Southeast Asia: Nature, Culture, Wilderness
Dwarfed below the shimmering branches of Singapore’s solar-powered supertrees, it feels a little like you’ve been catapulted into the next century. The towering trunks may look more like terrifying triffids than twinkling Christmas trees, but there was a festive market in full swing, despite the electrical storm crackling above the seasonal carols. Even Santa would be hard-pressed to think of a much more enthralling destination for Christmas shopping than Chinatown or the designer stores of the ‘Garden City’s’ famous Orchard Road. The city’s night skyline ablaze with colourful lights is just as sensational from the sea, as I discovered when I joined an n-night round-trip cruise on board the Sapphire Princess.
The ship’s first country of call is Brunei, where a group of us chow down sticky-rice treats wrapped in banana leaves at a local home on stilts in Kampong Ayer, the world’s largest water village. In Vietnam’s beach town Nha Trang, I swap the chance to explore palm-fringed Tran Phu Street solo or flop on a sun lounger in the sand, for a half-day tour that includes visiting the 79-foot-tall Buddha at Long Son Pagoda and chaotic, crowded Cho Dam Market. It was similarly hectic in Saigon, where locals pay scant attention to red traffic lights and everything from chickens to pigs is balanced precariously on two wheels, as swarms of scooters speed through the streets. On board, many of the dishes (even the pizzas) were given a spicy Asian twist.
The specialty restaurants – Sterling Steakhouse, with its succulent surf and turf, and Sabatini’s Italian – were excellent and well worth paying extra for. And, for a special occasion, splash out on a night at the Chef’s Table, where you get a backstage peek at the bustling ship kitchens before a grand dinner: porcini mushroom risotto, mustard-coated fillet of beef and bittersweet chocolate mousse.
Four at-sea days meant plenty of time for a much-needed massage at the adult-only Sanctuary, where stewards were on hand with chilled face towels and frozen cocktails (more active passengers managed to summon up the strength to play basketball in the sweltering sunshine). Evening entertainment proved particularly lively, from acrobatic displays and Champagne fountain parties in the glitzy piazza to poolside family entertainment at Movies Under the Stars, where snacking on popcorn and ice-cream while watching the latest film blockbusters in the balmy open air was sheer bliss.