The Far East is a tantalisingly exotic option for passengers wanting to spice up their holidays and cruise off the beaten track. Few places on earth can rival this region's rich kaleidoscope of colours and experiences; from ancient dynasties and age-old traditions to gleaming skyscrapers and futuristic designs that make up some of the world's most striking cities.

This is the perfect place to escape the crowds of the Mediterranean and Caribbean and absorb the contrasting countries and cultures of a region that still holds that special appeal.

The beauty of cruising through Asian waters is that you can visit several places in one trip without having to endure arduous overland journeys. Stay on a ship, soak up the views and relish the chance to truly get away from it all on deserted islands or in tiny villages.

Getting to the Far East may take longer than flying to Europe or the Caribbean, but the huge range of flights to the main cruising departure points of Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok has made it much cheaper and easier than it used to be.

And you don't have to restrict yourself to simply taking a cruise. It's easy to combine voyages with land-stays as part of a longer holiday across Asia. Alternatively, why not spend a few nights in the cities where the cruise starts or ends to really make the most of this exciting destination?

Where can you go?

With more holidaymakers waking up to the appeal of cruising in the Far East, cruise lines have been quick to increase the range of sailings they offer.

The result is that there has never been a bigger choice of cruises through Asia and the surrounding area with companies such as Princess Cruises adding more itineraries and others such as Yachts of Seabourn, Costa Cruises and Royal Caribbean International basing ships there. Asian-based cruise line Star Cruises has five ships offering voyages of two to five nights to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The route between Hong Kong and Singapore is probably the most popular and travellers can choose to sail north from Hong Kong or south from Singapore.

It takes around two weeks to cruise between the two cities and itineraries can vary, but the most common ones tend to take in the coast of Vietnam - a fascinating area to explore by ship and one of the Asian destinations seen as holding the most potential for cruising.

Alternative routeings between the two cities can include calls at the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei; Sabah, on the tropical island of Borneo; Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines; the idyllic Thai island of Koh Samui, famous for its beautiful beaches; and the tropical holiday isle of Hainan, known as China's Hawaii.

Some cruises which start and finish in Hong Kong cover the same territory, but others sail northwards from the city, calling at Taiwan and Japanese cities including Kobe, Yokohama and Nagasaki before finishing in the Chinese powerhouse of Shanghai - which is also a starting point for some cruises.

Other voyages from Singapore offer a different flavour by sailing to Indonesia and calling at exotic islands such as Java, Bali and Komodo, famous for its deadly giant lizards, known as Komodo dragons.

Such sailings can include calls in Malaysia, notably at the capital Kuala Lumpur and the historic Dutch trading port of Malacca.

ASIA, AUSTRALASIA AND BEYOND

Cruise passengers keen to venture further afield can take longer cruises through south east Asia to India, the Middle East or even the Mediterranean.

Another option is to sail from the Far East to Australia and enjoy a completely contrasting range of destinations on lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises or Princess Cruises.

Such voyages tend to take two weeks, calling at various Asian ports such as Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and Bali before reaching Australia and stopping at Darwin on the north coast, the gateway to some of the country's most beautiful, remote Aboriginal lands.

Then it's simply a case of sailing down Australia's east coast. Passengers can experience one of nature's great wonders, the Great Barrier Reef, during stops at Cairns, Port Douglas or Airlie Beach.

  From there they may get the chance to witness the beauty of the Whitsunday Islands, and the modern city of Brisbane before ending the cruise in Sydney.

Taking to the sea is an ideal way to explore Australia as its main cities and tourist attractions are on the coast and travelling by cruise ship gives passengers the chance to combine these with the islands of the South Pacific and New Zealand.

Other popular stops in Australia on such sailings include Melbourne and Hobart in Tasmania, while New Zealand ports of call include Christchurch, Dunedin, the Fiordland National Park, Napier, Picton, Tauranga and Auckland.

In Polynesia stops at idyllic outposts such as Bora Bora, the islands of Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa,and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands also feature. One-ship cruise line Paul Gauguin Cruises is based in the region all year, offering sailings through several South Pacific islands and calling at New Zealand on longer itineraries.

