An Asian Odyssey, Silversea-Style

The luxury line offers clients in-depth experiences in far-off places

By: Ana Figueroa

A silvery mist hovered over the water as we stepped gingerly across a wooden plank leading from our cruise ship to one of the famous red-sailed junks in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. As we pushed off, we watched as our elegant ship became a mere shadow in the impenetrable haze. It was a fitting image for the Silver Shadow, our ultra-luxurious home for a nine-day South China Sea Sojourn from Hong Kong to Laem Chabang, Thailand.

The excursion in Ha Long Bay was one of the complimentary Silversea Experiences the line offers guests, showcasing sites of unique cultural significance. Sailing slowly on the eerily still waters, we marveled at dramatic limestone formations that seemed to appear from nowhere. Legend says that dragons inhabit this place, deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. But to the families living on small wooden fishing boats, the bay is also a lifeline. Multiple generations live in dwellings made up of several weathered boats lashed together. Some venture off for the day’s catch; others remain inside to cook; while others, mostly children, hang over the rails, peering with curiosity at outsiders. Sometimes it takes coaxing, but they usually smile and wave. It’s one of the small, but priceless pleasures of our Asian odyssey, Silversea-style.

Back onboard the Silver Shadow, we have all the comforts that Silversea’s all-inclusive cruising brings: an intimate 382-passenger vessel where our every whim is catered to, as well as marble-appointed suites, award-winning cuisine and service and a staff who remembers our names from past Silversea sailings. Our fellow passengers are primarily in their 50s, professionals and executives clearly used to the best. But this isn’t a stuffy or pretentious crowd. On the contrary, there’s an energy onboard, because this cruise is all about the itinerary and an in-depth experience in one of the world’s most fascinating regions.

Silversea is known for its attention to detail in shore excursions, and in Asia, they are first-rate. We visited ancient covered bridges, silk-making shops and historic marketplaces in Hoi An, Viet Nam, another World Heritage site still bearing the marks of Chinese, Japanese and European influences. A day trip to Saigon left our heads spinning somewhat literally. Motorcyclists swoop by so quickly that we were turning every which way as we dashed across streets in the commercial district. Lovely silk robes and intricately beaded purses were a bargain, but we passed on countless offers to try Saigon’s version of a streetside snack small birds dipped in batter and fried whole.

In Thailand, off of Ko Samui, we chose a new Silversea shore excursion: a Traditional Thai Cooking class with a chef from the Nora Beach Resort and Spa, one of the island’s top resorts. We made our rounds in local markets in the morning, then donned chef’s toques and aprons to stir up a feast of deep-fried crabmeat stuffed into crab shells, Thai noodles and a chicken-and-coconut milk soup. There was just enough time to enjoy the island’s famous beaches before heading back.

Our South China Sea Sojourn happened to be a culinary cruise, in which the special guest was Raymond Blanc, the Michelin two-star chef/owner of Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Oxford, England. We loved getting to know the dashing chef and his handsome family and watching him interact with locals at markets. Another favorite was onboard lecturer Dr. Richard Atkins, who fascinated us each sea day with presentations about the history of the Vietnam conflict, putting it into more perspective than an entire college course.

After arriving in Laem Chabang, Thailand, we disembarked for an optional overland journey to Cambodia. After a few nights at the gorgeous Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok, we boarded a small jet to Siem Riep, Cambodia, where an even more amazing two days were in store. We visited yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, home to some of the most astonishing temples on the planet, including the mysterious Angkor Wat and Taprohm in the jungles of Siem Riep. Its temples have been overgrown with sinewy banyan and mahogany trees, a backdrop familiar to fans of Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider” series.

Outside one temple, dozens of monkeys came scampering down from the trees once they spotted a fresh group of tourists. One of them was a tiny baby, no bigger than a small kitten, who cleverly snatched some fresh banana out from under his much larger cohorts. I would have given anything to take him home, but alas, I had to settle for a photo and the memory of another small, but priceless, pleasure.


Silversea’s Asia Sailings
From late November through March 2007, and in December 2007, Silversea will sail itineraries of nine to 16 days with calls in Singapore, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. On certain voyages, Silversea is offering special savings from 15 to 50 percent.