Sail to the heart of exotic Asia
Asia is on a cruising roll at the moment, with voyages on offer for every budget and sailing style. There?s a rush to visit Burma, both by river boat and ocean cruise, before commercialisation gets too strong a grip, but there are also plenty of new itineraries on offer. In-depth Japan, remote islands of the Philippines, the best dive sites
in Thailand… we?ve got it all here.
Star Clippers, which operates classic, square-rigged tall ships, is introducing sailing cruises out of Phuket from December 2016 on
the 170-passenger Star Clipper. The week-long voyages will explore the unspoilt Similan Islands ? all powdery beaches and dazzling reefs, offering some of the world?s best diving ? and visit various anchorages in the national marine park around Phuket. Here, you?ll encounter communities of sea gypsies and fishing villages on stilts.
From ?1,415pp, including all meals, departing on December 2, 2016; flights start at ?800 with British Airways (0845 200 6145, starclippers.co.uk)
Get under the skin of Burma with a three-night stopover in Rangoon on the luxurious, all-inclusive Silver Shadow. The 12-night cruise from Singapore visits Port Klang, Penang, Phuket, Langkawi and Malacca. But Rangoon is the star, with optional activities including a tour of the impossibly huge, golden Shwedagon Pagoda, a tour of a food market and a demonstration of Burmese cooking. There are also overnight tours to Mandalay and Bagan, at extra cost; a holiday within a holiday.
From ?5,049pp, including all meals on board, flights and a night in the Shangri-La in Singapore at either end of the trip, departing on October 29, 2015 (0844 251 0837,silversea.com)
Komodo?s most famous resident (Cyril Ruoso/FLPA)Indonesia and the Philippines
Meander round the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines on Hapag-Lloyd?s Europa 2, one of the swankiest ships afloat. It has enormous cabins and top-notch food and service. On this 16-day cruise between Singapore and Manila, the ship visits the temple complex at Borobudur, islands including Komodo (home of the eponymous dragons) and Bali ? as well as Borneo, to look for indigenous orang-utans. In the Philippines, Malcapuya Island is about as dreamy as they come.
From ?8,295pp, including all meals (with drinks) and flights, departing on February 13, 2016 (packages via Mundy Cruising: 020 7399 7670, mundycruising.co.uk; cruise details at hl-cruises.com)
Laos to China
Blaze a trail into the unknown (in river-cruising terms, anyway) on a 14-night expedition along the Upper Mekong, from Laos through the Golden Triangle and deep into the Chinese province of Yunnan. Pandaw is launching a new river cruiser, the 20-passenger Laos Pandaw, which can navigate this stretch of the river from Vientiane to Jinghong, via Luang Prabang. The route takes in pristine rainforest, riverside temples and plantations. Passengers are being warned, in the nicest possible way, to prepare for anything.
From ?4,795pp, including all meals, flights, some drinks, tips and excursions, departing on October 5, 2016 (020 8326 5620, pandaw.com)
You?re unlikely to encounter another cruise ship in Burma?s Mergui archipelago ? 800 limestone islands scattered off the south coast, fringed by coral reefs and inhabited mainly by monkeys, seabirds and the odd herd of elephants. Noble Caledonia?s 13-night Passage to the Golden Earth expedition, on Silver Discoverer, a luxury expedition ship chartered from Silversea, spends two days away from civilisation bird-watching, snorkelling and diving. The round trip from Phuket also has two days in the Andaman Islands, two in Phuket and three in Rangoon (including a day?s tour to Bagan or the Bago River).
From ?6,895pp, including all meals, flights, open bar, tips and excursions, departing on November 19, 2016 (020 7752 0000, noble-caledonia.co.uk)
Take the Laos Pandaw up the Mekong to ChinaRound-trip Singapore
Ten days in Asia for ?1,000 is pretty good going, especially when it blends culture, shopping and beaches. Three nights in a hotel in Singapore are followed by a seven-night cruise on Royal Caribbean?s 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas, visiting Port Klang (for Kuala Lumpur), Penang and Langkawi, with an overnight stop in Phuket. The ship has three pools, six hot tubs and an ice rink.
