Chris Hutchinson sets sail for the Far East and a journey of contrasts

Many years ago I spent time in this part of the world and longed to return to see more countries and their cultures.

When I read the innovative itinerary of Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines’ Boudicca visiting Bali, Singapore, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka, along with its wide choice of exciting shore destination tours, I was captivated.

We boarded Boudicca in Bali, an exotic Indonesian Island; it was easy to settle in, with such a warm welcome from the staff, you immediately felt at home.

Our first tour was Scenic Bali; we were driven into the countryside enjoying sights of lush emerald green landscapes. First stop was a rice farm, where our guide, Ari, taught us about caring for cultivating rice - makes you appreciate your curries more! Another stop was the town of Mengwi, taking in the magnificent Hindu Royal Temple (Taman Ayun). This spectacular landmark set in manicured gardens, was built in the 16th century and was the Temple of the Mengwi Dynasty- now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The next two days were spent relaxing at sea, enjoying Boudicca’s amenities and the intimacy of the smaller-scaled ship.

Singapore is where eastern culture and the modern world mingle in harmony. Our excursion took us to bustling China Town where you are immersed in various sounds of this atmospheric district. Here is a treasure trove of bargains from silks to souvenirs. We visited the Budha’s Tooth Relic and the museum’s Hundred Dragon Hall, sights to appreciate; then on to Little India where colourful saris, sounds of the sitar, and incense smells are intoxicating.

No visit to Singapore is complete without going to the legendary Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887. Its colonial elegance is reflected in its exterior and throughout its interior. Raffles is also the home of the Singapore Sling, a gin cocktail created in 1915, delightful but rather costly.

We reached the island of Phuket, Thailand. Our trip ashore started at the Wat Challong Temple, the largest on the Island, where the gold, red and blue colours of the building glistened, and visitors are greeted with a warm welcome. Then to panoramic Promthep Cape, the southernmost tip of the island, where we admired splendid views whilst listening to the sounds of the Azure coloured Andaman Sea gently lapping white sands. After a short drive we arrived at Rawai fishing village, where the former nomadic Morgen Tribe of Sea Gypsies settled, who make their living from pearl diving and fishing, both displayed on small stalls, side by side.

As Boudicca sailed into Burma, (Myanmar), I could feel my excitement mounting; singers and musicians greeted us with traditional sounds. Embarking on a scenic drive we arrived at Yangon, to the Shwedagon Pagoda, claimed to be over 2,500 years old. Our guide told us of its mystical tales - what a sight, gazing in awe at its height of 326 feet covered in gold! On top is a single 76-carat diamond followed by over 6,500 diamonds and precious stones dazzling in the sunlight, a mesmerising sight!

In the centre of Yangon is Maha Bandoola Park where grand colonial buildings, including the Court House, portray British architecture.

The next day we travelled to Bago the ancient capital of the Mon Kingdom, visiting the sereen Shwethalyaung Reclining Budha the second biggest in the world - we marvelled at its sheer size and beauty. Strolling around the local market were stalls of tropical fruits, spices and vegetables, presented by women in vivid coloured sarongs.

We went to the Kya Khat Waing Monastery, and watched a ritual to the sound of drums and bells, observing the Monks taking their mid-day meal. We enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant, course after course of Burmese food was served- simply scrumptious!. Finally we stopped at the Taukkyan War Cemetery a regal memorial and resting place of 27,000 allied soldiers who died during WW11.

We enjoyed three glorious days at sea in the Bay of Bengal, where we relaxed and reflected on what we had seen, with only the company of flying fish skimming, leaping and diving.

Our final port was Colombo, Sri Lanka. Our walking tour meandered through a labyrinth of narrow streets at the Pettah district, with a lively area of bazaars for shopping, where my wife bought silk material for only £6, after admiring ladies in their beautiful saris. Standing beside the Jami-Ull-Alfar Mosque and the Khan Clock Tower, these buildings are to appreciate. We then decided to take a Tuk- Tuk ride where we weaved in and out of traffic seeing the city highlights including a stop at the iconic Galle Face Hotel where I once stayed.

This Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines adventure overflowed with cultural and diverse highlights that offered sights, sounds and splendours creating many indelible memories.