew appeared on deck for a farewell presentation.
As we set sail for Singapore the next morning, Carl, Le Champagne’s maître d’, brought us the good news – he’d made us a reservation for dinner!
This review appeared in Cruise Passenger 51 and was written in 2013.