An intoxicating blend of old and new, Asia is one of the most enticing regions in the world, and a cruise is one of the easiest ways to explore it. Deborah Stone highlights some of the best itineraries

One of the last remaining Chinese sailing junks in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong © Amanda Hall/Getty
One of the last remaining Chinese sailing junks in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong © Amanda Hall/Getty

Hong Kong

A shopper’s paradise and foodie’s heaven is waiting for passengers in Hong Kong – either at the long-established Ocean Terminal or the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal which is just 10 minutes from many tourist attractions. These include the colourful Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, where visitors go to make offerings to have their wishes come true. Also easily reached is the equally exotic Chi Lin Nunnery, an elegant wooden temple set in the landscaped Nan Lian Garden with its traditional teahouse. The cruise terminals are on Kowloon Peninsula, home to the Museum of Art, and colonial buildings such as the Peninsula Hotel where the afternoon tea is superb. The legendary markets of Kowloon include the Ladies’ Market for buying clothes and souvenirs and Temple Street Night Market which is full of food stalls and street entertainers. Hong Kong Island is less frenetic and has beaches and Mount Victoria, with its jaw-dropping views of the province. The best views are from a Star Ferry boat, and the best time to take a ride round the bay is at night when Hong Kong is lit up like a Christmas tree.

GETTING THERE: Princess Cruises has a five-day Korea & Japan Getaway cruise, from £499pp (two sharing), departing 26 September 2017 (princess.com).

South Korea

South Korea manages to retain its traditional culture while offering the modern holiday experience that you would expect of such an economic powerhouse. New to the cruise scene thanks in part to the growing demand of wealthy Chinese tourists, South Korea has three main cruise terminals: Incheon, Jeju and Busan. Incheon is a 90-minute drive from the capital, Seoul; Jeju is an idyllic volcanic island not unlike the Hawaiian Islands; and Busan is a happy mix of culture, history and great beaches. Although Seoul has temples and palaces, Busan is emerging as the more popular destination for cruise ships, possibly because it is only a 30-minute shuttle bus ride from the terminal. Temples around the city include the 14th-century Haedong Yonggungsa, with its dramatic coastal backdrop, and Busan Museum has many Buddhist pagodas, statues and monuments. Alternatively, you can opt for the popular Haeundae Beach, which not only has windsurfing and jet skiing for the energetic, but also hot springs with mineral baths.

GETTING THERE: Royal Caribbean International has a four-night Best of Busan cruise from £469pp (two sharing), departing 26 April 2017 (royalcaribbean.co.uk).

Singapore

Spotlessly clean and modern, Singapore comes into its own at night, when its skyscrapers are lit up, families play and there are spectacular laser shows. During the day, you can still enjoy a taste of British colonial life with a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, but this is essentially a very modern island. The extraordinary Gardens by the Bay are typical of the high-tech, innovative lifestyle here, where man-made supertrees act as vertical gardens but also collect rainwater and generate solar power. Heritage trails reveal Singapore’s Chinese, Malay and Eurasian influences and the Chinatown Trail will take you to Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple, the Jamae Mosque, established by Indian traders in 1826, markets selling traditional Chinese clothes and boutiques, wine bars and restaurants in restored ancient shophouses.

GETTING THERE: Voyages Of Discovery have a 15-day An Insight Into Indonesia cruise, calling at Singapore and Bali, from £1,699pp (two sharing), departing 6 December 2016 (voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk).

India

The heat and dust of India has enthralled travellers for centuries, lured by the sumptuous wealth of palaces, the colours and sheer vibrancy of its street life. Mumbai and Cochin on the west coast of India are often on world cruise itineraries, which are sold either as one long holiday of a lifetime or in two or three-week sections. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, was once the headquarters of the British East India Company but is now the home of Bollywood films. It’s a busy, modern, skyscraper city but colonial architecture such as the Victoria Railway Terminus still survives and other attractions include the Gandhi Memorial Museum.
Cochin is less chaotic but even more of a cultural melting pot thanks to its position on the spice and silk trade route. It is known for its inland waterways and the picturesque fishing nets that line the beaches. Cruise itineraries to India start or finish with two or three land-based days in the ‘golden triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Old Delhi still has stunning British colonial attractions such as India Gate, the imperial archway designed by Edwin Lutyens, and the Red Fort. Agra has the Great Red Fort and India’s most famous building, the Taj Mahal, while Jaipur has the Amber Fort and Maharaja’s City Palace.

GETTING THERE: APT has an 18-day Wonders of India tour and river cruise departing 19 February 2017, from £8,195pp based on two sharing, including flights, transfers, meals and  some excursions (aptouring.co.uk).

China

Whether you’ve dreamed of walking along the Great Wall of China or exploring Beijing’s Forbidden City, China is still top of the wishlist for many of us – and remains difficult to visit independently. Increasing numbers of ocean cruises call at Tianjin for excursions to Beijing, two or three hours away, or Baoshan in Shanghai. Excursions to Beijing include the Forbidden City of the Imperial Palace and its pavilions, courtyards and gardens. There is also a Summer Palace with gardens and you can even walk along the Great Wall of China here. Shanghai is a modern high-rise city but parts of old Shanghai survive, notably the colonial buildings of The Bund for a mile along the Huangpu River. Other tourist spots include the Yu Gardens, with pagodas, gorges and ponds, and the Jade Buddha Temple.
To see China properly, though, take a river cruise down the Yangtze past the limestone outcrops of the Three Gorges with day trips to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors and spend two or three days in Shanghai and Beijing.

GETTING THERE: Viking Cruises’ 13-day Imperial Jewels of China cruise is from £3,295pp, departing 6 March 2017 (vikingcruises.co.uk).

Read part two of our amazing Asia cruises guide.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.