Montenegro is a small European nation that not many people know about, but everyone should. Born out of the 1990s war that created the new Balkan nations, Montenegro has benefitted greatly from its tremendous Adriatic Sea location, stunning vistas and old towns. It seems Montenegro gets lost in the shuffle of the European giants as far as tourism goes, but I am telling you that you need to see Montenegro!
Make no mistake, the best parts of Montenegro are the small towns and sites on the Adriatic, easily accessible from cruise ships. My favorite town in Montenegro is Kotor.
Kotor is a picture perfect place with a well-maintained old town; which is a labyrinth of little streets, shops, cafes and pathways. Just walk around and get lost in the beauty of a true gem. Then don’t forget to hike up to the top of the hill for some stunning views of the only fjords in Southern Europe. The views are to die for but keep in mind, it is a strenuous hike and in the summer the temperatures can get pretty hot with little shade along the way. So bring plenty of water and monitor yourself.
Not far from Kotor, is Perast in Boka Bay. This is another great little old town to visit with the highlight being the ‘Our Lady of the Rock’ little island church. There are frequent water taxis that head out to this great site and it should not be missed. The views alone of the mountains surround Kotor Bay are worth it to make you feel really small!
Budva is another great coastal town in Montenegro that is very popular with tourists as it should be. Probably my favorite thing to see or do in and around Budva is go to Sveti Stefan or St. Stephen.
It is another small island easily accessible from the mainland and is photogenic to a tee. It’s also a popular place with A-List celebrities including the Queen of England herself! Sveti Stefan is a very glamorous place and is not to be missed in Montenegro.
Inland from the coast there is also a lot to see and do in Montenegro including some excellent National Parks. I think the two best are Skadarsko Lake and Durmitor. Skadarsko is about a 20-minute drive from the coast. It has a beautiful river that connects the lake to the Adriatic and creates a gorgeous natural setting with lovely mountains breaking it up creating tremendous views. The river is shared between Montenegro and Albania but the best part is in Montenegro for sure. Durmitor is a great place to do fun outdoor activities; you can even bungee jump!
The capital of Podgorica is also an interesting place to pop into but I wouldn’t spend a huge amount of time there. The highlights of Montenegro are on the coast and the majority of your time should be spent exploring the old towns and natural beauty.
One of my favorite things about cruising with Azamara Club Cruises is their AzAmazing Evenings. This was my third cruise with Azamara and of course my third AzAmazing Evening. They are very well thought out and put together nights of cultural entertainment in an important cultural place for the cities they’re held in. For my latest cruise, it was an AzAmazing Evening in Manila, Philippines. It was my favorite one yet!
The Azamara Quest arrived early one morning and I caught an amazing sunrise pulling into port at Manila Bay. It was without a doubt the most spectacular way to arrive in Manila, a city known more for horrible traffic than anything else. But on my day around Manila, I was pleasantly surprised to discover some other interesting places to visit.
My only prior visit to Manila was ten years ago and I wasn’t too impressed. So I sought to change my opinion on the city by taking a city tour of all the important sites around town.
The tour started in Rizal Park, which is a nice reprieve from the traffic and craziness of the streets. We were there over a holiday so there were a lot of people out and about and it made it really fun to be there watching the local kids playing and families having picnics.
Next up was San Agustin Church; which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a nice enough church to visit. It won’t blow your mind or anything but it’s nice to see inside it for the beautiful chapel and interesting museum.
For me, the best part happened outside the church with school kids on a field trip. Filipino kids love selfies. In fact, the Philippines were named the most selfied nation or something like that in a recent article!
The kids were all taking selfies with us so I insisted on taking one with them as well. I think it came out pretty well and they made my afternoon for sure! Their smiles were infectious and their enthusiasm will stick with me!
After a visit to quiet Fort Santiago, where the AzAmazing Evening would be later that night, and Intramuros, we headed out to the American War Cemetery past Millionaires Row and Makati City.
This was my fourth continent visiting a US military cemetery and they are always somber but always fills me with pride. What the US and Allied soldiers did in World War II can never be understated. They truly were the greatest generation and should always be treated with respect.
