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With the world of cruise expanding at such a rapid rate, remote destinations are becoming harder and harder to find.

Ships are going where they’ve never sailed before. Passengers are exploring towns and villages open to tourism for the first time. And destinations, once lost in time, are now accessible to those who dare to seek beyond the big passenger itineraries.

We have tracked down five of the least trodden river destinations now open to cruise passengers, from the muddy banks of the Irrawaddy to the lush jungles of the amazon…so grab your pith helmet and take a peek at these remote river gems.

Remote river cruising

THE AMAZON

Cruise the Peruvian Amazon and discover this pristine and remote region with an incredibly diverse ecosystem. Each morning of your cruise wake to tranquil surrounds and the captivating sounds of exotic wildlife and birdlife.

There are multiple cruise lines that offer the opportunity to explore the mighty Amazon, but with each, you are sure to experience the beauty of the wild and tropical jungle, the pink dolphins, the exotic wildlife and the spectacular culture that abounds.

The legendary river flows through Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil, before emptying into the Atlantic, but many say it’s the Peruvian Amazon River basin that is particularly captivating.

Prepare to embark on exciting excursions where you’ll spot toucans and monkeys, and in the most remote regions, such as the biodiverse Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, you may see sloths, macaws, millions of butterflies and stunning traditional villages.

The Amazon River

The Amazon River

For those looking to discover hidden worlds and be surprised at every turn, the Amazon River is the life source for South America. Surrounded by the breath-taking beauty of lush rainforest, a cruise down the Amazon is a burst of activity and colour. See the grandeur that is the Amazon Basin, spanning over 11 kilometres in breadth at its widest part.

Insider tip:

The region’s “wet season” is the best option for many first-timers because of the higher water levels that make it easier to explore the Amazon’s smaller tributaries, enjoy the forest’s ‘bloom’ and see a wider variety of wildlife.

THE IRRAWADDY

Discover the sights and sounds of the Irrawaddy River as it snakes its way through Burma.

Soak up the atmosphere, admire the ever-changing scenery and witness the unfolding stories of local people who live along the banks of the river that is the lifeblood of this stunning country. Observe intriguing cultures, sample unique cuisine, visit small timeless villages and explore some of Burma’s most spectacular sights, as you witness how the country is slowly opening to the western world.

Many cruisers begin their journey in the former capital Mandalay, the centre of Buddhist culture, and meander slowly downstream towards Yangon where you can admire the remarkable and captivating temples of Bagan and discover Buddhist art, ancient pagodas as well as forts and other legacies left from the British colonial period.

See local handicrafts made using century old traditions and appreciate the beauty of this rarely visited gem of South East Asia. Relive Rudyard Kipling’s journey along the Irrawaddy almost 100 years ago and create your own story.

The Irrawaddy River in Burma ranks as the 55th longest river in the world at 2,170km but it is in the top ten rivers in terms of discharge at 13,000 litres per second.

Insider Tip:

You can experience an Irrawaddy river cruise year round, for 1,600km from Yangon to Bhamo but only for part of the year, for another 200km as far as Myitkina. In the low water season sand islands appear, many farmed on a seasonal basis, and navigation channels become serpentine and often hard to find.

In the monsoon the average rise on the low water level is 30m. There are three defiles between Mandalay and Myitkyina, the most spectacular of which is the second defile below Bhamo.

THE BRAHMAPUTRA

India’s Brahmaputra River is the 29th longest river in the world at 2,948 km long, and was the only river on Earth clearly visible from the moon during the Apollo missions. Flowing down from central Tibet through the legendary Tsangpo gorges, the Brahmaputra River opens out as it flows through Bangladesh.

The river is so vast that any river cruise expedition undertaken here can be movingly wondrous, as you pass through this great emptiness of water, sand and shoal. Passengers of our Brahmaputra river cruises enjoy their trips in peace and tranquility with very little human activity on the riverbank. That means the wild life and bird life are profound.

