Asia is a patchwork of diverse cultures, all offering unique experiences for travellers visiting one or more countries across this vast continent. A great way to get a taste of the region you choose to visit is by taking a river cruise in Asia – this provides the perfect balance of exploration and relaxation. Unpack once and take in these highlights from your balcony or on one of the many shore excursions that showcase the icons and hidden treasures of each destination.
The History and Culture Along the Mekong
Most Mekong river cruises focus on the stretch of waterway between Cambodia and Vietnam, showcasing the history and culture of both countries. Get an insight into the tumultuous past of the region with a visit to Killing Fields and the TuolSleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, and a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. Most Mekong river cruise itineraries include time in Ho Chi Minh City where travellers can visit the Reunification Palace and War Museum and learn more about the arduous times faced by the country.
Spectacular monuments found in both Cambodia and Vietnam also tell a story of both past and modern times, and how one has influenced the other. Elaborate temples decorate the countryside, with the Silver Pagoda within the Royal Palace complex of Phnom Penh and the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex nearby Siem Reap being standouts.
The present day Mekong is just as intriguing as the past that shaped it, with the floating life along the basin comprised of colourful markets, stilt houses, and bustling villages sitting atop the waterway. Get an insight into the local life and see the handicrafts of the artisan communities that have made the Mekong Delta home.
The Irrawaddy is Myanmar’s largest river flanked by charming villages and a landscape peppered with stupas and ancient pagodas. Most Irrawaddy river cruise voyages journey between Mandalay and Yangon, with an option to cruise only a portion of this route or the whole way. Being such a large waterway, the width varies between 400 metres (¼ mile) and 800 metres (½ mile), giving you a sense of seclusion and serenity interrupted only by the water lapping at the side of the boat and the faint sound of pagoda bells chiming.
Onshore there are plenty of excursions that give you an insight to the local communities and the people who call them home. Some of these villages are only accessible by the water, so river cruising provides a unique perspective. As Myanmar only opened to tourists in 2012 there is a real authenticity to the places you visit and the local’s warmth and enthusiasm to meet travellers.
You’ll also get to tick off the more well-known highlights of Myanmar, including the stunning temple town of Bagan with an archaeological zone spanning 67 square kilometers (26 square miles) and the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
China’s Yangtze River has wonders to behold, crafted hand in hand by nature and man. The iconic highlight to discover along the Yangtze is the Three Gorges region, comprised of Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge and Xiling Gorge. Here steep cliffs rise from the water and frame the river with their towering facades, some adorned with lush vegetation and others with ancient inscriptions.
A man made addition to this waterway is the impressive Three Gorges Dam. This colossal feat of engineering can be visited on a river cruise of the Yangtze often with a tour of the project. Even those not usually interested in engineering exploits will be blown away as their river cruise boat makes its way through the five-step lock.
Being a shorter cruise of usually just three or four nights, this experience is generally combined with a land tour to showcase more of China beyond the Yangtze. Often this will include time in Beijing where travellers can visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, a stop in Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors, a visit to the Giant Pandas in Chengdu, and a stroll along the Bund in Shanghai.
India is a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, smells, flavors and feelings, perfectly observed from the holiest river in the country – the Ganges. This important tributary serves as a source of irrigation, a place of religious significance, and a path through some truly interesting and beautiful places.
River cruises along the Ganges generally operate as a round trip from Kolkata taking in highlights such as the historic terracotta temple complex of Kalna, the riverside village of Matiari where local craftspeople beat brass to make all manner of things, and the town of Murshidabad where you can visit the place with a thousand doors and wander through the pretty gardens. Your itinerary may also take you to the holy city of Mayapur and give you the chance to stroll through the fields of Baranagar as you discover rural India.
A lifeblood of northern India, this important artery suffers from pollution, however, it doesn’t detract from the experience. It is a reality of the region that, like everything else on your itinerary, paints a true and quintessential picture of this diverse country.Choose to experience India with a responsible operator for the peace of mind knowing that your journey will not contribute to this problem, and that through sustainable tourism you are able to experience this incredible place leaving behind (and taking with you) nothing but amazing memories.
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Global Journeys specializes in multi-day guided tours, ocean cruising and river cruises. Partnering with the world’s leading travel operators they offer their clients over 5,000 trips worldwide.
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