Cruising in Asia is not the next big thing, it’s already a big thing.
Looking back over some of the early cruise posters, it’s easy to see how the cruise lines were able to cash in on the exotic mystique of the ‘Far East’ - and that’s something they are only too happy to continue today.
Of course, cruise ships of all shapes and sizes visit the traditional Asian ports of Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but I reckon vessels of more modest size deliver the most immersive experience in this region.
I travelled aboard the Azamara Journey® which completed its second round of renovations in 2016 and reminded me of how ideally suited these 700-passenger ships are for Asian cruising.
Apart from size, another reason why I think Azamara is perfectly suited to Asian destinations is their longer stays in port so guests can enjoy a more complete experience in any given destination. Azamara Club Cruises®' believe their guests have an unquenchable desire to immerse themselves in the history, culture and nightlife of the destinations which is why they offer longer stays, more overnights and night touring.
We set out from Singapore, heading for Saigon where Azamara Journey®’s perfect suitability was demonstrated again as we sail right up the river and moor almost in front of the central shopping district. Larger ships must use the container port at Phu My, an inconvenient and uncomfortable two-hour transfer.
From our drop-off point in HCM central, it’s easy to walk to the famous post office, take a tour of the Independence Palace and the chilling War Remnants Museum, all with plenty of time to shop and pick up some of Saigon’s trademark souvenirs like cheap sports shoes and artificially rusted Zippo lighters.
Same in Bangkok. When Azamara Journey® arrives in the Thai capital, the ship uses the existing Klong Toey facility much closer to the city than the alternate (large ship) port of Laem Chabang, a similar long transfer to the city.
For the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay, all ships use the deepwater port of Cai Lan, a short transfer to the busy junk (local boat) terminal. The fully-loaded fleet then sails, line astern, out to the fabled location where so many movies and tales are set. However, most movie scenes are actually shot in Thailand, but that’s another story.
Again, thanks to Azamara’s extended port time, we were able to wander around the town and down into the local markets for a true sense of this bustling former North Vietnamese city.
Sailing into perhaps the most famous of all Asian ports, Hong Kong, is a sight that is never forgotten. The dramatic peaks embrace the harbour with the metropolis perched precariously along the waterfront and up the cliffs.
At the end of the last century, Hong Kong (Cantonese for ‘fragrant harbour’) was back in the news with the historic handover of the British colony to the People’s Republic of China.
The vast majority of Hong Kong’s seven million residents are Cantonese-speaking Chinese with many arriving from the mainland in search of work in the ‘Special Administrative Region’.
Getting around this fascinating city is much easier than it must have been in the days when early tour groups published their famous and evocative posters, but Hong Kong still possesses a giddy and frantic persona that will always define this exceptional city.