Travel Guide to River Cruises in Asia

Avalon Waterways’ new, 36-guest Avalon Myanmar offers a 14-day “Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary between Bhamo and Bagan.
Avalon Waterways’ new, 36-guest Avalon Myanmar offers a 14-day “Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary between Bhamo and Bagan.

Not all cruises in Asia are ocean-focused. More intimate river cruises ply waterways within China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, Myanmar and India. Here are some enticing interior river ports that clients can explore during exotic voyages along Asia’s rivers, and a sampling of cruises that call at these ports.

Sentarum, Borneo: This winter, Pandaw will sail along the Kapuas River, the largest in Borneo and flowing hundreds of miles through Western Kalimantan, located on the island’s Indonesian side. Its seven-night “Into the True Heart of Borneo” itinerary — between Tayan and Lanjak — sails on the Katha Pandaw.

Sentarum National Park is an ecotourism-jewel brimming with rainforest and mountainous terrain. At Sentarum Lakes, cruisers can look for proboscis monkeys, orangutans and crocodiles, and may also spot numerous species of birds. It’s also possible to visit animal shrines on the island of Pulau Melayu, view honey farms and visit fishing villages with smokeries.

DAILY NEWS & DEALS NEWSLETTER

Like this story? Subscribe to Daily News & Deals!

Featuring breaking news on the latest product launches, deals, sales promotions, and executive appointments. Be sure to sign-up for this free industry daily newsletter.
The all-suite 56-guest AmaPura has staterooms offering 285 to 420 square feet of space.
The all-suite 56-guest AmaPura has staterooms offering 285 to 420 square feet of space.

Matiari, India: Finely wrought brassware is the star at Matiari (or Motihari), a West Bengal river port town along India’s Hooghly River, a Ganges tributary. The trade of making utensils from brass dates back more than a century. It all began when Matiari villagers working in Calcutta’s brass factories returned to set up their own businesses — now Matiari’s main economic engine.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 13-day “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” itinerary sails to Matiari during its multiple departures this year and in 2017. Ganges Voyager II operates this itinerary from New Delhi to Kolkata, and at Matiari, the river line offers a walking tour of the artisans’ village. Guests get a close-up view of the brass crafters in action. Onboard, guests can watch a mehndi demonstration in which henna designs are painted on ladies’ hand palms as good luck symbols.

The ship’s suites have high ceilings, hand-painted murals and a cozy sitting area with a French balcony and floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Top accommodations are a 400-square-foot Maharaja Suite and two 360-square-foot Viceroy Suites. Pandaw also sails Hooghly and Ganges voyages.

Shibaozhai, China: Travelers eager to see Shanghai, Beijing and Xian can now do that and also take a three- or four-night Yangtze River cruise. At Shibaozhai, visitors can view the multi-level, cliff-side pagoda that was — amazingly — built without nails. The strangely shaped pagoda is 700 feet high and hugs a hill along the Yangtze.

CroisiEurope operates multiple Mekong cruises that call at Chau Doc in Vietnam.
CroisiEurope operates multiple Mekong cruises that call at Chau Doc in Vietnam.

Prior to the building of the Three Gorges Dam, cruisers had to walk a longer distance from the dock to the pagoda. To protect the pagoda from the resultant waters created by building of the dam, the government built a wall around it, so now it’s actually easier for cruisers to reach the pagoda, a highlight of any Yangtze River cruise. Victoria Cruises and Asian Vistas have partnered on a new 12-day “Yangtze River Voyage by Private Car” trip, which includes a four-day cruise of Shibaozhai and stays in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai.

During 2017, many other lines sail in China, among them Viking River Cruises with Viking Emerald and both Presidential Cruises and Century Cruises with multiple vessels. Avalon Waterways charters Century Legend for its “Magical China and the Yangtze River” itinerary that includes hotel stays in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. It calls at Shibaozhai during a three-night Century Legend voyage through the Three Gorges of the Yangtze.

Uniworld also uses Century Legend for its “China, Tibet and the Yangtze” itinerary. The relatively new vessel was designed by European architects and shipbuilders and boasts a multi-level atrium lobby, two restaurants, two bars, an indoor lap pool with relaxation area and pool bar, a spa, fitness center, reading room, cinema and more.

Pyay & Katha, Myanmar: On multiple dates from January through April 2017, AmaWaterways’ “Hidden Wonders of Myanmar” itinerary offers a one-night hotel stay in Yangon, flight to Mandalay and 14-night cruise on the Irrawaddy River, which concludes in Yangon. Among the port calls is Pyay (Prome), a former capital. What’s the draw today? It boasts of more than 80 magnificent, gilded pagodas including Shwesandaw and Payagyi, plus there’s a chance to tour the Sri Ksetra archaeology museum.

