Highlights: Countless Buddhist temples and pagodas lining the river. Chanting of saffron-robed monks coming from shore. Men and women wearing traditional longyis, a sarong-like garment. Oxen hauling goods. Children playing outside thatched houses. Women washing clothes in the river. A special stop is the ancient royal capital of Bagan, with more than 2,500 temples erupting over a vast plain, where the local time is the 13th century.
Ship: Orient-Express’ luxurious 82-passenger The Road to Mandalay river cruiser boasts some of the best cuisine, Asian and European fare, I’ve ever found on a ship.
Details: Five itineraries offered, from 3-11 nights, running from $2,520 to $10,080.
More info: www.orient-express.com/web/rtm/road_to_mandalay.jsp or 800-524-2420.
Where: Murray River, in southeastern Australia.
Lowdown: Deeply tied to local Aboriginal culture, Australia’s principal river (total length is around 1,600 miles) winds through many of Oz’s natural glories.
Highlights: There’s a bit of everything on this itinerary. Watch for grey kangaroos, wombats, tortoises, egrets and more from the deck. Standout scenery is gorges, red gum forests, towering limestone cliffs. Stops at historic port towns and at one of Australia’s most significant Aboriginal archaeological sites. An Aussie barbeque in a bush setting on the banks of the river. Guided nature walks. Some cruises include visits to the Barossa Valley, home of the country’s world-famous vineyards and wines.
Ship: The 120-passenger PS Murray Princess, a working paddlewheeler built specially for the Murray River and with Australian crew.
Details: Three different itineraries offered, year round: 3-, 4- and 7-night cruises, with prices ranging from $632 to $3,183, per person, double occupancy.
More info: Captain Cook Cruises, www.captaincook.com.au/ (Click on “Murray River” section.)
Where: Dnieper River, in Ukraine.
Lowdown: At 1,420 miles, the Dnieper is Europe’s fourth longest river (after the Volga, Danube and Ural). It travels right down the middle of this 1,000-year-old country.
Highlights: It’s hard to imagine a river with a more complex history. A top memory is the capital of Kiev, speckled with gold-domed churches and monasteries. Kiev was also the capital of the medieval Rus Empire, the cradle of Russian culture. (Several passengers told me they took the Dnieper itinerary to round out what they’d learned about Slavic civilization on a cruise of Russia’s Volga.) A special feature of the 12-day itinerary is the visit to Zaporozhye, ancestral home of Ukrainian Cossackdom, a militaristic society that lasted from the mid-1500s to 1775, Here, passengers take in a performance of the fabled Cossack horsemanship, capping it off with traditional snacks and vodka drinking, another fabled Cossack skill. The program winds up the Ukraine experience with the Black Sea ports of Sevastopol, Yalta and Odessa.
Ship: The Viking Lomonosov features 102 outside cabins with picture windows that open. A treat: Feasting on Chicken Kiev while watching the countryside of Ukraine unfurl through the ship’s dining-room windows.
Details: Cruises operate from April through October. Prices begin at $2,438, per person.
More info: Viking River Cruises: www.vikingrivercruises.com/rivercruises/ukraine-dnieper-odessa-kiev-2013/itinerary.aspx or 800-304-9616