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Sample Indian cuisine, Thai tribal culture
or the unique cruise ships of Hong Kong

By Brent Stoller

Vacations Magazine: Asia
Play with pandas. After walking its Great Wall, meet one of China's other treasures on Wendy Wu Tours' " In Pursuit of Pandas." The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, an organization working to protect this vulnerable species, is home to a park that re-creates its natural habitat with bubbling streams, scalable trees and plenty of bamboo, the panda's preferred diet. Stroll forest-lined paths to observe these cuddly creatures up close, and tour the on-site museum to learn about the facility's breeding initiatives. Departures for this nine-day adventure are available from $1,890.

Head for the hills. While the bright lights of Bangkok are not to be missed, explore the simpler side of Thailand on G Adventures' backpacking tours of the country's tribal communities. Outside Chiang Mai, you'll trek back in time through forests, farmlands and rice fields, visiting multiple villages along the route, each of which has its own customs, language and way of life. Discuss bush medicine with a shaman, discover caves on a bamboo raft ride and immerse yourself in cultures that date back centuries. Four-, five- and eight-day "Hilltribe" tours are available, with prices from $349.

Shabbat shalom. Approximately 20,000 European Jews found safe haven in Shanghai during the Holocaust. Judaism's history in the Far East largely has gone unexplored, but Pacific Delight Tours changes that with "Pepper Silk & Yangtze" an exploration of Japan and China. Over 15 days, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, a scholar who has furthered the religion throughout Asia, leads an examination of Jewish life in the region. Travelers attend Shabbat services at synagogues in Beijing and Shanghai and enjoy a Japanese choir in Kyoto singing in Yiddish and Hebrew, among other experiences. The lone 2017 itinerary departs July 3 and starts at $7,438.

Salute Bagan at sunset. AmaWaterways' 11-day "Golden Treasures of Myanmar" sailing docks at Bagan, the ancient ruins on the Irrawaddy River that at one time served as the country's capital. While historians believe that some 13,000 pagodas and monasteries once ruled the city's landscape, just 2,200 still stand today. Guests tour a selection of these structures before taking in the sunset from an observation tower, then adjourn to a nearby temple for a candle-lighting vigil led by local monks. Priced from $4,799, four departures are available in March and April.

Try a taste of India. Its flavors are as intriguing as the country itself, and travelers get a sampling of both on the 11-day "Culture & Culinary Delights" with Pacific Delight. Starting in Delhi, the group revels in the smell of spices while strolling the city's marketplace, attends a cooking demonstration with culinary expert Komal Taneja and pays respects at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial. In Jaipur, a local family demonstrates the art of bread-making, and an evening among the foothills of the Aravali Range culminates with an outdoor feast. Monthly departures run from September through March 2018, with prices starting at $2,749.

Discover mountain customs. Arts and religion form the backbone of Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, and Luxury Gold by Insight explores these cultural pillars on its "Magnificent Nepal and Bhutan" adventure. At the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, you'll observe pupils perfecting the country's 13 traditional arts, including painting and woodworking, then hike to the temple of Paro Taktsang, also known as the Tiger's Nest. The structure, perched on a sheer cliff, gets its name from the story of Guru Rinpoche, a religious master allegedly flown to the site on the back of a tigress. Spots on this 11-day journey start at $4,023.

Sail Hong Kong's harbor. Stretching up to 400 feet long, the Chinese junk ship has been roaming the waters of Southeast Asia for more than 2,000 years. These vessels are marvels of innovation, with airtight compartments to lock out leaks and sails reinforced with bamboo to combat ocean breezes. While junk ships previously have been used for commerce and exploration, Regent Seven Seas Cruises utilizes them for leisure on a Hong Kong shore excursion. Cruise Victoria Harbour and take in the city's stunning skyline during this hour-plus sailing as you relax with tasty snacks and a cold beverage.

Feel the heartbeat of Hanoi. The energy in the city's Old Quarter is palpable, with its maze of 13th-century streets touting the city's best food, shopping and people-watching. Curbside vendors serve up eats low in price but rich in taste, including cha ca, a sauteed fish flavored with onions, dill and turmeric, and bun cha, a specialty of grilled pork patties and noodles. Relax over coffee at a sidewalk cafe, or head to the bia hoi (fresh beer) corner to sample the local brew. Viking River Cruises' 15-day "Magnificent Mekong" starts or ends in Hanoi, with departures from July through December starting at $6,748.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Winter 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.

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