Then it was time for the AzAmazing Evening at Fort Santiago!
Azamara arranged for Jeepney’s to take some guests over to the celebration although they were much nicer than regular Jeepney’s you’ll see around Manila – trust me on that one!
Once at the AzAmazing Evening, it was party time with some awesome Filipino bands and cultural acts in a really cool setting that looked much different and more festive than it did that afternoon!
Azamara really does an excellent job with these AzAmazing Evening productions and that’s exactly what they are – a production. Guests remember them long after the cruise. I still remember fondly the AzAmazing Evening I did onboard the Azamara Journey in 2013 at the Opera House in Livorno, Italy – it was fantastic and really the only thing from Livorno I do remember!
Aside from some great acts and great food and local drinks, Azamara nailed it with a big fireworks display midway through the AzAmazing Evening. It was pretty perfect.
As time goes by, some of what I saw in Manila may fade from my memory but I will always remember the AzAmazing Evening in Manila. It was fantastic!
A few years ago, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River was named one of the new seven wonders of nature. At the time, it was one of two that I had not been to: the other being Komodo Island. So when the opportunity for this cruise on the Azamara Quest came up and I saw I could visit the last two remaining new seven wonders of nature on the same cruise, I jumped at it. But I must admit, when the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River won that title, I was skeptical. I didn’t really know anything about it and it was never on my radar. Well it certainly is now…it was phenomenal!
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is about a two-hour drive from Puerto Princesa, the main port and airport on the stunning island of Palawan in the Philippines. The drive is windy, crowded and absolutely gorgeous.
When you arrive at Sabang to a wonderful view down the beach toward where Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National park is, you must get on an outrigger boat; which are famous in the Philippines. From the Sabang dock, it’s a 30-minute outrigger boat ride to the entrance of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. You will get a little wet on this ride if you sit in front as I did, but it’s really hot so whatever!
The beach and surrounding cliffs at the entrance beach is off the charts. It’s the perfect Southeast Asia scene and just what you picture from a picturesque Asian beach. I could have stayed there all day swimming and taking photos.
It’s a five-minute walk to the where you get on a small outrigger canoe to enter the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River cave. This is truly one of the most beautiful entrances and settings I’ve ever seen. The crystal clear greenish water is to die for and you will be mesmerized at its beauty.
There’s a very small area where you hop on the canoes and they stagger the groups so there’s fewer people; which is a good thing. For photos, there’s an awesome tree that lies out over the water that you can climb on to take great shots of the cave or with you in them.
Once in the cave it is really dark. The guide will have a light in the front to highlight some awesome rock formations and of course the bats on the ceiling. There will be a driver who kind of acts like a punter that you’d see in Venice, Italy but instead of singing, he cracks jokes. Our guide and driver were excellent and really funny.
It’s difficult to take good photos in the cave because it is so dark but that makes for a better experience overall because you’re really focusing on what you’re seeing and doing. It’s like another world in the cave and the underground river goes on for over five miles (or eight kilometers).
We were underneath for about 45 minutes in total and I could have stayed there for hours. It really was a fascinating place and so massive that it was mind-blowing. I was truly surprised about how impressive it was. I really didn’t expect much to be honest and that’s my fault because I just didn’t know better. But now I do and I am telling you how good a trip it is and it’s well worth going out of your way to get to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. It will blow your mind!
Back in 2009 when I was still trying to visit every country in the world (in fact, every territory in the world), I went bopping around Borneo for a few days. That seems like a lifetime ago and earlier today when I landed at Sandakan onboard the Azamara Quest in the Malaysian state of Sabah, I was excited to be back! I was most excited to do the Primates of Borneo Land Discoveries tour that I had signed up for. I love monkeys, of which there are several kinds in Borneo, they’re always awesome to watch!
When you arrive in Sandakan port, you are surrounded by industry. Right next to all the mills, etc. is a really cool stilt village that reminded me of the famous one in Benin, West Africa. Also from the port you can see a pretty cool view of the city of Sandakan in the distance. Sandakan is Sabah’s second city after Kota Kinabalu.
