Discovery Adventures Announces New Tours For 2013

Discovery Adventures offers new options for 2013The calendar may still say 2012, and I know we all have a busy holiday season to navigate yet, but it is never too early to start planning our trips for the new year ahead. To help us out with that process, Discovery Adventures has announced a host of new tours and destinations, adding even more depth to an existing line-up of stellar itineraries.

For 2013, Discovery has unveiled 13 new tours to 11 new countries, offering diverse and unique experiences in some of the most amazing places on the planet. Those new destinations include Malaysia, Bhutan, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Colombia, Chile, Israel and Singapore. The trips are designed to immerse travelers in the local culture and provide opportunities that aren’t easily found anywhere else. For instance, on the new Moroccan Dreams itinerary, visitors will camp in the desert and explore remote mountain villages, while the Malaysia & Borneo Adventure will provide contrasts between the bustling urban settings of Kuala Lumpur with the tranquil and serene rainforest. Other options include a visit to Iceland‘s lava fields, learning to cook in India and searching for the Big Five on safari in Kenya and Tanzania.

As the travel arm for the very popular Discovery Channel, Discovery Adventures feels that it has an outstanding reputation to live up to. That’s why the company is so selective about the destinations and tours that it offers. These new additions to their catalog bring the total number of trips to just 34, which is in sharp contrast to some other companies that offer dozens of options.

Their commitment to providing high quality tours for their guests doesn’t end there, however, as the company has also announced a new policy that guarantees that 100% of its trips will depart as scheduled. The new policy begins in January of next year and ensures that clients will be able to both book, and travel, with confidence.

[Photo Credit: Discovery Adventures]

Video Of The Day: Amazing Kuala Lumpur Time Lapse

Once a small Chinese tin-mining village, Kuala Lumpur has grown to be the largest city in Malaysia, a metropolis of around 6.5 million people. The transformation took only about 150 years, and today visitors will find an ultra-modern city with dazzling lights, cloud-reaching skyscrapers, a state-of-the-art monorail, bustling shopping centers and more.

Architectural photographer Rob Whitworth set out to capture the essence of this lively city. It wasn’t easy: the video above was filmed over 5 months, in which he put in 400 hours of solid work. It took four cameras, 40 shoots, 640 gigabytes of data and 19,997 photographs.

“My time lapse explores how the city changes from day to night highlighting how spaces dramatically alter during the course of a few hours,” Whitworth said. Watch the transformation he captured above.

Photo Of The Day: Sea Creatures In Penang

photo of the day - Penang sea creatures for lunch
The rise of social media and photo-sharing platforms like Instagram has meant an increase in the number of photos floating around the Internet of particularly appetizing, unappetizing, and downright inedible foods. This has lead to a certain backlash, with articles bemoaning this trend, asking people to stop taking pictures of their meals. Still, I think there is a place for it in the world of travel photography, particularly for the more unique and bizarre finds. So for today’s Photo of the Day I chose this food photo from Flickr user ourmanwhere in Penang, Malaysia, an epicenter for adventurous foodies. Rather than just showing an outrageous calorie-laden burger or an arty close-up of a grape, it’s intriguing, unusual, and rather beautiful (plus, it was taken on a cellphone, and we at Gadling love to ditch the DSLR). In another part of the world, you might see this subject in an aquarium instead of a restaurant. So keep the “food porn” coming, travelers, you just might have to work harder at keeping us guessing at what’s on the menu.

Add your lunch photos to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day.

Vagabond Tales: Kidnapped in Borneo

As a disclaimer, I have never officially been kidnapped in Borneo. For a very uncertain period of about 15 minutes, however, things were starting to look that way and the mental unrest was all the same.

The idea of being kidnapped in Borneo is not without precedent. In April of 2000 there was a much publicized incident in which 20 international tourists were kidnapped from the island of Sipadan by the Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf. Abducted in the night by armed men brandishing assault rifles, the remarkably unlucky group of tourists were shuttled 90 minutes by speedboat to Jolo, a small neighboring island belonging to the Philippines. Although all the Sipadan hostages would eventually be released, there would be future hostages taken by Abu Sayyaf who would be found decapitated in the jungle.

