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Travel on THE HIGH SEAS

Travel on THE HIGH SEAS Emma Justice joined Viking Orion’s maiden voyage from Bangkok to Hong Kong via Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay Above: City lights of Victoria Harbour setting the night sky aglow It is not every day you meet a rocket scientist on a cruise ship sailing up the Mekong River. But this was not an ordinary day, and Viking Orion is no ordinary ship. The rocket scientist in question, Dr. Teslow, worked on NASA’s space program and is Viking Orion’s resident astronomer. I had just listened to his lecture on the origins of the universe in the onboard planetarium before disembarking to explore Vietnam, our more earthbound destination. This was not the only surprise on Viking Orion’s inaugural 15-day Southeast Asia cruise. The previous evening I had been gently whipped by birch sticks before having snow thrown at me in the Snow Grotto— all part of a two-hour Nordic bathing ritual available in the onboard spa. I am not a natural “cruiser,” preferring independent travel to big group tours, yet this new Viking voyage through the South China Sea appealed. Viking is one of the world’s leading river cruise lines, and while I had heard good things about the Viking Longships I had not realized they had a rapidly growing fleet of ocean ships, too. I had been put off cruising by those enormous passenger ships with giant waterslides and casinos that you see on TV. But cruising has changed, and this was nothing like that. Not only did I visit places such as Sihanoukville in Cambodia and Hue in Vietnam that more intrepid travelers would be proud of, but I also sailed in elegant Scandinavian style among guests of all ages—except children. Viking has made their cruises adult-only, a policy that adds to the sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere on board. This was hygge on the high seas: cozy blankets thrown casually over gray marl couches, sleek blonde wood interiors, elegant public spaces filled with an impressive art collection and plenty of books to 84 VIKING.COM EXPLORE MORE 2020

TRAVEL Clockwise, from above: Sunset over Ha Long Bay; the Tian Tan Buddha statue in Hong Kong curl up in a corner with. As well as nailing Scandinavian style, Viking offers plenty of cultural enrichment. We listened to a classical duo perform while admiring Edvard Munch’s works of art on a giant screen, and I even watched a TED Talk in the theater and a film under the stars in the open air movie theater. The food on board—from the five-course menu you get with paired wine at The Chef’s Table to the delicious steak and homemade pasta in Manfredi’s®, an authentic Italian grill—is amazing. You can even go to one of the fascinating Asian food markets en route with the Executive Chef and then learn how to cook what you have bought on board. Viking Orion has so much to offer you may not want to get off, despite the four countries and seven ports on this wonderful tour. Yet Viking actively encourages its guests to explore by putting on excellent port talks and an included excursion in each destination. The four-hour cruise through the magnificent limestone islands of Ha Long Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) on a traditional junk boat is definitely a must-do. Cambodia and Thailand never fail to amaze, but for me Vietnam was the real highlight. We visited both Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south and the capital, Hanoi, in the north when we docked at Ha Long Bay. Both cities are buzzy, vibrant and a feast for the senses—and in both I would recommend going it alone and seeing the sights independently. Brave a street food tour on the back of a moped and weave through the crazy traffic in search of the world’s most delicious summer rolls and the same bún chả (pork meatball soup) that former US president Barack Obama ate when he visited. Our arrival into the fast-beating heart of Hong Kong was a fitting end to this amazing journey. There is so much to see, I would recommend spending a few days here post-cruise as well. I really did not think a cruise was “my kind of holiday,” but sitting in the Infinity Pool at the stern of the ship I decided I had been wrong about that. It may not be rocket science, but if you happen to be interested you will no doubt find someone on board to explain that, too. GETTING THERE: The 15-day Southeast Asia & Hong Kong journey departs from Bangkok, Thailand, or in reverse. Go online: Watch a video of the Southeast Asia & Hong Kong itinerary at voc.com/videos EXPLORE MORE 2020 VIKING.COM 85