Venturing through rural Asia can be an epic journey, however there’s an easy alternative to roughin’ it! A river cruise is an excellent way to experience more of the remote countryside, without discomfort. Hop on deck of a river cruise in Asia and take in the splendor of peaceful destinations and unique views.
Exploring the far flung corners of Southeast Asia used to be reserved only for hardened adventure travellers. If you were planning to set off beyond the outer limits of urban centres, you had to be ready to brave the elements and the discomfort that came with it. Experiencing rural villages and remote communities usually meant ditching the vehicles, the air conditioning and the indoor plumbing and embarking on foot into the wilderness. In the end, the discomfort usually equaled an unforgettable cultural experience, but not without a few mosquito bites or sore feet as a souvenir.
And while braving the elements and setting off into the wilderness in Southeast Asia is still a big part of what we do at Buffalo Tours, we don’t think that experiencing traditional communities in our destinations should only be for those ready to lace up their trekking boots. After all, many of Southeast Asia’s most fascinating places are well within our reach via the region’s natural highways — that is, right on the banks of rivers!
Small riverside communities have sprung up along the banks of nearly every waterway in Southeast Asia, large and small. Getting to those fascinating destinations further afield is just a matter of finding the right boat to do it. Thankfully, Southeast Asia’s riverside communities had already perfected the art of river sailing centuries before, and gave us all of the inspiration we could ever need.
Aboard our fleet of converted rice barges, traditional sampans, magnificent wooden junks and even a few speedboats, we like to think that our river cruises are more than just a means of transportation. They’re a travel experience! Out of all of the destinations throughout Southeast Asia, these are our favourite places to skip the roads and take to the waves instead.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
As the most important agricultural region in Vietnam, the communities and cultures in the heart of the Mekong Delta are some of the most fascinating in the country. Plenty of the families here have passed down traditional farming and fishing methods through generations, and some of the floating villages and markets here look like they haven’t changed in centuries. It’s lucky for travellers, who can get a glimpse at what authentic Vietnamese life looks like without having to venture more than a day or two out of urban Ho Chi Minh City. The best way to do it? By setting sail, of course.
While a whole lot of the Mekong Delta is only reached by busy highways on land, getting to them by the river is a wholly illuminating experience. Most river cruises make short stops along their voyages to visit floating markets, fishing villages and rice plantations that are quintessential Vietnam. Even beyond land is a whole flurry of culture on the water itself — it’s not uncommon to see boat workers perched on stacks of rice or bamboo as it chugs down the river on board a rice barge. If you’re looking to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination in the Delta, do it by swapping roads for waves.
Explore the Mekong Delta with us onboard the Le Jarai, a converted rice barge that’s spent its time on the Mekong as both a working boat and now as a travel cruiser. What’s best, though, is where it ends up — the cruise sets sail down the Mekong and past sleepy riverside villages to arrive in Ben Tre, the dreamy Mekong township famous for its chocolate rivers and mangrove forests.
Central Bangkok is well known for its bustling river – the Chao Phraya River is consistently heaving with working vessels, day cruisers and river tourists as they flit between city destinations via the water. Setting sail to see Bangkok via the Chao Phraya and its extensive labyrinth of canals (or “klongs”) is an experience well-worth a day, venturing a little bit farther opens up a whole new picture of southern Thailand — including incredible Ayutthaya and its ancient ruins.
Ayutthaya’s past life as a major trading port owes to its location not far off of the Chao Phraya River, which runs along the outer limits of the ancient city. Even from the boat deck the sights here are jaw dropping, but just beyond the riverbank is an astounding collection of ancient buildings and decorative monasteries. While it’s possible to travel to Ayutthaya from Bangkok by road, setting sail on the river that connects the two opens up a whole new experience. After all, there’s few experiences better than watching as the scenery of an ancient city slowly emerges beyond the boat deck.
Our Ayutthaya adventure offers the best of both worlds, with a road journey to the ancient city and a boat journey back to central Bangkok. The cruise offers a glimpse at the breadth of the Chao Phraya River and its incredible scenery along the banks, plus the chance to experience both Ayutthaya and Bangkok from the boat deck in a single trip.
Si Phan Don (4000 Islands), Laos
Laos is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that is completely land locked, but for what it lacks in coastline and beaches it surely makes up for in cultures and scenery. But like most of its neighboring countries, Laos is home to the mighty Mekong River. Unlike the rest, though, it’s also home to the incredible Si Phan Don, or 4000 Islands. To call the collection of islands in this southern Laotian section of the Mekong River a scenic gem would be an understatement.
Plenty of its islands are travel destinations on their own (with Khong Island one of the most famous) but experiencing the scenery of the entire area requires more than just a transfer ferry to and from each. Si Phan Don is an incredible destination as a whole, but one that should experienced from the water. When it comes to Mekong River experiences, Si Phan Don is certainly unique.
Many of our Laos journeys include a cruise in Si Phan Don, with plenty of stops to the best islands along the way. Check out our Highlights of Laos tour which explores even further into this scenic region.
Three Gorges, China
China is an epic unto itself. This majestic land has thousands of years of continuous history and is one of the most ancient cultures in the world. It’s sights are unique, and it’s nature famous worldwide. The Three Gorges cruise is an incredible way to witness the towering mountains and impressive length of the Yangtze River, the longest in Asia.
With three sections to explore, whether going upstream or downstream, a river cruise along the Three Gorges, is a one-of-a-kind way to explore China. With incredible landscapes, remains of ancient culture and impressive feats of engineering, drifting along the Yangtze is a great way to see more of this immense nation.
Our China Highlights Tour offers a luxurious drift along the Yangtze, or your can travel up or down the river along the Three Gorges’ rustic countryside and marvel at the unique geological formations.
Bagn to Mandalay, Myanmar
Journeying up Myanmar can be quite an ordeal! Luckily, major sights as you travel north are linked by the quaint Irrawaddy River. With rare aquatic species, serene countryside and friendly locals, cruising upstream is not only relaxed but heartwarming.
From the impressive kingdom of Bagan, you can set sail to the last royal city of Mandalay. This laid back pace allows you to unwind and take in the incredible humble beauty of Myanmar. Not only is there peaceful countryside, but local way of life in remote communities is still steeped in tradition, from sporting a longyi to pulling a plow with water buffalo.
Just outside of Mandalay lies a vast array of sights to drop by along your route. Small, ancient capitals, temple dotted Sagain Hill and U Bien, the world’s longest teak-wood bridge are all set along the peaceful riverside. It’s easy to sit back and take it all in, go for a hike or sit down to a sunset dinner on the riverbanks.
Kick back and watch the sunset along the quaint Irrawaddy River as part of our Classic Myanmar Tour or spend a few days heading up on The Stand Cruise.
To see a collection of all of our cruises, check out our short and long term water journeys in Southeast Asia’s most beautiful destinations!