Bay of Bengal & the Andaman Sea

Published on Thursday, March 17, 2011

  • Rangoon, Burma

  • Malacca, Malaysia

  • Malacca, Malaysia

  • Malacca, Malaysia

  • Georgetown, Pulau Penang

  • Georgetown, Pulau Penang

  • Georgetown, Pulau Penang

  • Langkawi

  • Georgetown, Pulau Penang

  • Georgetown, Pulau Penang

  • Langkawi

  • Langkawi

  • Koh Miang, Similan Islands, Thailand

  • Koh Miang, Similan Islands, Thailand

  • Koh Miang, Similan Islands, Thailand

  • Rangoon, Burma

  • Rangoon, Burma

  • Rangoon, Burma

  • Rangoon, Burma

  • Bagan

  • Bagan

  • Bagan

  • Bagan

  • Bagan

  • Crossing the Andaman Sea

  • Henna Tattoos

  • Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India

  • Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India

  • Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India

  • Neil Island, Andaman Islands, India

  • Cinque Island

  • Cinque Island

  • Cinque Island

  • Galle, Sri Lanka

  • Galle, Sri Lanka

  • Galle, Sri Lanka

Thursday, January 20, 2011 - Singapore: Today we gathered and set off to explore Singapore: a city, an island, and a nation. We saw the waterfront, the colonial center of town, parliament, and the Supreme Court, in a building that looked like a flying saucer. The opera house was unusual too, with spiky reflective panels shading the dome-like roof. Later we visited the Arab quarter, with the Sultan’s Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the country. Then it was on to Chinatown, with its colorful shops preparing for the Chinese New Year. We worked our way along the narrow streets to Sri Mariamman Temple, built in 1827 and the oldest Hindu temple in the country, with intricately decorated towers. A floral highlight was a stop in the Singapore Botanical Gardens, where we concentrated on the National Orchid Garden collections. Alcoves, walkways, stairs, and archways were festooned in bright hybrid orchids. We were back at the ship by dusk and we set out for the Malacca Straits, just ahead of a rainstorm over the island of Singapore.

Friday, January 21 - Malacca, Malaysia: We arrived in Malacca (Melaka) in the morning and boarded local tenders to enter the harbor. Our Malaysian guides took us on a tour which included Venice-like canals on the waterfront and the graveyards on the Hill of Chinese. We explored the Church of St. Francis Xavier and were introduced to Malacca trees. We went through the Ethnographical Museum, where we learned about the colonization history: local sultans, then the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and finally Japanese, before independence. At Porta de Santiago we saw the remnants of the gateway into the original Portuguese fortifications in the 1500s. We visited the Baba Nonya Heritage Museum and learned about Chinese and Malayan trading families. Then it was on to Chinatown, where the streets were festooned in red.

In the afternoon we resumed our northward travel and listened to Thomas Baechtold discuss Digital Photography: Stepping Beyond Automatic. Later Scott Pearson of Stanford University gave us an excellent discussion of history titled, Malaysia: 7th Century to Present. In the evening Captain Peter Fielding hosted a cocktail party in the main lounge before a lovely welcome dinner.

Saturday, January 22 - Georgetown, Pulau Penang: We brought the ship around the western coast of Penang Island to avoid the bridge that links it to the mainland since our ship was just a bit too tall. This brought us to the dock in mid-morning. We set out in trishaws to explore Georgetown, a World Heritage Site. One of our stops was the elaborate Clan House for the Chinese Family of Sin Kang Leong San Tong Khoo. It was one of the sets for the filming of the movie Anna and the King. We also visited the bright blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and drove out of Georgetown to Wat Chayamangkalaram, where we entered a Thai Buddhist Temple, as well as a Burmese Buddhist Temple across the street.

After a quick lunch on board, we set out to various sites on the island. Some drove along the north coast past scenic beaches at Batu Ferringhi and Telok Bahang. We saw the batik technique demonstrated at a handicraft shop, saw orchards and fruit stalls, and admired the Snake Temple, before passing the Penang Bridge on our return. Others had an excursion to a tropical spice garden, which included a demonstration of traditional Malay cooking, with Kevin Clement’s able assistance. A third party went off to the Penang Butterfly Farm and then visited the 30 hectare Botanic Gardens, with views of long-tailed macaques, silvered langurs with orange babies, and a water monitor swimming in the stream.

Sunday, January 23 - Langkawi: We arrived well before daylight and departed on several different excursions. Birdwatchers ventured into the hill country where they saw three species of hornbills, dusky langurs, and found out that Langkawi means “brown eagle,” referring to the common fish-eating brahminy kite. Jungle trekkers had a 5 km walk in the rain forest with Kevin, observed gliding lemurs called colugos, and stopped along the southwest coast to spend a little time at the beach. Another party went to Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, the eastern shore of the island, embarked on a cruise in the mangroves, entered a limestone cave to see bats, and boated through a cave shaped like a crocodile mouth. At a small fish farm they saw archerfish squirting water to knock down their prey; in this case the prey was a bit of food on their fingertips. All groups returned to the ship for lunch.

