River cruises, similar to epic train journeys, have an undeniable romance of travel appeal about them, offering an unhurried way to take in a destination’s sights and a glimpse of traditional life along the river. Following the same routes which kings and explorers have travelled before, these are the best river cruises in Southeast Asia to discover the region’s historical, natural, and cultural gems.
1. RV River Kwai Cruise (Thailand)
Introducing guests to all the major attractions along the River Kwai, the cruise explores the natural wonders and activities – hot springs, waterfalls, river rafting – as well as the historical and cultural sights of Kanchanaburi province. The elegant design of the cruise ship pays tribute to late 19th century colonial ships, and comprises 10 private teakwood cabins.
The 4D/3N trip departs every Thursday from Bangkok, and ends back at Bangkok.
2. Luang Say River Boat Cruise & Lodge (Laos)
Cruise along a picturesque stretch of the Mekong River, flanked by lush mountains on both sides, on a luxury 34-meter riverboat journey through Northern Laos. The 2D/1N journey includes visits to hilltribe villages and caves, and guests spend overnight at Luang Say Lodge, where guest pavilions feature a 180 degree panorama of the lush river valley.
The trip departs every Monday, Thursday, and Friday from Houei Sai, and ends at Luang Prabang.
3. Mekong River Cruise Aboard the Vat Phou (Laos)
The stretch of Mekong River through Southern Laos flows past verdant serene landscapes and the 4,000 islands of Si Phun Don. The itinerary includes visits to traditional villages, a hidden forest temple, waterfalls, and an old French railway, but the highlight is Vat Phou, a world heritage sight and birthplace of mythical Khmer architecture.
The 3D/2N trip departs every Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday from Pakse, and ends back at Pakse.
4. Mekong Upstream Cruise Saigon to Phnom Penh (Vietnam & Cambodia)
Starting at the former Indochine city of Saigon, cruise through the Vietnam delta and Cambodia’s bucolic countryside, arriving in the heart of Phnom Penh with time to explore the city’s colonial past. Engage in good old fashioned conversation, or simply enjoy the passing riverside scenery in absolute tranquility. Before you retire to your brass and teak cabin with a good book, take advantage of the onboard spa for an indulgent rejuvenation.
The 4D/3N trip departs every Saturday from Saigon.
The trip operates in reverse on a 5D/4N Mekong Cruise Downstream Phnom Penh to Saigon, departing every Tuesday from Phnom Penh.
5. Chao Phraya River Cruise Bangkok to Ayuthaya (Thailand)
Retrace the path of former royal processions down Chao Phraya, the River of Kings, between Bangkok and historic Ayuthaya. The beautifully restored rice barge floats past the iconic Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn with stops at fresh markets, temples, and traditional villages. The itinerary also includes a personalized bike tour around the ancient ruins of Ayuthaya.
The 2D/1N trip departs every Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday from Bangkok, and ends back at Bangkok.
6. Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (Cambodia)
Discover the vast wetlands around the mouth of the mighty Mekong River and explore UNESCO world heritage temple complexes, twin holy mountains, an eco-tourism village, and a former French provincial capital. At the end of the trip, arrive in Phnom Penh city center to explore the Cambodian capital; choose to end the trip with a drink at Foreign Correspondents Club or Raffles Hotel Le Royal’s legendary Elephant Bar.
The 4D/3N trip departs every Saturday from Siem Reap and ends at Phnom Penh.