A quick post, mostly for my own reference, to sum up details of our trip.
It has been just over two weeks since we returned home and the world looks like a completely different place. I don’t know what travel will look like when we reach the other side of this. Right now the idea of going anywhere seems crazy. But someday again, perhaps. So, in that spirit:
Firstly, however, I want to sing the praises of Cathy Larsen, our travel agent/advisor. Cathy is the co-owner of Departures Travel in Sidney, BC. We have worked with her on our trips since 2013. Among her many great qualities, Cathy loves to solve problems – a great thing for a travel professional, no? We know that when we are traveling with Cathy at the helm that if things start to go sideways she will be working tirelessly to get us sorted. And on this trip that is exactly what happened. Those of you who know Wilf and I know that our approach to travel involves Research! Plans! Questions! Cathy has been great every time with our endless questions. And she knows all the neat places to go and things to do. And if you are not all about the research she can build you a fantastic trip so all you have to do is pack your bags.
So – when the world is traveling again I would suggest you think of Cathy. And if you are in Sidney you can stop by to meet her – and her very sweet, very shy dog Sadie. And if you are afar – Cathy and her team have all the tools to help you wherever you are.
Cruise Line – Silver Sea. We cruised on the Silver Spirit, their largest ship which carries 608 passengers and about 400 crew. It is hard to talk about the cruise without referring constantly to the unusual way this particular cruise went. But let me start with some basics. The ship is beautiful and our stateroom was fantastic. It was a room to spend time in, not just get out of. The public areas of the ship are all gorgeous and full of interesting details. They obviously take a lot of care in the hiring of staff ,who were all highly professional and warm and friendly. The food and beverage options were all first class. Shore excursions were interesting and well organized. Embarkation and disembarkation were very well organized, both on shore days and at the start and end of the cruise. The pre-cruise communication was excellent. Really, everything was exceptional.
In the unusual situation of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic I felt that Silver Sea did an excellent of managing the situation. Their biggest strength was communication – throughout the experience, beginning before we even left home, they kept us informed about what was happening. Onboard we were kept up to date as changes were being made and we never felt that they were hiding things from us or dissembling. At the same time they were managing a huge amount of disruption to their processes – the switch from Hong Kong to Manila as our departure port meant that they did not pick up three containers of supplies before the cruise started. I’m sure below decks it was all paddle paddle paddle but to us they presented an air of calmness and competence.
Tour Companies – for our Cambodia overland tour we worked with Cathy and a company called TourCan Vacations. They took our requirements and came back with itineraries that worked for us and in the end they put together a tour that we were very happy with.
TourCan is an aggregator, and they used a company called Trails of Indochina for the actual delivery of the tour. And it was great! We were met by Mr Sim and our driver at the airport and for the three nights, four days we were in Cambodia they took excellent care of us. We had an excellent driver and a very comfortable air conditioned van to tour in. They kept us hydrated, refreshed with cool towels and spritzed with alcohol hand sanitizer to make sure we didn’t succumb to the heat or germs. I’m sure there were times when they would have like to have hosed us down from top to bottom before putting us back on their lovely clean bus, but there it was. Mr. Sim was a terrific guide. There was not a question, historical, political, you name it that he could not answer. His English was excellent. We really appreciated his candour. We had many questions about Cambodia and what happened in the 20th century. The impact of war, of the Khmer Rouge, the rebuilding of the country. These wounds are so recent and so deep I never know if it is appropriate to ask about that history. Mr Sim shared his history and how he felt about his country and its path forward.
People ask us – why travel so much? And this is it. I will hold close the memory of sitting on the steps of an ancient temple, listening to Mr Sim tell his story and the story of his country, his hopes and his plans for the future. It was a privilege.
Okay – back to the trip wrap up. Trails of Indochina subcontracted our evening food tour of Siem Reap to Vespa Adventures. I’ve written about that adventure – they were great. And they have locations in several southeast Asian countries, so check them out if you are in that part of the world.
Hotels – well, we stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels in the world on this trip. My only regret is that it was only for one night in each one! Based on that short experience I can speak highly of :
The Peninsula Hotel, Manila
The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
The Carlton, Singapore
And of course, Phum Baitang , in Siam Reap, Cambodia. We had three lovely nights there.
It was a great trip, and now, almost three weeks later it seems like a dream. So much has changed since then. But while we are being socially distant we have our memories of a wonderful experience to linger over.