In Tan Chau, Vietnam, cruisers can board a wooden sampan to see a floating fish farm.
In Tan Chau, Vietnam, cruisers can board a wooden sampan to see a floating fish farm.

Onboard, the all-suite 56-guest AmaPura has staterooms ranging from 285 square feet to 420 square feet in space; each has a private French balcony, outside balcony or twin balconies. The largest of those accommodations, the Category SB suites, are located on the Upper Deck and feature both French and regular balconies.

Also on the Irrawaddy, another port of interest is Katha, where cruisers can leave the boat and head out to a local elephant camp. Avalon Waterways’ guests can have this pachydermal experience on several itineraries of the new 36-guest Suite Ship, Avalon Myanmar. For example, 14-day “Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary sails between Bhamo and Bagan with hotel stays in Yangon. Guests can admire the scenery from an air-conditioned Panorama Lounge and an open-air observation lounge with shade system and premium lounge chairs.

Luang Prabang, Laos: Along the Laotian part of the Mekong, Luang Prabang is a cultural jewel that’s encircled by mountains. It was once an ancient royal capital and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruisers can simply walk along to snap photos of more than a dozen Buddhist temples situated one right after the other. In total, throughout the town, Luang Prabang boasts some 33 temples, so you’re likely to see monks in orange robes walking along.

Viking Mekong takes cruisers on a 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” journey that includes 14 guided tours.
Viking Mekong takes cruisers on a 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” journey that includes 14 guided tours.

Views of Luang Prabang and the Mekong are superb from Mount Phousi, particularly at sunset. To learn about Lao culture and heritage, pop into the Royal Palace Museum, also known as Haw Kham. Pandaw is building a new ship, Yunnan Pandaw, which will begin sailing next month on the Upper Mekong between Vientiane, Laos and Jinghong, China.

This is the same 14-night itinerary as the line’s Laos Pandaw currently sails, but that vessel is sold out between September and November. So, the line is adding more capacity on this route. Yunnan Pandaw will have 12 main deck and two upper deck staterooms, as well as an observation deck and dining room.

Tan Chau and Chau Doc, Vietnam: Viking’s 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” itinerary includes 14 guided tours, a cruise on Viking Mekong and visits to top sites in Vietnam and Cambodia, including a visit to Tan Chau. The highlight of this laid-back destination is that cruisers can take a traditional rickshaw ride, see floor mats and slippers being created from sedge and uzu, respectively, and board a wooden sampan to see a floating fish farm.

All Viking Mekong staterooms are outside with a river view, while Upper & Middle deck staterooms have floor-to-ceiling, sliding French doors. All accommodations have hotel-style beds with optional twin-bed configuration, a private bathroom with shower, a safe, hair dryer and air conditioning. Bottled water is replenished daily.

New on Mekong this year, Scenic Cruises offers multiple itineraries, including the 13-day “Treasures of the Mekong” voyage, also being offered in 2017. At Tan Chau, guests on the new Scenic Spirit visit Evergreen Island and the local Cao Dai Temple with a ride in a “cyclo.” Alternatively, Scenic’s guests can head by speedboat to Chau Doc to visit a fish farm, walk through a local Cham village and take a cyclo ride around Chau Doc, or, for a third choice, visit the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary, Cham Mountain and a Khmer village.

An elegant spa is among the amenities on Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II, which offers a 13-day “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” itinerary.
An elegant spa is among the amenities on Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II, which offers a 13-day “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” itinerary.

During this cruise, Scenic also puts on an exclusive themed gala ball with musicians and dancing. Scenic Spirit’s 34 private balcony suites are spacious, with the largest up to 861 square feet. As with many lines, Scenic is offering value adds, including a “Fly Free” promotion — inclusive of air taxes; it’s available on select late January and December 2017 departures for those in A, B, BA, BB, C, CA, RD or RS category staterooms.

Another remote port is Chau Doc, a city on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, which has developed around fish and fish farming; floating farms are everywhere. The lively town has several Colonial-era buildings, a bustling market and the temples of Ba Chua Xu and Tay An. CroisiEurope offers multiple Mekong cruises that call at Chau Doc. One of the line’s many options is the “Mekong from Hanoi to the Temples of Angkor” program, featuring the cruise plus a four-day, post-cruise program in Hanoi and Halong Bay.

What else is new on the Mekong? Uniworld will launch the 68-guest Mekong Navigator in 2017. The ship’s design will reflect French Colonial style. Guests will dine at Le Marche Restaurant, work out in La View Spa and Fitness Center or just relax with a cool drink in the Le Salon Lounge. The ship also has a spa, fitness center and observation lounge.

Suggested Articles:

If you're looking to score a good travel deal on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, here are some tips.

Destination Trinidad is looking to increase the available authentic experience for cruisers, while also developing skill across the tourism sector.

According to an update from the State Department, Hong Kong is now at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution “due to civil unrest.”