- Expert advice and inspiration on the best Asian river cruises to explore – from the Mekong to the Yangtze
- Discover river highlights, fascinating cultures and extraordinary experiences across China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
- What to expect on a China river cruise, with cultural delights including trips to the Terracotta Army and Forbidden City
Asian river cruises are an inspiring and invigorating way to explore new countries and introduce travellers to new cultures, beliefs and landscapes. Whether you embark on a journey along the Mekong, Yangtze, Irrawaddy or Ganges, your river cruise will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, one that you’ll remember fondly for many years to come.
Asian river cruises: Mekong
Length: 3,050 miles / 4,909km
Route: from Tibet to the South China Sea
The mighty Mekong, the longest river in southeast Asia, runs through six countries – China, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Passing floating villages, colourful markets, paddy fields and ancient pagodas, Mekong river cruises also visit some magnificent must-see destinations such as Cambodia’s bustling capital, Phnom Penh, and the temples of Angkor. Once the world’s largest city with an incredible 200 temples and one million residents, Angkor is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily explored via the gateway at Siem Reap – arrive early to witness the wonderful sight of the rising morning mist revealing a truly memorable scene.
Other highlights on a Vietnam and Cambodia river cruise include time spent in Saigon, where you can learn more about the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex underground network used by Viet Cong soldiers. The sacred Cao Dai Temple is impressive too, and bizarrely one of its saints is Winston Churchill. Remember to cover shoulders and knees before entering religious buildings.
Asian river cruises are also a joy for wildlife lovers, and the Greater Mekong region is a remarkable ecosystem, home to around 1,200 bird species, 800 different types of reptiles and amphibians and 430 mammal species. At least 1,100 freshwater species, including the giant catfish and the Irrawaddy dolphin, swim the waters.
You can cruise along the Mekong river all-year round, with the dry season falling from November to April.
Asian river cruises: Yangtze
Length: 3,915 miles / 6,300km
Route: From China’s Qinghai province to Shanghai
Looking at escorted Asia holidays? A grand tour of China often includes a Yangtze river cruise, allowing you to combine the joy of a journey along China’s biggest river with an extended trip exploring more of the country’s iconic sights. Beijing, China’s Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and Forbidden City are all must-see attractions, but another highlight will be your waterway adventure on the breathtaking Yangtze.
A China river cruise usually sails through areas known as the Three Gorges and Three Lesser Gorges. The best time to visit the former, so you can appreciate the gripping landscape in all its glory, is late morning as the daylight shines down, mist rises up and you’re treated to a mystical sight. The second gorge, Wu Gorge also known as the Witches’ Gorge, is the most enchanting – get your camera ready.
The Three Lesser Gorges are situated along the Daning, a main tributary of the Yangtze. As the river is narrower here smaller boats transfer guests, which only emphasise the sheer size of surrounding cliffs. A tour of the colossal Three Gorges Dam, almost 190 metres high, explains more about the world’s largest engineering project.
April, May, September and October are popular months to take a Yangtze river cruise. During spring, peach, apricot and cherry blossoms are sure to delight, while as the year draws to a close, sumac trees turn the mountainsides red.
Asian river cruises: Irrawaddy
Length: 1,348 miles / 2,170km
Route: From the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean
When considering a river cruise in Asia, don’t forget about the Irrawaddy. Running north to south it’s the largest river in Burma, splitting the country in half as it stretches all the way from the Himalayan mountains to the Indian Ocean. Many short river cruises start in the thrilling city of Mandalay, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan, famous for more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments, being the final destination. En route, ships pass small villages such as Mingun, home to the world’s largest unfinished brick pagoda and an enormous bronze bell.
Longer cruises on the Irrawaddy, or Ayeyarwady as it’s often referred to, also include Yangon on their itineraries. As Burma’s largest city and its most cosmopolitan, skyscrapers and vibrant bars and restaurants contribute to its vibrant feel. However, most visitors come to see a huge golden Buddhist monument, the Shwedagon Pagoda, which dominates the city’s skyline. Again, always show respect when visiting religious sites, taking note that Burma is still fairly conservative when it comes to clothing.
The best time to explore Burma on a cruise is during the cooler, dry season between November and February. Daytimes will still be pleasantly warm, but you’ll feel more comfortable onboard your ship in the evenings. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses and a sun hat, and bring mosquito repellent.
Asian river cruises: Ganges
Length: 1,569 miles / 2,525km
Route: from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal
A cruise along the Ganges, one of the most famous and sacred rivers in the world, is an exciting and enlightening way to traverse across India. Not only do Hindu pilgrims travel a great distance to bathe in the water and pay tribute to the goddess Ganga, millions of people live along the Ganges’ banks and rely on the river for their daily needs.
Asian river cruises allow passengers an insight into the varied culture and history of India. Itineraries often include a stop-off at the holy city of Varanasi, the city of Kolkata that is known for its grand colonial architecture, and the Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary – the best time of year to catch a sighting of one of the protected mammals is between June and October.
The highlight, however, of your Ganges cruise will be a trip to the Taj Mahal, the white marble mausoleum constructed in the 17th century by a Mughal emperor in memory of his favourite wife. If you can, visit at sunrise when the building is bathed in a rosy glow.
The optimum time for a Ganges cruise is November through to March. As you’ll be asked to remove shoes at temples and mosques, bring socks to wear inside. And always don a smile. Westerners are still an anomaly in much of India, so you feel obliged to pose for a selfie!
Tempted? Our river cruises to Asia really are an easy and memorable way to discover more about China, Cambodia, Vietnam and more. Riviera Travel offers A Journey on the Mekong and Yangtze river cruises so you can explore the best that Asian river cruises have to offer. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.