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!
Croatia is a country that is probably the best example of a modern European success story. As part of the former Yugoslavia and the 1990’s war that brought independence to so many Balkan nations, Croatia has really come out on top in many ways. It is a strong country with great people, high tourism numbers and a lot to see and do. The secret has been out about Croatia for a long time but somehow people still don’t seem to get it or somehow have the wrong idea about it. So here’s why I love Croatia and why you should go there!
First and foremost, Croatia is stunning. From the rugged interior, to its gorgeous National Parks, especially Plitvice Lakes, to the world famous Dalmatian Coast, Croatia has it all including amazing food – very Italian-like. It’s a little subcontinent all by itself.
When I was a kid, I remember watching famous basketball players like Drazen Petrovic come to the US to play in the NBA and I remember watching Goran Ivanisevic win Wimbledon and bring a nation to ecstasy in national pride. I remember thinking; there is a place I want to visit – and I didn’t even know anything else about it.
Well, now I’ve visited three times and have been all over the country and it’s true, the people are very prideful and rightfully so. They are so welcoming and warm to guests. I have always felt so welcome in Croatia from the capital of Zagreb to the famous old towns of Dubrovnik and Split.
I was in Split in 2004; which is a magical town in and of itself. I will never forget meeting a local woman in a coffee shop who simply struck up a conversation with me because I clearly wasn’t Croatian and she was curious about me.
She asked me many questions and was truly fascinated about how and why I was traveling to Croatia to see the country and learn about the people and the culture and see for myself what I had seen on TV since I was a child. She said she wished she could do that and she was afraid to go away from her parents’ home and do anything against their wishes.
I told her that she has to make herself happy before she can make anyone else happy and we just chatted about travel, life and anything really for about an hour or so. We exchanged emails, smiled, and that was it.
A few months later I got an email and she told me that my conversation with her had inspired her to move out of her parents house, get a new job and she even went traveling in Europe for a few months. I was elated that she let me know and will never forget that woman.
I know this is a personal story but that’s what I think of when I think of Croatia – aside from the obvious beautiful scenery and gorgeous coastline and islands. I think about a people that are so in love with the world and with other people that they take such an interest in you and apply it to their lives. I always say that Croatia is two-way tourism. You visit Croatia and the Croatian people visit you! I cannot wait to go back to Croatia; it’s been too long!
Azamara has several voyages calling in Croatia, including these:
By Bonnie MacLaird, Chief Blogging Officer, Azamara Club Cruises on
Azamara Club Cruises just launched a new promotional campaign entitled “The Voyage For Those Who Love Travel”. Not only beautiful in imagery, its message is straightforward, fun and sassy. And this description is how I think of the woman with the creative mind behind the campaign. Her name is Kay Fowler and she oversees Advertising & Marketing Communications for the line.
By Azamara Club Cruises on Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Love is all around. Especially in these romantic spots! It’s easy to be happy when you’re with the one you love, but visiting these swoon-worthy destinations during a luxury cruise will add to the enchantment.
1. Santorini, Greece
Santorini is the epitome of a Greek island daydream. The whitewashed villages, blue roofs, cliffside views and sparkling waters make it an idyllic paradise. Since we stay late in port, you can relax and watch the sunset with that special someone.
2. The Norwegian Fjords
Who said summer has to be hot? There’s something wonderful about snuggling up together with cups of hot cocoa and taking in some of the most breathtaking views nature has to offer. Cruising the Norwegian fjords on a small luxury ship is an experience you’ll never forget. Just like love, memories last forever!
Ooh la la! When we think of romance, we think of France. This transatlantic cruise was made for lovers. From Honfleur, you can enjoy an exursion to Paris, “The City of Love”. Cross the Atlantic and call on Montreal and Quebec City, two of Canada’s most beautiful (and most romantic) cities.
5. Venice, Italy
If France has a competitor for the most romantic country in the world, it’s Italy. If you want a dreamy, amorous atmosphere, look no further than Venice. Take in a sunset gondola ride, then listen to the orchestras perform at St. Mark’s Square at night. It will be a date night you’ll never forget. This June 2015 cruise embarks from Venice, so you can spend a few days there before setting off for other charming ports along the Adriatic.
Give the gift of world travel to the one you love! Our Valentine’s Day Special is on until February 16, 2015. Click here to view the offer.