Nevertheless, I somehow found myself on a cramped minibus navigating the dense jungle roads of Northern Borneo en route to the island of Sipadan. Famous in the scuba world for having some of the best wall diving in all of Asia, the island presented visions of sea turtles and reef sharks that obscured the harsh realities, which may or may not have been lurking all around me.

To be fair, nine years had transpired since the Sipadan kidnappings and tens of thousands of tourists since that time had successfully made voyages to Sipadan without becoming a ransom piece. PADI even held one of their international conferences there.

When the minibus made an unplanned exit down a sketchy dirt road, however, the wheels of media-induced paranoia began to slowly churn into motion.In an effort to transport ourselves from the town of Sandakan – a festering hole of a city, which shockingly used to be home to the highest concentration of millionaires on the planet – to the coastal town of Semporna, I had opted to share a small minibus with my wife and eight other foreign tourists. Two Americans, two Germans, two Finnish speaking gentlemen, one Israeli and a curious Englishman who had somehow managed to teach himself the Malay language in a period of about three weeks.

It was a neatly packed little metal box of Westerners just rife for the taking.

Statistically, kidnapping should be the least of my worries in this situation. In Robert Young Pelton’s legendary travel series “World’s Most Dangerous Places,” he lays out the facts, which show that statistically the most dangerous form of transport on the planet is a shared minibus in Southeast Asia. The chances of my dying in a head-on collision with the various other minibuses all adhering to the non-existent traffic laws are far greater than the likelihood of being targeted for an international ransom showdown.

Again, once our driver made an unexpected turn off of the highway and down a narrow dirt road, however, the fear of crashing was replaced by the fear of being videotaped in front of an Arabic banner hanging on a wall. Granted, this isn’t Pakistan, but the Malaysian state of Sabah still sports some hardline Islamic fundamentalists. Furthermore, the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers had actually departed that fateful evening from Semporna, the town where we were headed.

**As a highly relevant side note, I recognize the intrinsic and massive differences between Mosque in Semporna Malaysiapeace loving Muslims and Islamic fundamentalists who adhere to misguided interpretations of the Quran. I have no problem traveling in countries where a muezzin announces the calls to prayer, and I feel safer in many of these places than I do in bad neighborhoods of American or European cities. With so much fear being broadcasted over the airwaves nowadays, however, you’ll have to excuse my mind for even going there for a brief moment since our modern-day world is saturated with such images.**

Bouncing further and further down the dirt road it became glaringly apparent this was not the way to Semporna. We hung a left, then a right, and then two more lefts before we were on narrow ribbon of dirt leading through the teeming green jungle. In the ten minutes or so which had transpired since departing from the paved highway our repeated attempts to communicate with the driver had gone unanswered.

“Umm…excuse me. Is this the way to Semporna?”

Silence.

“So…where are we going?”

Silence.

Even the self-taught Englishman attempted to make some inroads in Malay.

The only response was furtive glances in the rear view mirror, a cracked piece of glass where we could momentarily make contact with the pupils of his eyes.

Finally, just as the confusion was beginning to turn to angst, our rickety van pulled up in front of a collection of wooden shacks surrounded by a semi-functional barbed-wire gate. Columns of smoke rose from smoldering piles of leaves and the incessant sounds of the jungle provided the only break in the silence.

If ever there were a rebel jungle compound it would be in a place that looked exactly like this.

Still not having informed us as to where exactly we were, our driver hopped out of the van, slammed the door behind him, and proceeded to walk part way behind the wooden hut closest to the van.

As the driver casually strolled into the compound all of us hostages inside of the van strained our necks so as to be able to watch as he lit a cigarette and proceeded to get in an argument with an unseen person standing behind the hut.

In my mind it went something like this:

“I brought you the van full of foreigners, now I want my money! That’s not the price we agreed upon! What do you mean I’m going to have to tie them up myself! Ugh…fine”.

Tossing his still lit cigarette onto the damp grass our driver then reached out for an object, which at this point I was almost certain was going to be an automatic weapon.

