Southeast Asia is a vast expanse of 11 nations straddling the equator in and around the South China and Andaman Seas, Strait of Malacca, and the Gulfs of Thailand and Tonkin, and includes Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Brunei and the Philippines. The greatest number of small ship cruises in the region are on the Mekong River, which flows down from China through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam into the South China Sea, and on Burma’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, winding down from the Himalayas. Another popular Southeast Asian route for small oceangoing ships is coastal Vietnam, usually plying between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Oceangoing ships call at Sihanoukville, a deepwater port and beach resort, some 155 miles away from Phnom Penh, the capitol, located on the Mekong River. Well-established Mekong River cruises make landings to observe village life, temples and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period. The vast Angkor Wat temple complex at Siem Reap is the de rigueur land extension.
Made up of scores of islands, Indonesia has a huge range of experiences to offer, from the major ancient temple at Borobudur, lovely terraced rice paddies, Bali’s art scene and resort life, indigenous Komodo dragons, beauty of the Spice Islands, Borneo’s (Kalimantan) rain forests and rivers, coral reefs of Raja Ampat Islands for diving and snorkeling, and remote peoples living on scores of islands.
A landlocked country, river cruises are limited to the seldom-traveled northern Mekong from Vientiane, the capital, upriver into China. Otherwise the country serves as a land extension to lower Mekong River and oceangoing cruises.
Cruise ports are found mainly on the west coast beginning in the south with the former Portuguese enclave at Malacca, the historic island of Penang, and the beaches, mangroves and nature treks of Langkawi.
This amazing river flows through or touches six countries — China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The principal navigable stretches are in Cambodia and Vietnam where its delta flows into the South China. Limited river cruises operate in northern Laos and north into China’s Yunnan Province.
Rivers cruises along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin are now well developed and access not just the main cities of Yangon (Rangoon), Bagan and Mandalay, but remote regions in the far north where other travel options are limited. Oceangoing cruises sail up to Yangon and a few coastal ports.
Papua New Guinea
Located north of Australia, the large tropical island has vast biological and cultural diversity, dense rainforests, active volcanoes, coral reefs, hiking trails, and Sepik River cruises that penetrate the interior.
An island city/country that is at the crossroads of Southeast Asia receives many cruise ships. With an international yet largely Chinese population, the modern city offers something for everyone, from vestiges of colonial British architecture to 19th-century Chinese shop houses, lush botanic gardens and a vibrant food scene for adventurous eaters.
Oceangoing cruises aboard large ships cannot reach Bangkok, instead dock at Laem Chabang resulting in a 2.5 hour drove, while the smaller ships can dock much closer, making a day trip more worthwhile. Some small ship cruises call on the island of Phuket, on the west coast, or Koh Samui on the Gulf side.
Oceangoing cruises call at the mouth of the Mekong some distance from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), while small ships can reach the city center; Hoi An or Danang give access to cultural sites including the old imperial city of Hue; and Hai Phong for Hanoi. River cruises ply the Mekong north into Cambodia and rivers near Hanoi, while the World Heritage Site of Halong Bay features towering limestone islands.