The Caribbean is all and well good. I mean I'm the first to admit I like a frosty Pina Colada with my jerk chicken. Who can complain about white sand beaches and palm trees? And howabout those whales and glaciers in Alaska? Europe's Roman ruins, medieval cathedrals and art museums sure are pretty darn cool.
But still, I crave something different sometimes. Something to jog my travel-addled brain and shock my senses back into awe mode.
I need Asia.
Vibrant and alive, Asia grabs on to your senses and takes them for a ride. Unless you've been there many time before, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells are like nothing you've ever experienced before.
Roughly stretching from India, east to China and Japan, and south to the Indonesian Archipelago, Southeast Asia is a vast region. Cruises here are anywhere from one to three weeks, plus many offer optional pre- and post-cruise land packages so you can go 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 depart from Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tianjin/Beijing between October and May and include some combination of these popular ports * (though the following list is not comprehensive):
- Cambodia (Sihanoukville)
- China (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canton and Tianjin/Beijing)
- India (Mumbai, Chennai and Cochin)
- Indonesia (Bali, Sumatra, Java, Lombok and Sulawesi)
- Japan (Yokohama/Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka/Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
- Korea (Pusan/Kyongju)
- Malaysia (Penang, Port Kelang/Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak and Sabah)
- Sri Lanka (Colombo)
- Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket and Ko Sumai)
- Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong/Hanoi and Nha Trang)
(* For those ports with slashes, the first name is typically the port name, the second is the major city nearby.)
Nowhere is the contrast between old and new more vivid than in parts of Southeast Asia. Just about everywhere you turn is some intricately carved temple dating back 1,000 years sitting right next to a towering new office building. Bicycle rickshaws, buffalo-pulled carts, and rickety buses share narrow streets with shiny new cars driven by chauffeurs. Locals in sarongs or saris or baju kurungs, walk along side those in jeans and sneakers.
In the smallest villages of Asia, it's a different story. Time has stood still. Fields are tended with ox-drawn plows and camels plod along pulling carts stacked with wheat. The scent of tropical flowers mingle with incense, and hillsides are blanketed with emerald green rice fields and thatched-roofed huts.
The cruise lines' organized shore excursions give passengers a taste of Asia's multi-faceted history and culture. For example, in Hong Kong Princess offers a Chinese Cooking tour that includes a visit to a local market to learn about typical ingredients, then a cooking demo by a local restaurant chef, followed by a dim sum lunch ($79 per person). Silversea offers a day-long tour to Hanoi to explore the city's French colonial architecture, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and an ancient temple complex dating back 1,000 years to the Ly Dyansty ($179 per person).
Shopping is also a pastime in most ports, even for those who profess disdain for the sport -- in Asia, browsing the local wares is difficult to resist. From jade, gold and silver jewelry, to embroidered fabrics, and intricately carved wooden boxes, furniture and Buddhas, you'll invariably come back home with something.
But before you start making your shopping list, make sure you have enough to pay for the cruise. They're not cheap. Since there are so few ships in the Far East, be prepared to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 (and more) per person, depending on the length and type of your cruise. Add to that, the cost of round-trip airfare to Asia, which can easily run $1,000 to $1,500 per person for coach.
When figuring out which cruise is best for you, remember to account for an extra day or two of travel on each end. The flying time between New York and Singapore, for instance, is about 20 hours and that's not including layovers and time-zone changes.
Here's a quick snap shot of who's doing what in Southeast Asia for 2006:
What the Mainstream Lines Are Doing
Holland America, (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com)
- Prisendam. 108-night world cruise between Jan and April 2006, from Ft. Lauderdale to New York, includes an India segment.
- Statendam. 16-night Indonesia/Philippines/New Guinea cruise in March 2006, sails from Sydney, Australia, to Hong Kong; 14-night China/Japan trip in March cruises between Hong Kong and Osaka.
Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceania.com)
- Nautica. 15-night Asia cruises north- or southbound in Jan, Feb and March 2006, between Hong Kong and Singapore and Hong Kong and Bangkok; 24-night Bangkok to Tianjin/Beijing sailing in Feb.
Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com)
- Sapphire Princess. In Oct and Nov 2006, 16-night cruise between Beijing and Bangkok and from Tianjin/Beijing to Singapore, plus 12-night trips between Beijing to Osaka; in Dec 2006, 19-night cruise from Singapore to Sydney.
- Pacific Princess. From May to Aug 2006, 16-night cruises between Beijing and Bangkok; in May, 12-night trip from Osaka to Tianjin/Beijing; in Aug and Sept, 15-night journey between Bangkok and Mumbai.
What the Luxury Lines Are Doing
Cunard (tel. 800/5-CUNARD; www.cunard.com)
- QE2. 109-night world cruise, departing Jan 2006, round-trip from New York, includes segment in Asia
Radisson Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com)
- Seven Seas Mariner. 14-night Asia cruises between Sept and Nov 2006, from Tokyo to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Singapore, and Singapore to Sydney.
- Seven Seas Voyager. 108-night world cruise departs in Jan 2006 from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, with a segment in Asia.
Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com)
- Seabourn Spirit. 16-night India/Arabian Sea in April 2006, from Singapore to Dubai; 14-night Thailand/Vietnam cruises in Dec, north- or southbound between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com)
- Silver Cloud. 16-night Southeast Asia/Australia in December 2006, from Singapore to Sydney.
- Silver Shadow. 14-night Southeast Asia/Australia in Feb 2006, from Fremantle, Australia, to Singapore; 8-, 9-, 10- & 14-night Asia cruises between Feb and May 2006, from Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bangkok, Bangkok to Singapore, and Hong Kong to Tokyo.
- Silver Whisper. 12-night Asia cruise in Nov and Dec 2006, from Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bangkok, and Bangkok to Singapore; 14-night Southeast Asia in Dec, round-trip from Singapore.
What the Small Ship Adventure Lines Are Doing
Clipper Cruise Line (tel. 800/325-0010; www.clippercruise.com)
- Clipper Odyssey. 14-night Japan cruise in May/June 2006, from Himeji to Tokyo; 14-night Russian Far East in June, from Tokyo to Anchorage; 19-night Asia cruise in Aug, from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City; 13-night Vietnam cruise in Sept, from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.
Cruise West (tel. 800/426-7702; www.cruisewest.com)
- Spirit of Oceanus. 14-night Japan cruises in March and Oct 2006, north- or southbound between Kobe and Niigata.
Star Clippers (tel. 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com)
- Star Flyer. 7-night Asia cruises, round-trip from Phuket or north- or southbound between Phuket and Singapore, are offered Jan-Mar and Nov-Dec, 2006; 10- & 11-night Asia cruises in Dec, north- or southbound between Phuket and Singapore.
Have you cruised any of these ports? Head to our Cruise Message Boards to share your tales with fellow Frommer's travelers.