Photograph by Piti A. Sahakorn, LightRocket/Getty Images

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Rowers manning a ceremonial vessel rehearse for the Thai Royal Barge Procession along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.

Photograph by Piti A. Sahakorn, LightRocket/Getty Images

Best Tours in Asia 2015

From Traveler Magazine's 2015 Tours of a Lifetime

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China, Myanmar: Far East Sampler

Help mahouts care for their elephants at a conservation project in Myanmar’s Kalaw forest, mountain bike through Pao villages, and kayak Inle Lake, stopping to visit with Shan people as you tour a place few know. End in China’s scenic province of Yunnan. Global Basecamps: “Myanmar & Southern China: Places Unexplored,” 15 days; from $4,264;

Iran: Persian Odyssey

An ambitious itinerary spans millennia and a wide swath of the land of the Peacock Throne, from ancient palaces of the Achaemenid kings at Persepolis to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd, where fire has been burning for 1,500 years. Tour operator founder Will Weber will join the September departure. Journeys International: “Persia Past and Present,” 15 days; $5,375;

India: Snow Leopard Trek

Join ecologists, shepherds, and yak herders on a 12-day trek in the Kumaon Himalaya, where an estimated 10 percent of the world’s endangered snow leopards roam. Each participant is asked to raise a minimum of $500 for an initiative to mitigate conflict between snow leopards and humans, such as compensation for families who lose sheep to the cats. Hidden Places: “Snow Leopards—Snow Mountains Fundraising Trek,” 17 days; from $3,250 (excludes fundraising);

India: Land of Legends

Who knew Gujarat is the one place lions still exist in their natural habitat outside Africa? This corner of South Asia turns out to be full of surprises, including vestiges of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and parks that are home to hyenas, wolves, Asiatic lions, and more. Immersion Journeys: “Gujarat: The Land of Legends, Culture & Crafts,” 12 days; $5,295;

Indonesia: Dives and Dragons

Snorkel among manta rays and such exotic species as clown blennies and yellow-ribbon sweetlips in the translucent waters of Komodo National Park. Home is a 98-foot-long wooden schooner, complete with a small team of marine biologists and guides, who give talks on the park’s diversity. A highlight: close-up sightings of Komodo dragons. Wilderness Travel: “Komodo Snorkeling Expedition,” 11 days; from $5,595;

Japan: The Zen of Gardens

Cycle country roads from Kanazawa—site of Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s great gardens—north to the Noto Peninsula. Along the way, visit the Sojiji Temple and gardens, scout for lacquerware at Wajima’s morning market, and relax in the healing hot springs of Wakura Onsen. Bookended by stays in Kyoto and Tokyo. Explore!: “Kyoto and Beyond by Bike,” 13 days; from $5,440;

Japan, South Korea: Culture Cruise

Ply the coastal waters of Kyushu and Honshu, two of Japan’s four main islands, aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral. The itinerary packs in cultural excursions, from a visit to Naoshima island—known for its contemporary art museums, two designed by Osaka-born architect Tadao Ando—to a look at how shoju, sake’s stronger cousin, is made, at a distillery in Kagoshima. Tauck: “Cruising the Land of the Rising Sun,” 14 days; $10,990;

Laos: Travel With Soul

Hiking, zip-lining, and other activities pair with opportunities to engage with service organizations, such as Brother Mouse, a group that provides books to rural area schools. Noteworthy: three days at the Gibbon Experience project. Myths and Mountains: “Laos With a Heart,” 15 days; from $4,695;

Russia: Realm of Polar Bears

Shrinking summer sea ice in the Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska is lifting the so-called Ice Curtain, allowing passage to small expedition ships—and a glimpse of the remote wilderness of northeastern Siberia. Stops include the Russian isle 
of Wrangel, known for polar bears, gray whales, Pacific walruses, and snowy owls. Heritage Expeditions: “Wrangel Island: Across the Top of the World,” 15 days; from $11,200;

Turkey to Thailand: Silk Road 2.0

The latest take on the old Silk Route, this trip departs from Istanbul and proceeds by ferry, 4x4, boat, and truck through Central Asia to Bangkok, with plenty of time to take in such sights as Turkmenistan’s flaming Darvaza Gas Crater. Dragoman: “Istanbul-Bangkok via Burma,” 127 days; $17,810;

Vietnam: Window Onto Tradition

Relive the days of ancient trading ports in Hoi An’s Old Town; float in a bamboo-woven coracle boat used by fishermen; 
and overnight in the recently discovered Hang En Cave, one of the world’s largest grottoes. Audley Travel: “Vietnam’s UNESCO Discovery,” 16 days; from $3,895 (most meals extra);

India: Making Photo Magic

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal, tigers and peacocks in Ranthambore National Park, sinuous sand dunes in the Thar Desert—India teems with photo opportunities. Sharpen your shooting skills on this train journey, which includes five days aboard the Palace on Wheels. National Geographic Expeditions: “India by Rail Photo Expedition,” 13 days; $11,595,

Contributing editor Margaret Loftus has reported and written “Tours of a Lifetime” for the past nine years.