Cruise this way: your guide to the ports of Southeast Asia

Taking a cruise is de rigueur these days with more choice than ever before. While you could opt for something close to home in the Med or across the pond in the Caribbean, for an immersive cultural shock, why not look eastwards to the exotic islands, enclaves and urban hubs of Southeast Asia.

Visiting ports in Southeast Asia
Visiting ports in Southeast Asia © SeanPavonePhoto -

Cruising in Southeast Asia: you can discover the following ports and many more when you book a memorable voyage with Marella Cruises. Check out the latest deals on itineraries* worldwide for 2024/2025. Please note: Marella Cruises has suspended its cruise itinerary to Asia during the Coronavirus outbreak.


Malaysia tempts the taste buds with one of the most impressive cuisines in the region, borrowing a little from its neighbours as it goes.

Kuala Lumpur, the 'Mother City' of Malaysia, may impress with a new gleaming forest of skyscrapers, but the capital is also alive with delicious food stalls and colourful markets. Ascend the landmark Petronas Twin Towers and you can take in what is a startling view of this sprawling city of mosques, parks, shopping malls and myriad historical attractions.

The city of Malacca is awash with history too, but in a sleepier, more laidback way. The centuries peel back at every turn here in a hub with a palpable Chinese vibe. There are traditional old shops, myriad food stalls and a swathe of religious sites, which mirror the local tolerance as Indonesian-style mosques rub shoulders with Chinese Buddhist temples.

The sweeping Langkawi Sky Bridge, Malaysia
The sweeping Langkawi Sky Bridge, Malaysia © Leonid -

Moving out to Malaysia's islands Langkawi is one of the world's great resort islands, an oasis with those starched white sand beaches and swaying palm trees that you thought may only exist in glossy holiday brochures. Here they are gloriously real and there is plenty of space for everyone on an island where time moves at a wonderfully slow pace.

The island of Penang, meanwhile, boasts historic buildings, temples and superb food stalls. And that is just in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island capital of George Town.

Vestiges of colonial rule still pervade the capital, which you can savour on a rickshaw ride. Elsewhere around the island, you'll find more glorious beaches and spectacularly set temples. You can take in a large sweep of Penang by riding the old funicular railway up Penang Hill.

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Bangkok is in many ways the quintessential Southeast Asian city - it's certainly impossible to ignore or to fail to be moved by. This gargantuan metropolis sprawls its urban tentacles in an intoxicating sweep of glitzy skyscrapers, mega malls and neon, but also incense filled tiny temples, languorous river cruises and colonial time warps.

And then there is the glorious food, as spicy as you can handle. The seat of power, the centre of Thai life, is also replete with the jaw-droppingly ornate Grand Palace complex. A tuk-tuk ride is a thrilling introduction to a city that will linger long in your memory.

Whizzing through the Thai capital by tuk tuk
Whizzing through the Thai capital by tuk tuk © Mikel Iturbe Urretxa - Flickr CC BY 2.0

Phuket, the much eulogised 'Pearl of Thailand' and the country's largest island, is synonymous with relaxation. This is the tropical beach idyll writ large, with white sand beaches backed up by swaying palm trees and rugged temple-dotted mountains.

You could do nothing here bar relax on the beach for a day, maybe enjoying a massage and some freshly squeezed fruit juice as you go. There are certainly plenty of beaches to choose from with over 40 km of coastline plus neighbouring islands with sands that featured in Hollywood blockbusters The Beach and The Man with the Golden Gun.

On the opposite eastern coast sits Koh Samui, another major destination that developed later than Phuket. It's been making up for lost time, though, establishing many well-equipped luxury resorts. Chaweng Beach stars as the island's longest beach, but there are plenty of other stellar beaches on this paradise island.

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Marella Cruises worldwide: check out our other port guides to major destinations in the Med, Caribbean, Baltic and Nordic nations.