The Brahmaputra River may be little-navigated today, but in colonial times steamer services operated as far as Dibrugarh. The river in places can be up to 20 miles wide and in the monsoon it floods the entire Assam plain. Indeed, East Bengal is not called “the wettest place on the planet” for nothing – it literally does have the world’s highest rainfall.

The Brahmaputra’s upper course was long unknown, and its identity with the Yarlung Tsangpo (Traditional Chinese) was only established by exploration in 1884–86. This river is often called the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra River.

The lower reaches are sacred to Hindus. While most rivers on the Indian subcontinent have female names, this river has a rare male name. Brahmaputra means “son of Brahma” in Sanskrit.

Insider tip:

Direct flights between Kolkata and Paro make it now possible to combine a Pandaw river expedition with a visit to the ancient Kingdom of Bhutan, one of the world’s most intriguing countries. Discover Bhutan’s famous cliff-top monasteries, soaring mountain peaks and unique way of life.

THE CHINDWIN

The Chindwin River flows down from the Myanmar –Assam border, its waters rising from the Himalayan foothills. It is the main tributary of the Irrawaddy and is 1,207km long. Of this great length, about 1000km is navigable only in vessels that have the shallowest drafts in the world. These designs, perfected by the Irrawaddy Flotilla in the 1880s, are the ones that passengers of some of the most remote Chindwin river cruise lines continue to use to this day.

The Chindwin River flows through remote areas with few roads or cars and most communities are connected by the river. Above Homalin, in Nagaland it is considered the loveliest of rivers but treacherous to navigate and larger ships can only venture up there in the monsoon, and even then not without difficulty.

Much of Chindwin’s course lies within mountain ranges and forests. Due to the difficulty of access, much of it remains unspoilt. The government of Myanmar recently created a very large (2,500 square mile) sanctuary for the endangered tiger within the Hukawng Valley.

The Chindwin is served by regular river-going vessels up to the town of Homalin.  Along the river, teak forests and Burmese amber are popular for trade. There are also deposits of jade, but the headwaters of the Uyu river is the only place in the world where the finest jade – known as jadeite or imperial jade – is found.

Insider tip:

Seek a cruise line that operates an ultra-shallow draft throughout the dry season between Monyaw and Homalin and in the monsoon as far as Hkamti. And take some extra shopping money to snap up some of that rare imperial jade if you can!

THE MEKONG

The Mekong River is the heart of everyday life where east meets west, Indochina – or more accurately known as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – and is a melting pot for the senses.

From vibrant cities to charming riverside communities, bustling markets to the peaceful chanting of monks, every day there is something to captivate and excite. Discover the magic of this dynamic waterway, witness the daily interactions of local residents and admire the ornate temples and gold-top pagodas that dot the countryside, as you gently pass by.

The Mekong River is the 12th largest river in the world, flowing 4,350kms from southwest China through Vietnam. Discharging 16,000 cubic metres per second, this great beast of a river actually flows through (or marks the boundaries of) six different nations: China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

From the phenomenal temples of Angkor Wat to the seductive elegance of Phnom Penh and buzz of Ho Chi Minh city, sailing through Vietnam and Cambodia on a Mekong River Cruise is a dazzling cultural experience. Whether hearing historic tales in the Viet Cong’s Cu Chi Tunnels, taking an ox cart ride through rice paddies or being embraced by eager, young arms in the local school in rural Ankor-Ban, spine-tingling moments await at every turn. Passengers of our famous Mekong river cruises experience enormous cultural and ecological diversity on this magnificent river.

The opportunity to discover rich heritage and traditions enriched by 2,000 years of human history is what makes the Mekong river cruise one of Asia’s most epic and worthwhile journeys on water, and one of the few cultural destinations on Earth that’s best explored by river cruise.

Insider tip:

Both the ways of life and the biodiversity of this vast region will be affected by the construction of a number of new dams. Seven are planned for Laos alone, with one nearing completion. Ships are already forced to pass through in a specially-constructed lock. Get in quick before the restrictions are tightened even further.