Cruising Asia's rivers
By Jane Archer | June 2018 | 5 minute read
Cutting through cultural heartlands, Asia’s rivers offer access to some of the world’s greatest monuments and most sought after destinations. Selling a cruise over a land tour guarantees a smooth and luxurious experience of this popular region and there are plenty to choose from for repeat clients.
“A river cruise in Asia takes you through a country and not just to it. Agents should target clients who want adventure but are wary about going it alone.”
STUART PERL, UK MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMAWATERWAYS
Virtually unknown until a little over a decade ago, the Mekong is now the top-selling river in Asia and is set to grow even faster after being showcased to more than 120 agents during CLIA UK & Ireland’s Asia Cruise Forum in April.
As well as learning about river cruising in Asia during conference sessions in Ho Chi Minh City, the agents were hosted on three- and four-night cruises on the Mekong, an experience which will no doubt push up sales for the river (already the third biggest-selling in the UK for AmaWaterways and achieving three times as many sales since last year for APT’s UK office.
But there are numerous other rivers to explore across the region. In India, the up-and-coming Ganges pairs nicely with a tour of the Golden Triangle (Delhi/Agra/Jaipur), while three- and four-night cruises on the Yangtze in China are a perfect accompaniment to longer tours of the country.
Titan Travel’s 14-night Treasures of China combines a three-night cruise with Beijing, Chengdu and Xian to see the Great Wall, pandas and the Terracotta Warriors.
Until the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, the Irrawaddy River was also going great guns. Bookings have dropped, but Pandaw’s Vice President Sales and Marketing, Marco Rosa, is confident this will be temporary. “Myanmar sales have been up and down over the past 20 years. It is a wonderful destination and will be back,” he said.
Pandaw offers plenty of other rivers for agents to sell – adventurous clients will love cruising the Upper Mekong in Laos and China, the Red River in Northern Vietnam and the Lower Ganges in India, a new itinerary launching in December. Rosa added: “Asia river cruising is all about exploring off the ship.”
Off to market: Asia’s colourful markets buzz with locals buying live chickens, fish and exotic fruits, and things you don’t want to think about, such as pigs snouts in China, deep-fried crickets in Cambodia and rats on sticks in Vietnam.
Getting around: Getting around in Asia is fun. Think an ox or horse-cart, a rickshaw or tuk-tuk. Those cruising the Mekong with APT can even get into the midst of the action in Ho Chi Minh City by taking a tour on the back of a motorbike (the guide follows on another bike).
Temple stops: Clients can see the sun rise over the temple of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the sun set over 2,000-plus pagodas and stupas in Bagan in Myanmar. In China, Viking’s river cruises on the Yangtze stop at the spectacular 12-storey Shibaoshai Temple. Avalon’s new Ganges cruises visits the vast Iskcon temple in Mayapur, home of Hare Krishna.
Learn a trade: Ever wondered what gold leaf is or how silk is made? All is revealed on trips to artisan workshops. In Bagan, cruisers visit workshops to learn how bamboo, wood and black paint is turned into beautiful lacquer products.
Dip into the past: On the Mekong, clients learn about the horrors of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime and the Vietnam War. In China, cruise tours visit Xian to see the Terracotta Army built more than 2,000 years ago by Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife. On the Ganges, clients can hear tales from the British Raj and find out why a Greek-style palace in Murshidabad has 1,000 doors.
Pandaw is launching cruises on the Lower Ganges in India in December. Seven-night cruises between Kolkata and Farakka on the Orient Pandaw visit the Hare Krishna HQ in Mayapur and the site of the Battle of Plassey where, in 1757, the British East India Company defeated the Nawabs of Bengal and their French allies to take control of India.
India is hot property. Avalon Waterways is also launching on the Lower Ganges. Starting 2019, it is pairing a one-week voyage with a Golden Triangle (Delhi/Agra/Jaipur) tour. Optional extensions in Kathmandu or Varanasi – or both – are available.
Emerald Waterways is venturing into Myanmar in 2019 with new 14- to 19-day holidays that combine a cruise on the Irrawaddy River with hotel nights in Mandalay, Yangon and Inle Lake.
Sanctuary Retreats has revamped its Yangtze River tour programme with new excursions to a former nuclear base built into the mountains in Fuling or a museum 148 feet below the water that contains centuries-old rock carvings.
Riviera Travel has a 16-day cruise-tour in China for solo travellers. Clients will see the Great Wall from Beijing, panda breeding centre in Chengdu and spend three nights on the Yangtze River. The departure date is March 19 2019.
What the experts say
“Holidays used to be about fly and flop. Now people want to explore places and sight-do rather than sight-see They want to try something different. An Asia river cruise is perfect. It is all about experiences –- the food, the people, even trying to cross the roads in Ho Chi Minh City! They are the things visitors will take away from their holiday and always remember. The only way agents can sell Asia effectively is to have that knowledge, to showcase those experiences and match them to what their clients want.”
ANDY HARMER, SENIOR VICE-PRESIDENT MEMBERSHIP, CLIA UK & IRELAND
Where to book it
CroisiEurope offers a nine-day cruise from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap is priced from £2,167pp, cruise-only and including excursions and gratuities.
Riviera Travel has seven-nights aboard the four-star RV Bengal Ganga in a stateroom, plus three nights in five-star hotels, is from £3,199pp and includes Delhi, the Taj Mahal and Varanasi. Departs February to April.