Kerala houseboat, India

River Cruising in Asia

Travelling to Asia is an eclectic mash-up of colours, cultures, and cuisines. Teeming crowds, gaps in infrastructure, and other petty annoyances don’t have to deter you from Asian travel. River cruises are quickly becoming the most popular vacation choice in Asia. Gliding along a meandering river, you’ll have intimate views of bustling cities, remote villages, and a panoply of fascinating cultures with none of the hassles of over-the-road travel. For many travellers, an Asian river cruise vacation is the only way to go.

Types of River Cruising Options

Unlike the massive cruise ships plying the oceans, river cruise ships come in an array of sizes and styles, from Kettuvallams (Kerala house boats), to luxury liners, with varying levels of services and amenities. Spas, libraries, lectures, cooking classes, and butler services are often aboard the vessels.

River cruise ships are smaller, more intimate, and have a high level of personal service. The crew-to-passenger ratio is typically much lower on a river cruise ship. In addition, many Asia river cruises are completely all-inclusive, a welcome change from oceangoing cruises.

Pandaw cruises cuisine, Asia
Pandaw cruises cuisine

While river cruise ships are smaller, these vessels are not short on service and amenities. The Pandaw River Expedition boats include on-board massages, on-board cultural performances, activities such as fruit-carving demonstrations, and evening cocktail parties. The dining rooms serve regional cuisine, usually locally-sourced produce and European specialties.

For an even more local and traditional authentic style of cruising, try a traditional thatched roof grain boat-styled ships to explore the backwaters of Kerala, or an authentic Bai Tho junk to sail Halong Bay.

Pick a River to Cruise and What You’ll See

The next step to choosing your cruise vacation is deciding which river to explore. The following are some of the most popular choices:

Myanmar – The Irrawaddy River:
You’ll visit cultural sites such as the 2,000 temples and pagodas at Bagan and the shrines at Mount Popa. Explore the bustling river banks of Mandalay City, and tour Mingun – the site of the ruins of the massive pagoda of King Bodawpaya.

Suggested Itinerary: 7-Day Essence of Myanmar: Yangon, Mandalay & Bagan

Road to Mandalay cruise on the Irrawaddy River
Road to Mandalay cruise on the Irrawaddy River

Vietnam – Halong Bay:
The emerald waters and striking limestone cliffs of Halong Bay make for a blissful cruise experience. Enjoy swimming and sunbathing, hiking, photographing panoramic views of the bay, and visiting quaint fishing villages.

Halong Bay
Halong Bay

China – The Yangtze River:
Visit Fengdu, the City of Ghosts, and tour Shibaozhai, the “Stone Treasure Fortress.” On the Yangtze River, continue on to the Three Gorges, one of China’s most spectacular sites, and marvel at Three Gorges Dam, the largest in the world.

Suggested Itinerary: 
4-Day Yangtze River Cruise: Chongqing to Yichang

Yantze River cruise scenery
Yantze River cruise scenery

Laos – The Mekong River:
While the mighty Mekong meanders through six Asian countries, you can choose to immerse yourself in the mystery of Laos and explore the Kuang Si Falls and Luang Prabang and the Pak Ou Caves, wander the Golden Triangle area at Chiang Saen, and visit the Golden Buddha of Sop Ruak.

Suggested Itinerary:
8-Day Laos Revealed

Mekong Sun river cruise, Laos
Mekong Sun river cruise

Vietnam and Cambodia – The Mekong River:
A river cruise is an excellent way to explore the remote villages of Vietnam and Cambodia, where villagers help pull the ships up the rapids. These itineraries include visits to Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap, as well as many visits to local markets, fishing villages, and rural monasteries and temples.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Mekong Delta

India – Brahmaputra River:
Start your cruise in Assam and enjoy glimpses of the snow-capped Himalya Mountains and scenic countryside. Pass Peacock Island and view wildlife like dolphin and birds of prey. Pass the historic town of Tezpur and enjoy an excursion to a tea plantation in Silghat. Experience a land safari, get to know local fascinating ethnic tribes, and learn about the folklore surrounding the river.

Majuli Island in Assam, India
Majuli Island in Assam, India

India – Kerala Backwaters:
Technically, this cruise explores the Alleppey Canals and Vembanad Lake around historic Cochin, and features succulent seafood dishes made from shrimp, mussels, crabs, and karimeen, an exotic fish you won’t experience elsewhere.

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Kerala Backwaters Cruise

Cruising Kerala backwaters, India
Cruising Kerala backwaters

Why You Need To Go

Eschew the daily hassles of packing and unpacking when you travel on a river cruise. Once you’re settled in your stateroom, you’re set to relax and enjoy your vacation. Travellers who don’t want to pack each day to move to their next destination have time to focus on capturing their surroundings, not securing their luggage again and again.

For travellers who value authentic experiences, a river cruise immerses you in a side of the country and its culture you won’t see on most land-based tours. You’ll see exotic locations and meet people who inhabit local villages. If wildlife excites your passions, you’ll also see animals and birds in their natural habitat, not packed in parks and preserves.

Asian river cruise vacations are the ideal choice for relaxing and stimulating travels. As you cruise along some of Asia’s formidable transportation waterways, you’ll experience the allure of a river adventure.

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Adam Hodge
Adam Hodge

VP of Marketing - When he’s not paddling a canoe or drinking copious amounts of coffee, you’ll find Adam talking about some kind of travel plans. He spent a month doing Tai-Chi in China, horse-camped in Mongolia, rode 3rd class trains all over India, tour-guided in Europe, worked in Namibia and surfed in Costa Rica – the travel bug bit this Canadian repeatedly. Food is one highlight of any destination for him, and he’s admitted on a few times to be willing to try just about any food once, and apparently “putrefied shark wasn't that bad”.

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