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.”