Journeys on seas where limestone outcrops pierce the water, across great lakes home to floating communities, or along peaceful rivers taking in some of the region’s most recognisable towns and cities.
Cruising in Southeast Asia offers the chance to see little-visited pockets, often inaccessible by land, as you meander along the region’s waterways at a relaxed pace. There is a variety of experiences on offer, from cruising the remote waters in deepest Burma to taking in the scenery of Halong Bay in Vietnam aboard a junk. Many of the boats resemble opulent hotels, while others are simpler, but all provide unrivalled access to sites and communities well off the beaten track.
Cruising in Thailand
The Bridge over the River Kwai
By Audley Thailand specialist Mark
Cruises in Thailand slot easily into a more extensive tour of the country. You can cruise along the River Kwai to discover the harrowing reminders of World War II, sail around the idyllic islands of the Andaman coast as an alternative to a traditional beach stay, or spend a few days on the calm waters of the Chao Phraya River north of Bangkok.
The boat journey in Thailand I enjoyed the most took me from Bangkok to Ayuthaya aboard the Mekhala, a converted rice barge. This isn’t the most luxurious vessel that travels on the Chao Phraya River, connecting Thailand’s modern and erstwhile capitals, but spending the evening moored alongside the Wat Kai Tia Temple, which is vividly decorated in glass, as the sun set was a particular highlight. Couple this with the opportunity to see a traditional way of life along the river, away from Bangkok’s bustling streets, and it makes for a rewarding - and relaxing - addition to your travels in Thailand.
Cruising in Indochina
The Mekong River running through Laos
By Audley Indochina specialist Mark
The Mekong River carves its way through five of Southeast Asia’s most prominent nations: Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The river is the lifeblood for many who have built their lives on the rich soil of its banks, and it acts as a major trading route, food source and means of transport.
One of the more popular cruising options along the Mekong carries you between Saigon in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Along the way you’ll visit sites such as the temples of Angkor and, at certain times of year when the water levels are high enough, Tonle Sap, the region’s largest freshwater lake.
However, the cruise in Indochina that really stood out for me takes you from the Thai border to Luang Prabang in northern Laos. Cruising through a remote region over two days, your boat stops to visit small riverside villages and hill tribes that you’d never reach by land.
Away from the Mekong, cruising in a traditional junk is the best way to explore the aquamarine waters and monolithic limestone karsts of UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay.
Cruising in Indonesia
Komodo Archipelago in Indonesia
By Audley Indonesia specialist Rael
In a country of some 17,000 islands, sea cruising is a wonderful option for getting about, particularly if you want a more far-flung experience. On the islands of Komodo and Rinca, Komodo dragon sightings are almost guaranteed. There are also cruise options around the remote Raja Ampat islands.
A river cruise into the Tanjung Puting National Park in the southwest of Kalimantan Island holds an altogether different allure. Orangutan nest in trees above the riverbanks, and you can spend a few days aboard a traditional klotok – a converted wooden vessel – in search of these gentle creatures. You will visit Camp Leakey, a long-established station for orangutan research and rehabilitation, where you can witness large groups of primates (I saw gatherings of between 15 and 20) at numerous feeding stations.
Cruising in Burma (Myanmar)
The temples of Bagan
By Audley Burma specialist Will
Many of Burma’s historic towns and cities are conveniently connected by the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers, which run through the very heart of the country.
As part of a boat trip, you can include a couple of days aboard a traditional Burmese river cruiser, sailing between Yangon, Mandalay and the temples of Bagan, along the way visiting local farming villages and exploring the great teak monasteries in the ancient cities around Mandalay.
Around the coast, the uninhabited islands of the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago are deserted save for the nomadic Moken sea gypsies who travel in hand-built boats, free diving in the seas in search of food. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it makes for a relaxing end to a tour of the country.