From ?999pp, including all meals on board, flights and three nights in Singapore, departing on November 1, 2015 (0800 408 0758, cruisenation.com)
Vietnam and Cambodia
Scenic always goes the extra mile with its included tours, and a new 14-night cruise-and-stay holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia, on the 68-passenger Scenic Spirit, offers dinner in a former opium refinery in Ho Chi Minh City and a chance to explore the city on a Vespa. You?ll meet a Vietnam War veteran at the Cu Chi Tunnels and receive a blessing in traditional Buddhist style at an 11th-century Cambodian temple. At Siem Reap, you?ll have the chance to watch sunrise over Angkor Wat. Two of the lunches ashore are in restaurants run by NGOs that train underprivileged young people. From ?3,495pp (book before August 14), including all meals, flights, open bar, tips and excursions, departing on June 18, 2016 (0800 566 8777, scenic.co.uk)
The luxury Silver ShadowSri Lanka and India
This 20-night trip includes a leisurely 15-night voyage on the Aegean Odyssey across the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. You?ll spend four nights in Sri Lanka, including a day visiting Galle ? crumbling colonial architecture, arty cafes ? before stopping at the Indian city of Madras (Chennai) and then Port Blair, provincial capital of the Andaman Islands. There are two nights in Rangoon before the 350-passenger ship continues to Phuket, Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Days at sea are occupied with various lectures from experts on the region.
From ?4,395pp, including all meals on board, flights, tips and excursions, departing on February 5, 2016 (0845 437 9737, voyagestoantiquity.com)
Bangkok to Hong Kong
Explore eastern Asia on the luxurious Seven Seas Voyager. Even the most basic cabin is a suite with a balcony. The voyage from Bangkok to Hong Kong is 17 nights, but you can add, at no cost (except meals), three nights at Siem Reap for Angkor Wat prior to sailing, or three in Hong Kong at the end. There are stops in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as a day at the exquisite, white-sand island of Boracay, in the Philippines. Voyager also visits Taiwan ? a rare opportunity to explore this mountainous, cosmopolitan country.
From ?9,119pp, including all meals, flights, open bar, tips and excursions, departing on February 2, 2016 (02380 682280, rssc.com)
The Black Dragon Pool, in Yunnan, ChinaChina and South Korea
Crystal Cruises? 14-night Oriental Odyssey includes the bonus of a two-night overland trip to Beijing to see the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. During the cruise, there are overnight stops in Shanghai and Tokyo, too. The five-star Crystal Serenity also visits Jeju Island, in South Korea, with its mountain trails and forested hills, and the flat-topped volcanic cone of Seongsan Ilchulbong. Then it?s on to Japan, for Fukuoka and Shimizu ? jumping-off point for Mount Fuji.
From ?6,128pp, including all meals, flights, open bar, the overland tour and tips, departing on March 31, 2016 (020 7399 7601, crystalcruises.co.uk)
Singapore round trip
A voyage on a big ship such as Sapphire Princess combines intensive sightseeing with lazy days at sea on what is essentially a floating resort. This 2,678-passenger ship has three pools, a large spa and, at night, movies on deck, several restaurants and two decent nightclubs. A 14-night round trip from Singapore calls at Port Klang and Penang in Malaysia; Phuket, Bangkok and Ko Samui in Thailand; Brunei; and Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. There are five days at sea scattered throughout the itinerary.
From ?1,427pp, including all meals, departing on November 26, 2015; flights from ?726 (0843 374 2401, princess.com)
Meet the locals in Bagan, Burma (Martin Puddy/Getty)Japan
The American-owned Tauck aims for complete cultural immersion on its tours and this 13-night Japan cruise-and-stay includes a sumo-wrestling demo, a tea ceremony, a geisha performance, a visit to a shoju distillery and a calligraphy lesson. The holiday combines three nights in Kyoto with two in Tokyo and an eight-night cruise on Ponant?s luxurious yacht, Le Sol?al, sailing from Osaka to Sakaiminato, with stops in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
From ?7,285pp, all-inclusive on board, departing on April 19, 2016. Flights extra (0800 810 8020, tauck.co.uk)
Cruise the Irrawaddy River in Burma on a new ship, Princess Panhwar, a colonial-style vessel operated by APT, carrying 72 passengers. The Majestic Burma tour includes a 14-night cruise from Mandalay to Rangoon, with a couple of days at Bagan to visit its temple-strewn flood plain. This is a great opportunity to take in the golden pagodas, market towns and monasteries along the river at an affordable price.
From ?3,495pp (book before July 31), including all meals (with drinks), flights and tours, departing on September 16, 2016 (0800 046 3002, aptouring.co.uk)