Jim Kaiser was cooling off at a thatched-roof bar on the white-sand beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, when I struck up a conversation with him.
Like me, he was exploring Southeast Asia on a cruise. He would be in port only a day, but he was making the most of his time.
“There’s so much to see in the world and too little time,” said Kaiser, who lives in New Canaan, Conn. “A cruise helps you maximize the time you have.”
Kaiser’s weeklong cruise introduced him to Bangkok and Koh Samui, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Singapore, where he embarked and from which he would fly home.
The May 5 Cruise News column (“Asia’s Now the Hot Destination”) looked at the popularity of Asia-Pacific cruising; voyages in this part of the world have increased 22% in the last three years, according to Cruise Lines International Assn. data.
Today, we’ll look at a couple of the most popular home ports — the gateways you fly into to launch your trip — and a few upcoming cruises.
Port facilities are rustic in some countries, including Vietnam and Cambodia, where cruise tourism is relatively new, but cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong have spent millions updating their facilities, and it shows.
Kaiser told me he enjoyed his time in Singapore; I did too. The island nation, at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula, is a popular port for U.S. cruisers.
More than 400 ships called on Singapore last year, carrying more than 1 million passengers, according to the region’s tourism board.
Singapore often is a traveler’s introduction to Southeast Asia. It’s a good starting point for several reasons, including the cost of getting there. Round-trip airfare from LAX to Singapore’s Changi Airport can be found for as little as $550, according to Airfarewatchdog.com.
When you exit your plane at Changi, you’ll find a high-tech hub that was recently chosen the world’s best airport for the fifth year in a row in the annual Skytrax World Airports Awards.
Singapore has much to offer visitors, including futuristic architecture, excellent shopping in the boutiques of Orchard Road, and exotic elements in the temples of Little India, the shop houses of Chinatown and the city’s night markets.
“We have many diverse destinations within a short sailing distance, year-round warm weather and calm waters for cruising,” said Chee Pey Chang, assistant chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, adding that many visitor arrivals are from California.
Another plus: Singapore’s cruise ports are in the center of major attractions. That’s not true in Thailand, where the port is a two-hour drive from Bangkok.
Hong Kong, one of the world’s most dynamic cities, also has a cruise port in the heart of the city.
Ocean Terminal is surrounded by shopping and dining districts. The terminal is a major shopping complex with 450 shops, 50 restaurants, movie theaters and hotels.
Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s other terminal, open since 2013, is farther from the downtown area, but it’s one of the world’s newest, most technologically advanced such facilities. Above it is the largest rooftop garden in Hong Kong.
It’s hard not to like Hong Kong’s diversity, architectural innovation, great shopping opportunities and cosmopolitan edginess. As is true in Singapore, English is also widely spoken in Hong Kong.
Round-trip airfare from LAX to Hong Kong International Airport starts at about $734.
The prime season for exploring Asia is fall through spring, when temperatures are cooler. Here is a sampling of upcoming cruises researched by Expedia CruiseShipsCenters. International airfare is not included.
Prek Kdam, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Seven-night river cruise, Oct. 9-16. AmaWaterways, balcony cabins from $3,598 per person, double occupancy.
Shanghai to Singapore: 14-day cruise on the new Majestic Princess, Feb. 25 (reverse itinerary on March 11), Princess Cruises; from $1,799 per person, double occupancy.
From Hong Kong to Singapore: Fifteen-night cruise aboard the Azamara Journey, Dec. 23-Jan. 7. Azamara Club Cruises, from $4,949 per person, double occupancy.
Do you use a wheelchair? All ships are not created equal when it comes to access. Facilities for disabled travelers continue to improve, so a newer ship, especially one built in the last five years, may be a better bet. Check ship diagrams to see where accessible rooms are and try to learn whether public rooms are accessible. Call the line’s special services department for more information.