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While my Paris and Washington friends have been suffering through colder than cold temperatures and snow, I’ve been living the life of luxury aboard a Seabourn Cruise that’s gliding between Hong Kong and Singapore.
It’s more than halfway over and I’m watching the temperatures wondering whether or not I’ll be able to make it to Washington in time for Christmas. Will the weather gods cooperate? Will flights take off and arrive so I’ll be able celebrate the holidays with my grandchildren? It’s more than a 28-hour-long trip and who’d want extra delays? Pas moi, merci. Nor anyone else.
People keep asking why Asia is my destination of choice—after Paris. It’s a long trip no matter whether I’m flying from the U.S. or from Europe.
As many time as I’ve visited this region, it becomes increasing evident that I’ve only scratched the surface. Perhaps I inherited my orientophilia from my great-grandfather who lived in Shanghai and started the China Export Company.
All places change, but it feels as if Asia is changing at a full gallop. If you blink, there will be a new building. Saigon was a real shocker. I was there only 12 months ago and since then, there are dozens of new ones. A new building is scheduled to open in a couple of months with a heliport. It’s 68 stories high and will house offices, luxury apartments, and a hotel. So much for low-rise and low-income.
Yes, there are still old-time markets where people can haggle with vendors. But don’t expect to walk away with something for pennies unless it’s worth pennies. When Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci have opened stores in a city (whether you choose to call it Ho Chi Ming City or Saigon), that’s an indication Vietnam may be a Communist country, but there are more than a few capitalists working and buying. Passengers on the ship were transported in Mercedes vans, and there’s a brand new dealership in case you’re in the market.
I wanted to see “old” Saigon that’s disappearing with each visit. I hired a scooter driver (yes, I was wearing a helmet) and we went into neighborhoods that were essentially alleys. Unfortunately, the chauffeur and I had a communication problem and he didn’t understand my asking him to stop so I could take photos. Perhaps it was healthier since the pollution in Saigon is terrible and I wished I’d bought a facemask.
We sped by the Basilica of Notre Dame, the railway station, the Opera House, the post office and other remnants of architecture constructed by the French. Don’t expect to speak French should you visit Saigon. Children are now taught rudimentary English unless they’re in tourist- or business-related industries.
We took a day trip on the Mekong Delta. That’s where you see old Vietnam. There’s something so beautiful and serene about the area that it touched my soul. People are by no means living anything other than hard and basic lives. But they’re renowned for being the friendliest in the country and few would opt to move to a city.
I’m writing from Bangkok, home of Jim Thompson silk and some of the most beautiful temples and antiquities in the world. One of the things I love doing (no matter where I am) is going to hotels during the holiday season and seeing how they’ve been decorated. The Four Seasons-George V in Paris is always a must-see.
I wandered into The Four Seasons in Bangkok to find the lobby has been redesigned, and coupled with its holiday décor it is an out-and-out knock-out. When I was last here, the lobby was looking somewhat tired, but no longer.
We’ll go to the night market tonight, but even it’s moved from the river area to the MBK Shopping Mall in the downtown area. I’m not planning on buying anything, but should I succumb, it certainly will cost less than if I were tempted in Paris.
As for the cruise, I’ve learned a lot about myself as well as others. There’s no question the Seabourn is one of the best if you’re a small-cruise-ship person (the Pride only has 207 passengers). The staff goes out of its way to accommodate the clientele. The personnel and the passengers consider themselves family, and many of the American passengers have cruised so many days that they could possibly file U.S. taxes as non-residents living abroad since they’re out of the U.S. for so much of the year.
The boat has many Australians and British aboard and by week two, you’ve encountered most of them one place or the other. The food is first rate; caviar and champagne aren’t a problem and are gratis so people are hot to pick up one another’s tabs. It’s the standard joke since because it’s free, everyone can afford to be magnanimous.
On the other hand, there are some off-limits topics, which I’ve learned about the hard way. Do not discuss: Religion, politics, cultural differences between your country and mine or any other, and health care.
I found myself in some very hot water stating how good I think the French health care system is, and there’s one couple with whom I won’t be exchanging email addresses.
And such is life. One thing’s for certain, I’ll never forget this trip.
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Readers are constantly asking me for authentic and out of the ordinary experiences when they come to Paris. Experience Paris – our newest travel partner – can arrange unique experiences in Paris and throughout France. When you contact Larry, please say, “Karen sent you” and use the code BJ001.