Viking River Cruises has built its business from sailing the waterways of Europe. In fact, it’s difficult to dock in any European port of call now and not see one of Viking’s striking but ubiquitous Longship river cruise vessels tied up alongside.
But the Danube hasn’t always been Viking’s de-facto home; in fact, founder and President Torstein Hagen started the company in 1997… in Russia.
Today, river cruises along Europe’s Danube, Main and Rhine rivers are just a portion of Viking’s overall itinerary offerings. Viking’s other itineraries explore a surprising amount of this planet.
China is a big country, so it is perhaps surprising to learn that Viking offers a total of four cruise tour itineraries that explore much of what China has to offer.
Viking’s staple cruise tour is the 13-day “Imperial Jewels of China” itinerary that travels between Beijing and Shanghai. Guests cruise the legendary Yangtze through the scenic wonder that is the Three Gorges and the equally beautiful Lesser Three Gorges.
Of course, one of the primary draws of this itinerary is to see the remarkable Terra Cotta Warriors at Xian. In Beijing, guests explore imperial treasures like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China, and have the opportunity to walk through historic Tiananmen Square, site of the student-led protests in 1989 where hundreds of civilian protesters were killed by Chinese military.
At 18 days in length, Viking’s “Undiscovered China” itinerary is an expanded version of the shorter “Imperial Jewels of China” cruisetour. Still operating between Beijing and Shanghai, this voyage visits six UNESCO World Heritage sites and includes side-visits to the canal-lined city of Lijiang, arguably China’s most authentic Old Town, and also includes an excursion to observe endangered pandas in Chengdu.
The 18-day “China’s Cultural Delights” cruisetour also operates from Beijing to Shanghai, but includes a much longer river journey along the Yangtze aboard the Viking Emerald. At 11 days in length, this river cruise sails between Chongqing and Nanjing.
This 18-day odyssey explores China’s cradle of culture with an epic 11-day Yangtze cruise between Chongqing and Nanjing. In addition to offering the same experiences as the other itineraries, this journey also includes a visit to Jingdezhen, known as the birthplace of porcelain; as well as an excursion to Mount Jiu Hua’s remote Buddhist Temple complex. The focus, as the itinerary name indicates, is all about discovering and experiencing China’s unique culture.
Viking’s final itinerary is the spectacular 16-day “Roof of the World” journey. The primary draw of this special cruisetour is the opportunity to visit Tibet, with two full days spent exploring the ancient city of Lhasa.
After a multi-year absence due to the ongoing conflict and unrest in the area, Viking has quietly restarted operations along Egypt’s Nile, offering up a full season of departures beginning in January of 2016 and continuing through the year aboard the MS Mayfair and the MS Omar El Khayam.
At 12 days in length, Viking’s “Pathways of the Pharaohs” cruisetour features a total of 18 guided tours throughout Egypt. Following a multi-day stay in Cairo, guests then fly to the fabled city of Luxor to embark their cruise that will take them on a voyage through Lake Nasser.
From Luxor, guests sail to Edefu for a tour of the Temple of Horus, built during the Ptolemaic Dynasty to honor the falcon-headed god. In Kom Ombo, visit the unique double-temple that is dedicated to both Horus and the crocodile god known as Sobek. As the legend goes, Sobek is a fertile deity thought to have created the entire world.
At Aswan, take part in a traditional Egyptian Nubian party that features the traditional music and dress native to this amazing region of Egypt. Guests will also get to see the Aswan High Dam, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Philae Temple.
Of course, no visit to Egypt would be complete without a visit to Abu Simbel, with its imposing temples and legendary sculptures of four gigantic seated figures. Then, of course, there is the amazing city of Cairo, the Pyramids, and the famous Temples of Luxor. Weather permitting, you can even take an early-morning hot air balloon ride over the temples.
Viking’s quiet resumption of service signals an important increase in confidence in the Egyptian river cruise market. With tourism beginning to restart, there are still great deals to be had. For history buffs and adventurous travelers, Egypt once again looks appealing.
One of river cruising’s newest destinations is mysterious Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. It’s also one of Viking’s newest destinations, with a 15-day “Myanmar Explorer” itinerary that operates roundtrip from Bangkok, Thailand.
