More than 30 cruise lines operate itineraries in Asia, across more than 200 ports, representing 17 countries. And that's not including the river cruise lines that ply the main rivers there.
Cruising is one of the best ways to see Asia, particularly if you don't have a lot of time. A two-week cruise in the region can visit seven or more ports, all offering unique experiences. Or concentrate on just one country. For example, Japan-intensive cruises give people a chance to visit all the major Japanese ports in one sailing.
Additionally, cruises are a good way for Westerners to visit Asia, because you'll often be touring with English-speaking local guides who can assist with language and local customs.
A cruise to Asia, no matter which region, is a culturally rich experience replete with visits to sacred temples, ancient monuments and architectural marvels, along with bustling cities and rural villages.
On East Asia sailings, which typically include one or more stops in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, visitors enjoy hiking the Great Wall of China, browsing the colorful street markets of Tokyo, visiting the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto and watching the changing of the guard at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei. Other popular activities are dim sum or sake tastings, Tai Chi and calligraphy lessons, meals in local homes and visits to sumo stables to observe Japan's famous wrestlers.
Southeast Asia, which includes countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, is similarly as spectacular. The most popular tours go to the stunningly ornate temples in Thailand and Cambodia and explore of some of the world's busiest cities including Hong Kong and Singapore. Also popular are short cruises through the islands of Halong Bay, harrowing tuk-tuk rides to Wat Po where you'll find the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, and visiting museums in Ho Chi Minh such as the War Remnants Museum.
On cruises that stop in Malaysia and Indonesia, a visit to Kuala Lumpur is tops, with its ancient temples and mosques set next to modern skyscrapers that are among the tallest in the world.
The most popular activities on China's Yangtze River are visits to the Three Gorges Dam, Shibaozhai Temple and "ghost city" of Fengdu, taking in a Chinese opera and, of course, seeing pandas at the Chongqing Zoon.
On Mekong River (Cambodia/Vietnam) cruises, cruisers enjoy walking through remote local villages, riding tuk-tuks in cities, seeing how local arts and crafts are made, visiting the Killing Fields and hearing from locals about their lives. Most cruisers also extend their stay (either before or after, depending on which end of the river they depart from) to visit Angkor Wat.
On the Ganges, in India, cruisers visit temples and colonial buildings, and meet with locals to find out about life along the river.
Cruises sail to and within Asia throughout the year, but high season for both ocean and river cruising is November through March, which is also when you'll find the highest prices and the most crowded tourist attractions. June and July are notorious for high temperatures, oppressive humidity and lots of rain, but that's also when prices are lower and the crowds are thinner.
India river cruises have a slightly different season, with most sailings operating between October and March, with late December and early January not recommended because of thick fogs that can settle over parts of the country. February is the best month to go, with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s Fahrenheit and lower humidity.
In China, on the other hand, the main Yangtze River cruise season is April to October, with the best weather in April, May, September and October.
Cruise lines offer a variety of sailing routes throughout Asia, both along the various coastlines on oceangoing ships and on several rivers, the most popular of which are the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy and Ganges rivers.
Generally speaking, East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) cruise itineraries include three or more of the following ports: Aomori, Akita, Hakodate, Kobe, Kagoshima, Kochi, Osaka, Okinawa, Otaru or Nagasaki in Japan; Busan, Incheon or Jeju in South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; and Hong Kong and Shanghai, China.
The most common Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam) ocean-based cruises run north or south between Hong Kong and Singapore. Ports you're likely to visit on these cruises include: Ko Samui, Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City, Chan May/Hue, Hoi An, Halong Bay and Da Nang, Vietnam.
You can also elect to take a cruise that concentrates on Indonesia or Malaysia. These typically include stops in: Benoa (Bali) and Komodo, Indonesia; Langkawi and Port Kelang, Malaysia; and Phuket, Thailand.
The two most popular river cruises in the region are on the Yangtze River in China and the Mekong River, which runs through Vietnam and Cambodia. Ports on the Yangtze River sailings might include Yichang and Wuhan, along with a stop at the Three Gorges Dam site. Ports on Mekong River cruises include Phnom Penh and Kampong Chan in Cambodia, as well as numerous small towns in both countries along the river.
Growing in popularity are Myanmar (Burma) cruises on the Irrawaddy River, which stop in Yangon (Rangoon), Bagan and Mandalay.
Ganges River cruises in India are also growing in popularity and feature stops in Kalna, Matiari, Murshidbad, Mayapur, Bandel, Chandenagor and Varanasi.
Most East Asia cruises (China, Japan, Korea) depart from Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai or Beijing. Southeast Asia ocean cruises (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) generally begin and end in Singapore, though some sail between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Cruises that concentrate on Indonesia and/or Malaysia typically begin and end in Singapore.
As for river cruises: Yangtze River cruises depart from Chongqing, China. Mekong River cruises start and end in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Kampong Cham or Ankor Wat, Cambodia (or vice versa). River cruises in Myanmar (Burma) begin and end in Bangkok or Yangon, and the standard Ganges River cruise begins and ends in Kolkata.
Choose from East Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan) or Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar/Burma) itineraries.
You'll find more river cruise options in Southeast Asia (Mekong and Irrawaddy), though a Yangtze River Cruise in China is a popular option for many travellers to Asia.
In India, cruises are offered along the Ganges River.
Here are our best tips for finding a cheap cruise or cruise deal to Asia. If you book a “guaranteed cabin” (they select for you), a cabin on a lower deck or sail on an older ship from a brand you like, then you can get the best price for a specific cruise to Asia. Last minute cruises deals to Asia appear as you get closer to the sail date, usually 1-2 weeks in advance. Taking a cruise to Asia in the shoulder season (before or after the peak season) can also be a great way to find a cruise deal.