The youngest city in Cambodia has a winningly relaxed atmosphere. It is known within Cambodia for its superb restaurants, which offer the rich bounty of fresh fish and seafood landed by the local fleet.

You cannot fail to like Sihanoukville when you are reclining on one of its beaches - it boasts some of the best in the country - tucking into the speciality of grilled squid. You'll fall for it even more after a seaside massage and trying your hand at one of the watersports, which range from snorkelling and stand up paddleboarding, through to full-on scuba and jet skiing.

Long-tail boats offer access to the best beaches in Cambodia
Long-tail boats offer access to the best beaches in Cambodia © Dmitry Rukhlenko -

There's plenty away from the beaches: just outside the city lies Wat Leu Temple, a major Buddhist temple that handily offers great views from its hilltop location. Day trips are popular from Sihanoukville too.

There is Koh Rong, Cambodia's second-largest island. Here, you'll find a necklace of fine beaches and also the charming village of Koh Tuch. An alternative is Ream National Park, which spreads its green tentacles over 80 sq-km. Look out for wildlife like the mouse-deer and rhesus monkeys, with dolphins, turtles and manatees often spotted among the mangroves and waterways too.

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  • Port - Phu My* (for Ho Chi Minh City)

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is Vietnam's largest city, its most intoxicating too. It thrills the senses and never sits still for a second - you'll not be bored here.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the Vietnam War must visit the remarkable War Remnants Museum, which offers an intense insight into the conflict. It's worth pushing on from the city to the infamous Cu Chi tunnels, the brutal subterranean network that played such a pivotal role in the war.

Sample some of Southeast Asia's finest food in Ho Chi Minh City
Sample some of Southeast Asia's finest food in Ho Chi Minh City © Kars Alfrink - Flickr CC BY 2.0

Vietnam has moved on from its tumultuous past and Ho Chi Minh City is a testament to this with its new web of skyscrapers and an underground rail network. The city weaves the ultra-modern over the intriguingly historic giving it a constant energy that makes visiting a thrill.

That, and the food is simply sublime. Most visitors rank it at or near the top of Southeast Asia cuisines, which is really saying something. Key sights to explore include redbrick Notre Dame Cathedral and the French colonial style Post Office.

For a grandstand view climb the Christ the King statue at Vung Tau, which vaults 36 m tall atop Mount Nho. A staircase works its way up to a viewpoint back towards this rapidly growing metropolis and its surrounds.

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The term 'melting pot' is thrown around a lot when it comes to this part of the world. Singapore, though, is the quintessential Southeast Asian melting pot, more a collage of the region's eclectic culture than a distinct destination in its own right.

It's also one of the easiest to navigate and make your way around, with English widely spoken. The food is as varied as the cultural influences with Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese all swirling around the famous hawker centres.

Early morning in the Central Business District of Singapore
Early morning in the Central Business District of Singapore © Anekoho -

Singapore's architecture is striking too. There are plenty of nods to the era of British rule - none more so than Fort Siloso. Then there are the glass and steel skyscrapers, the very symbols of this dynamic, hyper-capitalist island nation. The economy may be impressive, but it's a fun city too with theme parks, verdant gardens and a 64-acre zoo all squeezed into a handily compact space.

If you're feeling playful, ease to the Raffles Hotel for a famous Singapore Sling cocktail (it was invented here) or, if you're in a more cerebral mood, explore the fascinating history of the Battle of Singapore in World War Two, which culminated in the largest surrender of British led forces in history.

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Keen to set sail in Southeast Asia? Don't miss our curated collection of online offers and great value deals with Marella Cruises in 2024/2025.

Marella Cruises: All inclusive as standard

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Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie is a Scottish travel writer, author and broadcaster. He has visited over 100 countries and regularly writes about Scotland and the Canary Islands. As well as frequently contributing to, Robin writes for publications including The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Wanderlust, and has authored more than 30 guidebooks.

Posted on Wednesday 7th August 2019 in: Asia City Cruises Excursions Marella Cruises

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