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Angkor Wat in Black & White: A Photo Essay
Here are some more images from our visit to Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, Cambodia. I did filter them to age them. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world– visiting here is a must! Photos can only go so far in bringing the awe-factor through the lens.
Too Little Time in Singapore
Southeast Asia Travel -11/15 – Day Seventeen: Packed and ready to go, our suitcases outside our door, we were ready to disembark Le Soleal for the last time. We had to go through immigration and customs in Singapore before we could take the shuttle to our hotel.
We arrived at Raffles Singapore and were escorted through the magnificent lobby to a waiting area on the second floor while the staff checked everyone in. Our rooms wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon so we headed out to start touring the city with only one day to take in as much as we could.
Instead of taking a planned tour, we had already planned to use the hop on hop off bus to see Singapore with our friends George and Mary, who were staying a couple extra days. We decided we could either settle on seeing just a couple things; or by taking the bus around the city instead, we could at least get a nice overview. I think we made the right decision.
We rode the first line and then went back to the hotel to get settled in our room.
I could go on and on about the Raffles Singapore. It is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The hotel itself (built in 1887) is massive and elegant. Our room was huge! The bathroom alone was almost as big as our room on the ship had been. Michael and I were both disappointed we could only enjoy Raffles for one night.
In all, Michael and I rode three of the five bus lines around the city. Though we didn’t really get to explore; we saw most of the different districts in Singapore. We saw much of the eclectic mix of modern and historic architecture and only wished we’d had the time to wander through the vast markets in Chinatown and Little India. Instead of being overly wordy- here are some of my favorite images I took throughout the day.
We went to Raffles’ Long Bar for their famous Singapore Sling, which was celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. A busy place and always a line out the door, Long Bar is full of old world atmosphere. I have to say that they have quite a racket going with the Singapore Sling though. One drink is about $28 USD!
We had hoped to go to Gardens by the Sea for the light show but were seeing lightning in the distance. Exhausted after a long day, we decided to call it a night. Sadly, we said ‘goodbye for now’ to George and Mary. We’d had a great time with them throughout our vacation and I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the future.
Tragedy and a Deserted Island
Southeast Asia Travel -11/14 – Day Sixteen: We woke up early to the news of the Paris attacks, as they were in progress; and we were instantly glued to the TV. Outside our balcony door, we could see our ship was cruising closer to the peaceful, sparsely populated island of Tioman, Malaysia… our destination for the day.
In the marketing materials for the cruise, Playbill touted (what other sources have as well) that Tioman was the island used to represent Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific but this isn’t true. Those scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, this beautiful island was here waiting for us.
The chaos playing out in Paris was diametrically opposed to the serenity before me. It just wasn’t right.
We broke away from the TV and headed to breakfast. Only a few people had started straggling in. Of course we wondered if anyone else knew what was going on in France. Our ship is French—did the crew know yet?
We checked the news again after we ate, and then decided to catch the first tender, figuring it was only going to get more crowded if we waited for a later one. We got down to the deck only to find out it had temporarily been postponed. After an hour, the temporary delay had become a questionable, permanent decision. No Tioman.
The story of what actually happened will probably always be a mystery. We were told that the resort we were supposed to visit (and use their beach)– suddenly went bankrupt overnight. This was odd as we were also told that as of the night before they were excited we were coming. I should also note that the population of Tioman (in 2008) is estimated at 432. So to believe this story, you’d have to believe that a small beach resort, knowing a ship was bringing over two hundred customers for the day– suddenly decided to close shop and not even wait an extra day, collecting whatever income it could. It makes no sense.
Add to this, there were two other resorts visible from our ship and no one could be reached at either of them. From our viewpoint, the coast was completely deserted. A rumor started on our boat, early on, that initially I didn’t give much credence. A few people were suggesting that because of the Paris attacks and because our ship was French; the islanders were afraid to let us come ashore. Later I had no choice but to believe it, especially after seeing movement on shore as soon as our ship started drifting further away. A few small fishing boats also started to appear. It was curious to say the least.
At noon, the crew organized a brief gathering on the rear deck to remember the people of France and lowered the French flag to half-mast. Yes, all over the world- even on a small ship floating in the South Pacific– people were touched and solidarity ruled over despair.
It was announced that at 2 PM the Broadway performers were rallying together to put on a variety show to entertain the ship. This thrown-together event turned out to provide some pretty exciting moments. All the performers (except Liz Callaway whose concert was scheduled for tonight) performed; giving us a wonderful show. For many of us, it was probably a better way to spend the afternoon than basking in the sun anyway.