We took a tour bus to a place called the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. It was a really nice place deep in the jungle, surrounded by some of the coolest and tallest trees I’ve ever seen. In typical Borneo style the weather was hot, humid and overcast. In the jungle the lighting was bad for photos but I managed to get a few good ones!
They have an orangutan feeding each morning at 10am and they have a platform on which they are fed. The orangutans themselves are fascinating to watch in person. They act like people. In fact, humans share 90% of the same DNA with orangutans.
The feedings are fun to watch but the set-up itself to watch them is poor. You watch from a viewing platform that makes it tough for photography, especially when there are many people crowding the smallish platform. The orangutans are about 100 feet from the platform in the middle of the jungle.
After the orangutans, we headed out to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. This was easily the highlight of the excursion and just fantastic in general if you’re into monkeys.
The proboscis monkeys jump all over the place and are fed in front of you and come into the crowds of people. It is really exciting when they jump into the crowds and people did freak out a little bit but it was always fun and funny!
I could sit there for hours watching them play with each other and watch how their hierarchy works within the group. It is fascinating. The primates of Borneo aside, perhaps the coolest thing I saw was this Oriental Pied Hornbill. It is perhaps the oddest bird I’ve ever seen and it was kind enough to come right up to us for a photo opp!
We did a brief tour of Sandakan itself on the way back to the ship, but there really isn’t much to keep your interest in town. Visit Sandakan to see the monkeys at the reserves.
I’ve long wanted to visit Komodo Island and see the Komodo Dragons for myself in the flesh. Each prior time I’ve been to Bali, I just couldn’t work it out time wise. Getting to Komodo Island is no simple task either. You need to dedicate at least two days to fly to a neighboring island from Bali, then take a boat from there. Or, visit the easiest way and the way I did it today: via cruise on the Azamara Quest.
This was my first stop after setting sail from Bali. This is my third time in the past 1.5 years cruising with Azamara and second time in five months cruising on the Azamara Quest. I also sailed on the Azamara Journey in late 2013 around the Mediterranean. Komodo Island was one of the main reasons I chose to go on this particular cruise – it did not disappoint!
After tendering from the cruise ship to the beaches of Komodo Island, I set out with a small group from the ship in search of seeing Komodo Dragons. After about a mile or so of walking they were right in front of us. It was so exciting!
Komodo Dragons are massive. They are about 10 feet long, 2 feet high and they weigh about 200 pounds and can run up to 11 miles per hour. Not to mention they are carnivorous and cannibalistic!
They have been known to attack humans and even if a human is lucky enough to escape the dragons clutches; a bite can result in death in 24 hours due to the lethal venom it releases from its razor sharp teeth. So you need to be careful and listen to your guides!
Being around the Komodo Dragons is really exciting and unnerving at the same time. You want desperately to get close to them and take their picture but you also need to be mindful of how close you’re getting, as they will kill you!
I brought two cameras and recommend others do the same. I brought my iPhone 5s that I always use, and also brought a high zoom Nikon D5100 to zoom in from a distance.
When the Komodo Dragons move everyone has to move with them and keep a distance. The guides will lure them in certain directions away from the crowd of people. You want to refrain from sudden movements as the dragons have poor vision but see rapid motion and respond to it.
You are instructed to run diagonally if chased by a dragon. Additionally, women who are menstruating are requested not to go because Komodo Dragons can apparently smell blood from 11 miles away. I have no idea how they know that but that’s what we were told by the guides!
The guides are very important when visiting Komodo Island to see the Komodo Dragons. You cannot enter Komodo National Park without one and you wouldn’t want to screw around in the park with dragons everywhere! The guide has medicine in case of a bite and also they carry Y-shaped sticks to push the dragons away if necessary. I never felt in danger at all and had no worries. My guide was pretty cool!
Komodo Island is a definite visit if you have an opportunity and well worth the shore excursion. There are also some really cool beaches and the whole island looks like it’s from a scene out of Lost. It is pretty much exactly what you want from Southeast Asia. It is beautiful, tropical, a little dangerous and full of nice people. Komodo Island and the Komodo Dragons are an experience you won’t forget!