“Unbelievable,” I trembled. “This is actually happening.”

I squeezed my wife’s hand and hoped for the best. I can only assume the others in the car were somewhat on the same wavelength, as the vibe was undoubtedly tense.

Then, in a moment which will forever cause me to doubt the paranoid ramblings of my mind, our driver emerged from behind the shed holding an…

infant.

He was holding a small, peaceful, sleeping child. If ever there were a sign of pacifism Malaysian children and the peace signand calm then it was in the shallow breaths of that sleeping Malaysian child. Cradling his young daughter in his arms, our driver gently kissed her forehead and told the rest of his family it was time to leave.

This was not some military compound where they beheaded innocent travelers in a political and religious global war. This was his family’s house and he was here to pick up his children.

Cramming his wife and four children into an already packed van our relieved group humbly endured the remaining 45 minutes of the ride to Semporna. I, for one, internally hung my head in shame for allowing my mental demons to get the best of me.

Here before us was not a terrorist operative but a hard-working man just trying to make a living to support his wife and children, a human trait that defies religious affiliation, language-barriers and the image which might grace the cover of your passport.

This, I feel, is one of the greatest gifts of international travel: the ability to witness firsthand that regardless of geopolitical stereotypes, religious affiliation, general ethnicity, or what modern media may lead us to believe, we’re all just humans trying to make it in this world, who work jobs to survive, love our families and strive to sculpt the most comfortable and successful lives possible.

So no, I have never been kidnapped in Borneo. My mind, however, has been a hostage of the largest kind.

10 Extraordinary Islands To Visit On Your Next Vacation

vacation islands

Summer is the time of island vacations. It is time to put as much distance between you and the real world as possible. It is time to stand outside of your everyday life and to see how it all looks from a paradise perspective. Here is a collection of islands for escape – places to recharge, gain perspective and explore. From an island in the land of the gods to a tropical Amsterdam at the edge of an ocean trench, each of these ten destinations provides something extraordinary.

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vacation islands

Santorini (Greece)
Abstract: As legends change hands, the stories transform. Storytellers take liberties, moving to impress wide-eyed audiences with tales of glorious antiquity. With each telling, they speak of monsters that grow stronger, of men who grow bolder, of explosions that tear apart the earth and take along with them civilizations that grow greater. These stories come from places like Santorini – a Greek paradise perched on the thin edge of a circular archipelago where the earth once swallowed a city whole.

Maybe that city was Plato’s Atlantis and maybe it was not, but what it is today is one of the most stunningly gorgeous and unique places on earth. Whitewashed villas adorned with oceanic blue domes cling to volcanic rock mountainsides in the most romantic of settings. Greece is the land of old gods, and Santorini is where those gods likely vacationed.

Highlights: Sailing to Volcano Island, hiking from Fira to Oia, and visiting Red Beach
High end lodging: Oia Castle Hotel
Mid-range lodging: Zorzis Hotel
Get there: Fly to Santorini for cheap on Easyjet from London or Milan. Flying from Athens is also a simple and inexpensive way to reach Santorini.


vacation islands

Gili Trawanagan (Indonesia)
Abstract: Gili T feels like the last party at the edge of the world. And it could be so, perched on the precipice of a trench that tears over 5 miles into the ocean floor, the Gilis are an outpost at the edge of a tectonic plate that tore away from Asia eons ago.

Gili Trawanagan is one of three islands in the Gili island chain. Gili T is known for dawdling sea turtles, plush white sand beaches, reggae jams, and mushroom shakes. Reached by just a short boat ride from the eastern coast of Bali, each island is governed by village elders substituting for a proper Indonesian Police force. An Amsterdamian party scene has developed and thrived in the absence of these formal police forces. The Tropical Amsterdam is like an upstart Ibiza with all-night parties and hung-over beach rehab. After partying all night, catch a ride home via horse taxi as no motorized vehicles are allowed on the islands.

