River Cruising in Asia – Discover the Next Big Thing
Been there, done that when it comes to river cruises in Europe? Welcome to the new frontier, because river cruising in Asia is booming, and next year will provide an ever-increasing choice of new ships and new itineraries. Here’s what to look out for on Asia’s four big rivers in 2016.
Mekong River, Vietnam-Cambodia
The huge surge in interest in Mekong cruising over the last couple of years continues to grow. Uniworld, Viking and several boutique companies already operate on the river, and APT doubled its capacity this year when it launched a second ship, AmaLotus.
In 2016, other new ships will include Scenic’s Scenic Spirit, the more budget Evergreen Tours’ Mekong Navigator and Avalon Waterways’ Siem Reap. This latter ship only carries 38 passengers, making it small enough to sail all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap (near Angkor Wat), which avoids the road transfers required in both places for larger ships.
Finally, pioneering company Pandaw River Expeditions is now cruising the Upper Mekong through Laos, currently the only river-cruise company to do so.
Irrawaddy River, Myanmar
Once difficult to visit, Myanmar (Burma) has opened up in recent years, and river-cruise companies such as APT and Viking have quickly established themselves. Avalon Waterway’s new Avalon Myanmar started a 10-day Golden Myanmar itinerary this year that includes visits to a local school, temples and an elephant camp.
CroisiEurope (the world’s largest river-cruise company) is now beginning operations in Myanmar. Travelmarvel will operate its new ship, the Princess Panhwar, on 15-day cruises between Yangon and Mandalay, and Scenic’s petite Scenic Aura (an all-suite ship carrying just 44 passengers) begins service in September 2016. For those with an adventurous streak, Pandaw has will be sailing the lesser-known Chindwin River.
Ganges River, India
If you really want to be ahead of the river-cruise crowd, the Ganges is undoubtedly the hot river of 2016, since it has previously only been travelled by small-scale adventure companies, with ships generally running between Kolkata (Calcutta) and Patna, though a small number sail the Upper Ganges as far as Varanasi.
The Ganges is about to become mainstream, however. APT launched its new ship Ganges Voyager on India’s holy river this year, and its budget offshoot Travelmarvel floated out RV Rajmahal. Upmarket Uniworld will charter the all-suite Ganges Voyager II next year for eight-day cruises that are combined with a land tour to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
Yangtze River, China
The world’s second-longest river is Asia’s most established river-cruise destination, since international-standard ships have been plying the mighty waterway for well over a decade. APT, Avalon, Scenic, Tauck, Travelmarvel, Uniworld, Victoria Cruises and Viking already sail the river.
Although there are no new ship launches as such, companies continue to tinker with their shore excursions. Uniworld rolled out new shore excursions this year, including a canal tour in historic Suzhou, a visit to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the chance to take in a kung-fu show as well.