This is travel writer Donna Hull’s last installment of “Dispatch from Donna,” a weekly update during her 52-day voyage aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner.
On the last week of our 52-day Regent Marinercruise, Alan and I add a dazzling jewel to our cruising crown—Thailand.
The introduction begins when Mariner tenders at the resort island of Ko Samui. For me, the time in Thailand does not begin with a lustrous start. Because of my desire to ride an elephant, we’ve booked one of Mariner’s free excursions, “Elephant Riding.”
Guests are ferried by small, air-conditioned vans to a rubber plantation, elephant sanctuary, and beach stop. The tour is well run and pleasant enough, but the elephant sanctuary reminds me of a run-down circus. After riding in an ox cart, watching a cooking demonstration by our guide, attending a monkey show followed by elephants performing tricks, we finally climb aboard the Asian version of a pachyderm. He (or maybe she) plods along beside the rudimentary housing area for sanctuary workers.
The golden sand at Lipa Noi Beach, our final excursion stop, saves the day. Walking along the shore reminds me that Thailand is known for beautiful beaches. Next time, I’ll join other cruise guests for a day of leisure at Chaweng Beach or schedule one of those two-hour Thai massages.
Laem Chabang is Mariner’s port entry to Bangkok. With two nights in port (and three full days), options for exploring the area range from long, multi-hour day excursions to Bangkok, spending a couple of nights off the ship in Bangkok, or remaining on Marinerto lounge around a quiet ship after discovering the nearby sights of Pattaya.
Mariner offers a free bus transfer to Bangkok, or cruisers can choose an excursion that ends at the Shangri-La, where many passengers have previously booked an overnight stay through Regent. Alan and I made our own arrangements also at the Shangri-La, saving money in the process.
Using the “Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha” excursion as our entry into Bangkok, we once again find ourselves on a long bus ride, this time on a modern highway that gives us the opportunity to observe life in another country. Although our guide claims that Thailand has an agricultural based economy, you wouldn’t know it from the dozens of factories that are visible from the bus window. Acres of container storage facilities house row upon row of ship containers each stacked six units high.
The drive to the Grand Palace takes us through Bangkok’s China Town, known for jewelry stores selling every form of gold ornamentation. The bus negotiates narrow streets as almost every female passenger presses her face against the window glass to bask in the golden glow while making a mental note about a return-shopping trip.
Inside the Grand Palace grounds, golden-roofed buildings dazzle us. A hot sun glints off of the colored glass mosaics that seem to cover every surface of the palace structures. Some architectural elements are encrusted with semi-precious stones. It all combines into one brilliant kaleidoscope of colorful buildings.
At the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, visitors must leave their shoes on the sidewalk below. As this is an active place of worship, no cameras are allowed and observers must either sit with their legs crossed or move quickly through the building after gazing at the Jade Buddha located on a tall platform.
When the bus drops us off at the Shangri-La Bangkok, Alan and I are surprised with an upgrade to the exclusive Krungthep wing. After a winding journey through the sprawling complex, we discover that we’re spending the night in a one-bedroom apartment with a balcony overlooking the Chao Phraya River.
After a night spent exploring on our own through the hot, steamy tents at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, we return to watch the night boat traffic from our balcony. The next day we return to Laem Chabang via Mariner’s free shuttle bus, wishing that we had booked an extra night in Bangkok for visits to the Reclining Buddha, a long boat river ride or an exploration of Thailand’s ancient capital Ayuthhaya. But our time onboard the Mariner is drawing to a close. A re-packing job waits for us at the ship.
During this 52-day journey, we’ve seen destinations that are now marked off of our “been there, done that” list. And through Mariner’s introduction to Japan, China, and Thailand, we’ve discovered countries that we’d like to explore on a deeper level.
When Mariner docks in Singapore, our cruise life will be over—for now. As Captain Felice Patruno says when ending his noon-day announcements from Mariner’s bridge, “Ciao. See you later.”