The Most Incredible Cruise Destinations in South-East Asia

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Jul 01, 2016

by KARLA COURTNEY, Writer and Family Travel Specialist

Visit floating villages, encounter real-life dragons or simply plop yourself down on a white sandy beach on a remote island.

Visit floating villages, explore elaborate ancient temples, encounter real-life dragons, eat the world’s tastiest hawker food or simply spread out your towel on the white sand of a remote island. Taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of the diverse South-East Asian region – from booming cities to rural villages and rice paddies – on a cruise is an unforgettable experience. Here are our favourite ports of call.

Bagan, Myanmar

Why we love it

This peaceful ancient city on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is one of the region’s most important historical and archaeological sites. In an area of about 104 square kilometres, there are more than 2220 Buddhist temples, some dating back to the 11th century. It draws many comparisons to Angkor Wat but lacks the overwhelming crowds.

If you only have time for one excursion…

The best way to take in the scale of Bagan is on a magical hot air balloon ride.

Cruises to try

Sanctuary Retreats specialises in cruises along the Irrawaddy River, with three- to 11-night itineraries between Bagan and Mandalay departing regularly. There are no departures in June and July. 

Komodo Island, Indonesia

Why we love it

It’s like a scene from Jurassic Park, complete with towering green mountains and giant, prehistoric-looking reptiles. 

If you only have time for one excursion…

Do a tour of Komodo National Park, where you can see komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards, in the wild. 

Cruises to try

Holland America Line and Seabourn offer itineraries that call at Komodo Island, with various departures throughout the year.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Why we love it

Halong Bay needs no introduction – this mystical ocean “city” of more than 3000 towering limestone islands is an iconic tourist destination. It’s also the closest tourist port to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, about 180 kilometres inland.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Take a tour of a floating village where colourful houses on rafts gently bob on the water, at the foot of a huge limestone pillar, with virtually no attachment to the land. The people of Halong Bay live entirely on the water – there are floating schools, fisheries and shops.

Cruises to try

Holland America Line, Seabourn and Silversea all offer itineraries that call at Halong Bay. There are no stops at Halong Bay from May to September. 

If you’re staying in Hanoi and want to do a short cruise, Heritage Line offers premium one- and two-night itineraries with return transfers. 

Palawan, the Philippines

Why we love it

Despite being voted “Best Island in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2015, this tropical island paradise isn’t as crowded as many of the popular isles in Thailand or Indonesia (yet). Think dramatic limestone cliffs, lush greenery, quaint fishing towns and white sand – all surrounded by the most vivid turquoise ocean.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Do a boat tour of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River, an 8.2-kilometre waterway that runs beneath a mountain range through a dark, shallow tunnel system. Afterwards, head straight for the beach to soak up the sun and the views. 

Cruises to try

Seabourn is calling at Palawan in January and February 2017 and Holland America Line is calling here in March 2018.

Singapore

Why we love it

If you arrive at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre terminal in the morning, you’ll wake to a pink sky, warm breeze and, if you’re on the right side of the ship, views of the surreal Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Singapore Flyer, a gigantic Ferris wheel. The port places you right in the city – a short taxi ride and you’ll be shopping on Orchard Road or having a drink on hip Haji Lane.

If you only have time for one excursion…

That’s too tough a call. Check out our Singapore Guide and choose your favourite.

Cruises to try

Plenty of cruise lines call at Singapore throughout the year. For a next-level experience, Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas, the largest ship to call Australia home, will be departing Sydney on 20 February 2017 as part of a 14-night, one-way cruise from Sydney to Singapore. Learn more.

SEE ALSO: A Brand-New “Supercruise” is Headed for Sydney

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Why we love it

This lively river delta is the breadbasket of Vietnam: agriculture and activity abound on the land and sea in the form of fisheries, banana plantations and rice paddies. There are bustling markets in the towns and boats selling fresh produce on the river.

If you only have time for one excursion…

River cruise operators typically organise visits to villages to experience the local way of life.

Cruises to try

Heritage Line offers premium Mekong cruises that travel between Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (Cambodia). There are regular departures throughout the year, apart from May.

Bali, Indonesia

Why we love it

In Bali, the healthy raw food dishes taste like your “cheat meal”, the mountains are covered with electric-green rice terraces or lush rainforest and there are more places to unwind – be it at a yoga class, at a water temple, by a private infinity pool or on a beach – than you can poke a stick at.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Visit the Tegallalang Rice Terraces, just outside of Ubud, or Uluwatu Temple, a Balinese temple atop a dramatic 70-metre cliff overlooking the ocean. 

Cruises to try

Many cruise lines, including Seabourn, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises Australia, Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises, call at Bali throughout the year, with the high season occurring between November and March.

For a cruise that focuses on destinations in Indonesia, try Princess Cruises’ 15-day Indonesia round trip, departing Fremantle in December 2016, or Holland America Line’s 14-day Indonesian Discovery, departing Singapore in January 2017.

SEE ALSO: Our Full Guide to Bali

Yangon, Myanmar

Why we love it

After years of isolation, Yangon, with its fading colonial buildings and grand golden pagodas, is paradise for the intrepid traveller seeking a “time capsule” experience in 1950s colonial South-East Asia. It’s less gentrified and far less touristy than other cities in the region.

If you only have time for one excursion…

You must visit the 110-metre-high Shwedagon Pagoda. Its shimmering gilded roof is plated with tonnes of gold and encrusted with 4531 diamonds.

Cruises to try

The currently limited number of stops at Yangon is expected to increase. Seabourn and Silversea are calling at Yangon in December 2016 and Azamara Club Cruises is calling here in April 2018.

SEE ALSO: Why You Should Visit Myanmar Right Now

Bangkok, Thailand

Why we love it

Any respectable South-East Asian holiday round-up must include lively, lovely Bangkok, famed for its food, shopping, temples, parties, canals and generally buzzing vibe. A number of cruises call at Laem Chabang, a two-hour drive from the centre of the city.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Hop in a teak boat and go on a canal tour through the back waterways of the city. You’ll see temples of all sizes and get a glimpse of how people live, from the colonial mansions to the slums.

Cruises to try

Many cruise lines, including Seabourn, Princess Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises, call at Bangkok throughout the year, with the high season occurring between November and March.

Ko Samui, Thailand

Why we love it

It’s one of Thailand’s most popular island holiday destinations, offering the perfect balance of partying, pampering, palms and peace.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Get in the water: there are several popular dive sites offering options for beginners and experienced divers to explore colourful coral reefs filled with marine life.

Cruises to try

Many cruise lines, including Seabourn, Princess Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises, call at Ko Samui throughout the year, with the high season occurring between November and March.

Phuket, Thailand

Why we love it

It has limestone mountains, beaches and rainforest and was even a James Bond movie location – yes, Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is popular for a reason.

If you only have time for one excursion…

Have your movie moment: head to Phang Nga Bay to see those surreal limestone columns jutting out of the water, made famous in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Cruises to try

Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises offer a number of itineraries calling at Phuket between November 2016 and March 2017.

Penang, Malaysia

Why we love it

This characterful island-city abounds with well-preserved colonial architecture, tasty hawker food (best laksa ever) and colourful laneways lined with grocers, restaurants, hole-in-the-wall bars and cafés, and shops. 

If you only have time for one excursion…

Hop on a rickshaw or rent a bike and tour the streets around the World Heritage-listed George Town (Old Town) district, taking in the mix of Chinese, Indian Malay and British influences – as well as some of South-East Asia’s best street art.

Cruises to try

Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises offer a number of itineraries calling at Penang between November 2016 and March 2017.