How to Choose Your Cruise: Asia

When we talk about Asia, we’re talking about Earth’s largest continent, containing 30 percent of the planet’s total land area. Asia is also home to the majority of the world’s population, including the largest and most populous countries in the world (Russia and China, respectively). With stats like those, choosing the right cruise to the continent can be a delicious quandary.

Japan or Thailand is commonly associated with Asia, but the continent contains 47 countries, spanning the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Cruises require countries and cities accessible by water, of course, which limits ports to coastal areas. That includes Sri Lanka and Singapore in the Indian Ocean, Taiwan in the Pacific, and Hong Kong surrounded by the South China Sea.


Ancient cultures, modern skyscrapers, unexpected cuisine, intricate architecture and landscapes from low, sprawling rice fields to Nepal’s towering Mt. Everest are but a few elements that make Asia a destination of abundance. Which elements of this vast continent are you looking to connect to on your next trip?

A Silversea cruise invites you to unlearn what you think you know about Asia and rediscover it through programs such as S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste), which engages culinary and cultural senses, or an expedition cruise, which might engage a few muscles. With dozens of itineraries to choose from, this guide can help narrow the choices as you’re choosing your next cruise to Asia.

Immersion or overview?

Osaka Castle surrounded by spring cherry blossoms against a backdrop of Mt. Fuji in Japan./Shutterstock

Decide early whether you would rather your Asia cruise be a grand tour that will visit many countries on one sailing or whether you’re seeking to explore one place in depth.

Country-intensive sailings that immerse guests in the multifaceted culture of one nation have become more popular in the past few years. One such experience includes a 10-day circumnavigation of Japan, round trip from Tokyo, or a more detailed two-week voyage from Osaka to Kobe. These trips also call at ports in Korea such as Busan, Incheon, Seosu, and Sokcho, depending on the itinerary. These sailings give passengers a deeper understanding of the Japanese way of life and the quiet gardens of Buddhist temples, the bustling crosswalks of Tokyo and the less-touristed ports including of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island.

A grand tour such as the 30-night Tokyo (Yokohama) to Bangkok, Thailand (Klong Toey), calls on seven countries during its four-week sailing, offering guests a taste of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.

It’s an efficient way to tour the continent from the comfort and ease of a single suite.

Cruises that feature a variety of countries on the itinerary offer a chance to spend more than one afternoon in Asian ports. On a 14-night sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong, passengers will spend three days in Thailand and five days in Vietnam, with overnights in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively, so guests also can experience each destination at  night.

South, east or beyond?

Phuket, Thailand, is a major commercial shipping center but is best known for its beaches./Shutterstock

Focusing on a region within Asia’s vast borders can help narrow which Asia cruise to book. Typically, East Asia refers to such countries as China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. South Asia includes India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, among others. And of course, Southeast Asia  encompasses the popular tourist destinations of Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines.

One two-week South Asia sailing departs from Phuket, Thailand, so passengers can enjoy three sea days onboard before spending seven combined days in India and three in Sri Lanka with overnights.

South Korean ports are often paired with a cruise around Japan. A 16-night East Asia sailing round trip from Tokyo includes three South Korean cities and an overnight in Seoul (Incheon), besides nine days in Japan.

A 17-night voyage from Singapore to Mumbai, India, spends six days in Southeast Asia, calling on Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang) and Langkawi in Malaysia; Phuket; and three days in the city of Yangon, Myanmar — including an overnight — plus time in India and Sri Lanka.

Factor in pre- and post-cruise stays

Visiting India’s Taj Mahal can be done on a cruise? Yes, if you do a land extension./Shutterstock

Nearly every Asia cruise requires a long-haul flight from the U.S. across various time zones, so travelers are encouraged to make the most of their jet lag adjustment with a stay before boarding the ship.

On a pre-cruise extension with Silversea in India, guests embarking in Mumbai will fly to Delhi and meet their guide for a three-day land tour of Agra and the Taj Mahal, including stays at Oberoi hotels. These land extensions offer a more comprehensive view of the country, reaching territories not easily accessible with a one- or two-day port call. If touring the Taj Mahal has been on your travel list, choosing a cruise departing from Mumbai seems a natural fit.

Some itineraries, such as those embarking in Hong Kong, offer a variety of pre-departure land programs. Fly to Beijing for a six-night land tour that includes some of the most recognizable wonders of the world, including  the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian. Or fly into Hong Kong and  spend three nights getting to know the autonomous region of Macau, a Portuguese-influenced peninsula with distinct culture, cuisine and storied nightlife. Animal-lovers might choose a four-night pre-cruise extension that journeys to Chengdu, China for a chance to feed and interact with pandas at the Dujiangyan Panda Habitat.

A post-cruise extension keeps the desire for exploration going, thanks to  select tours that take cruisers into countries not accessible by oceangoing vessels. For example, a sailing that begins in Hong Kong might end in Singapore, which offers passengers a four-night tour of Cambodia and its legendary Angkor Wat temple complex. End the trip with a stay in Singapore at the iconic Raffles hotel, which claims to be the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a cocktail that dates to 1915.

Including the Middle East

Muscat Oman
Muscat, the capital of Oman, shows a variety of architectural influences, including Portuguese, Arab, African and Western./Shutterstock

Asian ports in the Middle East offer a separate education in the culture, geography and beliefs that distinguish the region from the rest of the continent. A transit through the Suez Canal on a 33-night voyage bound for Athens allows guests to board in Singapore and sail toward calls in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, serves as the gateway to Mecca; Aqaba in the red desert of Jordan leads visitors to the ancient city of Petra. Muscat, Oman’s capital, gives visitors a chance to experience an elegant blend of Portuguese and Arabic influences overlooking the Gulf of Oman. These ports of call in the Red Sea also offer world travelers another facet of Asia.

