So when we joined Crystal Symphony in Singapore, I was already in heaven - the combination of one of my favourite destinations with one of my favourite ships meant the highest expectations. Was I going to be disappointed?
We sailed the western coast of Malaysia, to Port Kelang for Kuala Lumpur. Matthew hated the super-modern buildings, the brash advertising of global brands, the suggestion by our guide that shopping would be our number one priority, and the shops themselves (holiday at the Whitgift centre in Croydon, anybody?). But the next day, we were in paradise, the lovely island of Langkawi, where we took the cable car to the top of Gunung Machincang for dramatic panoramic views of the deep chasms, overhanging cliff walls, isolated pinnacles and the glorious glowing turquoise of the sea glinting in the sunshine.
In Phuket we visited Wat Phra Thong with its halfburied golden Buddha image and the many tales about its history, whilst admiring all the work that has gone into rebuilding following the tragic events of December 2004.
The highlight of our trip came mid-cruise when we arrived in Myanmar, or Burma, for a three day stay. On our first evening, we made an extraordinary visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon), whose glowing dome rises high above the city and is visible on the skyline day and night. We happened to be there on a public holiday so it was even busier than usual, thronging with local people chanting, meditating and bowing in devote prayer alongside others chattering on their mobile phones, or spreading a picnic on the steps of a chapel - unforgettable! The following morning we drove to the airport before dawn to make the journey 430 miles to the north to the breath-taking plain of Bagan where thousands of pagodas and temples rise from amongst the trees.
We explored this magical region with the assistance of a knowledgeable guide who showed us many contrasting stupas and told us what he could about the prosperity of this kingdom between the 11th and 13th centuries, when over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on this plain alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 still survive to the present day. A river cruise at sunset brought the day to an end, and we overnighted at the lovely Aureum Palace hotel before another pre-dawn start, this time to prepare for a balloon ride over the plain. As the sun rose, the magnificent stupas emerged from the smoky mist for an incredible experience - a real must do for anyone considering visiting the region.
Returning to the ship after our Burmese interlude was almost like starting on a whole new holiday - thoroughly recommended - and we recovered from our early starts with a leisurely day at sea before arriving in bustling Penang. It was thirty years since my last visit, but still captivating with strong colonial influences, as well as local architecture, clan houses and temples. We visited the beautifully restored 19th century Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, where we were lucky enough to be guided by the owner herself.
Our final call at the slightly Disneyfied town of Malacca was redeemed by the bustling streets and ornate temples of its busy Chinatown, and then back to Singapore, where we spent our last day visiting the recently opened Gardens by the Bay rising from reclaimed land, a triumph of Singaporean urban planning.
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