High end lodging: Luce d’Alma or Marta’s
Mid-range lodging: Rumah Kundun
Get there: Take a boat from the eastern coast of Bali over across the Lombok strait with Gili Cat or one of the other transfer services.

vacation islands

Borneo
Abstract: Borneo is an ancient land of wild beasts and peculiar flora. It is one of the largest islands in the world and stocked with mysteries hidden deep within its ancient rain forests. It covers three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and tiny Brunei. There are mysterious cultures like the ex-headhunting Dayak, massive orangutans and some of the best dive sites in the world. It is also one of Asia’s top budget destinations.

Beyond dusk boat rides in search of Proboscis monkeys or long jeep safaris into the heart of the lost world, Borneo also has some unexpectedly nice beaches. Off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, several islands bask in tropical waters with great reefs and nice sandy shores. For orangutan sightings, head to Sepilok nature reserve near Sandakan. The orangutans in Borneo grow to much larger sizes than their Sumatran brethren. This is supposedly due to the evolutionary effect of an absence of tigers in Borneo. In Sumatra, the orangs must take to the trees to stay safe, but in Borneo, the “orange men of the forest” have no need for tree-dwelling. Sadly, nothing can protect them from encroaching humanity.

Highlights: Climbing Mt Kinabalu, diving Sipidan, exploring the lost world of Danum Valley
High end lodging: Bunga Raya Island Resort near Kota Kinabalu
Mid-range lodging: Hotel Eden 54 in Kota Kinabalu
Get there: Flights to Kota Kinabalu are cheap from Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia.

vacation islands

Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)
Abstract: These sun soaked islands in Malaysia once served as a stopping off point for Malaysian traders bound for Thailand. Today, The Perhentians are a jewel in the crown of otherworldly Malaysian beaches. It is the kind of place where you could misplace an entire lifetime, bound to the gravity of simple island life.

The islands are surrounded by seas rich with biodiversity and corals, and it is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. The snorkeling here is also top notch and some attest to its superiority over diving. Be sure to visit between April and October, when the monsoons are away. Accommodation is pretty inexpensive across the board, and it is easy to get a room for under $25 a night.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sharks, jungle trekking, and finding an appropriate stretch of white sand to waste a day or three
High end lodging: Perhentian Tuna Bay Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Abdul’s Chalet (book early as they fill up way in advance)
Get there: Take a speed boat from Kuala Besut, which can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur


vacation islands

Tasmania (Australia)
Abstract: One of the last stops before Antarctica, Tassie is Australia’s wild frontier island. With about 40 percent of land being national parkland, Tasmania is a well-protected gem boasting fascinating wine regions, gigantic kelp forests and some of the most perfect beaches in the world.

While visiting, rent a car and explore the Tasmanian countryside. Be sure to spend a few days checking out the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s northeastern coast. While it is winter down under from June to August, it is possible to enjoy off-season rates. But, if you really want to enjoy the beaches, wait until winter hits the northern hemisphere. After all, the Bay of Fires sandy curves have recently been named one of the best beaches in the world. The crystalline turquoise waters and pillow-soft sand beaches welcome travelers with their unencumbered magnificence and laid back vibe. Inland, waterfalls, mountains and Tasmanian devils await intrepid travelers.

Highlights: Bay of Fires, Tasmanian Devils, and road trips through old forests
High end lodging: Islington Hotel (Hobart) or Saffire Freycinet (Wineglass bay)
Mid-range lodging: Fountainside Hotel (Hobart)
Get there: Fly to Hobart non-stop from Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane


vacation islands

The Maldives
Abstract:
An ethereal water-nation where the highest point is less than 8 feet, the Maldives defy imagination, budgets and reality with their perfect islands and hyper-luxury resorts equipped with private yachts and planes. The islands are the kind of place where work seems unimaginable, and the “real world” feels as though it must, too, be on hold somewhere out there thousands of miles from these sun-bathed atolls.