This was our last night on the ship; tomorrow we’d dock in Singapore.
Liz Callaway’s show was moved up to an hour before dinner. She pulled out all the stops and gave us a terrific show. I was especially thrilled because her final song was, The Story Goes On, from the musical Baby. Particularly poignant for many reasons. Liz is another of the many Broadway performers that gives her whole heart when she sings. It was a perfect last concert among so many great performances we received.
Following the concert, we had the introduction of the ship’s crew and our final toast to the end of a great cruise. Michael and I just happened to be sitting in front of Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, so we got to clink our glasses of champagne with them.
I regret not getting to say goodbye to a lot of people after dinner. I really wasn’t thinking about the unlikelihood of seeing many of them in the morning. We were smart enough to get most of the email addresses exchanged early though, so we’d be able to stay in touch.
We spent the last couple of hours before bed packing and dealing with the reception desk. The cruise has gone way too fast and I’m just thankful for all the wonderful memories. Luckily, we have a full day in Singapore tomorrow before we start the long journey home.
Seasick & Show Happy
Southeast Asia Travel -11/13 – Day Fifteen: Breakfast… show… lunch… show… show… dinner… show. That was today’s schedule.
I was really excited about the first event of the day—Seth Rudetsky interviewing Christine Ebersole and Rachel York about their roles in the musical, Grey Gardens. Christine won a Tony Award in 2007 for her dual roles of Edith and Edie Beale. We were fortunate to see her performance on Broadway. Rachael York just finished playing the same role(s) this summer starring opposite Betty Buckley. The highlight of this session was Christine Ebersole singing Around the World from the show.
Here’s a YouTube clip from the Broadway production:
Pat Birch is probably not a name familiar to a lot of people though her work is everywhere. A dancer/choreographer/director with credits a mile long, she has definitely left her mark in many forms of media and entertainment. Film, theatre, TV, music videos… she’s done it all.
Pat entertained us with stories from her career, hosted by John Fahey, in the afternoon.
Patricia Birch started as a dancer and quickly segued in choreography. She played the role of Anybodys in the 1960 revival of West Side Story. Among her many credits she was responsible for choreographing stage and film productions of Grease, Candide, A Little Night Music, Parade and her work was regularly seen on Electric Company, 6 seasons of Saturday Night Live, and the film, The First Wives Club. That’s just a sample. Pat is a friendly, gifted and fascinating artist.
The Playbill Cocktail Hour became The Newlywed Game today. Better stated: The Broadway Newlywed Game. All the questions had some Broadway connection. Three couples married less than a year participated: One older couple, one young gay couple, and one couple I’d guess to be in their late 30’s. The game itself was fun but it was the banter between the hosts that made it the best. Married couple, Jennifer Cody and Hunter Foster were hysterical—much of the time, not trying to be! From making the instructions more confusing than reading the U.S. Tax Code to Jennifer’s constant quick wit—it was a ball.
I have to say I was feeling a little seasick today. At least the constant, slight rocking back and forth wasn’t helping how I was feeling. To say that I was grumpy at dinner was an understatement. Feeling the way I did, the extremely slow service started to make me crazy. Dinner took an hour and 50 minutes to get through—with big breaks between courses. I wanted to pull my hair out. We barely had time to run back to the room before the evening’s show.
Rachel York has a powerhouse voice that doesn’t quit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer do so many big power numbers in one set before– each using the full range of her voice. She loves doing impressions. She gave us Julie Andrew, Liza Minnelli. Cher, Celine and a whole lot more. One example, Rachel sang I Will Always Love You, starting with Whitney, switching to Dolly, throwing in a few others and ending with Whitney’s big ending.
With all the performers there has been a great variety in content and style of performances… Not to mention the contrasts of the different personalities. In spite of the changes in the originally announced list of performers, Playbill has done an excellent job of entertaining us with a wide range of Broadway talent.
Riding Elephants in Thailand
Southeast Asia Travel -11/12 – Day Fourteen: Was it really necessary for us to be up and ready to go at 7:15 AM? (We’d be glad later.) With a limited serving schedule, breakfast was a rush. At least we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise to start the day.
Koh Samui is an island belonging to Thailand. There is not a port or large enough dock to accommodate our ship so we were tendered in to shore.
Of the excursion choices we had, we decided to take the Jeep & Elephant Experience. We soon learned that ‘jeep’ meant a small Toyota pickup truck with two benches and a plastic tarp for a top.
Maybe I expected too much but I really thought we’d be exploring some rural terrain in an actual jeep. I thought the jeep ride was part of the experience. In fact, it was just the vehicle that transported us from location to location.
