The network of waterways in Southeast Asia chop and change as you follow the current. Between hives of activity with clusters of houses and hardworking fishermen, there are stretches of untouched countryside, mountains thick with jungle and towering limestone karsts.
Not only do these waterways offer an insight into local life – a springboard to explore rural villages, markets, and hidden temples – but with a range of high-end boats, you may rethink staying in a hotel ever again.
1. Pandaw river expeditions
By Pandaw’s own admission, if mounted televisions, speedy Wi-Fi and ball gowns at dinner are key to your perfect cruise, this fleet of ships will leave you disappointed. Their trips are designed to leave the hubbub of the modern world behind and embrace a gentle journey through Indochina on the slow road.
Their boats have luxury cabins crafted in teak and brass, sumptuous meals and delightfully down to Earth staff. Best of all, they can navigate smaller waterways to take passengers off the beaten track.
2. Halong Bay cruises
With countless picturesque sights, the battle for the most photographed area in Vietnam might be a contested one, but we think Halong Bay may well just pip the country’s other highlights to the post. Unsurprisingly those limestone isles and islets draw hordes of tourists to the area every year. Suffice to say, you’ll be impressed however you choose to visit, but there are ways to make it extra special.
The bay isn’t short of boating options, from simple cabins with basic amenities, right up to private luxury vessels boasting elegant suites with private balconies. With your own crew you can escape the crowds and lap the waves at your own pace.
3. RV Jayarvarman
If you’re interested in Indochina’s French colonial period, you will be enamoured with a stay aboard the elegant RV Jayarvarman (named after King Jayavarman, overseer of some of Angkor’s most famous temples).
While built in 2009, every detail is influenced by French colonial and Indochinese style with Vietnamese lacquer paintings, Khmer decorative flourishes and a 1930s bar. Each swish cabin has a private balcony to watch the sun set over the Mekong; a river that flows more than 2,500 miles from the Tibetan Plateau south to Vietnam, passing through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia along the way.
4. Champagne cruise at Angkor Thom
The temples of Angkor Wat are undeniably impressive – vestiges of a forgotten world, frozen in time. But as Cambodia’s least well-kept secret, travellers jostle to the Khmer Empire’s greatest city to see vine-strangled Ta Prohm and the Bayon faces at Angkor Thom.
After a busy day exploring amongst the melee, there’s a pocket of serenity to be found on the waters of Angkor Thom’s ancient moat. In the evening, board a cruise and sup champagne as you watch the sun set over the oldest religious monument in the world.
5. Sunset dinner cruise in Luang Prabang
The UNESCO World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang is the jewel in Laos’s crown. There are pristine temples with gilded facades, laidback streets and miles of lush countryside waiting beyond towering Mount Phousi. Round off a day in this delightful town with a sunset cruise on the Mekong. Tuck into a delicious Lao dinner accompanied by live music and Khmer performances, and watch the scenery change as you drift away from the town.
Alastair Donnelly is Director at InsideAsia Tours.