Few places deserve a distinguished “The” prior to their name, and the Maldives are almost never uttered without the obligatory distinction. This is because they are a place unlike anywhere else. They are THE Maldives.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sea turtles, diving with Manta Rays, exploring Maldivian villages and finding the perfect beach
High end lodging: Cocoa Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Kurumba Maldives
Get there: Flights are possible from Dubai, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur and London (Gatwick)

Galapagos (Ecuador)
Abstract: Great thinkers and artists throughout time have all had their muses. Darwin had these islands in the Pacific Ocean. Filled with giant tortoises, swimming iguanas and warm weather penguins, the Galapagos are a last bastion of wilderness smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

With new restrictions year after year, the Galapagos will continue to become less accessible and more expensive. As one of the top eco-locations globally, these wild islands hold natural treasures that can be found nowhere else on earth.

Highlights: Cruising around the islands, swimming with sea lions and bird watching
High end lodging: Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge or book a live-aboard tour with Cheeseman’s
Mid-range lodging: Book a cheap live-aboard cruise by arranging a tour locally, though the available boats are generally sub par. Organizing a trip through tour companies in Quito is a good middle ground for value.
Get there: Flights can be arranged from Quito or Guayaquil

vacation islands

Corsica (France)
Abstract: This French island is Europe’s sleeper destination. With snow-capped mountains, white sand beaches, old world citadels and the legendary GR 20 hiking trail, Corsica does many things at once and does them all incredibly well. Known as the island of beauty, it holds up this moniker with particular strength from its sandy shores to the almost 9,000-foot-high Monte Cinto.

The GR 20 hiking trail is a 15-day-long distance trail that takes travelers through some of Europe’s most stunning vistas. Walk through clouds along the backbone of Corsica, passing small refuges and bonding with other travelers. At the seaside, Corsica’s aquamarine waters do not disappoint and boast some of the best shores in Europe, including the beaches of Plage de Saleccia, Palombaggia and Santa Giulia.

Highlights: Calanche Cliffs, the perfect little island of Iles Lavezzi, trekking the island’s interior, and beaches – lots of beaches
High end lodging: Demeure Loredana
Mid-range lodging: Rocca Rossa
Get there: Take a ferry from Nice or Marseilles. In the air, Easyjet flies to Corsica from Geneva, London and Paris.

vacation islands

Palau
Abstract: With more than 250 islands and roughly 20,000 inhabitants, Palau is a sparsely populated gem of an island chain. While places like Bora Bora and Fiji get all the airtime, Palau idles by humbly, welcoming well-informed travelers to its cerulean waters and sandy beaches perched under dark limestone outcroppings.

Thousands of years ago, a bay on the island of Eil Malk slowly closed off to the surrounding ocean. As a result, the jellyfish in the lake changed. Due to a lack of natural predators in their paradisiacal enclave, the golden and moon Jellyfish of the “fifth lake” abandoned millennia of evolutionary adaptation. The translucent beings lost their ability to sting and as a result, you can swim through armies of bobbing jellyfish as though you just ate an invincibility star.

Highlights: Swimming with friendly jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake, basking on a sun soaked beach, and buying ornately carved wooden storyboards
High end lodging: Palau Pacific Resort
Mid-range lodging: Caroline’s Resort
Get there: Reach Koror, Palau by plane from Tokyo, Manila, Seoul and Guam

vacation islands

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Abstract: The largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix beckons travelers with tales of swashbucklers, golden beaches and old, Dutch charms. Since St. Croix is part of the United States, there is no need for a U.S. passport, and getting in is as simple as flying into Christiansted and finding the nearest beach, in which there are plenty. Beaches along Cane Bay and Buck Island are prototypes for paradise.

St. Croix has a number of old world Dutch Forts and much of the Christiansted area is stocked with preserved colonial gems and abandoned sugar mills. At dusk, take to Salt River Bay in clear kayaks not far from where the Columbus expedition ran ashore in 1493. Due to bioluminescent sea creatures, the clear kayaks become fringed with color as the water glows beneath. It feels like rowing through a microgalaxy. Dive into the dark waters and your entire body glows in the dark.

Highlights: Night swimming in the Bioluminescence of Salt River, visiting Buck Island, and exploring abandoned Dutch forts
High end lodging: Palms at Pelican Cove and The Buccaneer
Mid-range lodging: Hibiscus Beach Resort
Get there: Fly in from Puerto Rico, Miami and Atlanta

[All unattributed photos by the author]