Some destinations make traveling for touristseasy. Fly into Amsterdam, and it's all there—anairport, railway station, town center, cityattractions, and seaport; sail into Glacier Bay,and the Alaskan wonderland is all around you; cruiseinto the caldera at Santorini, and before the ship dropsanchor, you're looking up at the glories of Greece.
Southeast Asia, on the other hand, does not offerthe same conveniences. Independent travelers mayhave difficulty finding the hidden charm in farawayplaces, because anything of interest lies at least an hourinland from civilization. And once you're in the heartof countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, you mayfind language a problem and guides unfamiliar withyour traveling interests.
Silversea Cruises Unmatched
Cruising through this region by ship on an upscaleline such as Silversea (877-760-9052; www.silversea.com) is a great option to experience Southeast Asia'swonders. Silversea cruises offer experienced guides,carefully planned shore excursions and, at the end ofthe day, air-conditioned comforts. While there arecheaper cruises, Silversea doesn't mislead you withhidden charges, and you have the opportunity to findgreat early-shopper rates on the Internet—and nothingcan compare to the services they offer.
The cuisine is possibly the best in cruising—itstravelers are given the choice of three separate diningrooms. The shipboard service is immaculate and allalcohol is complimentary, whether it is the wine atyour table or liquor in your cabin mini-bar. Whatmakes Silversea different from other cruise lines is itsunderstated elegance and tranquility. These are notships whose ambiance is disturbed by kids on springbreak, yet nighttime shows are entertaining for allages, and daytime lectures on subjects as diverse asthe Vietnam War, population migration, and trendsin the wine industry are fascinating learning experiencesfor everyone.
Coasting through Southeast Asia
Most Americans know little of Southeast Asia orthe best way to explore the area. But Thailand,Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia are very convenientplaces to tour if you go by a cruise ship, andBangkok and Singapore are intriguing places to stayovernight at either end of the Silversea cruise.
Cambodia's cities are a cacophony of honkingtrucks and spluttering motor cycles, whereas the countrysidelooks medieval. Ubiquitous Buddhist templeswith their saffron-cloaked monks combine with pristinebeaches and their spectacular ocean-front restaurants.Though Cambodia is desperately poor, the childrenare delightful and wave at the American "longnoses," shouting "Cool!" to those visiting theirschools. Their charm may be the lasting memory thecruise passengers carry back home.
Vietnam comes as a surprise, a green land of widerivers dominated by Ho Chi MinhCity. The locals prefer to refer to it asSaigon, the name of the city up untilthe end of the Vietnam War. Here thetraffic dissonance of Cambodian citiesseems library-quiet in comparison.One of every two inhabitants of Saigondrives a motorbike—seemingly all onthe road at once—buzzing aroundeverywhere. The Vietnamese women,like many women throughout Asia, goto great lengths to keep their skinwhite, wearing long gloves to theirshoulders and face masks to preventtheir skin from tanning—white skin isa symbol of beauty.
Notre Dame's magnificent Catholiccathedral flourishes in this land ofAnimism, Buddhism, Confucianism,and Taoism, and a war museum,showing downed US Air Force fighteraircraft as trophies, creates a lastingimage in the mind of any traveler. InMalaysia, a war memorial rises abovethe Kuala Lumpur landscape as well.The National Monument commemoratesthose who fell in Malaysia's longstruggle for freedom. It was cast inItaly, erected in 1966, and designed bythe same American sculptor, Felix deWeldon, who created our own IwoJima Monument. Kuala Lumpur isonly a quick visit but an enticingappetizer for Singapore's delights thatlie ahead—and there are many.