2016 SE Asia & Solar Eclipse cruise

Feb/Mar 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

Feb/Mar 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

I cruised aboard the Holland America ship Volendam throughout southeast Asia in February and March of 2016. The Volendam left Singapore on February 16, 2016 on the 30-DAY ASIAN ADVENTURE & INDONESIAN SOLAR ECLIPSE COLLECTOR cruise, sailing north to Malaysia, Burma/Myanmar and Thailand before returning 15 days later to Singapore.

I spent two nights in Singapore aboard the ship, and then departed again on the SOLAR ECLIPSE portion of the cruise, which sails south to a variety of ports in Indonesia. We observed the solar eclipse on March 9th in the Makasar Strait, between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi, positioned on the eclipse centreline, giving us 2 minutes and 45 seconds of totality. The cruise terminated in Singapore with an overnight at the dock on March 16 & 17. I flew back home to Victoria, BC, Canada on March 17.

My full itinerary is listed below. Feel free to click on what interests you, however if you click on the top-most item, there are links at the bottom of each page (just above the Comments section) to take you to the next destination – from beginning to end. This is the best way to explore the whole trip as it happened.

If you simply want to experience the trip visually, by all means jump straight to my online photos to choose whatever country and locale interests you – SE Asia photosMyanmar-Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, or a slideshow of the whole trip.

Travelogue

  • Flight from Canada to Singapore & cruise departure
  • Penang, Malaysia – Georgetown – small colonial city, funicular train to Penang hill, Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple
  • Phuket, Thailand – upcountry tour of the Big Buddha, Kratu Tin Mine history, and lunch in the hills behind the famous beaches
  • Myanmar (Burma) – in Yangon (Rangoon): Bogyoke Aung San (Scott Market), golden Lion Throne at the museum, and the amazing golden Shwedagon Pagoda both during the day and lit at night, and Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha
  • Langkawi, Malaysia – bats, eagles and mangroves at the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – the Batu Caves Hindu shrine, and then the big city sights colonial versus modern architecture, including the Pentronas Towers
  • Malacca, Malaysia – Dutch and British colonial influences in this seaport town
  • Singapore – 2 nights on board the ship, with a full day tour of Singapore: views from atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel, superb arborteum at Gardens by the Bay, visits to Arab Street and Chinatown’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, then a Singapore Sling at Raffle’s Hotel
  • Semarang, Java, Indonesia – huge Borobudur temple
  • Probolinggo, Java, Indonesia – Mount Bromo volcano
  • Total Solar Eclipse – a perfect view from aboard the ship in the Makassar Strait off Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • Komodo Island, Indonesia – Komodo Dragons!
  • Lombok, Indonesia – peaceful Narmada Water Palace and Lingsar temple, horse cart ride to see Banyu Mulek village’s pots being made
  • Bali, Indonesia – away from Bali’s hustle and bustle: the Sangeh monkey forest, the Pura Ulun Danu temple at Lake Bratan, and lunch in the cool lake country highlands
  • Flights from Singapore to Canada

How it started

Although I have traveled a great deal, I had yet to experience Asia. Southest Asia in particular presented an opportunity to see quite a few countries and experience their diverse cultures. A cruise is an ideal way to travel in SE Asia, since there are so many islands and countries involved, and cruise lines are masters at making the travel process easy, since they take care of all the details at each destination. I also there was a Total Solar Eclipse happening on March 9th, 2016, so picking a cruise that would allow me to both see the sights and experience another eclipse was high on my list after my very successful 2012 Total Solar Eclipse aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea.

Totally eclipsed Sun in the Java Sea Aboard the Volendam Indonesia

Totally eclipsed Sun in the Java Sea Aboard the Volendam Indonesia

I saw several eclipse tours being offered, but didn’t like the arrangements or the high costs being asked, however I noticed one tour was aboard Volendam, my favourite ship in Holland America’s fleet. I found the cruise on Holland America’s website, and noted that they offered two back-to-back cruises including a good selection of SE Asian ports as well as the solar eclipse segment as a 30 day Collector cruise, which appealed to me. Traveling to SE Asia from North America involves long flights over the Pacific Ocean, so I prefer to make my time in the air count by making the most of the destination once there.

How it evolved

I booked the cruise directly with Holland America (HAL) in March 2015, since i wanted a choice of cabins, and at the time they also offered some financial incentives (see “Costs” below for details).

I followed up a couple of weeks later by booking the shore excursions through HAL for the ports-of-call which I thought might be popular. My rationale was to ensure I would see the sights and experience the culture of the people, since there was a distinct chance I would only visit this area one time. Cruise ship shore excursions are more expensive than arrangements you might make ashore on your own, however they are guaranteed to please, or your money back. Also, if a ship’s shore excursion runs late, the ship will wait. If you make your own arrangements, you had better be back on board the ship in time, because it will sail without you!

Many of the countries on this cruise itinerary required entry visas. HAL offered to take care of all this paperwork for me for modest fees, so that was a definite bonus to me, since it simplified the travel process. As it turned out, this was a real paperwork nightmare for the onboard front office staff when we entered Myanmar (Burma), so I consider it money well spent to let them take care of these hassles.

Costs

Currency from four SE Asian countries

Currency from four SE Asian countries

As a Three Star Mariner, Holland America offered me a generous shipboard credit and reduced the single supplement as well, which really helped with my travel budget. Since I had to book this cruise earlier than others I’ve taken with HAL, this particular cruise was not as reasonably priced as my previous cruises, but was still within my budget.  I ended up paying about US$300/day for the cruise, including the Single Supplement for a modest outside cabin on Main Deck.

Overall, the trip cost me a bit over $400/day including airfare, spending money, excursions, and staying overnight in a nice Singapore hotel before the cruise started. HAL prices their cruises in Canadian Dollars for Canadian clients such as myself. They ended up taking a bit of a beating on the exchange rate to the US$, since between the time I paid my deposit and paid the balance, the US$ had strengthened against the CD$.

So was it worth it?

This was a very interesting trip, and observing the solar eclipse was the icing on the cake. Holland America is a cruise line which continues to provide the personal touches for its passengers, despite the major cutbacks in service being implemented across the cruise ship industry. I was spoiled by all the staff while aboard the Volendam, and gave them “Excellent” ratings after the cruise ended. The highlights of the trip for me have to be experiencing all the diverse cultures SE Asia has to offer, and to add a successful third Total Solar Eclipse to my observing log.