The most popular cruises continue to be those that travel the Yangtze, the world’s third-longest river (3,900 miles), which stretches from Shanghai through China’s heartland. The list of companies offering Yangtze cruises includes: Abercrombie & Kent, Avalon Waterways, Grand Circle Cruise Line, Sanctuary Retreats, Tauck, Uniworld, Victoria Cruises and Viking River Cruises.
As time spent on the river is typically only three to five days, a variety of Yangtze packages is offered: most with stays in Shanghai, Beijing and Xian. Some might include Chengdu, Guilin, Hong Kong, Lijiang or Lhasa (Tibet). The river portion sails between Chongqing and Yichang or Chongqing and Wuhan and usually includes a stop at the Three Gorges Dam and a visit to the Lesser Three Gorges area. Typical tours visit, among other sites, the Ghost City of Fengdu, the Shibzozhai Temple and the Chongqing Zoo (for the pandas).
Sanctuary Retreats’ refurbished Yangzi Explorer offers a boutique hotel experience on the Yangtze River, with a very high staff-to-guest ratio, and has some of the largest cabins and suites on the river. The ship sails 3- and 4-night Yangtze River cruises, 5- and 6-night combination rail and river packages and 8- and 9-night river and land packages.
On the Mekong, Southeast Asia’s longest river (2,700 miles), we’re seeing more itinerary choices and more ships, as well as more luxury choices. Itineraries generally begin in Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia, gateway to the Angkor region and travel either to Ho Chi Minh City or Phnom Penh.
Also growing in popularity is travel to Myanmar (Burma) on the 1,348-mile Irrawady River, which flows north to south from high in the Himalayas through the center of the country and empties into the Andaman Sea. In August, when the Himalayan snows melt, the water is high enough to allow vessels to travel all the way to Bhamo, near the Chinese border.
Asia cruise pioneer Pandaw Expeditions, a major presence on the continent’s river, continues to offer a Classic Mekong cruise but with a new and upgraded itinerary that allows cruise goers to visit Kratie and the Mekong dolphins.
Pandaw has also launched a new India river expedition that travels along The Lower Ganges aboard the Orient Pandaw. The seven-night itinerary sailing from Kolkata to Farraka and vice versa, will debut on December 23, 2018, with weekly departures until the end of April 2019. It will re-commence in July 2019 through April 2020.
Pandaw offers a variety of land packages to complement the river itineraries. They also charter some of their vessels to American and European river cruise specialists.
Through April, 2020, AmaWaterways’ AmaDara sails 7-night Mekong itineraries from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City (and the reverse). Pre- and post-cruise land options are offered: either 3 nights in Siem Reap or a combination of 3 nights in Siem Reap and 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City.
Also through April, 2020, Avalon Waterways offers similar cruises, as well as longer trips that take passengers through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. The 13-day itineraries go from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City (and reverse); 16-day cruises--from Siem Reap to Bangkok, from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok, from Hanoi to Siem Reap. The 18-day cruises sail from Siem Reap to Hanoi or from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, while the 19-day trip goes from Hanoi to Bangkok. Avalon’s “Ultimate” cruises are the 25-day sail from Bangkok to Danang (with Hue) and the 29-day trip (with Sapa and Hue).
Avalon sails the Upper Irrawaddy, with itineraries ranging from 14 to days. On the Ganges, Avalon offers short 7-day trips, round-trip, along with longer, richer cruises that travel to Southern India and Nepal.
Emerald Waterways has 8-day Mekong cruises aboard the Mekong Navigator, traveling through Vietnam and Cambodia-as well as luxury cruises on the Emerald Harmony, with 13- to 21-day itineraries.
Sister line Scenic’s Space-Ship, the Scenic Spirit travels the Mekong in all-inclusive luxury, with an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio, a swimming pool, a steam sauna, an open-air cinema and other amenities. Itineraries ranging from 11 days to the once-in-a-lifetime 31-day cruise that travels both the Mekong and the Irrawaddy Rivers. Scenic’s Irrawaddy River cruises take place aboard Scenic Aura, which, like the Spirit, was launched in 2016 and features the same luxuries and amenities. Cruises range from 11 days to 31 days.
Sanctuary Retreats’ 42-passenger, all-suite, all-balcony Sanctuary Ananda, continues to sail 3- to 11-night itineraries across segments of the Irrawaddy and its tributary, the Chindwin. The vessel is known not only for its luxurious décor and butler service, but also because it was custom built
Avalon’s Myanmar is another luxury ship, custom built by local craftsmen using traditional materials, with a high staff-to-passenger ratio and large entry-level accommodations, a pair of pools and cabin butler service. Onboard cuisine was developed in partnership with celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein. The ship sails 3- to 11-night itineraries across segments of the Irrawaddy River and its tributary, the Chindwin.