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Cruising Asia - The Ports, The Sights, And More

Ben Hall

Few places on earth can offer visitors such a smorgasbord of experiences as Asia. Where else do wildly ornate temples stand next to glass and steel skyscrapers, and bicycle rickshaws share dusty, narrow streets with gleaming new cars? One of the perennial problems with travelling in Asia is the number of diverse countries there are to visit. Another is the often vast distances between them. But this is where a cruise can provide a unique perspective on the region. From the ancient history of China to the grand entrance into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, it’s an experience which provides a fascinating mix of natural and man-made attractions encapsulated in a single voyage. The first task is choosing what you want to see. Many itineraries focus on the popular South-East Asian countries of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and they dominate for good reason. 


Located at the crossroads of South-East Asia, Singapore is a major cruising hub with plenty of attractions. They include the cultural enclaves of Little India and Chinatown, the charming colonial district and landmark Raffles Hotel, the designer shops of Orchard Road and, across the channel, the quiet oasis of Sentosa Island with its beaches and theme parks.


In Malaysia, popular destinations include Kuala Lumpur (via Port Klang), Malacca, Langkawi and Penang. Kuala Lumpur is the nation’s capital, a bustling city which has successfully managed to blend modern with traditional. It’s also home of the magnificent “Blue” Mosque - arguably one of the biggest in South-East Asia - and boasts the world’s tallest freestanding twin structure - the Petronas Twin Towers. In contrast Penang, dubbed the “Pearl of the Orient”, offers a diverse experience of colonial architecture, hillside retreats and glorious beaches. 


The diversity continues in Thailand. Popular ports of call here include Bangkok (via Laem Chabang) - a steamy, sprawling metropolis thronging with people, ornate temples and markets - and the paradise islands of Phuket and Koh Samui famous for their coral reefs, abundant marine life, and golden beaches.


With a rich history dating back some 2,000 years and infused with aspects of Chinese, French and American culture, Vietnam is both a popular and alluring destination. What was once ‘Saigon’ is now Ho Chi Minh City, a fascinating blend of the Orient and the West and the old and the new, and home to nearly seven million people and one million motorbikes. Many cruise ships also “stop by” stunning Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most celebrated attractions and a designated World Heritage Site. Its unique seascape is a stretch of fragmented limestone outcroppings, sheer cliffs, huge rock arches and tranquil coves which have to be seen to be believed.

Hong Kong

Arguably Asia’s most famous and truly international city, Hong Kong, is another major hub which also serves as a start or end point for many Asia cruises. A city on an island with a world-famous skyline, it’s a melting pot of the East and West which truly has it all - jaw-dropping scenery, a colourful history, traditional markets and designer shopping. It’s also a food lover’s “Shangri-la”.


Some cruise lines are now regularly venturing beyond South-East Asia to destinations in Japan, China and Taiwan. Popular and diverse ports of call in Japan include Miyako, Osaka and Kyoto. If starting or visiting a cruise in Japan, most passengers will get a chance to “do” Tokyo (via Niigata), Japan’s bustling, neon-flashing, shopping crazy capital city, where traditional wood and paper houses stand in the shadow of steel and glass skyscrapers.


Since the 2008 Olympic games, Beijing (via Tianjin), has been welcoming an increasing number of visitors, and has quickly gained a reputation for being one of China’s most exciting cities. It’s also a jumping-off point for exploring some famous ancients sites including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square. And don’t forget Shanghai, which has grown into a cruise hub with three international cruise terminals accepting ships of all sizes. On offer here is an exploration of the city including strolling the Bund promenade to view a skyline packed with colonial-era buildings and tall skyscrapers, a visit to the Shanghai Museum and the Yuyuan Garden, and the French Concession, where you can walk among colonial architecture, shop, snack, and enjoy modern art.


Finally, on the island of Taiwan you can visit Keelung, a bustling port town which sits across the Formosa Strait from mainland China. Thirty-four kilometres inland is Taipei, a prosperous Asian city and home of many sights including the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the National Palace Museum.   

Once you have decided where you want to go, the next step is choosing a ship. Here, there’s good news - a wider number of cruise lines are including Asia “seasons” on their annual calendars, making it a more cost-effective and accessible region in which to cruise than ever before, from mid-priced cruise lines including Princess and Royal Caribbean, to the luxury lite ships of Azamara and Oceania, and the luxury ships of Silversea, Seabourn and Regent. Another growing option is taking an Asia segment of a world cruise, with cruise lines including Regent, Crystal, Cunard and P&O UK. No matter where you cruise in Asia, a fascinating mélange of sights and experiences await you. The hard part is choosing which route to take, but bear in mind that you could easily spend a lifetime there and still not see it all.


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  1. Posted by on 22nd Oct 2018 Verified Customer

    Best Cruise Ever 4 Star Review

    Did Hong Kong to Singapore with RCI last year and it was our best cruise yet, even though the weather was quite rainy much of the time! Loved it all....the sightseeing, food, and Hong Kong as a starting off point!

  2. Posted by on 22nd Oct 2018 Verified Customer

    Booked To Go 5 Star Review

    We;re booked to go on a cruise in Asia next Easter. Can't wait it's been on my bucket list for ages!

  3. Posted by on 15th Oct 2018 Verified Customer

    Coincidence 5 Star Review

    Was looking at cruises in Asia just today when my wife sent me the link to your article. Some good info here...which cruise lines do you recommend? A friend mentioned Star but they look like they cater a local market more than international travellers. Any advice appreciated!

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