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Asian River Cruises: A Quick Guide to the Rivers and Cruise Lines

Sunset on Asian River Cruises

A river cruise will take you right into the heart of Asia where you will get to know vibrant cultures, discover ancient history and take in some of the most fascinating scenery on earth.

Pull up a deck chair and relax as you sail by rural villages, working farms, colourful floating markets, sacred monuments, ancient temples and breathtaking sights. The water is calm, the food is bursting with flavour and the staff aim to please.

Here is our round-up of the rivers and cruise operators you need to know about if you’re considering a cruise in this region. We have also included our picks for the best Asian river cruises in 2017/18.

Mekong River Cruises

The mighty Mekong River is the longest in Southeast Asia. It flows peacefully through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos where floating communities go about their daily business, children play on the river bank and water buffalo graze in the sun.

You can journey through multiple countries in this region by combining air, cruise and land travel. Many cruise operators offer multi-country options – see below.

Cruise Vietnam

Vietnam is a land of contrast and colour. Cruise itineraries typically begin or end in the cities of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, journeying off into Cambodia between.

Hanoi is the capital where old meets new and the streets are exploding with colour and noise. From here you can visit World Heritage listed Halong Bay, a breathtaking site and one of the Vietnam’s most popular attractions. Your itinerary is likely to include a side-cruise on Halong Bay with a reputable local company.

Most operators will include a stop at the enchanting city of Hoi An (picutred below). Take a stroll or ride a bike through the quaint old-town where you can get fitted for handmade clothing and shoes, feast on local delicacies and enjoy a front-row seat at the lantern festival.

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) houses the fascinating War Remnants Museum and the Reunification palace plus a dazzling array of dining options and nightlife. It is also within proximity to Long Tan and the Cu Chi Tunnels, a 250km network of tunnels connecting living quarters and facilities used during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Cruise

Cruise Cambodia

Cambodia is steeped in history and culture. Cruising this region is truly magical and inspiring.

The capital of Phnom Penh has aptly been described as ‘an assault on the senses’ and although it may sound ominous, it makes for an interesting visit. There is no shortage of things to do and see; walk the busy riverfront lined with restaurants and bars, wander the Royal Palace or take in the local sights, sounds and scents at the Russian Market.

Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor that has become a popular (but laid-back) resort town dotted with cool eateries, bars, spas and other creature comforts. You can expect to arrive here by plane.

The magnificent temples of Angkor are the heart and soul of Cambodia, and will most certainly take your breath away more than once.  The Angkor complex forms the largest religious monument in the world.

Cruise Laos

Lao is a beautiful country that is often overlooked and underestimated by travellers.

Cruise travel into this region will generally include a stop in the sleepy town of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, where palms sway gently in the breeze and life slows right down.

Enjoy sweeping views up the river, French inspired architecture, Buddhist temples, the local twilight market and a magical atmosphere. A highlight for many is traditional Alms Giving Ceremony where some 200 Buddhist monks join to gather their daily meal from locals and visitors.

Scenic and Avalon cruises offer itineraries that include Lao.

Laos Cruise

Cruise Lines of The Mekong

APT, Avalon, Cruiseco, Scenic, TravelMarvel, Uniworld & Viking Cruises.

Our pick for Mekong River Cruising: 11 night luxury ‘Authentic Asia – Vietnam & Cambodia’ cruise aboard the Cruiseco Adventurer.

Irrawaddy River Cruises

The Irrawaddy River (or Ayeyarwady) flows from the Himalayas in the north and right down in the south of Myanmar.

Myanmar remains pleasantly untainted by the effects of the modernisation, due in part to a 10 year tourism boycot in recent history. The country is now open to tourism and curious travellers from across the globe.

In Yangon you will find the astounding gold leaf covered Shwedagon Pagoda, along with British colonial architecture, busy street stalls and tranquil lakes.

Bagan is home to the similarly named ancient Shwezigon Pagoda and gold-tipped temples. It is here that you can fly high in a hot air balloon for a spectacular bird’s–eye view of over 2,000 ancient monuments.

Some cruise itineraries will include a stop at the nearby ‘Glass Monastery’, a rarely visited template that overlooks the skyline of Myanmar. You might also visit the floating markets of Inle Lake, or the town of Minhla and the site of a significant battle during the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

The Buddhist centre of Mandalay is another stop on most cruise itineraries. It’s an interesting city that was colonized by the British and raided during the Second World War. Traditional arts and crafts are often purchased here.

Cruise Lines of the Irrawaddy

APT, Avalon, Cruiseco, Scenic, The Strand and Travelmarvel.

Our pick for Irrawaddy River Cruising: 6 night Bagan to Mandalay luxury cruise and tour with The Strand, featured in above video.

Yangtze River Cruises

The Yangtze river is the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country.

A Yangtze cruise is the ultimate way to view the contrast between old and new in China. Most cruises will journey downstream from Chongqing to Yichang, or in reverse. In either case this is a route that incorporates historical sights, ancient culture and awe-inspiring scenery.

The Three Gorges is nothing short of spectacular – here you will sail crystal-clear waters protected by commanding cliffs and lush vegetation. If you’re lucky you will see the suspended walkways and hanging coffins of Shennong Stream, tucked away in a tributary of the Yangtze.

You will be impressed by the feat of engineering that is the Three Gorges Dam, and most likely stop at the magnificent 12-storey wooden pagoda or ‘The Pearl of the Yangtze’, Shibaozhai.

Land and cruise itineraries will often include a trip to the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, and also to Xian where the famous Terracotta Warriors reside.

Cruise China

Cruise Lines of The Yangtze

APT, Avalon, Travelmarvel, Scenic and Victoria Cruises.

Our pick for Yangtze River Cruising: 15 night APT ‘Treasure of China’ tour from Beijing to Shanghai, including 4 night Yangtze River cruise.

Ganges River Cruises

The Ganges River is the spiritual home and lifeblood of India. Cruising the Lower Ganges you will pass by remote and idyllic villages where you will get a sense of just how rich in culture this region is.

Naturally there will be music, dancing and sumptuous Indian cuisine. Most operators will take you to Mother Teresa’s humble home and tomb, the terracotta temples of Bengal, Hazaduari Palace and the bustling city of Kolkata.

Indian Cruise

Cruise Lines of The Lower Ganges

APT, Travelmarvel  and Uniworld.

Our pick for Ganges River Cruising: 23 night Treasures of India Cruise & Train Tour from Kolkata to New Delhi including a 7 night cruise on the Lower Ganges and a 7 night rail journey.

No matter where you choose to cruise in Asia you can be certain that magic and mystery will combine to leave you with lasting travel memories.

TIP: Your Asian river cruise may require a visa, so be sure to ask your travel agent when booking.

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