The itinerary begins with two nights in Bangkok at the Shangri-La Bangkok before guests are flown into Myanmar for a week-long land tour of the country. The journey then continues aboard the 60-guest Viking Mandalay.
Viking only began cruises here in late 2014, and the line recently tweaked its itinerary to include some unique experiences, including a two-night stay on Inle Sap Lake at the Inle Areum Palace Hotel.
Looking like a set straight out of a movie, the Inle Areum Palace Hotel serves as a base for two days, as Viking guides guests through the floating villages and gardens of the region, not to mention the 1,000 ancient towering spires that make up the Indein Stupa Complex.
Guests embark Viking Mandalay in the city of Mandalay for their journey along the famous Irrawaddy River. Along the way, the ship calls on Ohn Ne Choung, a traditional farming village in a community that’s been virtually untouched by modern conveniences. Guests will also see Mandalay’s U Benin Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world.
The sheer scale of Myanmar becomes apparent as the itinerary continues. In Bagan, an ancient capital of Myanmar, over 3,000 ancient monuments are present, including the Shwesandaw Pagoda; the 11th-century Ananda, one of the best-preserved Bagan temples; and the Ananda Oakkyaung Monastery.
Even more impressive might be the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya, a massive Buddhist temple originally built in 1303 that contains an impressive number of images of Buddha; at least 500,000.
Viking’s “Myanmar Explorer” itinerary serves as a fantastic introduction to a country that was, just a few decades ago, largely inaccessible to foreign travellers.
Russia means a great deal to Viking, which could be why Viking continues to offer a full season of river cruises along the historic Volga River.
Operating between May 2016 and October 2016 aboard either Viking Akun, Viking Ingvar or Viking Truvor, Viking’s 13-day “Waterways of the Tsars” itinerary sails between Moscow and St. Petersburg or reverse, and visits four UNESCO World Heritage sites along with ports that would be difficult for the average traveller to reach by any other means of transportation.
In Moscow, guests can visit Red Square and the famous Bolshoi Theatre, and even ride the city’s metro with the help of Viking’s knowledgeable local guides and program directors. In fact, with four days in Moscow, guests have the chance to use their Viking river cruise ship as a comfortable home base while they go exploring, either with Viking or on their own.
Other less-well known cities offer great opportunities as well. In Uglich, guests can visit the former Kremlin of Uglich and visit the Church of St. Dmitry-on-Blood, which was constructed on the site where the son of Ivan the Terrible, Dmitry, was mysteriously murdered.
While onboard one of Viking’s three Russian-based river cruise ships, guests can enjoy onshore music and dance performances; learn a little Russian; listen to lectures about Romanov Tsars, the Soviet Union & current affairs; attend a Russian cooking workshop; or participate in Russian tea time.
5. Vietnam & Cambodia
Viking offers a 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” cruisetour that explores the culture, history and wonders of the Mekong River that flows between Vietnam and Cambodia. Travelling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City or reverse, guests spend three nights exploring mystical Ha Long Bay before heading south to Siem Reap, Cambodia – home of the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex. It’s one of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that guests will visit on this remarkable journey.
From Siem Reap, sail aboard the intimate, 56-guest Viking Mekong to small, out-of-the-way villages that would be difficult to otherwise access. Viking’s itinerary includes an overnight stay in Kampong Cham and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. It is here that guests have the opportunity to see the contrasts of this beautiful city: the ancient memorial temples and stupas, the modern bustling metropolis, and its dark history as the epicenter of the terrible reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Calls on Tan Chau and Sa Dec precede a final three-day stay in Ho Chi Minh City; plenty of time to get to know this impossibly busy Vietnamese metropolis.
6. The Mississippi
Viking has ambitions to, one day, sail America’s mighty Mississippi river. No doubt it will happen, but the details of exactly when and how are murky. Viking faces an uphill battle to begin operations on the Mississippi thanks to an obscure piece of legislation called the Jones Act, which mandates that ships operating between two United States ports of call without first calling at a “distant foreign port” must be made in America, and crewed by American crew members. For Viking, which builds all of its Longship river cruise vessels in Germany, that poses a problem.
Even so, Viking has a way of willing seemingly impossible tasks into reality. It’s not entirely unreasonable to think that, one of these days, we’ll be writing about the heartland of America from a Viking river cruise.
Until then, there’s no shortage of Exotic itineraries to explore with Viking.