Exploring Asia one port at a time

Exploring Asia one port at a time

Marilyn Jones takes a trip to South East Asia

Cruise guests are greeted in Malaysia with music and necklaces

"Sit down," the middle-aged woman said to me.

After settling on a wooden platform, we talked about our lives, children, and grandchildren in her broken English and my lack of Vietnamese language skills. Soon, two vegetable sellers joined us, and she caught them up in our conversation.

I am in a village market near Nhu Trang, with a small group of tourists. Makeshift booths showcase housewares, produce, and meat and fish in the open without refrigeration. This day we've visited a typical village home (in the family for generations), a dried squid factory, and a Buddhist temple.

Eleven days before, I flew into Taipei, Taiwan, and boarded Norwegian Jewel. It has been three years since Norwegian Cruise Line has sailed in Asia.

Jewel now offers 16 Asian itineraries, visiting 11 countries and sailing from nine different departure ports.


Norwegian Jewel

NCL Jewel

The ship is relatively small, with only 2,376 passengers. There are 1,069 crew members. It's easy to find everything, and, to my relief, it doesn't depend on apps. Instead, the crew is helpful, friendly, and professional, willing to help passengers with all their needs.

The ship has eight complimentary dining options and six specialty restaurants, including Chinese, French, and Japanese teppanyaki, sushi, and Brazilian churrascaria. There is also a cafe, bars and lounges, live music nightly, and a casino.

Jewel has two mid-ship swimming pools, a private pool for The Haven suites, six hot tubs, a kids’ club, a kids’ pool, a theatre, a sports court, a fitness center, a spa, and a salon.

There's also a library, card playing room, the atrium, and Spinnaker Lounge, an observation lounge by day and a club by night.

And that's just the ship. It is a fun and welcoming place to enjoy sea days and times when we're not exploring the itinerary's exotic ports.

People have lived in the Water Village for more than 1,300 years in Brunei

Touring Southeast Asia

On the itinerary, there are only three sea days during the two weeks I am onboard. In almost every port, dancers and musicians perform.

Our first port of call was Kaohsiung, Taiwan; I visited a shopping complex with a paper umbrella workshop and friendly clerks offering all kinds of souvenirs. The second portion of the tour is the Tawain Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park, where we watch an hour-long dance illustrating lives in the rice fields and courtship.

Choosing a suitable excursion is essential. NCL offers advice on activity levels and descriptions. Reading the reviews is also helpful. Take a guided tour if a destination is of particular interest or historical significance. Local guides are usually well-versed and can offer insight into an area's past, present, and sometimes future. If not, consider exploring on your own. Know what you want to get from your adventure on shore before booking.

A great example is my mistake when I booked the on-your-own tour in Vigan in The Philippines instead of the offered guided tour. I was excited to tour the UNESCO World Heritage City. Established in the 16th century, Vigan is Asia's best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China, and from Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

But I was dropped off in the commercial district and instructed to take motorcycles with covered sidecars to the historic area. I didn't think I could get into the sidecar, let alone out, so I spent my time shopping instead of admiring the centuries-old landmarks.

In some cases, though, the on-your-own option works fine. While visiting Vung Tau, Vietnam, the day was perfect. I wanted to relax, walk along the waterfront, and shop, and I enjoyed every moment of talking to locals and admiring the city's beauty. It was fun to communicate via Google Translate and point at menu pictures for lunch, which included an excellent soup of clear broth, chicken, vegetables, and rice noodles, plus a hearty fruit drink made with mulberries.

Two young girls in a village market near Nhu Trang, Vietnam

Cultural Immersion

Norwegian Cruise Line offers several immersion excursions, making it easier to understand the culture, including government, religion, home life, wildlife, and business.

Brunei Darussalam, tucked into a corner of Borneo, is one of Southeast Asia's better-kept secrets, with rich and fascinating history and natural beauty.

Our young, energetic guide excitedly tells us about his new marriage and the baby on the way. He explains that a sultan rules the country, and when he passes away, the sultan’s son will rule.

After a short motor coach ride, we board a boat and proceed through a mangrove forest lining the Brunei River. Our goal is to spot the proboscis monkey. Like a safari, our leader suddenly spies the elusive primates. They bound from tree to tree in the forest canopy. We also spy the Sultan's Palace overlooking the river.

All along the waterway, we see brightly painted villages like shacks on thin stilts ready to topple into the water. The appearance is correct; the inside of the "shacks" is anything but.

More than 30,000 people live in thousands of structures built on stilts in the Brunei River. The villages have a fantastic assortment of homes, restaurants, mosques, shops, and hospitals, all connected by wooden boardwalks. Amazingly, people have lived in the Water Village for more than 1,300 years, making it one of the most historic areas in Brunei.

A long winding sidewalk passes a graveyard before opening into a water village. We walk along a boardwalk over the water. We enjoy homemade desserts at a bright pink home before touring the house.

Thick carpets, expensive furnishings and decor, original paintings, and jewelry displays are inside. The family seems anxious to show off their mini-palace. Bright-eyed children act as tour guides, and their parents smile at the compliments we all pay as we walk from room to room.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore


After 13 days, including embarkation and disembarkation days, we arrived in the island nation of Singapore. I decided to stay an extra day in the city, which comprises one main island, 63 satellite islands and islets, and one outlying islet; these combined areas have increased by approximately 25 percent since the country's independence due to extensive land reclamation projects.

It has the second highest population density of any country in the world, although there are numerous green and recreational spaces due to urban planning.

Soon, after checking into the Pan Pacific Singapore Hotel, an exquisite hotel in the city's heart, I took a short taxi ride to Gardens by the Bay.

The nature park spans 250 acres. It is free except for featured attractions. Being a popular tourist attraction in Singapore, the park welcomes more than 50 million visitors annually.

As the day wains and the sun begins to set, I journey back to the hotel. My time in Asia has been a wonderful adventure and one I can recommend to anyone looking for a sailing hotel that can deliver you into the beauty and mystery of Asia.

Fishermen in Vung Tau, Vietnam

When you sail

Jewel is for every generation, exudes customer service, exquisite food, and dining options, and exemplifies what a cruise should be about, including convenience, cultural exploration, and fun.

There is entry paperwork to fill out for most countries visited. Helpful onboard instructions and knowledgeable crew members help with the process.

Asia is once again welcoming Norwegian Cruise Line and the Jewel with open arms, mysteries to seek and understand, and friendliness to make your cruise experiences memories for a lifetime.

For more information: www.ncl.com, and www.panpacific.com.

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