In the afternoon we continued north and heard more from our lecture team. Peter Zika talked about Island Life: Dispersal to Islands, followed by Jack Grove’s introduction to Fishes of the Bay of Bengal. In the evening we had our first recap before dinner.

Monday, January 24 - Koh Miang, Similan Islands, Thailand: At midnight we made our first contact with Thailand, in the form of customs officials, which allowed us to disembark at dawn in the middle of the granitic Similan Islands. Birders were delighted to find the elusive Nicobar pigeon, with its glittering elongate feather necklace. The “survival of the fittest hike” went up to an overlook via ropes and chasms in the bedrock, to a splendid overlook with views of several more islands. Flying foxes were seen roosting in tall trees on the north side of the island, flapping their wings occasionally to cool off in the tropical sun. Snorkelers from the beach put up with a bit of surge and current, but were rewarded with many parrotfish and the Andaman butterflyfish. Snorkelers from the Zodiac platform a mile off found themselves nose to nose with a green turtle. At midday we returned to the Clipper Odyssey and set out to the north for Burma.

During our afternoon at sea we were entertained by our lecture staff. Ron Wixman fascinated us with his presentation on Ethnic and Cultural Layering in Southeast Asia, followed by Jonathan Rossouw on  Biodiversity and the Bucket List: Southeast Asia in a Global Context.

Tuesday, January 25 - At sea: Calm seas prevailed for our day at sea. Shirley Campbell began our day with a discussion of The Prehistory of Southeast Asia and soon afterwards we heard from Scott on The Kingdom of Pagan. A casual afternoon included henna tattoos and massages on the top deck, followed by an ice cream social at tea time. Then Jack spoke on Marine Biodiversity, including many of the pressing conservation issues that are important to our oceans.

Wednesday, January 26 - Rangoon, Burma: The Clipper Odyssey entered the Rangoon River about 20 miles south of the capital city of Rangoon (also known as Yangon). A deep red sunrise started our day as we headed north on the river, part of the vast distributary system of the Irrawaddy River delta. A fast clearance by officials allowed us some time to explore the dockside streets and eat brunch before we set out on our tour, which included a glimpse of the lakeside home of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Su Kyi. We stopped at the immense reclining Buddha at Chaukhatgyi Temple, performed a donation ceremony with 1,100 monks at the Kalaywa Monastery, and then wandered through the stalls in Scott Market. As the day waned, we circled the Shwedagon Pagoda (326 feet tall). Here, Zegrahm and Stanford had arranged for a lighting donation which allowed each of us, barefoot, to ignite a series of oil lamps in front of the main temple complex as the sun set.

For dinner we went to the famous Le Planteur Restaurant and were entertained by live music and performers, before returning to the ship.

Thursday, January 27 - Bagan: Very early in the morning we departed for the airport and boarded planes for the flight north to the archeological splendors of Bagan (formerly Pagan). Our first activity was to climb to a good vantage point on one of the temples to admire the more than 2,000 surviving pagodas and monuments spread out over the landscape as far as the eye could see. Then we went to Shwezigon Pagoda and the renowned architecture of the Ananda Temple, for a more detailed look at Burmese history and religion. We got to stroll through the local market at Nyaung Oo, with its unfamiliar local vegetables, and then boarded horse-drawn carts for a picturesque tour of the countryside, evoking travel from the 1800s. Lunch was served on the banks of the broad Irrawaddy River at the Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort, where the birders were pleased to see endemic white-throated babblers. Another popular stop was the shop where lacquerware was made, including handsome umbrellas. In the afternoon we clambered around in the Gu Byauk Gyi, Manuha, and Nan Paya temples, among others, before returning to the airport for our flight back to Rangoon and dinner on the Clipper Odyssey.

Friday, January 28 - Crossing the Andaman Sea: Early this morning we left our dock in Rangoon and headed downstream for the sea. With an escort of whiskered terns in our wake we threaded through the fishing nets, entered the Andaman Sea at midday, and sailed off towards the Andaman Islands of India. As always, we had plenty to do on board. Ron gave us an excellent lecture on Religious Values in Asia. A documentary on fisheries was shown followed by Kevin discussing William Dampier, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind in the Bay of Bengal. Late in the day Peter explained Island Biogeography. Our recap included Kipling poetry and a cameo appearance by Gunga Din.

