So you've decided you want to see the Far East by ship. Smart move: a cruise is an excellent way to get an overview of the region. From the stunning temples to the golden Buddhas, craft markets, rice fields and palm lined beaches, Southeast Asia is truly a feast for the senses.
Roughly stretching from India, east to China and Japan, and south to the Indonesian Archipelago, Southeast Asia is a vast region. Many cruises depart from the hubs of Singapore, Hong Kong or Tianjin/Beijing, and may include ports in China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and India. 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.
Eight Great Tips to Heed
1. Itineraries are typically at least ten days long, and often two weeks or more, between about September and April. Sometimes longer routes also include ports in the Middle East, Australia and/or New Zealand. Keep in mind, with time zone changes and the great distance, flying to and from the United States will add on another few days to your trip.
2. Hot hot hot. Parts of the Far East region can be boiling hot during the winter cruising season. Keep in mind, Singapore sits just north of the equator, and Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia aren't much further. Hats and sunscreen are a must considering temps can get into the 90s. As you venture north to places like Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, things cool down.
3. Generally, typhoon (otherwise known as a hurricane in North America) season in the Far East (China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia) is considered to be between about May and November, though tropical storms can occur year round. On route to Laem Chabang (the port for Bangkok) in the Gulf of Thailand earlier this month, seas were very rough for about 24 hours. The captain reported swells over 12 feet and 50-knot winds. The ship seem to bob in the sea like a toy boat and many sea sick passengers were confined to their cabins for the duration.
4. Attractions may be quite a distance from the port where the ship docks. For example, Bangkok is listed as a port of call on many cruise line itineraries, but keep in mind it's actually about a 2-hour drive each way from the industrial port of Laem Chabang. From Port Klang, Malaysia, the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive each way.
5. For those of you who like to explore independently on shore, use a taxi and avoid car and scooter rentals. Roads are often in bad shape and not marked well and/or not sign-posted in English.
6. Bargain, haggle, negotiate. For the most part, that's how business is conducted in the Far East. It's expected especially in markets, with street/beach hawkers and for guides and taxis. For example, in Phuket, we hired a taxi for four hours and negotiated the priced down 25 per cent. I paid half of what a beach vendor was asking for a couple souvenir cosmetic bags. There's no rule for how far to bargain, just use common sense. In general, prices should always be quite a bit cheaper than what they'd be in the States.
7. It helps to have local currency on hand, especially when bargaining for souvenirs, though most vendors will also except US dollars and will generally have a calculator on hand to do the conversion.
8. Temple etiquette. The temples of Southeast Asia are amazing places, but dress the part so you won't miss out. Shorts, halter tops or other revealing clothing are not appropriate. Ladies, a sarong makes a great impromptu skirt when visiting religious sites. Remove your shoes at the entrance.