6 must see Asian destinations for South African cruisers to explore

With many places to explore, destination Asia has always fascinated South African travellers with its diverse landscapes and cultures, favourable exchange rates and no-visa or visa-on-arrival options.

Though the continent is easily accessible via airlines with an extensive route network, cruising is also a fun way to explore the continent.

Global cruise lines are increasingly offering an array of Asian itineraries that allow travellers to soak up the diverse tapestry of destinations more seamlessly, step on board, unpack once and off you go.

No matter what you’re looking for, a cruise to Asia is the perfect happy-go-lucky holiday whether you’re travelling solo, with a partner or with the kids in tow.

According to Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Vice President & Managing Director Continental Europe, Middle East, and Africa (CEMEA), Kevin Bubolz, after a 3-year hiatus, their Asia itineraries are back and better than ever whilst carefully curated to offer that perfect balance between exploration, relaxation, and cultural immersion.

“We know South Africans, in particular, value freedom and flexibility, with ample downtime to do as they wish. There’s simply no better way to experience Japan, Bali, Thailand, Vietnam and beyond from a new perspective, or in an easier way, than on a cruise,” said Bubolz.

So here are 6 Asian destinations to explore in 2023 and beyond, according to Bubolz.

1. Japan

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If witnessing cherry blossom ‘snow’, cherry blossoms falling off trees in a sprinkling of pink is on your bucket list, then book your vacation now for 21 March 2024.

NCL’s new cherry blossom cruise departs on this date from Seoul, Korea, ending in Tokyo, Japan, ten days later. Marvel at the ‘old meets new’ architecture and eat your way through South Korea’s incredibly trendy capital city.

The highlight of this cruise is undoubtedly the cherry blossoms that burst forth every spring.

Although the timing of these blossoms differs each year depending on the weather conditions, with any luck, you’ll see the delicate flowers blooming in Seoul or Beppu, Japan, a top-rated cherry blossom viewing site.

2. Thailand

Thailand beckons travellers worldwide, including South Africans who can’t get enough of the cuisine, relaxed culture, sultry cities and nightlife, affordable shopping and breathtaking beaches.

But perhaps you’ve always dreamed of visiting Vietnam too? And let’s not forget Singapore and Bali. Due to logistics and added expenses, it’s unlikely that you would plan a multi-country visit in south-east Asia – but you can do just that with a cruise.

Visit the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, choose your favourite beach when enjoying beach days in Koh Samui, Lombok (Indonesia) and Vietnam’s Nha Trang, eat your fill of pho and banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City and spend two incredible days exploring the diversity of Singapore.

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A cruise allows you to experience these different countries and ports in the easiest, most affordable way possible.

3. Vietnam

Along with Thailand, Vietnam remains one of the most sought-after south-east Asian holiday destinations.

In March 2023, Vietnam’s Tourism Information Technology Centre already reported that the country attracted 1.8 million visitors during the first two months of 2023, with the government aiming to attract 8 million foreign visitors before the end of the year.

Sure, Thailand’s Phuket and Koh Samui are breathtakingly gorgeous, but many visitors are surprised to discover Nha Trang’s three-kilometre-long stretch of sandy beaches.

A cable car to Hon Tre Island gives visitors a bird’s eye perspective over the bay and, once you’re done with the beaches, don’t miss the famous White Buddha.

4. Indonesia

While Indonesia may be lesser known amongst South Africans compared to Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, the entire country boasts stunning beaches and an intriguing landscape of volcanoes, temples and bustling markets with that tropical island feel.

Bintan Island, nestled in the Riau Archipelago of Indonesia, offers heaps of natural beauty, pinch-me-perfect beaches, cultural charm and more leisurely or active pursuits.

You won’t want to miss the Instagrammable acai bowls, yoga, plant-filled cafés, surfer dudes and endless rice paddies of famous Bali either.

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5. The Philippine islands

You know that unbelievably perfect beach that comes up on your Instagram feed occasionally?

That’s likely Boracay or Palawan. Known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters and stunning limestone cliffs, Palawan is a tropical paradise that captivates the hearts of visitors.

Boracay is ‘same, same but different’, offering vibrant nightlife but similarly jaw-dropping beaches. White Beach is famous for its 4km long powdery white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

NCL will make maiden visits to Boracay, Palawan and Salomague in the Philippines as part of its cruise itineraries.

6. Taiwan

Taiwan may just be one of the most underrated Asian holiday destinations. It offers a captivating blend of cultural heritage, stunning natural landscapes, culinary delights including hello bubble tea, xiao long bao and pineapple cakes, an unbelievably seamless public transportation system and warm hospitality.

Plus, the country is consistently named one of the safest countries in the world. For the first time, NCL will stop at Hualien, the entry point to the Taroko Gorge. Hualien offers breathtaking natural beauty with its majestic mountains, lush forests and the Liwu River flowing through the gorge.

Explore the gorge’s winding trails, suspension bridges and hidden temples for an awe-inspiring experience.