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River cruising in Asia: A world of adventure and authentic experiences

River cruise asia mekong

Exotic far-flung waterways in Asia offer clients a world of adventure and authentic experiences, writes Jeannine Williamson.

For clients with a sense of wanderlust and repeat river cruisers that have sailed on European rivers, there are amazing waterways waiting to be discovered in Asia.

A river cruise is a fantastic and easy way to explore countries such as China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, especially when travelling to areas where English is not widely spoken.

River lines take care of all the arrangements from start to finish and on-board tour leaders accompany the trip to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Food-lovers will delight in the opportunity to sample local cuisine prepared by the ship’s chefs from the freshest local ingredients and sailings often feature a market tour followed by a cooking demonstration.

Destination aside, the main difference between European and Asian trips is that cruises are typically paired with a land-based stay.

Itineraries on China’s Yangtze are book-ended with historic Beijing and vibrant Shanghai and on the Mekong there is the chance to see Cambodia’s Angkor Wat – the world’s largest temple complex – and Ho Chi Minh City, the largest metropolis in Vietnam and the former Saigon.

Yangtze river cruise, Asia
Yangtze sailings offer excursions to see the Terracotta Army

Marvellous attractions along the Yangtze

Yangtze sailings offer excursions to some of China’s greatest marvels with the opportunity to walk along a stretch of the Great Wall and see the Terracotta Army – more than 8,000 plus life-size warriors, all with different faces, that were hidden from the world for more than 2,000 years.

During the cruise section there is a transit of the mighty Three Gorges Dam and a tour of the visitor centre to discover more about the world’s largest hydroelectric project.

Upmarket line Tauck is scheduled to resume its Yangtze river trip programme with four departures in April, May, September and October 2023. The 15-night China, the Yangtze River & Hong Kong itinerary features a three-night cruise aboard the Yangzi Explorer.

For now, due to the unstable political situation in Myanmar, the former Burma, sailings on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin are off limits. However, cruises on the lower Mekong through Vietnam and Cambodia, and on the lesser-known upper Mekong through Laos, offer similar culture-rich itineraries and the chance to get right off the beaten track.

In this part of Asia it’s worth noting that river ships are much smaller than those in China. Mainstream lines typically carry around 120 passengers while the replica traditional vessels operated by niche specialists such as cater for as few as 20.

In January 2022, Viking will debut its new Mekong ship, the 80-passenger Viking Saigon, which will sail on the 14-night Magnificent Mekong itinerary.

Viking UK head of sales Neil Barclay said: “Featuring the clean Scandinavian design for which Viking is known, all staterooms will have hotel-style beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with a veranda or French balcony.

“Guests on the three-deck Viking Saigon will also enjoy a spa and fitness centre, infinity pool and open-air Sky Bar on the upper deck. Purpose-built for the Mekong, the ship is very spacious and the public areas have been designed to maximise the spectacular views.”

Scenic Spirit, Mekong cruise in Asia
Scenic Spirit is due to sail on the Mekong

Luxury awaits on a Mekong cruise

Departing from July 2022, APT’s luxury 12-night Vietnam and Cambodia Highlights cruise will be on the brand new Mekong Serenity, which has some of the largest entry-level suites of any vessel on the Mekong plus an on-board swimming pool and a wealth of dining options.

New to sister brand Travelmarvel’s Asia programme for next year is the RV Apsara. Previously serving as part of the APT fleet, the all-balcony suite RV Apsara heralds a new level of luxury for Travelmarvel guests on the 13-night Essential Vietnam & Cambodia sailing, which also begins in July.

AmaWaterways has a new promotional offer for the latter half of 2022, offering half price land programmes for Mekong cruises.

The 2-for-1 land offer is eligible on the 11-night Charms of the Mekong and 12-night Riches of the Mekong itineraries, as well as the 15-night version of both cruises that include Hanoi and Ha Long Bay and a pre or post-stay in Siem Reap.

On a selection of the cruises passengers receive a 50 per cent discount per person on the land programmes. AmaWaterways can add flights using the line’s brand new fly cruise packages that have been introduced to give agents an easier pricing structure.

Scenic is launching new curated experiences for 2022/23 Asia river cruising programme. Sample itineraries include the 16-night Treasures of the Mekong Meandering Cruise, which consists of a nine-night river cruise on Scenic Spirit and a five-night land journey exploring the flavours, traditions and culture of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Excursions include a city lights tuk tuk tour followed by a visit to a private distillery in Phnom Penh, a sunrise visit to Angkor Wat followed by a Champagne breakfast, and a gala dinner with a performance by local Apsara dancers.

Riviera Travel, meanwhile, brings its familiar style of fully escorted touring to Asia with its 14-night A Journey on the Mekong itinerary, which includes a seven-night cruise and a land stay featuring a tour of Saigon and guided tour of the temples of Angkor.

Finally, value-for-money line CroisiEurope has a fleet of five river ships on the Mekong. It is the only operator that can dock in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and also one of just a handful of lines that cruises on the Tonle Sap, the largest lake in southeast Asia.

Selling tips

  • River cruising in this part of the world is a comfortable and stress-free way to discover remote destinations that are more difficult to access when travelling independently
  • Yangtze ships are bigger than European river vessels and offer more facilities, while those on the Mekong provide a more intimate experience
  • Cruises are suitable for active clients of all ages, while ships showcase delicious regional cuisine sourced fresh, for an added level of authenticity

Main image credit: Scenic

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