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It's an understatement to say the word exotic is sprinkled liberally in travel speak. Sure, one man's exotic is another man's run of the mill, but let's get real. Few can argue that the Far East and South Pacific are truly something else. The local food is an incredibly delicious adventure and the culture and customs truly eye opening.

No where is the contrast between old and new more vivid than in the Orient. Everywhere you turn is some intricately carved temple dating back 1,000 years sitting right next to a towering new office building. Bicycle rickshaws and rickety buses share narrow streets with chauffer-driven cars. In the smallest towns and villages, fields are tended with ox-drawn plows and camels plod along pulling carts stacked with wheat. Behind it all mingles the alluring scent of incense.

Roughly stretching from India, east to China and Japan, and south to the Indonesian Archipelago, Southeast Asia is a vast region. Optional pre- and post-cruise land packages take you further inland to famed places like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and Angkor Wat, the ancient city of temples in central Cambodia. Itineraries vary, but most are one to three weeks long and are offered between October and May. Many depart from the hubs of Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tianjin/Beijing, and the pool of ports includes China (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canton, Tianjin/Beijing); Indonesia (Bali, Sumatra, Java, Lombok, Sulawesi); Japan (Yokohama/Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka/Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki); Malaysia (Penang, Port Kelang/Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak, Sabah); Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong/Hanoi, Nha Trang); Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Sumai); and India (Mumbai, Chennai, and Cochin).

Clipper Cruise Line (tel. 800/325-0010; www.clippercruise.com)

  • Clipper Odyssey -- 17 nights in April 2007 from Brunei to Hong Kong explores the Phillippines; 13 nights Japan cruise between Osaka and Tokyo in May 2007; 17 nights Tokyo to Hanoi in Aug 2007; 12-night Vietnam cruises in Sept 2007 between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; 13 nights Singapore to Bali in Oct 2007

Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystal.com)

  • Crystal Symphony -- 14-night China cruises in March & Arpil 2007 between Hong Kong and Beijing; 11-night Vietnam cruise in April 1007 from Hong Kong to Singapore; 16-night Asia/India in May 2007, from Singapore to Dubai.

Cruise West (tel. 800/426-7702; www.cruisewest.com)

  • Spirit of Oceanus -- 11-night Vietnam cruises in Nov 2007 between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; a 13-night Japan & Vietnam cruise in Nov 2007 sails from Osaka to Hanoi.

Cunard (tel. 800/5-CUNARD; www.cunard.com)

  • QE2 -- 108-night world cruise, departing Jan 2007, round-trip from New York, includes a 28-night segment between Sydney and Singapore.
  • QM2 -- 74-night world cruise, departing Jan 2007, round-trip from New York, includes a 19-night Asia segment from Syndey to Dubai.
  • Queen Victoria -- 99-night world cruise, departing Jan 2008, from New York to Southampton, includes a 47-night Los Angeles to Singapore segment.

Holland America (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com)

  • Statendam -- 14, 16 & 20 nights from Sydney to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Osaka between March and April 2007.
  • Amsterdam -- 104-night world cruise departing Jan 2007 includes a segment through Asia; 64-night cruise to Asia, Australia and Polynesia in Sept and Oct 2007, departing from Seattle and ending in San Diego -- two 32-night segments available from Seattle to Singapore and Singapore to San Diego.

Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com)

  • Nautica -- 15-night Asia cruises in Dec 2006 and Jan & Feb 2007, between Hong Kong and Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, and Hong Kong and Tianjin/Beijing; 24-night Bangkok to Tianjin/Beijing sailing in Feb 2007.
  • Marina -- Year-round Far East and South Pacific cruises, beginning in July 2007.

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com)

  • Sapphire Princess -- In Oct and Nov 2006, 16-night cruises between Tianjin/Beijing and Bangkok and from Tianjin/Beijing to Singapore, plus 12-night trip Osaka to Beijing; in Dec 2006, 19-night cruise from Singapore to Sydney.
  • Pacific Princess -- Through Aug 2006, 16-night cruises between Beijing and Bangkok; in Aug and Sept 2006, 15-night journey between Bangkok and Mumbai.

Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com)

  • Seven Seas Mariner -- 14-night Asia cruises in Oct & Nov 2006, from Tokyo to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Singapore, and Singapore to Sydney.
  • Seven Seas Voyager -- 14 nights between Hong Kong and Singapore Feb 2007.

Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com)

  • Seabourn Spirit -- 14- and 18-night Thailand/Vietnam cruises Dec to March 2006/2007 & 2007/2008, between Singapore and Hong Kong and Singapore and Bangkok; 9-night round-trip from Hong Kong in March 2007 & 2008.

Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com)

  • Silver Whisper -- 9, 10, 11, 12 & 14-night Asia cruises in Nov and Dec 2006 & 2007, and Jan and Feb 2007, from Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bangkok, Bangkok to Singapore, roundtrip from Singapore, Mumbai to Singapore.
  • Silver Cloud -- In Dec 2006, 11 nights Mumbai to Singapore and 16 nights Singapore to Sydney; 15 nights in March 2007, Perth to Singapore; 14 nights in March 2007, roundtrip from Singapore.

Star Clippers (tel. 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com)

  • Star Flyer -- 7-night Asia cruises, round-trip from Phuket or between Phuket and Singapore, are offered Jan-Mar and Nov-Dec 2006 & 2007; 10- & 11-night Asia cruises in Dec 2006, between Phuket and Singapore, and Singapore and Ko Phi Phi.

South Pacific

The beach scenes in these parts are straight out of Central Casting. Waters as clear and blue as a cloudless sky, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, are Raiate harbor some of the most romantic strands of sand in the world. The brilliant turquoise water and palm-tree fringed Matira Beach on the dreamy mountainous island of Bora Bora is one of the best in South Pacific, and it's surrounded by coral reefs for great snorkeling and diving. In Tahiti, don't miss the Gauguin Museum and Botanical Gardens. Some longer itineraries also include stops at the Marquesas, Cook, Society, Australs, and Tuamotus islands.

  • Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com)
  • Amsterdam -- 64-night cruise to Asia, Australia and Polynesia in Sept and Oct 2007, departing from Seattle and ending in San Diego

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com)

  • Tahitian Princess -- Year-round, 10-night French Polynesia/Cook Islands/Marquesas cruises roundtrip from Papeete

Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com)

  • Paul Gauguin -- 7-, 10- and 11-night South Pacific cruises year-round out of Papeete.

Star Clippers (tel. 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com)

  • Star Flyer -- 7-, 10- & 11-night French Polynesia cruises, round-trip Papeete or between Papeete and Nuku Hiva, starting in Dec 2007.

Australia and New Zealand

Though not exotic in the way the Far East is, the natural scenery in these parts is pretty special. From coral reefs to glaciers, snow-capped mountains, fjords, rolling farmland, rustic rock-strewn sheep fields and dry-as-a-bone dessert, the landscape of New Zealand and Australia is diverse and spectacular. For some city life, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland hold their own in the dining and culture departments, and both countries produce some mighty good wine (not to mention a rip-roaring fun pub scene as well). The best part, though, may just be those friendly locals with their great accents.

Itineraries are typically about two to three weeks and often sail between Sydney and Auckland from about November to April (though sometimes longer routes also include ports in Polynesia, Hawaii or the Far East). In New Zealand, most ships stick to circumnavigating the South Island (there's also a North Island), and ports may include Christchurch (a perfect little English town) and Wellington (command central for The Lord of the Rings trilogy which was filmed in New Zealand). Excursions range from bungy jumping to whale watching, and mountain hikes. In Australia, explore the Aboriginal culture, botanical gardens and parks in ports like Melbourne, Sydney, Broome/Darwin and Tasmania; and the spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast from Cairns.

Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com)

  • Mercury -- 14-night cruises from Dec 2007 to March 2008 sail between Auckland and Sydney.

Clipper Cruise Line (tel. 800/325-0010; www.clippercruise.com)

  • Clipper Odyssey -- 16 nights in Nov from New Caledonia to Auckland

Cunard (tel. 800/5-CUNARD; www.cunard.com)

  • QE2 -- 108-night world cruise, departing Jan 2007, round-trip from New York, includes a 28-night segment between Sydney and Singapore; and departing Jan 2008, world cruise includes a 56-night cruise from New York to Singapore that includes calls in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Queen Victoria -- 99 night world cruise departing Jan 2008, from New York to Southampton, includes a 47-night Los Angeles to Singapore cruise in Jan 2008

Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com)

  • Statendam -- 14-night Australia/New Zealand cruises between Auckland and Sydney, sailing between Oct 2006 & Feb 2007 and between Oct & Dec 2007
  • Amsterdam -- 64-night cruise to Asia, Australia and Polynesia in Sept and Oct 2007, departing from Seattle and ending in San Diego

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com)

  • Sapphire Princess -- Jan to April 2007, 12 nights between Auckland and Sydney.

Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com)

  • Mariner -- 14 night in Nov 2006 & Nov 2007, Singapore to Sydney; 15 nights in Nov 2006, from Sydney to Auckland.

Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com)

  • Silver Cloud -- In Dec 2006, 16 nights Singapore to Sydney; 15 nights in Jan 2007 roundtrip from Sydney; Jan & Feb 2007, 15 nights between Auckland and Sydney; 14 nights in Feb 2007, Sydney to Perth; 15 nights in March 2007, Perth to Singapore.

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