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RIVERS are the lifeblood of the earth, their waters sustaining the communities of people living along the shores. Get a glimpse of the rich tapestry of river life through a cruise, which allows you to get up close. Here are some rivers and bodies of water in Asia to visit - and the luxury cruises that sail you down.
Myanmar is home to some of the most fascinating Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries in the world, and one way of taking in the charms of the country is by sailing along the Irrawaddy River, the longest river there.
And to do it in style, roll your luggage aboard luxury safari lodge and cruise provider Sanctuary Retreats' (www.sanctuaryretreats.com) cruise ship, Sanctuary Ananda. Almost like a floating palace, the vessel has just 21 suites, each with its own balcony.
Sanctuary Retreats is offering an 11-night Bhamo Cruise, which sails between Mandalay and Bagan via the city of Bhamo. On this journey, the vessel will wend its way past riverside pagodas, green paddy fields and distant hills. Land excursions include visits to local markets, archaeological sites, handicraft workshops and landmark attractions such as Mandalay's U Bein Bridge.
Guests can also opt for a visit to the village of Sin Kyun, which Sanctuary Retreats Philanthropy adopted following the village chief's request for a library and a house for an English teacher. An unspoilt village, Sin Kyun has a population of just under 1,000 people who specialise in farming and hat-making.
In between excursions, enjoy life in the slow lane on board your vessel with cultural demonstrations such as how to wear a longyi (sarong), educational lectures, meditation sessions on the sun deck and movie screenings.
The Mekong, which flows through six countries - China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - supports a mind-boggling diversity of human cultures, with numerous minority groups and hill tribes settling along its banks.
A cruise provider that plies the 12th longest river in the world is Pandaw Cruises (www.pandaw.com), which specialises in journeys exploring remote and often hard-to-navigate waterways on small, luxurious vessels.
It offers several itineraries, but for the ultimate experience, opt for its seven-night Classic Mekong experience, which sails between Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
As your vessel takes you from the bustling French colonial port of Ho Chi Minh City to the tranquility of the Cambodian countryside, you will visit attractions such as floating markets, a Cham tribal village and a catfish farm.
Guests also spend one day in Phnom Penh, touring the city on their own private cyclo.
And, for a treat, the vessel will make its way to the charming French colonial town of Kratie to see rare, freshwater dolphins. Pandaw is the only cruise that goes to Kratie.
The vessel you sail on, the Mekong Pandaw, is a replica of a colonial steamer used by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, with its intimate size keeping things friendly. Rooms feature luxe furnishings and panoramic French windows leading to personal deck space.
On-board activities include cultural performances, educational talks and cooking classes.
The 6,300km-long Yangtze River, Asia's longest river and the third longest in the world, is home to the impressive Three Gorges as well as the immense dam that is China's largest construction project since the Great Wall.
A journey with Avalon Waterways (www.avalonwaterways.com) allows you to experience the magic of the gorges. It has a three-night Yangtze sailing itinerary bundled with its land tours, which give you the option of visiting cities like Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong before and after your cruise.
During the cruise, dramatic highlights are, of course, the gorges - Xiling, the largest; Wuxia, known for its beautiful forest-covered mountains; and Qutang, so magnificent as to be surreal - you can almost touch the perpendicular walls rising from the riverbanks as the captain negotiates this narrow gap.
Shore excursions include a walking tour of Shibaozhai with its 400-year-old, red wooden pagodas perched high on a cliff side, and a boat ride down the emerald-hued Shennv Stream with its mysterious hanging coffins.
And while the scenery outside your cruise ship is stunning, so are the luxuries offered aboard your vessel, the Century Legend. For starters, there are the spacious Deluxe Staterooms with balconies, as well as on-board facilities like a large indoor swimming pool, restaurants, bars, a spa and a cinema.
BACKWATERS OF KERALA
The backwaters of Kerala state in southern India are a 900-kilometre network of lagoons and lakes joined by canals - man-made and natural - and dotted by towns, villages and palm tree-fringed rice paddies. The waters are home to a unique ecosystem vibrant with aquatic, plant and bird life.
You can explore this watery ecosystem on board luxury ship The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda, Kerala (www.oberoihotels.com/kerala-backwaters).
While the ship stays docked at a private jetty at Vembanad Lake at night, it makes excursions out to different parts of the waterway during the day. On its three-night itinerary, you will cruise past picturesque stretches on the way to Alleppey, known as the "Venice of the East".
You will also visit a traditional Kerala tharavad (family residence), as well as attractions such as the half-statue of Lord Buddha.
Come night, relax on-board with cultural performances such as a Mohiniattam recital, a classical dance form distinctive to Kerala.
Afterwards, retreat to one of eight deluxe cabins while a 24-hour personal butler helps to make your experience even more comfortable.