Saturday, January 29 - At sea: Our first sighting of land came in mid-morning. From the bridge deck we focused our binoculars on the abrupt volcanic slopes of Narcondam Island, the most eastern of the Andamans. Here we got distant views of flocks of as many as 50 endemic Narcondam hornbills flying over the densely forested ridges of figs, palms, and kapoks. Later in the morning Scott explained The Mughal Empire of India and Shirley gave a talk on the Cultures of the Andaman Islands. Henna tattoos and massages were offered on deck 6 again, back by popular demand. This evening we enjoyed cocktails on the pool deck with the spectacular backdrop of Barren Island erupting behind us.

Sunday, January 30 - Port Blair and Neil Island, Andaman Islands, India: At dawn we pulled in to Port Blair, cleared into India, and disembarked. The town tour went to see the Anthropological Museum and the Samudrika Marine Museum, roamed the bustling Aberdeen Bazaar, and inspected the infamous Port Blair Cellular Jail, built in 1906. Meanwhile, the birdwatchers had fun tracking down several of the Andaman endemics, including a woodpecker, a drongo, and a treepie.

In the afternoon the ship repositioned to Neil Island. Some of us snorkeled or swam from the beach, while others walked to the town and saw some small jewelry shops and markets. Others went out on a natural history excursion, finding four species of parrots and an endemic coucal.

Monday, January 31 - Cinque Island: With a light rain falling we explored Cinque Island. A natural history excursion went ashore and remarked on the apparent coastal damage to the forest, presumably caused by the 2004 tsunami. Birders located the endemic wood pigeon and found a family of beach thick-knees, which have never been recorded in this part of the island chain before. Beachcombers discovered some lovely shells, corals, and nautilus. Snorkelers enjoyed the great visibility.

During lunch we picked up the anchor and returned north to Fort Ross Island to clear out of India. We circled around the southern end of the Andaman Islands and set our sights on Sri Lanka. Ron enlightened us on Caste and Religion in India.

Tuesday, February 1 - At sea: Scattered thunderstorms lit up the night, but the sea was relatively smooth when we woke in the morning. After breakfast we continued our educational program with a lecture from Jonathan, Jungle Book: The Story of Indian Wildlife. Shirley followed with a talk on The Peopling of Sri Lanka: A Prehistoric Encounter with the Mahavamsa. Lunch was a tasty buffet by the pool, and in the afternoon we were briefed on disembarkation. Kevin told us about The Orchid Hunters, and after dinner we sampled a special Chocolate Madness dessert in the main lounge.

Wednesday, February 2 - At sea: With a slight swell we proceeded west across the Bay of Bengal, sighting an occasional flying fish. After morning yoga conducted by Shirley, we heard from Peter on the Famous Flowers of India. Scott came next with Sri Lanka. After lunch some more henna tattoos were applied by Utpal, and we heard a briefing on our activities in Sri Lanka. Then Jonathan showed us the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. We capped the day with a cocktail party and farewell dinner, hosted by Captain Peter Fielding.

Thursday, February 3 - Sri Lanka coast: The morning brought us heavy rain and swell, and limited visibility, although it was the “dry” season. Just as we were about to enter the port at Trincomalee, in northeastern Sri Lanka, we heard that the only road to the interior was closed due to flooding and washouts. This was not a local problem. We heard that 300,000 people on the island have been displaced by flooding due to unseasonable heavy rains. So we stayed on board and circled the island, making for the southwest coast, where the weather report was for sun and the roads were open. For recap we played a game of Liars Club, and our favorite liar was the captain.

Friday, February 4 - Galle, Sri Lanka: Everyone was glad to get ashore at the harbor of Galle. The birders went off to look for endemic Sri Lankan specialties. From town we visited the coast, where we saw men fishing from stilts. Then it was off to the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum, with its indoor and outdoor exhibits, labeled trees, and lovely water lilies. Here an enormous wild peacock was seen flying by. Back in town we stopped in the Galle Dutch Reformed Church and then wandered the streets of old town, snapping photos and shopping. Along the walls of the fort we had views of the locals swimming, a few water monitors, and the extensive fortifications. Our guides told us the region had been hard hit, by 20 to 30 foot waves in the 2004 tsunami, and rebuilding of the infrastructure was still taking place.

Saturday, February 5 - Tuticorin, India / Chennai: We dropped the anchor in the morning while a team of Indian divers performed a security check and proceeded into the harbor and docked. We divided our group this morning and some of us drove to Madurai to see Sri Meenakshi Temple towers, a museum, and a nearby market, then flew to Chennai (Madras) and made our connections to homeward flights. Another party drove through Tuticorin to the airport and caught a flight to Chennai. With the afternoon at leisure, some went to see a local temple and a few others went birding, before relaxing at the Trident Hotel and transferring to the Chennai airport in the evening for our homeward flights.