Cruise ports of call: East Asia for history buffs
Thailand’s bridge on the River Kwai
For World War II buffs, the Asia-Pacific region offers many important historical sites. Often overlooked in this regard is Thailand, but the country is home to the notorious Death Railway, made famous by the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. Between 1942 and 1943 thousands of POWs and local forced labourers lost their lives building a bridge to Burma for the Emperor of Japan. Tourists looking for an interesting slice of World War II history can walk over the rebuilt bridge, and visit the nearby War Museum, which depicts the story of the route’s construction and Thailand’s role in the war.
Getting to the bridge is a daytrip to Kanchanaburi, about two to three hours by train each way from Thon Buri train station. The port is about half an hour from the train station. Since cruise ships often spend long days or overnight in Bangkok, passengers usually have time for the trip.
Small and medium size cruise ships like Azamara, Oceania, Seabourn and Silversea, dock right in the heart of Bangkok at Klong Toey; large cruise ships must dock an hour and a half south of Bangkok in Laem Chabang Port.
Hong Kong’s ancient villages
The city is known for its tall buildings, winding streets and bustling harbour, but history buffs who want to experience a piece of pre-skyscraper Hong Kong will enjoy the New Territories, the lush, hilly land that rolls from Kowloon to the border of mainland China. Fanling is an area known for its ancestral halls, Taoist temples and walled villages that date back to the 11th Century. Twelve years ago the government established the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, a 2.5km trail near Fanling that takes walkers to some of the most significant historical sites, including five walled villages all within a few miles of each other.
To get there, cruisers docked in Hong Kong can take MTR train’s East Rail line 50 minutes from Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui station to Fanling station. From there, minibus ride 54K takes 15 minutes to get to Lung Yeuk Tau.
Tokyo sights by bike
Tokyo is a huge city with many historical sites, so cruisers faced with limited time often opt for the bus tour overview. An alternative is to explore the city by bicycle so you can enjoy historic sites while being outdoors and getting a workout.
Tokyo Great Cycling Tour offers two excursions that focus on local and national history: one that focuses on the contrast between old and new Tokyo, the other on the city’s temples and shrines. Tokyo Bicyle Tours is run by English-speaking expats who offer an introduction to the history of Tokyo sites on four and five hour rides.
For ships docking in Harumi, Tokyo’s local port, the tour companies are accessible via taxi or Tokyo’s very efficient Metro subway system. For ships that dock in Yokohama, the bullet train takes 30 minutes to get to Tokyo.