Cruising, Asia Style

Adventurer Joe Yogerst sets sail on the sun-kissed Indian Ocean.

koh phayam island
Photo Credit: King Paradise Phayam Resort

Coconut-palm-shaded strands where yours are the only footprints in the sand are an essential honeymoon requirement for those seeking a secluded sojourn. However, when paired with monkeys scampering across a tropical beach and towns that give you a police motorcycle escort because you're the first tourists who have visited the place in more than 60 years, your trip of a lifetime is something transformative.

All of those things — and more — transpired during my recent cruise through Southeast Asia. Over a two-week sail from Myanmar, down the eastern edge of Indian Ocean, we stopped in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to experience not only the magic of the region across city and back-country landscapes, but also the enchantment of traveling well off the beaten path. 

It's Educational

The cruise began in Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar. Sitting on the Rangoon River, the metropolis is hands-down one of Asia’s most colorful urban areas. One night, we marveled at a spectacular reworks display over the river. On another, I joined a comtemplative meditation workshop with Buddhist monks at Shwedagon Pagoda. The World Heritage Site dazzles with an estimated three billion dollars worth of gold and gemstones.

buddhist monks
Photo Credit: Joe Yogerst

Later in the journey, at the old colonial city of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula, we scooted around town in pedal rickshaws. Here, we toured the Chinese Temple near Jonker Street. Malaysia’s oldest temple, the ornate space is home to three disciplines — Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The layout adheres to feng shui principles. Shopping in the surrounding area is tops, with handicrafts, food items and the usual souvenirs to be found along Jonker Street.

Photo Credit: Joe Yogerst

Sun-Kissed Sands

Anchoring off Lampi Marine National Park in Southern Myanmar, we snorkeled around pristine reefs, walked along empty beaches and hiked over winding jungle trails. Since our visit coincided with a holiday, we celebrated with the locals. Known as the the Sea Gypsy people, the population lives across the 800 islands that comprise the bio-diverse parkland. At another port of call, the hip little beach resort of Ao Nang on Thailand’s west coast, we learned how to prepare local cuisine at a cooking class. Later, I enjoyed an ice-cold beer and watched live Muay Thai boxing matches.

Photo Credit: YTL Hotels

Singapore Sizzles

Docking in Singapore, we tumbled down the gangplank into an uber modern city on the brink of Chinese New Year with lights and decorations everywhere. People milled about in the streets along the waterfront and at the famous outdoor cafés and street stalls (including two that recently earned michelin stars) for which the cosmopolitan capital is known.

Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board

Tip: Beat the midday heat by ducking into the city’s botanical attraction Gardens by the Bay, which is home to two giant air-conditioned greenhouses. 

Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board

Check In

Singapore offers everything from historic British colonial hotels to modern beach resorts and hip boutique properties like the Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong. Located in the trendy Katong area, within a short drive from the airport, the hotel blends old-fashioned and modern Singapore and is within walking distance to the island’s east coast hiking and biking paths. There’s a cool rooftop pool, and the hotel’s restaurant is tops. Located in an old police station beside the modern hotel block, the Baba Chews Bar & Eatery serves up-to-date takes on traditional Singapore dishes (room rates start at about $97 a night).

The Strand Hotel Yangon is the haute-est place to stay in Yangon, especially if you’re taking a cruise. Its location on the riverfront within walking distance of the city’s brand new cruise terminal can't be beat. The lodging underwent a recent refurbishment, and now has all the services and gadgets that one expects from a modern hotel. The offerings enhance its history as one of the most famous hotels in all of Asia. Founded in 1901 when Burma was the belle of the British far east, the chic suites once hosted the likes of international authors George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling as well as the young Prince Edward, future King of England (room rates start at about $331 a night). 

Photo Credit: Joe Yogerst

The Deets

Several major cruise lines offer itineraries in Southeast Asia. My 12-day cruise from Myanmar to Singapore was with coral expeditions of Australia. Star clippers offers shorter sails between Phuket, Thailand and Singapore in a romantic tall ship. For those who prefer a big cruise experience, Royal Caribbean plies much of the same route in Mariner of the Seas, a 3,100 passenger mega-ship.

cruise ship
Photo Credit: Joe Yogerst

Travel Tips

Everything is up for negotiation. Haggling is expected across Southeast Asia. However, do not bargain if you see a sign saying “fixed price."

Southeast Asia is known throughout the international foodie scene for its street food offerings. Stay on the safe side and always order at a spot that has a line.

asia taxi service
Photo Credit: Joe Yogerst