Indonesian Island Discovery cruise with Fred. Olsen
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Komodo dragons are never going to win a beauty contest. They’re the kind of creatures that only their mothers can love. Unfortunately, for baby komodos, though, not even their mothers love them that much. Females lay their eggs in nests and ignore them for the next nine months. When the babies hatch out, they are considered fair game (or breakfast) for adult komodos, regardless of any possible blood ties. The males will even eat the eggs, should they come across them. The only good news for newly hatched komodos is that they are able to climb trees – something the lumbering adults, who can reach 3m in length, cannot manage. As a result, about 10% of them survive.
The vast majority of komodo dragons live on Komodo Island in Indonesia which is not an easy place to get to. So I was extremely lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the world’s largest lizard in December 2019 when Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca visited the island as part of its Indonesian Island Discovery cruise.
It was probably my single biggest highlight on the cruise – though there were certainly plenty of other great moments. We started off in Singapore – the ship left Dover back in October 2019 and the new passengers flew out to join it there. Now much has been heard lately of a dastardly plan that could see the UK turn into Singapore-on-Thames. After two days in Singapore, I did start to wonder why this was such a bad idea. The place is, of course, spotless – no chewing gum stuck to the pavement or litter blowing around your ankles. They have free and highly efficient wifi, some of the best education results in the world, a multi-cultural society (and hence a foodie heaven) and an architectural style that blends the best of British colonial with stunning modernism.
This year saw Singapore celebrate its bicentenary – based on the date Sir Stamford Raffles decided to turn a sleepy fishing village into a free port for the East India Company (for a long time the world’s busiest port, only recently overtaken by Shanghai). The hotel named after him has just reopened, restored to its former glory and it really is obligatory to go there for a Singapore Sling (a cocktail originally invented for ladies pretending they were drinking an innocent fruit juice). It’s the only place in town where you’re allowed to drop anything on the ground, so every table has a bag of peanuts for husking and you throw the shells on the floor.
Singapore’s original port was actually based along the 3km long Singapore River. The original shop-houses still line its banks but now they’re all brightly coloured bars and restaurants and it’s a place that’s big on nightlife. Another area you have to visit is Bugis Street. Now one of the country’s biggest markets, it used to be the haunt of sailors and ladies of the night. You can take a tri-rickshaw tour from here all around the Little India area – your ‘driver’ cycles alongside you in an arrangement that’s a bit like a motorbike and sidecar.
After two full-on days in Singapore, it was good to have two days at sea to relax, soak up the sun (79°F/26°C in December) and explore the range of activities on board. You can spend every moment of the day busy if you want – from quizzes to exercise classes, arts and crafts to concerts, you can join a choir or learn to play the ukulele. Fred. Olsen also specialise in some very English moments – cheese and wine parties, for instance, and a sumptuous high tea (I recommend you miss out lunch that day). Because the ship has a maximum of 880 passengers, it also has an unusually intimate atmosphere. You see the same waiters at your table every night for dinner and many people return time after time. In fact, two of the passengers on board this time had met on a previous cruise and decided to spend their retirement going on as many Fred Olsen cruises as possible!
On the dockside at Semarang in Java, the ship was greeted by four exquisite dancers in red and gold. Today, I was headed for Borobodur, a UNESCO site and the biggest Buddhist monument in the world. Oddly enough, it had been rediscovered by Raffles (you can’t escape him in these parts). Although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, the temples of other religions are treasured here and Borobodur itself is surrounded by a beautifully tended garden. It is an extraordinary building made out of lava stone that tells the story of Prince Siddhartha (who would become the Buddha) and teaches the tenets of Buddhism from the lowest levels of human behaviour on the ground floor up steep steps that rise eventually to the purely spiritual Nirvana at the top.
Our next stop, Lombok, was, like Java, a lush mountainous island with mangroves and coconut palms, breadfruit and banana plantations. It’s also where you’ll find the Gili Islands – three tiny islets with glorious white sandy beaches and coral reefs beloved by snorkelers and divers. Sea turtles swim just offshore and the water is warm and inviting – a perfect mini-Maldives.
Bali was the final stop for this leg of the cruise and we spent two days here visiting rice paddies and temples (Bali is the only predominantly Hindu island in Indonesia), monkey forests and royal pleasure palaces and – my favourite – a school where children as young as seven learn the complex and rigorous techniques of Balinese dancing.
Then, Boudicca sailed on to Australia and I left for London and fast-approaching Christmas. It was a perfect escape from the English winter. Note to self: next time, make it longer.
Fred. Olsen has some similar (though not identical) cruises coming up.
Boudicca’s 14-night D2102 ‘Vietnam, Honk Kong & Singapore’ fly-cruise, departing from Hong Kong (flights from London Gatwick/Manchester) on 28 January 2021.
Ports of call: Hong Kong, China (overnight stay) – Da Nang, Vietnam – Ha Long Bay, Vietnam – Nha Trang, Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Singapore, Singapore (overnight stay) – Phuket, Thailand
Black Watch’s 24-night W2105 ‘Exploring Australia & the Far East’ fly-cruise, departing from Sydney, Australia (flights from London Heathrow/Manchester) on 5 March 2021.
Ports of call: Sydney, Australia (overnight stay) – Burnie, Tasmania, Australia – Melbourne, Australia – Albany, Australia – Fremantle, Australia – Surabaya, Java, Indonesia – Semarang, Indonesia – Singapore, Singapore (overnight stay) – Sabang, Weh Island, Indonesia – Colombo, Sri Lanka
Anna was a guest of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
Silver Travel Advisor
Olsen Cruise Lines.
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