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

Courtyard view of Shuri Castle, Okinawa © Shutterstock
Courtyard view of Shuri Castle, Okinawa © Shutterstock

Japan

Japan has long been part of the high-tech revolution, but it also has its fair share of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Among them is Shuri Castle, a 14th-century royal palace on the island of Okinawa, where karate is said to have originated. At Osaka, an important trading centre when Tokyo was still a fishing village, the pagoda-like castle is one of the most famous in Japan. Visit at cherry blossom time, usually March and April, and the castle gardens will be at their most beautiful. You can catch a bullet train from Osaka to the former capital Kyoto, where the many UNESCO sites include Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle, the former Kyoto residence of the shogun. And then there is Yokohama, from where you can take the metro to Tokyo, home of Japan’s most important treasures such as the National Museum and some of the world’s best fashion stores in the shopping district of Shibuya.

GETTING THERE: Princess Cruises has a nine-day Ryukyu Islands & Taiwan cruise round-trip from Tokyo, from £899pp (two sharing), departing 10 November 2017 (princess.com).

Cambodia

With hundreds of monuments and abandoned temples covering an area roughly the size of Paris, it’s no wonder many operators include Angkor as a two-day visit with hotel accommodation at the start or end of a trip. Itineraries for ocean cruises to Cambodia also call at Thailand and Vietnam on a cruise through the Gulf of Thailand, while river cruises down the Mekong, past lush vegetation, paddy fields and farmland, often include a hotel stay at Siem Reap. River and ocean cruises include a visit to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, where the floor is made of silver tiles and there are jewel-encrusted Buddhas. Phnom Penh’s National Museum also contains a spectacular collection of Angkor Wat artefacts.

GETTING THERE: AmaWaterways’ 16-day Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong cruise has three nights in Siem Reap, from £3,532pp (two sharing) cruise and stay. Departs 18 February 2017 (amawaterways.co.uk).

Vietnam

Vietnam is a mix of Chinese and French colonial culture and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is an extraordinary Mekong river and ocean cruise destination. The city’s French-influenced highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral and the splendid Dragon House Wharf, which is now Ho Chi Minh City Museum. There are also several pagodas, the oldest being the Giác Lâm Pagoda, built in 1744, which has carved wooden pillars and statues of Buddha. Must-sees include the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum. Ha Long Bay, the UNESCO-listed seascape of limestone islands and islets, is definitely worth visiting, as is Hanoi, with its impressive colonial buildings.

GETTING THERE: Oceania Cruises has a 16-night Singapore to Hong Kong cruise with overnights at Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi from £4,269pp including return flights, departing 4 February 2017 (oceaniacruises.com).

Burma

Britain’s link to Burma and its reputation as a cultural treasure house has made cruises to Myanmar, as it is now known, increasingly popular. A closed country until only a few years ago, tourism is still in its infancy here. Cruises down the Irrawaddy River often start with a hotel stay at Yangon, formerly Rangoon, and small ocean cruise ships are able to sail up the river to moor in the city. Large ships dock on the coast about an hour’s drive away. Yangon’s spectacular sights include the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, which is completely covered in gold and topped with diamonds. This is surrounded by dozens more golden temples, stupas and statues. The city also has some fascinating British colonial buildings along The Strand, including the British Embassy and Post Office, and there is an Allied War Graves Cemetery on the outskirts of town.

GETTING THERE: Uniworld has a 15-day Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong from £4,069pp (two sharing). Departs 14 March 2017 (titantravel.co.uk/uniworld).

Thailand

The gilded pagodas and priceless Buddhas of Bangkok are high on the must-see list in Thailand. Laem Chabang cruise terminal is a two-hour drive away, although smaller ships sail up the Chao Phraya River and dock on the outskirts of the capital. Bangkok’s top attraction is the lavish 18th-century Grand Palace – a walled complex of golden pagodas and spire-like stupas. There are dozens of temples including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), within the Grand Palace grounds, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). The Chao Phraya floating markets are popular, although there are better bargains in the sprawling Chatuchak market or Chinatown. Dedicated shoppers will also love the Bangkok Fashion Outlet, where there are discounts of up to 20 per cent. Some cruises also call at Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, where you can take a local boat to spectacular sandy beaches with stunning rock formations in crystal-clear water. Phuket also has coral reefs, giant leatherback turtles, rainforest trekking and river rafting. You can even ride elephants there.

GETTING THERE: Royal Caribbean International has a seven-night Thailand and Vietnam cruise calling at Bangkok, from £509pp (two sharing), departing 20 January 2017 (royalcaribbean.co.uk).

Read part one of our amazing Asia cruises guide.

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