Asia’s breadth of natural and historical sites is seemingly boundless.
Reaching far across the continent are stunning temples and palaces — many of which are awash in gold leaf or covered in ornate carvings — and ancient ruins and tombs, which serve as further reminders of the region’s complex history.
Passengers on an Asian cruise have the opportunity to see it all thanks to smaller ships, which are able to navigate through scenic waterways — including down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and around the Phi Phi Islands of Thailand, famous for their beautiful limestone formations — and stop at small villages along the way.
Larger cruise ships stopping at major ports tend to stay in port longer, often up to three days, making it possible to visit inland areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Beijing, China.
Here are nine Asian cruise destinations that deserve a top spot on any travel bucket list.
The stunning gilded temples, monasteries and stupas of Bangkok date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and will surely blow you away. Buddhas are practically ubiquitous here; some are gigantic and painted in gold leaf, others are small and made of delicate jade; also everywhere are sprawling markets and silk shops, including those of late silk baron Jim Thompson. Large ships dock in Laem Chabang, a one-to-two-hour drive from the city; smaller ships can get closer to Bangkok.
How to get there: Cruise to Bangkok on Viking Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Oceania Cruises and Crystal Cruises among others.
The modern town of Siem Reap, one of the many stops on a Viking Mekong River cruise, is home to the sprawling Angkor Wat. The ancient Hindu and Buddhist ruins in and around Angkor (the former capital of the ancient Khmer empire between the 9th and 15th centuries) are spectacular for their carvings of Hindu epics and the serene face of god-king Jayavarman VII.
How to get there: Cruise to Siem Reap on Avalon Waterways, Viking Cruises and Windstar among others.
Riverboats and smaller ships occasionally venture north to Myanmar, with multiday excursions focused on the ancient city of Bagan, where you can gaze in wonder at the world’s densest concentration of Bhuddist temples, pagodas and stupas. There are thousands. River boats cruise the scenic Irrwaddy River between Bagan and Mandalay, while cruise ships dock in Yangon (Rangoon) and passengers fly inland to see the sights.
How to get there: Cruise to Bagan and Rangoon on river cruise lines such as AmaWaterways and Viking River Cruises or ocean lines such as Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and Silversea, among others.
The ancient limestone pillars, caves and formations here are hauntingly beautiful and are best explored on a traditional fishing junk (an ancient wooden ship). The stunning scenery has been famously featured in the 1992 French film Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve. Ships big and small dock nearby.
How to get there: Cruise to Halong Bay on AmaWaterways, Viking Cruises and Uniworld, among others.
The capital city of Hanoi’s French-colonial architecture, wide tree-lined boulevards, and 1,000-year-old ruins are enchanting. Well worth the long drive from most ports. Hanoi is set on the banks of the Red River and is dotted with lakes. Pose for photos on traditional wooden footbridges and then wander the Old Quarter, a hive of narrow lanes and small shops selling silks and lacquerware. For big ships it’s about a three-hour drive to the city from the closet ports of Halong Bay and Cai Lan. Smaller ships can navigate the Red River and dock closer in Haiphong.
How to get there: Cruise to Hanoi on AmaWaterways, Viking Cruises and Uniworld, among others.
About 100 miles from the cruise port of Tianjin, shore excursions will take you to historic Beijing, which has been China’s cultural and political heart for millennia, and it’s full of palaces, pagodas, temples, tombs and museums. Visit Tiananmen Square, the famous site of pro-democracy protests in 1989, and the 15th-century Forbidden City, the sprawling palace compound of the Ming and Qing dynasties. From Beijing you can also travel to parts of the ancient Great Wall of China.
How to get there: Cruise to Beijing on Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking Cruises and Crystal Cruises, among others.
The former British trading hub for spices, pepper, tin and opium is known for its colorful wooden Chinese-style shophouses, some restored and some in various states of decay. They also are known for their butterfly-shaped windows and covered sidewalks that keep you dry when it rains. The narrow lanes of Georgetown are easily accessible via cycle rickshaw, foot or taxi. For a bit of exercise and sweeping views of the island, don’t miss a trek up the steep Penang Hill. Penang is a small island, and all of its sites are easily accessible from the dock.
How to get there: Cruise to Penang on Windstar Cruises, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, among others.
The hundreds of 16th- to 18th-century Chinese- and Japanese-influenced buildings in this imperial city are impressive enough to have been collectively deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Hoai River winds through the town, and along it are centuries-old French villas and 19th-century shophouses converted into galleries, antiques stores and romantic bars. Da Nang is the cruise port for Hoi An, and it’s less than an hour drive from the sights.
How to get there: Cruise to Da Hang on Seabourn Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, among others.
The famous skyline of Hong Kong’s metropolis is juxtaposed against steep slopes. Down below, nestled between the modern skyscrapers, are vibrant streets packed with food stalls and shops. See it all — and the surrounding harbor — from atop Victoria Peak, reached via the city’s outdoor escalators. Small- and medium-sized ships can dock in Hong Kong’s harbor with fab views of the city, while larger ships must tie up at an industrial pier, about a 20-minute drive away.
How to get there: Cruise to Hong Kong on Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises and Uniworld among others.