Most of the tour was spent at Namuang Safari Park. First we visited a waterfall, hidden largely by too many trees. We then had a few minutes to wander a little shopping village. Instead, Michael and I watched an elephant bathing in the water downstream of the waterfall.
From there we went to the elephant camp. I have to say, riding an elephant is a pretty incredible experience. We got on from tall loading platforms. Our guide rode on our elephant’s shoulders while we sat on a bench seat on his back. He encouraged our elephant to walk by rubbing his ears with his feet. At one point, our guide got down and let me ride on our elephant’s shoulders.
After that we watched a short elephant trick show in the same park. This was followed by a monkey show… or, as we renamed it a ‘coconut show’. There was only one monkey– they made him spin coconuts before climbing a tree and dropping prop coconuts. Then he was gone. The rest of the ‘show’ was spent watching a guy open and shred a coconut. If that wasn’t enough, we then had to move to a different pavilion to watch a cooking class. By cooking class, I mean they made a salad. One of the ship’s photographers was with our group and laid down and took a nap.
By this point, it had started raining. As we were leaving we saw others holding umbrellas, riding the elephants. We were so glad we had our rides before the rain started.
The ‘jeep’ took us to the temple, Wat Khunaram to see the mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng. The monk died in 1973 at the age of 79. His body is displayed in a glass case at the temple. Sunglasses were put on him to hide his deteriorated eyes. No one can explain why his body has not decomposed with the humidity and high heat. Many Thai people believe it is a miracle.
I was sitting in the very back of the pick up… er, I mean jeep; and got completely drenched with rain on the way back to the dock. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ship and dry out.
Before dinner, we attended a reception for past BOTHS cruisers and the stars. It was just a nice way to thank us for supporting and traveling with Playbill Travel.
Our only Broadway performance today was Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructing Broadway. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the cruise that Seth became a more active part of the daily entertainment, aside from accompanying the performers. So we were ready for some Seth-time. He is a total showman—super funny; and knows more about Broadway than anyone else alive.
Our last sea day is tomorrow and there are four big Broadway events scheduled. Can’t believe how fast the time is flying!
Broadway Moms & A Broadway Beauty
Southeast Asia Travel -11/11 – Day Thirteen: We had a much-needed day at sea today. Very few people were up and about during breakfast after yesterday’s whirlwind day in Bangkok. Michael and I tried to catch catnaps in between the scheduled events.
I forgot to mention before that due to a previously scheduled engagement, Norm Lewis left the cruise yesterday in Bangkok while Kerry Butler and Rachel York joined the cruise there.
At 11 AM, the second and last autograph session was held. We got our posters signed and chatted a bit; then enjoyed watching the stars interact with the guests. Today featured Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody, Kerry Butler and Rachel York.
Mid-afternoon, John Fahey hosted a talk called, Being a Broadway Mom with Kerry Butler, Liz Callaway and Christine Ebersole. Towards the end Rachel York was brought in to the conversation. It was interesting to hear how they try to balance family with career and fun hearing how Broadway casts so warmly welcome the children into their show families. There were many touching moments as these moms expressed their love (and a few regrets) for their children.
Kerry Butler and Seth Rudetsky opened the concert tonight with Suddenly from Xanadu. It was the first time I’d heard Seth sing that way – he’s really got a nice voice. Usually when he sings, it’s in his Seth-schtick voice. If you’ve listened to him, you’ll know what I mean.
Together they basically did part of a recent concert they performed at 54 Below. Seth interviewed Kerry and she sang up a storm. One of her songs, A Change In Me, was not in Beauty and the Beast when she was Belle on Broadway. It was added later for Toni Braxton. It was a great concert and many wonderful stories were shared.
Royals & Ruins
Southeast Asia Travel Day Twelve: Today was the second of our most anticipated tour days of this vacation. One day in Bangkok is not nearly enough time to see everything, even on a surface level. Bangkok has such a rich cultural history with many historic landmarks dating back centuries in time.
A couple months ago, Michael and I found ourselves unable to decide between two of the excursions that were offered; wanting to visit the main attractions of both tours. It took some time but with the help of our travel agent, we were able arrange a private tour that allowed us to see both and then some.
Instead of breaking today up into separate posts, I’ll just hit the highlights. At some later point I’ll try to add another photo essay (post) like I plan to do with the Angkor photos.
Grand Palace. The Grand Palace has been the residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. The incredible maze of buildings in the complex feature intricate and highly ornamented details that are simply breathtaking.
One of the most famous attractions at the palace is the temple, Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha. Emerald is used to represent the color of the statute that is actually made of jade.
