The hot way to explore Asia this year is with a cruise! For this year, we’ve got our roundup of the best Asia river cruises for 2016 – and what makes each of them special.
Travellers to Asia are usually faced with a conundrum: after making such a lengthy journey to this exotic and fascinating region, how do you make the most of your trip without wearing yourself out with countless flights and overland journeys?
We’ve said in the past that a great way to get off-the-beaten-track in Asia is with overland journeys – but not all of us have the energy nor the time to swap flights for bus and train trips. So what’s the happy medium between non-stop flights to major destinations, and slower overland journeys throughout the region? An Asia river cruise!
Cruises in Asia might not be aboard a shiny cruise liner complete with a water slide and on-board theme parks, but what Asia’s cruise vessels lack in extravagance they more than make up for in culture and experience. Rivers, tributaries and stunning coastline makes Asia the destination worth cruising in 2016. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some of the best ways to set sail in Asia this year.
Not all cruises in Asia have to be multi-day journeys to be well-worth the experience.
Bangkok is a metropolis that’s a must for any Asian itinerary, but one often overlooked element reveals the true network of the city: its canals. Known as Bangkok’s klongs, this web of waterways explores the vast reaches of the city that still radiate historic charm – mostly because they’ve played a major role in the Thai capitals development for centuries.
Starting out as irrigation canals, Bangkok’s klongs soon became major routes for trade and commutes. Nowadays the canals are slowly disappearing as the city erupts in urban development – but a canal cruise promises a first-hand glimpse at Bangkok’s maritime past and some of its best traditional architecture along the banks.
Journeys in Bangkok’s canals are great for first-time city visitors, since most drift past iconic sights like the Temple of Dawn along with lesser-visited gems like the Artist Village. Our favourite takes in the top spots from the boat’s deck for a highlights journey with an off-the-beaten-track twist.
Borneo’s long been a hotspot for adventurous travellers keen on discovering what no one else has. With one of the oldest rainforests in the entire world – not to mention towering waterfalls, incredible wildlife and enough heart-racing adventure to last a lifetime – Borneo generally doesn’t make it onto the radar of holiday-makers who’d prefer to skip the trekking boots.
These incredible rainforests aren’t off limits for more low-key journeys, though – and the answer is the river cruise. A cruise down the winding Kahayan River is the perfect way to explore Borneo without breaking a sweat.
Along the way, keep an eye out for orangutans near Rugan River and collections of rustic villages that make for great day trips off of the boat. The intriguing rituals of the resident Ngaju tribe are on full display during the trip, so this is as much a cultural cruise as it is a scenic one.
Hardly anyone heading to Vietnam will manage to arrive without knowing about Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-see in northern Vietnam, and best explored by boat. Making the most out of a visit here, though, comes down to just what kind of cruise you book – since even in this tourist hotspot, it’s possible to feel like the only person for kilometres in any direction.
The key is the private boat – or, more specifically, a private wooden junk boat. These traditional cruisers have a certain rustic charm about them, and having one all to yourself means plenty of time to take in the sights and silence of the Bay. A private junk means more opportunities to customise your visit, including optional visits to coves, kayaking journeys and caves.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, add a seaplane journey from Hanoi that lands directly in the Bay’s water and includes a scenic journey from above the Bay!
Southern Vietnam to Cambodia
Few cruises can connect so many world wonders and cultural surprises as a trip down the mighty Mekong River. Departing from the Mekong Delta, the real charm of a cruise in this region is the opportunity to see the languid lifestyles of the river firsthand. Southern Vietnam’s delta region is famous for its countless tributaries that are home to fish farms, orchards and stilted houses unique to the region.
Better yet, the trip following the meander of the river all the way to Siem Reap in Cambodia – home to Tonle Sap Lake and incredible Angkor Wat. Generally this journey is done by flight connecting Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, which misses out on all of the cultural wonder in the space between the two. This journey means a comfortable front-row seat to the region’s unique beauty.
Not all river cruises are created equal, and the Komodo Trails cruise is a great example. A special blend of trekking adventures on land and relaxation on deck, the Komodo Trails cruise is a great example of how river cruises are for natural adventurers, too.
After a cruise from Rinca Island to Komodo Island, this journey takes you by foot to the natural habitat of the Komodo Dragon – one of the biggest reasons this spectacular island is so famous. Along the way, pay a visit to Labuan Bajo fishing town as well for a dose of cultural discovery, too!
Time travel might not be possible, but we can come pretty close with a few of Vietnam’s most spectacular post-colonial destinations. Many of these fascinating places are deep within the Mekong Delta and otherwise forgotten on the standard tourist trail in Vietnam – but the right river cruise can get you up-close and personal with the country’s colonial past.
And in the interests of historical discovery, this journey is aboard a restored sampan – one of Vietnam’s coolest traditional boats. Expect some fascinating sights along the three-day journey of Cai Be’s floating market and what many call Vietnam’s very own “little Venice”.
Ready to set sail? Start building your perfect cruise itinerary in Asia with the help of our travel experts!