Asia’s rivers open up a vast swathe of cities to visit. A cruise on the continents waterways might take you temple hopping through Cambodia and Vietnam or a voyage on the Yangtze could be combined with panda watching in China.
Here are the best cruises in Asia for 2019.
Towns and temples
Experience life in the slow lane during an ox-cart ride in Cambodia while cruising on Emerald Waterways’ new river ship Emerald Harmony. The vessel, the line’s first in Asia, sails seven-night cruises between Prek’kdam in Cambodia and My Tho in Vietnam. The itinerary includes visits to temples and a bird sanctuary as Harmony calls into villages and towns along the river. In Phnom Penh, passengers will learn about the dark days of the Khmer Rouge on a trip to a former torture prison and Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. Emerald pairs the cruise with hotel stays in Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City where tours visit Angkor Wat and the Cu Chi underground tunnels where the Viet Cong lived during the Vietnam War.
A 15-day Majestic Mekong cruise-and-stay holiday costs from £4,395 per person departing Dec 18 2019 (0808 159 4193; emeraldwaterways.co.uk).
Memories are made of this
Give your senses a treat in the bustling market in Sadec, in Vietnam, where motorbikes drive up and down narrow aisles as shoppers barter with stallholders selling everything from live fish and chickens to chillies and flowers. It is one of a host of memorable experiences that await on Lotus Cruises’ one-week voyages on Mekong Navigator, a colonial-style river ship decked out with teak floors and furniture. Sailings are between My Tho in Vietnam and Kampong Cham in Cambodia; itineraries visit fish farms, floating markets, schools and a monastery to be blessed by monks. In Phnom Penh, a cyclo taxi (a cycle with a seat on the front) is an exciting way to see the sights.
From $1,619 (£1,268) per person for seven nights departing Sept 21 (0084 8541 011 63; lotuscruises.com).
That Luang Festival
Add a couple of nights in Vientiane to the start of Pandaw’s cruise on the Upper Mekong in Laos to celebrate That Luang, the biggest religious festival in Laos (from November 4-11 in 2019). Centred on the golden That Luang stupa in the centre of the city, it attracts thousands of monks and Lao people and involves colourful processions, chanting, fireworks and music. From Vientiane, Pandaw sails north to Chiang Saen in Thailand, stopping en route for village walks, a swim at the Khaung Si waterfall and to visit the Pak Ou Caves, which house more than 10,000 Buddha statues. Two nights in Luang Prabang allows time to visit morning and night markets, temples and the National Museum.
A 10-night Laos Mekong cruise costs from £3,355 per person cruise-only departing Nov 12 2019 (020 8396 7320; pandaw.com).
Ganges and Brahmaputra
Cruising the Ganges
Pair a tour of India’s Golden Triangle with Avalon Waterways’ cruises on the Ganges, for a holiday that combines the Taj Mahal in Agra with trips to villages and towns that few outside India have heard of. The six-night cruise sails round-trip from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on the Ganges Voyager, with visits to temples, workshops and palaces on calls into Kalna, Matiari and Murshidabad. There’s a visit to the Iskcon temple in Mayapur, headquarters of the Hari Krishna movement and, in Kolkata, tours to the flower market and the former home of Mother Teresa. Kuoni sells the cruise alongside a six-night Golden Triangle tour that also takes in Delhi and the Amber Fort in Jaipur.
From £6,162 per person for 14 days departing Sept 7 2019 (0800 144 8181; kuoni.co.uk).
Safari in Assam
Go in search of one-horned rhinos and elusive Bengal tigers in open Jeeps in Kaziranga National Park on a one-week cruise from Guwahati to Jorhat on the Brahmaputra river.
The excursion is one of several that seeks to uncover the wildlife and culture of Assam on Great Rail Journeys’ cruise on the river ship Mahabaahu. Visit tea plantations, ancient temples and villages where homes are built on stilts to escape the monsoon floods. It’s only fitting that a pre-cruise night in Kolkata includes a ride on the Circular Railway and visit to the Railway Museum.
A 13-day Assam and the Mighty Brahmaputra cruise costs from £3,295 per person departing Sept 26 2019 (01904 521936; greatrail.com).
The Three Gorges
Building the Three Gorges Dam over China’s Yangtze involved the displacement of millions of people. Hear the other side of the story – how it saves lives and is cleaner than the coal mines that once lined the river – during a cruise between Wuhan and Chongqing. The six-night cruise on the Viking Emerald sails beneath the gorges’ mist-shrouded peaks, visiting the 12-storey Shibaozhai Pagoda and a local school. There’s also a sampan boat ride to see hanging coffins. Viking bundles the cruise with Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, home of the terracotta warriors.
The 14-day Imperial Jewels of China cruise-tour costs from £3,295 per person including flights departing Nov 2 2019 (0800 319 6660; vikingcruises.com).
China for solo travellers
Travel alone minus the supplement on a Captivating China holiday with Wendy Wu Holidays. This all-encompassing trip pairs Beijing, Xian and Shanghai with a bullet train ride to Chengdu to see pandas and a three-night cruise through the Three Gorges on the Yangtze. See a 100ft image of the Jade Emperor and the Three Gorges Dam, while a small boat cruise explores the Goddess Stream – so-called as the dam turned it from a trickle to a river.
A two-week cruise costs from £3,590 per person departing Oct 12 2019 (0808 274 8594; wendywutours.co.uk).