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. The Summer Palace dates back to 1632. Most of the existing buildings were built by King Chulalonghorn; son of King Mongkut of The King and I fame. These newer buildings reflect Victorian architecture in style.
We buzzed around the site on a golf cart in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to several of the buildings, we stopped at the Aisawan Thyphia Art Pavilion because Michael wanted to feed bread to the fish and turtles in the pond.
Ayutthaya. There are at least 18 temple ruins in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. At one point in history, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). We had time to visit the ruins of five temples plus one temple that is still in use. Unlike the temples in Cambodia, the Thai temples are primarily composed of brick covered in stucco. Surprisingly, even with the small bricks, most of the temples here took a shorter time to build than the stone Angkor temples of Cambodia.
At Wat Mahathat, one of the must-see curiosities is a Buddha head peering from surrounding tree roots. There are several theories but no clear explanation for how this came to be.
The Reclining Buddha. Also located in Ayutthaya, The Reclining Buddha at the ruins of temple Wat Lokayasutharam is an amazing piece of history. Like many of the temples, it is made of brick covered by plaster (stucco) and is 138 feet long.
Playbill After Dark. With everyone on 8 to 10 hour tours of Bangkok, the only event scheduled onboard was Broadway Buzz at 10:30 PM. Seth Rudetsky used the opportunity to tell Broadway stories and gossip– initiated by prompts from the audience.
Today was completely overwhelming and exhausting. I’m so glad that tomorrow is a day at sea. Bangkok is an impressive city that really requires at least three or four days to adequately explore. I’m just glad we were able to see as much as we did. I’d certainly like to go back but there’s still so much of the world we want to see.
Beach & Banter
Southeast Asia Travel Day Eleven: Beach & BBQ day today in Koh Kood, Thailand. It was just what you’d expect of a fairly secluded beach on a tropical island– loads of palm trees and lush foliage. There was a huge sandy clearing with tables and chairs for eating and many beach chairs for sunning, down by the water. The crew from the ship hauled all the food and supplies out early before the rest of were tendered to the island dock. We stayed a couple hours- ate and walked the shoreline; then went back to the ship.
The first of two mingle and autograph sessions were held before dinner. Tommy Tune designed the poster for this year’s cruise. About half of the performers did the signing today: Tommy Tune, Christine Ebersole, Norm Lewis, Lindsay Mendez, Seth Rudetsky and Liz Callaway. It was a good chance to talk with them without feeling like you were imposing on their vacation time. On a day-to-day basis, some were more friendly and accessible than others; and we often found an opportunity to chat in passing.
After dinner, Broadway couple- Hunter Foster and his wife Jennifer Cody performed. They did more of a ‘chat and sing’ style performance, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. This was the perfect format for them. Especially, since most of us were less familiar with Jennifer Cody, by name… but most had probably seen her in at least one show if not more. From the shows that were mentioned, I figured Michael and I had seen her at least three or four times in different Broadway shows. We last saw Hunter on closing night in The Bridges of Madison County. They both gave impressive performances together and alone. It was also fun to listen to their witty banter and learn more about their careers and the two of them as a couple.
Saigon Sailing & Sliding Doors
Southeast Asia Travel Day Nine: Michael and I woke up this morning just as we set sail, leaving the port in Ho Chi Minh City at 5:30 AM. We sailed along the Saigon River heading out to sea. Little did we know that for the next hour we’d be part of some craziness that would be the talk of the ship.
As the Le Soleal was maneuvering through the river, we’d feel the ship slightly tilting as we sailed. I had jumped in the shower while Michael was dressing. The ship rocked a bit tilting to the left and I heard a loud rushing sound like someone dragging something across the floor. When I came out of the bathroom Michael explained the sound– and our morning adventure began.
It seems that when they were getting the ship ready for boarding, someone forgot to lock the wall adjoining our cabin to the one next to us. (With the wall open it is reconfigured as a suite.) So every time the ship tilted to the left, the wall would slide open revealing our neighbors who were sleeping in the next room. I emphasis WERE sleeping.
As the wall opened, Michael was staring directly at them and said he couldn’t think of anything else to say besides, “Good Morning!” Luckily, it was a couple (Peggy Sue and Champ) we’d already met and toured with, so they weren’t complete strangers.
After an hour of repeatedly shutting the ‘wall’ (and trying to hold it shut) and four phone calls, three men finally showed up at our door to fix the problem. I’d been sitting there working on my computer and holding it closed while Michael finished getting ready.
