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Small cabins and limited entertainment, all aboard a large cruise liner. Don't be dissuaded by common assumptions about the realities of cruising.
Our specialists for the region debunk some popular cruising myths to show you how the journeys they’ve experienced, which also feature in our Asia Cruises brochure, can be an extraordinary way to explore your chosen destination from a different perspective.
Charaidew on the Brahmaputra
Tea picker, Assam
Specialist Graham says...
You can avoid ‘lost’ days out on the open ocean by choosing a river cruise, disembarking to explore every day. A river I’d pick out is the Brahmaputra, which runs the length of the northeast Indian state of Assam.
Cruises on the Charaidew last from three to ten nights, passing little-visited tribal villages, weather-beaten Hindu temples and Kaziranga National Park, a refuge for the one horned rhino.
Originally a passenger ferry, the steel hulled boat, now has 12 cabins but maintains its heritage with a brass trimmed engine room and polished ship’s wheel. The ship’s tender travels ashore daily for tours led by specialised local guides.
Domestic flights give you the convenience to explore further after you’ve returned to dry land. I’d consider heading to India’s Golden Triangle to visit the Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s majestic Amber Fort. I added in a trip to Calcutta and discovered its university book bazaars, street-side masala tea and pungent flower market.
Cassata, Aqua Mekong
The Aqua Mekong on the Mekong River
Specialist Laura says...
Lukewarm buffets have long gone. I’ve noticed dining becoming more refined as chefs make the most of fresh produce and create menus influenced by local techniques.
For me, the Aqua Mekong’s menu stands out - it was designed by Michelin starred chef David Thompson. The boat cruises the River Mekong between Siem Reap and Saigon, and its dishes are adapted en route to incorporate the day’s catch.
Using culinary traditions from fishing communities living alongside the Mekong, dinners reflect the produce grown by local Khmer and Vietnamese farmers and found in wetland markets and the types of meals cooked by families in the bamboo stilt villages you’ll visit along the way.
I tried a Cambodian green curry served alongside grilled river prawns. Aside from tasting delicious, it was presented in the traditional betel leaves I’d watched local women clean that morning.
Vang Vieng Nam Song River, Laos
RV Laos Pandaw on the Mekong River
Specialist Eleanor says...
Most cruise routes are well established, but it’s still possible to find journeys that instil a sense of exploration. Pandaw specialise in routes through remote areas and hard to navigate rivers. I was thrilled to learn about Pandaw’s new cruise boat, the Laos Pandaw. Departing from China, and then passing through Burma and Thailand, its route finishes 14 days later in Laos.
This pioneering cruise boat is the first to take passengers to the little visited upper Mekong River, passing mountain foothills, tangled jungles and limestone cliffs. The activities will be tailored reactively to the surroundings, with the aim being simply to see as much as possible.
Road to Mandalay, Bagan
Top deck on the Road to Mandalay
Specialist Charlotte says...
I’ve always found that time on board is an opportunity to relax, soak up the views and enjoy a sundowner with your fellow passengers. Entertainment on board used to be a lacklustre addition, but it’s becoming a primary reason for choosing a cruise. Many cruise companies are offering historical lectures, cooking experiences or local language lessons.
My first choice for the quality of the entertainment it offers would be Belmond cruises, which have particularly interesting programmes. As an example, this year, Sue Flood, an award-winning wildlife and travel photographer, will be running photography classes, while General Sir Mike Jackson will share lessons learnt from a lifetime in the military in a series of talks. Cruises also carry an expert yoga instructor who offers morning wake-up sessions or more relaxing evening tai chi.
Taking goods to market on the Mekong
Bassac Boat cruising the Mekong Delta
Specialist William says...
From converted junks in Halong Bay to timber barges that cruise along the Mekong, I’ve always been impressed by the styles of boats available, and how they reflect the character and history of their surroundings.
If I had to single out one boat for its personality, my recommendation would be a converted rice barge, the RV Bassac. An authentic way to explore the Mekong Delta, it’s beautifully crafted and the boat retains its original hand-carved charm, yet the cabins are comfortably sized and finished with local textiles.
If sailing itself is of interest, the captain will let you commandeer the wooden ship’s wheel. As you explore the local villages and floating markets, your guide will tell you the history of the rice barges that used to frequent the route.
The Tiger Blue
The Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia
Specialist Mat says...
There are still some areas of the world it’s just not possible to fly to, such as the Indonesian archipelago of the Raja Ampat Islands. With a heritage of spice trading – the islands held the monopoly on the supply of nutmeg to the world – these 1,500 or so limestone outcrops are far flung and exotic.
With little infrastructure and most islands completely uninhabited, a cruise is the natural way to explore. The Tiger Blue is my first choice of vessel, a traditionally built phinisi schooner (a two-masted sailing ship) with only five cabins and hand sewn sails.
Cruises around the islands leave from the town of Sorong on West Papua and last between three and seven nights. Routes meander through the jungle-covered islands, stopping at hidden lagoons and cave systems.
By kayak, you can explore deep into the mangroves and dive down to some of the most inhabited coral reefs in the world. I snorkeled with inquisitive green turtles, as they glided calmly over the bright coral.
Komodo National Park, Flores
Thankfully, it’s easy to avoid windowless, stuffy cabins. I’ve been lucky enough to stay on the Halong Violet, built in the style of a traditional junk, in its sumptuous Jacuzzi suite. The 43 sq m (500 sq feet) room is decorated in glamorous gold fabric and polished wood that evokes 1930s Vietnam. From the Italian marble Jacuzzi you can watch the limestone pillars of Halong Bay float past.
The Pandaw cruise boats, with routes across Asia, are also noteworthy for their cabins clad in colonial teak with luxurious finishing touches. Cabins start at a roomy 16 sq m (170 sq feet).
For serious indulgence, consider the one cabin Alexa which sails around Indonesia’s Komodo and Raja Ampat islands. A private sailing vessel with panoramic windows, a large bed and an outdoor sleeping area for a night spent under the stars, it’s one of the most luxurious options you could choose.