Introduction to river cruising: Asia

An Asian river cruise is jam-packed with vibrant cultures, welcoming locals and delicious cuisine, all wrapped in delicate surroundings of forest, temples and fishing villages.

The river cruise scene across Asia is perfect for experiencing all that this continent has to offer from Beijing to Thailand, Hanoi to Cambodia, there is a wide selection of river cruises to enjoy along the rivers of Asia.

What to expect on an Asian river cruise?

Yangtze river cruise

River cruises through Asia are a tapestry of senses, perfectly woven together to offer unforgettable memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

There are three popular river cruises which flow through Asia: the Yangtze, Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers, each offering their own close-up encounters with local life and must-see sights.

Where can you sail on an Asian river cruise?

Irrawaddy River

Irrawaddy River

Guillen Perez /, CC BY-ND 2.0

One of the most important rivers running through Myanmar, the Irrawaddy – also known as the Ayeyarwaddy – is the longest river in the region. It flows from the Kachin River, originating at the confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers.

The river connects major cities such as Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon, offering transport links for trade and commercial relations throughout the region, before ending in the vast Irrawaddy Delta into the Indian Ocean.

Mekong River

Fisherman sailing along the Mekong River

The Mekong River runs through a vast number of towns and cities during its course, first originating in the Tibetan Plateau before flowing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – passing by numerous iconic regions such as Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City. The name of the river derives from the Thai and Laos form ‘Mae Nam Khong’, which means mother of waters.

Yangtze River

Yangtze River - Small boat sailing along the banks

As one of the longest rivers in all of Asia and the third longest in the world, the Yangtze River is a significant waterway to explore. It houses the largest hydro-electric power station in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, and favours an ecosystem where several endemic and endangered species thrive, such as the Chinese alligator, narrow-ridged fin-less porpoise and the Yangtze River dolphin.

What to look out for on an Asian river cruise?

Architectural wonders

Bagan, Asia

The temple-strewn plains of Bagan are the perfect place to explore what once was along the Irrawaddy, with over 3,000 pagodas, temples and Buddhas dotted along the World Heritage listed landscape.

The Three Gorges Dam is also an impressive structure to behold, situated on the Yangtze River just west of the Hubei province. The dam has been standing since construction completed in 2006, after an eight-year engineering project.

Found along the Irrawaddy River is Yangon’s most famous landmark, the Shwedagon. This glittering, golden masterpiece stands at a staggering 99m high, is gold-plated and features a diamond studded spire. This is one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist sites and dates back to over 2,500 years.

Mega-city mayhem and remote rural life

Shanghai, China

Most Yangtze River cruises pair visits to Shanghai, mainly because the city is truly a sight to behold, As China’s biggest city and global financial hub it boasts a population of 34 million residents.

Mandalay is the last royal capital for Myanmar, a popular stop during Irrawaddy river cruises. Though the city can be smoggy from the traffic, the beauty of Mandalay can be found beneath. With many monasteries, exciting markets, Indian temples, mosques and a bustling riverside just waiting to be explored.

You can also experience the floating worlds along the Mekong, with quaint fishing villages and markets which are all built upon the foundations of this mighty river. Rice paddies and mangrove forests also feature, where wildlife wanders.

Which ships sail on Asian rivers?

Irrawaddy river cruises

APT offers the RV Samatha for guests to step aboard when sailing the Irrawaddy, a contemporary ship with 31 lavish suites each with a twin or panoramic balcony to enjoy your own private outdoors.

Avalon Myanmar is Avalon Waterway’s answer to Irrawaddy river cruises, offering itineraries over two weeks long aboard this all-suite ship for up to 36 passengers.

Emerald Waterways exclusively charters the Irrawaddy Explorer – a 28 suite boutique ship offering either French or full balconies and elegant old-world charm.

Scenic Aura is the Irrawaddy river cruise ship for Scenic, a 22 one-bedroom suite ship offering 44 guests the chance to experience Asia in absolute luxury and comfort.

Golden Pagoda in Yangon

Mekong river cruises

APT’s RV AmaLotus is one of the most luxurious river ships sailing the Mekong, offering an all-suite ship for guests.

Avalon Waterways has the Avalon Siem Reap for sailing along the Mekong for up to 36 guests, with all-suite accommodation each offering comfortable lounges and panoramic views.

The Mekong Navigator is Emerald Waterways’ ship of choice for river cruising along the Mekong. The ship offers traditional French Colonial design with exceptional modern comforts, perfect for exploring Asia.

Scenic also offers sailings along the Mekong with the Scenic Spirit, accommodating 68 passengers in 34 one-bedroom balcony suites and an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio.

Riviera Travel offers a choice of two ships when sailing along the Mekong: RV Mekong Prestige II and RV Mekong Adventurer. Both offer spacious accommodation and beautifully appointed spaces.

AmaDara is the river cruise ship for AmaWaterways, a 124-passenger cruise ship which is decorated with Mekong artefacts made by native craftsmen.

CroisiEurope charters a number of river cruise ships along the Mekong including the RV Indochine and RV Indochine II. Both offer a unique charm to their design and aesthetics, with spacious cabins and private balconies.

Uniworld offers the Mekong Navigator – a 68-passenger ship offering modern luxury and timeless elegance for guests looking to explore the Mekong aboard a gracious and ambient river cruise ship.

The final river cruise line along the Mekong is Viking, which offers the Viking Mekong. This ship boasts outside staterooms with a river view for up to 56 guests, making it an intimate river cruise to enjoy.

Traditional fishing along the Irrawaddy

Yangtze river cruises

The Yangtze has five river cruise lines which set sail along its banks, the first being APT which has the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. This is the smallest luxury river ship sailing along the Yangtze and is offered alongside tours of China’s popular regions such as Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. APT also charter ships from the cruise line Victoria Cruises which offers MS Victoria Anna, MS Victoria Selina and MS Victoria Lianna.

Uniworld sets sail with two ships along the Yangtze River, including the ship which APT also charters – the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. The other is the Century Legend, which is a sophisticated ship for just under 400 guests.

Viking river cruises has the Viking Emerald which is a state-of-the-art ship for up to 256 guests. All staterooms include full verandas and luxury amenities, as well as spacious public areas to watch the world go by.

Both Tauck and Scenic also offer river cruises along the Yangtze, via the chartered ship Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer – carrying up to 124 passengers to enjoy some of the finest and most personalised services on-board.

Book a cruise to Asia on one of the world’s most immersive waterways

Setting sun and pagoda silhouette in China

It’s safe to say that there is a breadth of river cruises to enjoy when visiting Asia, ranging from quaint fishing villages to the bustling cities and futuristic streets.

Book yourself a river cruise along either the Mekong, Irrawaddy or Yangtze to explore the banks first-hand and look forward to experiencing all that there is along the waterways.

Call our Cruise Concierge team on 0800 197 0854 for any further questions and award-winning advice on you Asia river cruise booking.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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