WORLD CRUISES
When it comes to spending time at sea, world cruises are still the ultimate thrill. Being able to wave goodbye to British shores for two or threemonths at a time and sail across the globe to some of the world's most inaccessible places carries a premium cachet.

At one time, such voyages were the preserve of the very rich who had the money, as well as the time, to spend on such adventures.

But not any more! Potential globe-trotters are increasingly realising that a world cruise does not have to be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

Nowadays there are more ships and more long voyages than ever before. Being able to choose shorter sectors instead of the whole sailing means passengers can buy into a world cruise even if they can't afford the whole thing.

A true world cruise is one that circumnavigates the globe, but there are plenty of socalled "grand voyages" which take a similar amount of time and visit all the places you would expect such as Asia, Latin America, Australasia or Africa - but only cover twothirds or so of the world.

These cruises normally depart in January, returning in March or April.

P&O Cruises and Cunard Line have traditionally offered world cruises from Southampton, but lines such as Fred Olsen and Saga Cruises also offer long voyages from British shores.

P&O has also increased the number of world cruises it offers. Customers can choose from four different sailings between September 2010 and January 2011, while Yachts of Seabourn is offering its first world cruise next year.

Lines such as Crystal Cruises, Princess Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises also offer global voyages.

Mix of destinations
World cruises and long voyages generally call at around 30 ports, including a mix of tried and tested destinations and offbeat locations - some of which are only accessible by ship.

They tend to last between 80 and 110 days and are split into segments ranging from around 12 nights to 30 nights - the so-called "line" voyages that sail from one point to another. The most popular one is generally Australia or New Zealand.

Some world cruises depart and return to UK ports such as Southampton or Dover while others sail from ports including Miami, LosAngeles, Fort Lauderdale and New York.
Those departing from the UK tend to sail to Australia via the Mediterranean, calling at ports such as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Sydney. An alternative route could be sailing south from Europe to SouthAfrica and returning via Latin America and the Caribbean.

Passengers who book the full voyage often enjoy extra benefits, with lines such as Silversea and Crystal offering free shore-side activities and selected excursions.

Other perks include onboard spending credits and a free hotel stay on the eve of departure.

Far East, Australia &World Cruise facts

Sample cruises

  • Yachts of Seabourn (0845 070 0500; www.seabourn.com) is offering a 14-night voyage from Hong Kong to Singapore, via Vietnam and Thailand on January 30, 2010. Prices start at £3,399, excluding flights.
  • A 12-day sailing from Sydney to Auckland is offered by Princess Cruises (0845 3555 800,www.princess.com) on January 28, 2010, from £2,612, including flights.
  • P&O Cruises (0845 678 0014, www.pocruises.com) is offering a 94-night world cruise on its ship Arcadia, departing Southampton on January 10 for 34 ports in 23 countries. Prices start at £8,406.

Other useful cruise contacts
Crystal Cruises (020 7287 9040,www.crystalcruises.co.uk)
Cunard Line (0845 678 0013, www.cunard.co.uk)
Fred Olsen Cruises (01473 746175,www.fredolsencruises.com)
Holland America Line (0845 351 0557,www.hollandamerica.co.uk)
Oceania Cruises (0845 858 0827, www.oceaniacruises.co.uk)
Orion Expedition Cruises (020 8545 2617, www.orionexpeditions.com)
Paul Gauguin Cruises (020 7434 0089, www.pgcruises.co.uk)
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (02380 682280, www.rssc.co.uk)
Royal Caribbean International (0844 493 4005, www.royalcaribbean.co.uk)
Saga Cruises (0800 096 0079, www.saga.co.uk/travel)
Spirit of Adventure (0800 015 6984, www.spiritofadventure.co.uk)
Star Clippers (0845 200 6145, www.starclippers.co.uk)
Star Cruises (0845 201 8913, www.starcruises.com)
Silversea Cruises (0844 770 9030, www.silversea.com)
Swan Hellenic (0845 246 9700, www.swanhellenic.com)
Voyages of Discovery (0845 018 1808, www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk)

Make sure you check out the website of the Passenger Shipping Association, which represents all the main cruise lines, at www.discover-cruises.co.uk

All prices and details were correct when published, please check before you try cruising the Far East.