Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cruising Asia: Sihanoukville and Pattaya

Having done our research in advance, Bob and I had originally intended to decline visiting Sihanoukville, Cambodia, on February 11, 2016, and save the $126.00 visa charges.  We would instead, relax in one of the pools on the ship.  However, when we boarded the Volendam, we were told that Holland America must charge us for the visa's whether or not we go on shore because we would be in Cambodian waters.  This was perhaps the most disappointing and uncomfortable port of the journey - although for those who hadn't experienced a poor third world country, this was the real deal.

There were shuttle buses at the port which transported us to the central market of Sihanoukville free of charge,  When we arrived, the bus was "attacked" by Tuk Tuk drivers anxious to find work for the day, and sadly, by women and children begging for money.

We decided to take a walk around the small city on our own.  It was a shame to see how dirty and trashy everything seemed to be. We certainly weren't tempted to sample any of the street food or produce.

I made Bob walk through a smelly market with me, where a stream of dirty water ran between stalls of meats and seafood being gutted and chopped up amid buzzing flies next to produce and clothing.  I could not believe the horrible conditions that these poor people work and live to survive.  Where was the desire to improve their surroundings?

 We hopped in a tuk-tuk to go back to the touristy central market.  It was only slightly better:

 It was time to return to the ship and jump in the pool to get clean!

The next day our ship pulled into Laem Chabang, Thailand.  The Volendam would remain here for two days, so that those who wanted to travel up to Bangkok and spend the night in town would have enough time to explore the big city.  Having seen the sights in Bangkok, Bob and I hired a van with a few others and headed south to Pattaya to visit The Sanctuary of Truth.

This magnificent wooden sanctuary is a work of art that began in 1981 with it's completion expected to be in 2050.  Built somewhat in the Khmer carving style of Angkor Wat, the Thai people wanted to bring together representations of philosophy, mythology and religion (primarily Buddhist and Hindu) from four different eastern cultures; Cambodia, China, India and Thailand.  The enormous structure is over 20-stories in height and every square inch will be covered in intricately carved figures.  It reminded me a bit of the  Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

Here are some photos of the exterior.  In some places you can see designs sketched upon sections of wood yet to be carved.  The craftsmanship is truly remarkable!

The interior is equally impressive. The carved sculptures adorning the interior of Sanctuary of Truth presents seven creators: Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars.

The temple is beautifully placed on a peninsula, and can be approached by boats from nearby beaches.  Elephant rides and horse-driven carriages can take you around the sanctuary to explore the peaceful gardens and watch a Thai cultural dance.

We drove down to Pattaya Beach where we enjoyed a Thai lunch, did a little shopping in the markets and malls, and walked along the beach. Of all the beaches I have been to, this was one of the least desirable to me.  The bay was completely overrun with motorized watercraft, and the beaches were completely overrun with "dirty old men".  Pattaya's reputation as a tourist destination due to the sex industry, Asia's largest gay scene, and it's famous transgender cabaret shows lures in a crowd that I could never be comfortable with.

Our second day in Laem Chabang, Bob and I stayed on board the ship.  On days like this, we managed to keep ourselves entertained by playing tennis, eating, reading books, snacking, watching movies, getting ice cream, swimming, eating again, and playing ping-pong or board games.  Bob was even good about going to the gym!  Late that afternoon, we were treated to a Thai-style New Year celebration.

Happy New Year!  Welcome year of the monkey! 

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