Thailand's largest island lures visitors for basking on unspoiled beaches, diving and snorkeling in the Andaman Sea and personalized pampering at ravishing resorts. The cruise port is about a 20-minute drive from Phuket town, a buzzy mecca for shopping (bargain hard, except in malls or brand-name stores), restaurants and clubs. Save time for exotic shore excursions, like visiting elephant and gibbon sanctuaries, and gasping at the more than 147-foot-tall Big Buddha, adorned with white Burmese jade marble, towering over Nakkerd Hills. Lunch at a resort for exquisite Thai cuisine that's easy on Western stomachs and for sensational ocean views.
Southeast Asia is a traveler's nirvana, offering natural wonders like the mystical limestone islands of Halong Bay, timeless treasures in the storybook temples of Thailand and Cambodia, and booming cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore. The people are courteous and welcoming, proud of their rich culture, distinctive crafts, magical architecture and captivating cuisine. All combine to offer cruisers an unforgettable experience. Today, Southeast Asian countries and culture reflect thousands of years of interaction with empires in the Middle East, Tibet and especially China. Though the ports of call remain distinct, wars, conquests, colonization, migration and trade have impacted the area for centuries, changing boundaries and political systems, and spreading religions and customs. More recently, the Europeans and Americans have made their marks in the major cities of the region, influencing architecture, fashion and social trends. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma), cruise tourism is a relatively new phenomenon, and it shows in the rustic port facilities and transportation. But tourism is vital to these growing economies, and new hotels, roads and other infrastructure are being developed at a rapid pace. On the other end, cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok have been tourist destinations for a much longer time, which is reflected in their new port facilities, sophisticated public transportation systems, upscale accommodations and fine dining options. It's this blend of old and new that makes Southeast Asia such a dynamic place to explore.
By: Ron & Mary James, Cruise Critic contributors; updated by Andrea M. Rotondo, Cruise Critic contributor