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Set Sail From Singapore To Shanghai On 4,000 Mile Adventure
It was always going to be more of a marathon than a sprint but, then again, the clue was always going to be in the title. The Grand Asia Tour cruise actually chalked up more than 4,000 nautical miles as we sailed from Singapore to Shanghai in China on board the Princess Cruises ship, Sapphire Princess. The number of countries we actually visited during the 17-day voyage is up for debate as the numerous destinations included a couple of Chinese provinces. But just about everywhere that could possibly be explored in this exotic part of the world was covered during the suitably named Grand Asia Tour, with ports of call including Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, as well as Singapore and China.
These nations are collectively rich in cultural heritage and history, with no shortage of fascinating temples and citadels, stunning landscapes, and bustling cities to keep visitors entertained and educated. And, in between the various stops, passengers on the 116,000 ton Sapphire Princess are thoroughly catered for and entertained with a wide choice of available facilities and activities to enjoy such as a gym, sports court providing golf putting to basketball, swimming pools, hot tubs, sauna and steam rooms. On top of that, guests can also sign up for the likes of wine tasting, arts seminars and scholarship to zumba classes. And, throughout every day of your cruise, there are plenty of eating options available through the wide range of restaurants, including traditional Italian cuisine and an American steakhouse, cafes, grill, or ice cream parlour. And if you just fancy a quiet drink then you can also find a convenient bar or two to help you unwind.
We began our cruise following an overnight flight from London to Singapore where we spent the night in a hotel before transferring to the 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess for the start of our cruise. Unfortunately, our stay in Singapore gave us little time to explore the city, although we did have the opportunity to at least visit the famous Raffles Hotel, even if we passed up the chance to try its trademark Singapore Sling cocktail.
The first couple of days on board the ship were spent sailing through the South China Sea and then the Gulf of Thailand on our way to the port of Laem Chabang, where we took a tour to the nearby capital of Bangkok, often described as the Venice of the East due to its many canals and waterways. The tour included one such waterway, a boat trip on the Chao Phraya River, but the main highlights were visits to the aptly named Grand Palace, including the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha, followed by the huge and impressive Golden Buddha statue at Wat Trimitr.
Another day at sea, this time the South China Sea, brought us to the port of Phu My in Vietnam, from where we travelled to the capital, Ho Chi Minh City. As fascinating as it was to see the many thousands of motorbikes laden with whole families or objects, our destination was the Cu Chi Tunnels which the North Vietnamese Army used to significant effect during the Vietnam War which ended in 1975. Following another day's cruising we then reached northern Vietnam where we docked at Chan May. This offered passengers the chance to visit either Da Nang or Hue, and we opted for Hue where the last ruling family of Vietnam ruled until 1945. The Imperial Citadel, where the royal family lived, is truly spectacular, but we also enjoyed a dragon boat ride on the delightfully named Perfume River plus a visit to the revered Buddhist shrine of the Thien Mu Pagoda.
The Imperial Citadel at Hue from where the royal family ruled
Back out into the South China Sea it was onto the former British colony of Hong Kong where we were able to enjoy a two-day stay. Fortunately the weather was kind to us as we took the tram to the top of Victoria Peak for stunning views over the harbour, followed later by a harbour cruise - plenty of boat trips on this holiday! The second day in Hong Kong gave us time for a more leisurely stroll around the many sights, including Stanley Market, the local ferry, which is so cheap to use to get from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, and the impressive underground train system that is so easy to follow even for first-time visitors.
The view of Hong Kong from the top of Victoria's Peak
Our next stop was another Chinese province, this time the island of Taiwan. An all-day tour of the capital Taipei, which we reached from the port of Keelung, afforded us an array of sights ranging from the Martyr's Shrine dedicated to 330,000 men who died in Chinese battles, and the world's second tallest skyscraper, Tapei 101, to the Confucius Temple and the neighbouring Pao-An Temple decorated with ornate dragon pillars, stone lions and tablets, and which is dedicated to the God of Medicine.
Another day at sea, this time cruising the East China Sea, brought us to the most poignant part of our whole holiday. Our destination was the city of Nagasaki in Japan which was devastated by an atomic bomb dropped on it in 1945 that signalled the end of the Second World War. The bomb killed around 74,000 of the population of 240,000 and injured a further 75,000. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, opened in 1996, makes for a grim visit. But more optimism can be found at the nearby Peace Memorial Park featuring the 33-foot tall Peace Statue.
The following day brought us to the port of Busan in South Korea which, unfortunately, coincided with the only significant rainfall during our holiday. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to go ashore despite the inclement weather, but our solo exploration had to be confined to the outdoor market in a search for possible souvenirs, plus the bustling fish market which was established during the Korean War by female traders and contains a rich assortment marine life and seaweeds.
The normally bustling market at Busan in South Korea
The boat finally docked in Shanghai, China, where we opted to add an overnight stay at the impressive Longemont Hotel rather than go straight to the airport from the dock. The hotel was some distance from the world famous Bund waterfront area, which also provides views of the impressive city skyline - including the iconic Pearl TV tower, across the river, but we hired a taxi at a reasonable price to take us there. Strolling along The Bund was the perfect way to end our holiday, but visitors with more time to spend in the most western of Chinese cities should also seek out the Yu Gardens and Jade Buddha Temple.
The impressive city skyline seen from The Bund in Shanghai