Over the past five years, half a dozen lines have taken to the waters of Southeast Asia: the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam and Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. Others, meanwhile, are expanding into India, putting the country’s remote northeastern region within easier reach. Rich cultures and religious history are at the core of each of these journeys—as seen in everything from 1,000-year-old temples to seldom-visited tribal villages.
The Brahmaputra River and the majestic peaks of the Himalayas are the backdrops for a new sailing from Pandaw River Expeditions (14 days with seven-night cruise from $5,622 per person). The trip combines a tea factory visit in Silghat and the chance to see rhinos and Asian tigers in Kaziranga National Park with five nights in Bhutan (Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro).
A new itinerary by Vantage Travel (17 nights from $4,999 per person) makes a pre- or post-cruise stop at the Taj Mahal before setting off from Kolkata to follow the lower Ganges River. What you’ll see when not aboard the new all-suite Ganges Voyager: a little-known French colony from the 1600s, the region’s oldest mosque, and a temple city of 108 Hindu shrines.
As the country opens up after decades of rule by military junta, cruise companies are seizing the chance to sail there. Viking and AmaWaterways recently launched cruises on the Irrawaddy, but Sanctuary Retreats (10 nights from $4,740 per person) has opted for the river less traveled: the Chindwin, where the water is high enough in late July and August. The 25-suite Sanctuary Ananda, which sails from Mandalay to Bagan, has elegant interiors that feature lacquerware and teak.
The low-draft Kalay Pandaw from Pandaw River Expeditions (seven nights from $3,500 per person) is able to go north mid-September to mid-October to Nagaland in India, where you’ll visit markets and meet Naga warriors.
Cambodia and Vietnam
Rice paddies, thatched-roof villages, oxen wading through water: cruise ships along the Mekong River are surrounded by scenes of picturesque rural life (read our story about the Aqua Mekong). New itineraries from Avalon Waterways (seven nights from $2,699 per person) take 36 guests from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, with detours to markets, the Killing Fields, and the region’s crown jewel, Angkor Wat.
Coming in January 2016: the 68-passenger Scenic Spirit from Scenic Cruises (seven nights from $2,495 per person), which will take luxury on the Mekong to the next level. The ship will have an elevator between decks, a full spa with a steam room and a sauna, and the largest suite of any river-cruise ship.