Monday, 26 August 2019

Vietnam next.

A fresh 2nd Mate, together with a Deckhand (later Bosun).

I had just visited Thailand for the first time in my life, and what an experience that had been. Amazingly enough, it was more or less what I expected, the good and the bad included. Having read a lot about Thailand before we got there, since I have always been a History & Geography Buff.  But still, so many new impressions to take in, and to digest.
And now, we were sailing towards Vietnam. Another famous country, for her beauty, mixed cultures, and not to forget a very troubled passed. And this time I was not the only one who was extremely excited about our destination. Because the vast majority of our passengers were actually Americans back then, and some of them were a little but worried about how they would be treated by the locals. Something which turned out to be absolutely nothing to worry about. A wonderful people who seems to always look ahead, and never think too much about the past. Something to learn here.

 Entering the Delta with swamps, rainforest, and a river which twists and turns.

This way please.

We picked up the Vietnamese Pilot just before we entered in to the Saigon River, a few miles south west of the city Wung Tau, which is normally the port where the bigger cruise ships will berth (stay alongside). And again, just as with Bangkok river, since our ship was relatively small (only 134 meters long) we could transit up the river to almost downtown Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, which is the Official name. Although, we learned later that the locals still call the city Saigon.
And to my big surprise, the Pilot was not alone. He was escorted by a military police. Something I had to be explained, it was because the authorities wanted to prevent the Pilot to engage in either political talks with us, or trying to defect (claim political asylum), since we were a foreign flagged ship. To me, it was welcome to the real world outside "safe and sound" Northern Europe.

The river twists and turns all the way up to Saigon.

I thought I have seen it all (in my naivete) after a couple of hours of Bangkok river, with all the traffic there. But nothing had prepared me for the madness we were about to experience the next 3-4 hours up to Saigon. Insanity comes to mind when I experienced this the first time. The traffic was absolutely immense, with everybody doing whatever they felt was the safest way. So our Pilot was for the next 4 hours using the ships whistle (Horn/Tyfon) and VHF radio to communicate with whichever ship we met. It was unreal to observe for the first time. I could only imagine the stress level the Captain must have felt these hours.

We started to see some modest traffic at first.

This river is very special when it comes to the special "traffic system" they use, and the various types of ships and boats you meet when transiting up or down. Not to forget the interesting fact that so many live their whole life on some of the boats we passed. So I will use most of the space in rest of this Blog Post for pictures (less text).

An interesting sight ahead of us. What could this be?

They are tied up to some sort of mooring buoys, and swing with the river's tide. Sun is up now. 

Wonder what he is thinking when this (our ship) gorgeous white cruise ship passes.

We passed jungle, rainforests, a house here and there, and suddenly a couple of small villages which seem to have been established in the middle of nowhere. We passed smaller industry areas, which had been established after clearing the forest. Plenty of small and bigger work boats, which you could see the entire families working on them.

Small village with plenty of work boats.

Do you spot the other ship towering over the forest? 

It was interesting to see how all the ships and boats interacted with each other, in some sort of strange understanding. This of course is also why we need a local maritime Pilot onboard. Not only because it is compulsory (as in most countries), but he would know the river's twist and turns, what traffic to expect when, the currents setting the ship sideways, and of course the various river banks (depths).

Look at that erosion caused by the river.

Naturally, as with most rivers leading to a city, the traffic will intensify as you come closer. This made the Pilot use the ship's whistle and VHF radio more and more. With the Captain clearly monitoring the Pilot's actions and when the pilot gave the orders to the helmsman. Because all ship will use a helmsman when sailing up these rivers, despite the ship being equipped with an Autopilot.

Better stay clear of this operation.

Imagine work and live here your entire life.

As already mentioned, the river twists and turns all the time. And after about 3 hours time, we could clearly see the City ahead of us. Funny, because the city was just a mile or two ahead of us, but still an hour away. Optical illusion of course. Just as when you see a ship sticking up in the middle of the jungle.

Are we there yet? I can see the city.

More Urban landscape. 

Still somewhat chaotic. 

Wonder what they talk about.

Nerves of steel when operating like this.

And we finally were alongside around 10:30 AM. A long morning for most of us since we had been up at 04:30 (approach), and the day had just started. Nevertheless we all were excited of being here. Tied up in a crappy cargo port, as they dont have a cruise terminal here.

3 days (2 nights) here.

The river at night time.

This is me in Saigon, 18 years later.

Next, Da Nang, and famous Halong Bay.

Monday, 19 August 2019

To exotic Thailand

To exotic Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.

I even got a tan.

After a very stressful day in Singapore, where we would have a "turn around" day regularly for the next 4 months, with change of pax (and some crew), spare parts received, provisions received, and services, it was time to start a new cruise.
It is normally a bit tired crew after such a turn around port since these days are normally very long, and especially after we just finished the repositioning from Europe as well.
So after departure we headed east into the Singapore strait, and then northwards along the coast of Malaysia, and in to the Gulf of Thailand.
Yepp, I was heading for Thailand for the first time in my life. This is back in 1995, and for a fresh Second Officer with only  a few months experience, it was a dream come through.
Had always heard about Thailand, but never even had the thought that I would end up there at one point, and travel several countries on the other side of the globe. I really felt I had picked the lottery ticket when I landed this job. The impressions, sights & sounds, came fast, and I had to try to digest it all.

