A bumpy cruise on the ancient Maritime Silk Road takes guests to vibrant ports in Malaysia and Vietnam.
After I threw up everything I had eaten for dinner for the second time in a row, I wondered whether I could complete the rest of my voyage aboard the Beibu Gulf Star.
My discomfort intensified as the strong currents of the South China Sea caused the toilet doors to slap violently. A passenger in the cabin opposite mine vomited loudly. It was late at night, but the other girls in my cabin remained wide awake. They talked about the possibility of flying back home as soon as the ship reached Kuantan in the morning.
I went to the deck to get some fresh air and passed the tea-tasting area, where several passengers planned to spend the night on the couch. It was only the second day of an eight-night-and-nine-day trip across the South China Sea on the Beibu Gulf Star.
The trip began at Beihai port, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, with more than 300 passengers embarking on the journey. We planned to sail along the old routes of the Maritime Silk Road while exploring the exotic atmosphere at the Southeast Asian ports that ancient traders frequented.
The stops included Da Nang of Vietnam, Kuantan of Malaysia and Nha Trang of Vietnam, before returning to Beihai two days before the Spring Festival. Many passengers were ill-prepared for the sea sickness.
On one very turbulent day, many people stayed in their cabins. Those who appeared in the dinning hall were hailed as “heroes”. When our trip reached the halfway point, a couple who shared a table with us for lunch said that this was the first time they had ventured out of their rooms.
They had been too sick to get out of their beds and relied on their roommates to bring them food. Rather than taking pills, an auntie at our table found a more effective way to combat the nausea: “Have fun!” she said.
Despite the constant swaying, the woman enjoyed her food and after the meal began singing a Chinese song that was popular in the 1980s, called The Sea, My Home.
The ship’s management team did their best to shift passengers’ attention from the vastness of sea to more exciting activities. They held a masquerade at the top deck one night. People were given a mask and followed the lead of three woman dancers. The background music was a mix of Western pop and Chinese shen qu (brainwashing instant hit songs), such as Little Apple and The Most Dazzling Folk Style.
On Valentine’s Day, a party took revelers back in time, as they donned hai hun shan, a blue-and-white T-shirt resembling navy sailors’ wear, as well as the Young Pioneer’s red scarf.
The outfit was popular among students in the 1960s to the ’80s who had ambitions of joining the military. Today, it’s a hit with nostalgic young urbanites seeking a traditional sense of style.
It was great fun to see people in their 30s, 40s and 50s dressed in outfits popular during their teenage years. Together with their children they sang old Red-themed melodies from their childhood years.
The ship docked in Vietnam twice and Malaysia once. Each stay was only a few hours long. But for these who had never been to Vietnam or Malaysia, it turned to be a good introduction to the countries’ abundant tourist resources.
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture
Da Nang was named “xian gang”, or port of small, high hills by ancient Chinese traders. It is said that the Chinese merchant ships couldn’t see the port when they reached the sea area; it wasn’t until they sailed closer and found Da Nang surrounded by small hills.
Da Nang is well known for My Khe Beach, a 7-kilometer stretch of smooth, white sands that attracts both Vietnamese and foreign tourists. It was cloudy and gloomy when we visited, dampening some of the beach’s charm.
During our short stay I was most impressed by the Museum of Cham Sculpture, which opened in 1919. The small structure designed by the French features yellow exterior walls. It hosts a collection of sandstone and bronze artifacts, which serve as testaments to the Kingdom of Champa.
I didn’t have time to see all the treasures, although my favorite was a bronze statue of a goddess named Tara. The sculpture dates back to the ninth century, according to the museum’s introduction, and is the largest known Cham bronze piece. Tara has beautifully body – broad shoulders, ample breasts, long arms and a slender waist – and is wearing only a skirt. She doesn’t have a pretty face, but her hair has been meticulously crafted. Tara embodies the aesthetics of her time, infusing Chinese and Indian influences with Cham traditions.
Masjid Sultan Ahmad Shah State Mosque
Kuantan of Malaysia harbors a multicultural community where Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims live together. People can find peace at either a Buddhist or Hindu temple, or a mosque.
Among them the Masjid Sultan Ahmad Shah State Mosque is worth a visit, even for non-Muslim tourists. The mosque, built between 1991 and 1993, overlooks a welcoming open green field. It presents itself as an example of the modernized Ottoman-Moorish Islamic style.
We arrived at daytime when people were worshiping inside and visitors couldn’t enter. What a pity! The photos of its interior highlight the mosque’s marvelous design. Even though we couldn’t go in, we found tranquility by taking a walk around the exterior and appreciating the building’s color combination of ivory white and sky blue.
Floating seafood restaurants of Mot Island
The floating restaurants we saw in Vietnam’s Mot Island, near Nha Trang, provide a unique dining experience.
Diners can choose from an array of fresh seafood, which is prepared by fishermen. Hotels offer yachts that guests can rent and use to sail to the restaurants, enjoying the sea view and a good meal.
Since we were in a hurry, we didn’t dine at one of the floating restaurants. But we had a great dinner at Khi Hoang Vien. The restaurant, tucked in a quiet alley of Nha Trang, has a beautiful green garden. The dishes were savory and reminded me of the food I bought at a tiny Vietnamese food stand in Bangkok.
The restaurant was decorated to celebrate the upcoming Spring Festival. Vietnamese prefer a festive atmosphere with pots of yellow chrysanthemum flowers, which in China is only used to memorialize the deceased.
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(China Daily 04/11/2015 page15)