Just a few hundred miles away (and one day apart on the itinerary) is nearby Africa, with two ports of call in Egypt. Luxor (Safaga) and Alexandria are crown jewels on any itinerary.

A focus on the islands

Lombok, Indonesia, is a little less touristed than Bali and gives a different perspective./Shutterstock

Most Asia cruises touch a variety of ports, especially in Japan, but Asia boasts tens of thousands of islands, including the more than 18,000 that form Indonesia and the 7,641 islands of the Philippines. You can learn a different side of island life by choosing an itinerary that features some lesser-known islands of Asia — and even Africa.

For instance, begin your 16-night cruise from Bali, calling on the Philippines, Taiwan and Kyushu before docking in Yokohama, part of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

For a different taste of Indonesia, a monthlong sailing ending in Sydney, Australia, calls on Lombok, which gives a quieter, rural perspective on Indonesian port cities in contrast to touristed Bali. Islands are on the menu during the 32-day cruise, including Australia’s Kangaroo Island, about 130 miles from south Australia’s Adelaide.

The Philippines boasts numerous tropical destinations, including world-class diving sites and beaches tucked away in jungle foliage. Board your ship in capital city Manila for a four-day taste of the Philippines on an 11-night cruise that also calls on Romblon Island and Palawan and ends in Hong Kong. The jewel tones of the water dazzle, but these ports also offer a multinational heritage to absorb. The Philippines was occupied by Spaniards in the 17th century and later by the Japanese during World War II.

A popular 18-night itinerary departing Singapore calls on seven countries, including three islands in the Seychelles. Although  this island nation in the Indian Ocean is technically part of Africa, this Asia voyage and world cruise segment ends in Mahé, the largest of the Seychelles’ 115 islands, which together with calls in La Digue and Praslin form the “holy trinity” of a Seychelles visit.

Asia for the epicurious

The skyline of Singapore. A 22-day voyage that departs from here lets guests ring in 2025 aboard the Silver Dawn./Shutterstock

After careful consideration of your Asian destinations, you might want to contemplate your ship and its programming. Although Silversea’s ships deliver a top-notch culinary experience, not all ships offer the cruise line’s groundbreaking S.A.L.T. program, an acronym for “Sea and Land Taste.” S.A.L.T. takes epicurean excellence to new heights with carefully organized shore excursions, such as touring an organic farm or vineyard, as well as onboard dining and interactive experiences.

The S.A.L.T. Labs host culinary demonstrations as well as cooking lessons and local tastings. The S.A.L.T Kitchen features destination-specific recipes from your itinerary and uses local products. Regionally inspired cocktails blended by master mixologists will awaken your taste buds at the S.A.L.T. Bar. These venues can be found on Silver Dawn and Silver Moon, as well as the forthcoming Silver Nova (summer 2023) and Silver Ray (summer 2024).

For guests who want  to book more than a year in advance, nine Asia sailings on Silver Moon will feature S.A.L.T. programming in 2024, including a 34-day Tokyo to Mumbai cruise. Four sailings on Silver Dawn will feature the dynamic culinary program into 2025, including a 22-day holiday voyage from Singapore to Tokyo, ringing in New Year’s 2025.  

An active Asian expedition

Gunung-Leuser National Park is home to orangutans. A stop in Belawan, Indonesia, allows a visit./Shutterstock

If far-reaching hikes excite you, consider an expedition-style cruise to Asia on Silversea’s Silver Cloud. The 296-passenger vessel is outfitted with kayaks, Zodiacs and an itinerary of tucked-away ports of call, including Asia’s smallest country, the Maldives. Silversea’s 16-night itinerary from Malé , capital of the Maldives, to Singapore stops in Vagaaru in the Maldives and the Lakshadweep islands of India. A two-day call in Belawan, Indonesia, allows passengers to explore Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the few places on Earth where orangutans still live in the wild.

Even with Silversea’s expedition program in Asia, guests won’t have to worry about roughing it; uninhabited islands such as India’s Tinnakara offer the chance to swim, snorkel — or do absolutely nothing. After travelers are sated with their at-sea adventure, the Silversea post-cruise program at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore invites guests to unwind from their travels in world-class luxury.

A note about timing

Lunar New Year in DaNang, Vietnam. Be aware of celebrations that can create extra pressure on the tourism infrastructure./Shuttersock

Timing, as many of us know, is everything. You’ll need to do some homework to ensure you’ll find the best weather for your cruise and to avoid potentially hectic airport crowds. Of course these can be unpredictable, but at least be privy to seasonal weather patterns and festivals in this part of the world before booking your long-awaited Asia vacation.

Like hurricane season in the Caribbean, typhoon season in Asia from May to October when tropical cyclones are more likely to form in the Pacific. This storm watch primarily affects Japan and likely won’t affect your cruise, but it’s always good to be aware of when considering travel insurance. Monsoon season differs from place to place, but in Southeast Asia the rainiest weather occurs during the same May-to-October period.

The drier winter is a popular time to travel because when the weather is drier. But Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year (but not unique only to China), generally begins in late January or  early February, depending on the year. What’s known as the “Chinese New Year Travel Rush” extends beyond that weeklong period to about 15 days before the holiday and up to weeks after. It’s a festive time to be in parts of Asia, but requires additional planning and patience when it comes to crowds and transportation.