My home away from home.

First, we would have 2 wonderful sea-days, which we spent transiting the southern part of The Gulf of Thailand. Sea-days are as you probably know days where we do not call any ports but just keep moving to next place.
The sea-days are normally very hectic days for the Hotel department, as they have a non-stop program with providing service for the passengers who never can leave the ship. For us belonging to Deck department and Engine department, we love sea-days because we can get done a lot regular maintenance and minor repairs, as well as getting done all the administrative stuff we need to do (reports, checks, planning, etc). 
Love sea-days.

Our first port of call was an anchorage, just off the world famous island of Kho Samui, located in the south western part of the Gulf of Thailand. This group of islands were already famous, but became even more famous as the years passed, with the beaches, resorts with all kinds of accommodations and price classes, bars & restaurants, rainforests, etc. Paradise on earth, until maybe the they over commercialised it some years later.
Regardless, for me new in the region, it was nothing less than an incredible experience to see for the first time. I just had to go ashore after my duties, to see and experience this.

One of the ship's tender boats.

Driving tenderboat.

After a day at anchor off the famous island of Kho Samui, with a visit to the beach, some cold ones to drink, and buying a few souvenirs, it was time to move on. We secured the ship's Tender boats, which we used to transport passengers and crew members from and to the ship, we picked up the anchor and continued towards next port, which was Bangkok.
Oh yess, the time was come for me to visit Bangkok. The city with both the good and bad reputation. The city which never sleeps. The city in the famous song "One night in Bangkok". And we were to stay for 2 nights (3 days). Little did I know what this city would mean to me 6-7 years down the road.

Up to Bangkok. River banks flooded.

We picked up the compulsory (maritime) Pilot at 5 AM, just before we enter the Chao Phraya river (which flows through Bangkok). A maritime pilot is usually compulsory in harbour areas/restricted waters in most parts of the world. Regardless whether the ship and crew have been there many times or not. Most of the pilots are very useful as they act like a link between the authorities and the ship, and also have local knowledge about the conditions (river banks, currents, local weather, etc).
So we sailed up the river for a few hours actually, due to the relatively small size of our vessel (only 134 meters long). The bigger cruise ships normally would be alongside in the cargo port of Laem Chabang, which is midway between Bangkok and Pattaya.
The Chao Phraya river is a so called tidal river, which means we also experience high and low tides in the river as well. This will sometimes (especially during rainy season) result in the water breaching the banks and flood the land masses.

Riverbanks flooded

Sunset, Bangkok. Pollution always give nice colours.

Bangkok was, and still is (maybe for not too long) an extremely exotic city, where you really feel that you are far far away from your home. You get this feeling you have been transported to another world, almost. The city is large, lots of traffic, and quite chaotic in some strange organized way (and still is). Takes a long time to really understand it. A mix of old and new building next to each other everywhere.
Small and bigger bars, pubs, hole in the wall waterholes, restaurants and smaller food vendors basically everywhere. Although the smaller food vendors have started to be pushed away from the pavements the last few years. But you still find them all over the city. I read in a book that half of the population in the kingdom is busy serving the other half with food and beverages. 😀😁
Lucky for me, I had several colleagues onboard who had been to these places before, and I just tagged along when we went ashore to taste the local cuisine.

The entire pier was flooded.

The guys rigging the gangway on the flooded pier.

One thing we all learn while there is to be careful when eating local food in Thailand. Doesn't matter if you are used to spicy food (as a westerner), because what you will experience in Thailand is special. I know, many like to brag about the spicy food they can eat. But eat the right (or wrong) food in Thailand, and you are in for a real treat. The food served by many of the street vendors is normally made for the locals, so it can be extremely spicy, and not always made with the Public Health system in mind. The poultry has sometimes been sweating in the heat the entire day, before being served.
So the reaction can be instant....or maybe not. For me it was the opposite. I could no "go" for days, and went to the ship's Doctor, whom just giggled and told me to wait a few more days. It was obvious that he had already been visited in the ship's Hospital by several of my colleagues.

Mmmm, good food.

The locals were more interested in the blond girls. 😉

After the third day (and 2 nights), it was time to leave bangkok, and head down the river again, towards the Gulf Of Thailand. Then we would head towards the island of Kho Kood (ko kut), where we would anchor again, and use our Tender boats for transportation of passengers and crew.
The company would rent a private beach for a day and arrange a beach BBQ and watersports (equipment we carried with the ship) from the beach.

Bosun and his guys prepare a tender boat.

Tender Boat launched.

Kho Kood, beach B-B-Q and watersports. With one of the tender boats alongside..

After Kho Kood, Vietnam.

Next part, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

Heart Attack!

 I recently suffered a Heart Attack, which when I come to think about it was no surprise at all. I am overweight, middle aged, and in no goo...