Travelling from Shenzen back to Hong Kong to board the Virgo proved uneventful. Perhaps we are getting used to trains, border checks and immigration. We had to slow Bill down a bit as he raced ahead with his 30kg luggage on wheels but otherwise the trip was pleasant enough.
Boarding the ship proved equally easy and within no time at all we had had the obligatory boarding photos taken, received our electronic pass and located our cabins. The cabins were bigger than I had imagined and very well appointed. Lack of a window was a little off-putting but by looking at the picture of a Mediterranean village long enough I could at least imagine we could see out. Mary had convinced us to pay a little extra for deck 9, rather than being “down below”. This was a great idea because it meant all the fun decks were nice and handy.
The four of us explored the ship, locating the many restaurants and bars, swimming pools, health club etc. The main foyer was as good as any hotel, with a beautiful sweeping staircase, glass lifts and numerous shops dotted around the mezzanine. It was soon obvious that there would be no shortage of things to do on board but that the waistline was in for a pounding. We tested that out by settling in at the poolside bar for the first of many “refreshing ales”. Life on board revolves around the magic electronic card. You hand it over as a credit card, use it to record your presence at meals and scan it leaving and re-boarding the boat. Christine and I took the attitude early on that scrimping and saving was pointless and that we would book up what ever took our fancy. Meals are included in the trip costs but drinks and other snacks come at prices a bit below Perth pub prices. Shore excursions are also an extra expense. One can elect to go ashore under own steam but in reality the ship is not docked long enough to allow too much time to do your own thing.
We went ashore in Sanya, a new resort town on the Southern end of Hianan Island (China). It was a rip-off. All they did was bundled us into a bus, took us to an ordinary beach where we were pestered by hawkers selling strings of rubbish pearls. Then they dumped us at a 6 storey department store complex for a couple of hours so we could be absolutely bored. The highlight of the store was when Bill wanted to by a cake of soap. We went into a supermarket but couldn’t locate the right aisle. Christine went off to get help, mimed washing under her arms and got carried away by an army of assistants to the deodorant section. The store had 10 times more assistants than customers. We couldn’t believe just how many workers were lining the aisles and standing in well-ordered groups until it occurred to us that they were actually part of a mass training exercise. Another highlight was exploring the roof-top area of the complex in search of a bar and a snack only to be lost in a massive seedy brothel. The girls were really impressed.
Bill and Mary also went ashore in Halong Bay (Vietnam) whereas we have cruised Halong before and stayed on board. They were left very unimpressed after a boring boat tour and an ordinary lunch at a run-down hotel. The conclusion we have reached is that you don’t choose a cruise for the destinations, just the ship’s facilities.
After 4 days of cruising, we have both firmly decided that it is the way to go. We have now started keeping an eye on www.vacationstogo.com where last minute cruise vacancies are sold at discounts of up to 70%.
Leaving and entering Hong Kong harbour is a fantastic experience. Rain and heavy mist spoiled some of the views but the vista of towering buildings clinging to the sides of the mountains is exceptional. On our return to Hong Kong, most of the passengers disembarked but we stayed on for a further night at sea. The ship filled up with Chinese wanting to put to sea to gamble. The trip out through the harbour at night is something to experience.
On our final return to Hong Kong, we got off the ship and caught the ferry from Kowloon over the harbour to Hong Kong Island. Bill and Mary had booked mid level hotel at JJs. It proved very good. We went down-market and stayed at the Alisan Guest house. The room was actually smaller than the cabin on the Virgo but it did the trick for the couple of nights in Hong Kong. Christine and I quickly fell in love with HK. It is lively, bustling, clean and well organised (at least compared to Shenzen and Guangzou). Life can be a little pricey, with accommodation being very expensive by Asian standards and food being more like cheap Perth prices. During our time on the Virgo, the World’s financial systems had been going into melt-down and the Aussie Dollar lost nearly 20% of its value. As we went around HK and saw the exchange rates plummet on a daily basis, we kicked ourselves for not buying some $US at 95c on a few weeks earlier.
During our time in HK, we took the mandatory trip up Victoria Hill on the famous funicular tramway and took in the fabulous views of Victoria Harbour and across to Kowloon and the New Territories.
With Hong Kong behind us, we stopped off in Singapore for a couple of days unwind and to slow the pace a little. I think we almost regard Singapore as one of our many homes and can’t help returning to favourite eating places and locations. We stayed down in the Geylang District. Being a red light area, life on the streets is colourful and entertaining although a little heart wrenching to see the sad looks on the faces of some of the girls who have obviously been imported from other less affluent Asian countries.
We have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Singapore’s new “big wheel”, the Singapore Flyer. It is an immense wheel, modelled after London’s Millennium Wheel. We went on a one rotation 30 minute ride, taking in terrific views of Singapore and across the Straits of Malacca to Indonesia.
The flight back into Darwin went smoothly and we spend a couple of days resting up and packing for the long trip across the Kimberley to work in Derby. We stopped off for a couple of days work in Muludja (near Fitzroy Crossing) and caught up with Trev and Em. We were warmly welcomed in Muldja, with the kids all calling out “hello” to Benji and Poppy as we drove in. The days went by in a blur of work, travel and fishing once again on the Fitzroy (hooked and lost 1 barra). We finally arrived at Derby to set up ready for life between now and the end of the school year.