Occupying a strategic position between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the South China Sea covers an area of around 3.5 million square kilometers. This important shipping lane contains hundreds of small islands, islets and rocks, along with some of the world’s biggest coral reefs, which are rich in marine life. We’ll be heading to this exciting corner of the globe in winter 2016/17, calling at a host of treasure-packed destinations. Here we pick our favorite sights you can see around the shores of the South China Sea, though with so many to choose from, we struggled to stick to just 10!
Borneo is one of only two places where orangutans live in the wild – Sumatra being the other – so the chance to get up close to these critically endangered creatures is something special. Sepilok is the world’s largest orangutan sanctuary and offers a viewing gallery so you can see these fascinating great apes, whose name translates as ‘person of the forest’, in their natural habitat. Up to 80 adults are living free in the protected forest reserve, while around 25 orphaned youngsters are being cared for in the nursery.
Borobudur, on the Indonesian island of Java, is the biggest Buddhist monument in the world. Founded 1,200 years ago, this unique treasure is decorated with thousands of relief panels and hundreds of Buddha statues. While the hilltop monument itself resembles a stupa, seen from above it forms a mandala. For centuries it lay hidden after volcanic eruptions deposited ash on the site and lush vegetation took root. It was only rediscovered in the early 19th century by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, and restored to its former glory in the 1970s with UNESCO’s help.
Dominating the skyline in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace, the official residence of the King of Cambodia. Built in the 1860s, this striking walled structure near the riverfront boasts classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding, while the adjacent Silver Pagoda glistens with 5,000 silver floor tiles and houses a collection of priceless Buddhist treasures. Other highlights include the throne room and the lush gardens.
Boats piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh coconut juice, cooked local delicacies and even trinkets, Bangkok’s floating markets are a colorful and vibrant sight. An enduring symbol of days gone by when life centered around the waterways, today they offer a picture of quintessential Thailand. Take a longtail boat to experience the lively atmosphere for yourself and maybe practice your haggling skills with the sellers.
Located on an island surrounded by three rivers, the Ayutthaya Historical Park contains the ruins of one of the most prosperous empires in history. Ayutthaya’s kings poured the kingdom’s wealth into the construction of temples and religious monuments as well as the arts, and today the remains offer a glimpse of the glory days of the second Siamese capital. The city existed for 400 years until the 18th century, when it was plundered, abandoned and burned and today the site is UNESCO-listed for its historic and cultural importance.
The magnificent Grand Palace with its beautiful architecture and intricate details is Bangkok’s most famous landmark. Surrounded by walls built in 1782, the palace complex was home of the Thai king and also the entire administrative seat for government for 150 years. It is still used for some ceremonial occasions today and is a must-see sight for visitors. Its centerpiece is the highly revered Emerald Buddha – carved from just one piece of jade – housed within the ornately decorated Wat Phra Kaew.
It’s spectacular enough by day, but Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor is even more dazzling by night when it is illuminated by the Symphony of Lights – the world’s largest permanent light and sound show. This display of colored lights, laser beams and searchlights light up more than 40 skyscrapers and landmarks on both sides of the harbor in synch with an uplifting soundtrack and narration. 8. Mekong Delta The fascinating Mekong Delta is an area of lush, tropical and fertile lands where life revolves around the river. Stretching 15,000 square miles from Ho Chi Minh’s city limits to the Gulf of Thailand, a journey along the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam is sure to prove unforgettable. Rice may be its staple crop, but exotic fruits and fishing also feature prominently here. The pace is relaxing and scenes of conical-hatted farmers tending their land are amongst Vietnam’s most iconic images.
This beautiful spot has been made famous by 2,000 stunning limestone karsts that rise dramatically out of the sea, carved over millions of years by the forces of nature. Local legend has it that the formations were created by a dragon, whose flailing tail gouged out the numerous valleys and crevasses. This unique UNESCO-listed landscape is one of Vietnam’s most breathtaking and inside its vast caves are gigantic stalagmites and stalactites.
Anak Krakatoa, or ‘Child of Krakatoa’, rises around 1,200 feet from the waters of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, and two of our adventures include a scenic cruise around this island volcano. Although less than 100 years old, it comes from legendary stock. The original Kratatoa erupted in 1883, resulting in a terrifying explosion heard 3,000 miles away from the island – the loudest sound ever heard in modern history! Today, it alternates relatively quiet days with almost continuous Strombolian activity – mild eruptions named after the Italian volcano.
You can sail the South China Sea on Voyages of Discovery on the following cruises:
Please send us a message if you have any questions or comments about anything you see in the e-zine. We'd love to hear from you!