It feels like a lifetime ago that this trip happened, and before I could post this, lockdown happened due to Covid-19. Now that we’re back up and running, I want to share it all with you!
It was close to a three-week trip, all in all, and there was very little I could do to keep the blog updated as internet wasn’t great when I had time to write – but I’ll come to that in a few minutes.
This was a trip planned long ago with the family. It’d been two years since I’d left the UK for Hong Kong, Australia and now New Zealand, and it could be another two years before I see them again. They suggest a cruise around Southeast Asia, as it was the closest middle point between us that we were all interested in. The cruise would travel Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – all places I wanted to visit anyway.
It took three flights to get from Wellington to Langkawi (and the same coming back) but there was already a disruption when my second flight, from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur, was delayed by an hour before I’d even started the trip. This made for a hectic dash through KL Airport to the final flight where I was literally the last one on the plane. Yup, I was THAT guy.
Langkawi itself was great. A duty-free island, it’s very cheap and the people are very friendly. I spent the time chilling and found a very cool bar on the beach for cheap drinks and great views. It’s called Ah Chong Beach Bar, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to visit.
Getting to grips with life on a cruise ship
Being on a cruise is different to any other holiday I’ve been on, and each ship and company do things in a different way. We went with Marella, or TUI, so all the food and drink was included – and we upgraded to the premium drinks package for free reign of all the bars. Those days at sea pass pretty quickly when the drinks flow freely.
There are different bars to choose from, shows each night, games and activities during the day, mini golf, a climbing wall, pools, a gym, an escape room and more. Not everything is included in the price, though, but some things are definitely worth it – especially the premium restaurants.
Speaking of food, it was all great and there’s a great selection. A day-long buffet with fresh food throughout the day, a restaurant, an Italian option, tapas and more. I ate waaaaaaay too much.
It was strange how attentive everyone was. Those guys work pretty much every day and they know your drink orders pretty quickly. Be nice to them, as I know that if I had to work almost every day for six months or more, I’d get pretty irritable!
The pros and cons of excursions
While this isn’t the case with every cruise ship and route, not all ports are in the closest cities or places to see. Some are commercial ports, which means there’s really very little to just walk off and see. For some people, that’s fine. They want to stay on the ship and take advantage of everything it has to offer.
Fair play, but not me.
I’m more than happy to get off, find my own transport and go exploring. There are ways to do this with apps similar to Uber and Ola, if not those themselves, as well as local taxis looking for a fare. You do need to haggle and ask around for the best price. In some cases, the ship will put buses on to take you there and back.
There’s a risk to this, though. The cruise ship has a schedule to follow and if you go off on your own and miss the departure time, they will sail without you. It is your responsibility to get back within plenty of time. That makes sense but my family weren’t keen on taking that chance and that meant using their excursions.
These are a great way to see the place you’ve docked at. Tour buses with a guide will take you around and show you the highlights, history and other places. It depends on what you book. For our trip, we saw a lot of temples. I’m glad for this, as they’re all wildly different and the differences in their beliefs and religions are interesting. As someone fascinated by mythologies from around the world, it was great!
There’s a bit of safety, too, as if your booked excursion is late, the ship has to wait for you as they’re the ones who organised it. You’re on a pre-set route but they’re generally pretty good.
Although, they can be very LONG days so get plenty of sleep the night before those early starts!
Due to the coronavirus situation, we ended up not going to Cambodia. Developments and reported cases caused Malaysia to introduce a rule that would prevent anyone crossing their borders if they had been in Cambodia within 14 days as a way to stop potential contamination.
That’s a shame, but it didn’t stop me seeing some incredible things.
The Batu Caves, in Kuala Lumpur, were a highlight for me. Despite the 300 stairs (again with the stairs and heights!) it was amazing to see the temples inside the cavern and there were a lot of people making the journey who weren’t tourists.
Vung Tau in Vietnam was also really interesting, and it proved this is a country I’d love to visit again. The temples and highlights of the city were an intriguing glimpse into their culture and way of life.
Singapore was a fascinating place and while a lot of our time did revolve around their gardens, I saw enough elsewhere to want to spend at least a few days to a week exploring more of the city and its hidden secrets.
Langkawi, with its beach bars and stunning views from the top of the cable car also deserve a spot on the list, too. I can’t stress enough how much you should visit this place.
I think, with a little time and thought, this would be a great topic to expand on in more detail, so keep an eye out for more about getting through a cruise holiday and why Southeast Asia should be high on your list of places to visit!