Phil Birsh, President and CEO of Playbill, stopped us in the hall later in the day, apologized and asked us if it was okay if he used it as a funny story to tell that night before the concert. We said ‘yes’. He, of course, embellished the story and had everybody laughing. He added that Peggy Sue and Champ and Michael and I had already booked Italy (BOTHS7) and had requested adjoining rooms. It was pretty funny.
A day at sea is a little more relaxed than an excursion day but full of programing with the Broadway stars. First, Seth Rudetsky hosted a talk about Miss Saigon with Liz Calloway who played Ellen in the original Broadway company (and had a baby a month before it went into production), and Norm Lewis who played John later in the run.
That was followed by a talk, later in the afternoon, with the legendary Tommy Tune– who’d been a surprise guest on the cruise, talking about his career.
Before dinner, Michael and I went up to the deck that overlooks the pool and found a bat hanging in the corner, just inside door. We had to get a crew member to come remove it because we thought it might scare someone, or God forbid, start flying around inside the ship. Yes, these things happen to us.
The concert that night was with Lindsay Mendez. Of course it was wonderful. We were thrilled to finally see her performing live for the first time.
The finally event of the night was Playbill After Dark. Seth Rudetsky hosted a Broadway trivia game and we won a 2016 Playbill calendar. It was quite an adventure for the first full day aboard ship.
The Heat Is On In Saigon
Southeast Asia Travel Day Eight: We had breakfast early and then had to check out of the hotel before our tour this morning. We almost didn’t book this Vespa tour… so very glad we did! It made up for the shortcomings in yesterday’s tour and then some. If we had only gone on yesterday’s and not today’s, I’d have said I didn’t really see much in Saigon. Luckily, choosing to ride all through Ho Chi Minh City on a motorbike was the best thing we could have done. The experience itself was pretty thrilling. Add to that, all the sights we visited and we really got an opportunity to see and feel the vibe of the city.
The tour was with Vespa Adventures and there were 10 in our group plus our guide, Yu. We each had a driver—all we had to do was enjoy the ride and not fall off. My driver was Gai and she was definitely skilled at manipulating the bike through some pretty tight situations. I have video I’ll try to post later. It’s too difficult to just describe how crazy the traffic is; combining all the motorbikes and cars is intense for an outsider.
We started out at what is known as a bird park. Residents bring their birds (in cages) to socialize and learn how to sing and fly from other birds. I thought this was pretty unique and certainly something you don’t see in the states. There’s a little outdoor café there and people sell treats for the birds like grasshoppers and crickets.
Next we visited the monument for Thich Quang Duc. He was the Buddhist Monk who burned himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon. He did this to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government on June 11, 1963. This was a pretty powerful moment. Our guide Yu, turned us around from the monument and showed us the exact spot where it happened. One person can make a difference. The photo of this tragic event was seen around the world; for the first time bringing worldwide attention to what was happening here.
We visited three more beautiful temples, each as different as they were alike. We did have to remove our shoes at one of them, as is the custom, showing our respect.
At a pharmacy, we were able to watch natural medicines being assembled for a variety of ailments. Many are delivered to customers and then brewed into teas by the person in search of a cure.
Pho 24 was our stop for lunch. I can now say I’ve had authentic Vietnamese Pho soup. Pho soup is basically a fresh clear broth with noodles, meat and seasoning. I prefer Pho Ga (chicken). It is both delicious and filling.
After talking with our guide, we made a little change in our tour and she took us through a fish and flower markets. In the flower market we also went down a maze of alleys and were able to see some of the small rooms and apartments people call home. I’d guess most of these tight alleys couldn’t be more than three feet wide.
We were supposed to go through the highway tunnels out to a spot for a great view of the skyline, which we did—as it started to pour. We pulled over long enough to put on rain ponchos and then continued but didn’t stop at the spot due to the rain. It was a typical tropical downpour and didn’t last long.
Our last stop was near what was the U. S. Embassy during the Vietnam War. From that spot we could see where the last helicopter lifted people to safety from the roof of the Embassy. It was another powerful moment personalizing history to childhood memories.
The Vespa Tour made the trip to Ho Chi Minh City complete. It’s a must do for anyone wanting to get a great, short introduction to the city.
All Aboard. In the afternoon we were driven to the port and finally boarded the Ponant ship, Le Soleal for the actual Broadway On The High Seas 5 cruise. We had the always annoying (but mandatory) safety drill (this one was especially bad) followed by dinner.
The first concert of our cruise was given by two-time Tony Award Winner, Christine Ebersole. It was magical. The perfect start to many wonderful performances we’d be blessed with on this year’s BOTHS5 cruise.