Luxury Train Rides - The Eastern & Oriental Express

Introduction

"Trains are wonderful ... to travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns ... and rivers, in fact, to see life"

Agatha Christie

Southeast Asia is bordered by the Indian subcontinent to the West, China to the North and Japan to the East. This combination makes South East Asia a captivating land that promises to stimulate each and every one of your senses. A tropical expanse of rainforest, paddy fields, diverse landscapes and colorful cultures and a region where visitors experience the friendliest and hospitable people and enjoy the world’s most exciting cuisine.

Singapore

Singapore in linked by a kilometer long causeway at the southern tip of Malaysia. Singapore provides Western standards alongside traditional Chinese, Malay and Indian enclaves. The downtown areas of Singapore are dense with towering skyscrapers and shopping malls, yet the island retains an abundance of nature reserves and lush, tropical greenery. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post and settlement. Singapore grew as a crucial crossroad for trade and shipping with immigrating Chinese entrepreneur from Malaysia and Indian and Chinese laborers. Now the island republic of 633 square kilometers, boasts the world’s busiest port and an airport which is served by over 50 of the world’s major airlines. Singapore is also the clearing house for the region’s wealth dealing in tin, rubber, coconut, oil, rice, timber, jute, spices and coffee, and her financial centre is home to the world’s major banks. Despite modernization of the city, visitors prepared to peer beneath the state’s surface will discover a profusion of age-old buildings, values and traditions.

Thailand

Thailand can be described as the “most exotic country in Asia”. It is famous for its distinct culture, rich and varied heritage and scenic beauty bring all this together in a kaleidoscope of wonders. Thailand stretches 1,860 kilometers north to south, giving it one of the most diverse climates in South East Asia. From high mountains in the north come river tributaries, which flow into central Thailand and drain into the Gulf of Thailand via the Chao Phraya Delta near Bangkok. The diverse flora and fauna include an incredible variety of fruit trees, bamboo, tropical hardwoods and Thailand’s national flower, the orchid. Tigers, leopards and elephants are found in many of the 32 wildlife sanctuaries and 66 national parks. From golden spires and soaring roofs of Bangkok’s temples to the awe-inspiring ruins of ancient cities, the marvelous sights give definition to a kingdom with an independent history stretching back more than 700 years. The heart of Thailand centers on the delta of the Chao Phraya River and its fertile plains make contribution to the national rice production. Across the north runs a succession of jungle covered mountains, which form part of the Himalayan foothills. Bordering Thailand in a clockwise direction from the north are Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar (Burma).

Malaysia

Malaysia boasts a rich cultural heritage, with traditional architecture and crafts, environmental splendor, a shopper’s paradise and a gastronomic haven all rolled into one. The population is a contrast of racial and cultural roots, with a predominance of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Malaysia, along with Singapore and Brunei has only existed in its present form since 1963, when the federation of thirteen states became known as Malaysia. From the early 16th century onwards, parts of Malaysia, Malacca in particular, had been colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Malaysia can be divided into six major regions; Kuala Lumpur, the central region comprising the states of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca, the northern region of Penang, Perlis, Perak and Kedah, the east coast states of Terengganu, Kelantan & Pahang, the southern state of Johor and finally the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Each region has unique characteristics and each of Malaysia’s ethnic groups adds a distinct heritage to this society.

Laos

Laos is landlocked by its neighbors of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), China and Vietnam. The Mekong River runs the entire length of the country, providing fishing, irrigation and fertile farmland along the delta. Its population of 6 million people is distributed throughout towns, rural villages and isolated ethnic mountain tribes. For the visitor, Laos offers an unspoilt, fascinating adventure as most of the country remains untouched by tourism. Beautiful, forested hills hide their treasures of caves and pure, refreshing waterfalls. The deeply entrenched Buddhist culture touches every part of life, making the tourist’s encounters with the Lao people one of friendship and warm welcomes. Temples, pagodas and stupas dot the country, with glints of golden rooftops visible as the sun rises over the mountains and the early morning alms giving ceremonies see the towns flooded with saffron-robed monks, collecting food offerings in their small bowls. Laos is a truly captivating country, where the gentle pace of life invites the visitor to slow down, relax and absorb the beauty of their surroundings.

History

Following the success of the famous Venice Simplon Orient Express, the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train made history as the first train to transport passengers directly from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. Malaysia and Thailand built and maintained separate railway networks and passengers have always had to change trains from Malaysian railways to Thai railways at Butterworth in Penang. It was therefore a historic occasion when in 1991, the haulage contracts were signed between E & O and the two railway operators. These agreements allow a single luxury train to travel the whole length of the 1,262 mile (2,030 km) journey.

This luxury train was first built in Japan in 1972 and operated as the Silver Star train in New Zealand. Its carriages were then remodeled and designed by Gerard Gallet, the man behind much of the design and refurbishment of both the British Pullman and the Venice Simplon Orient Express luxury train. An enormous amount of work went on behind the scenes to put the E & O on the rails. The same team who had worked on the Venice Simplon Orient Express luxury train created the interiors. As well as adding the required air-conditioning system and ensuring the carriages were compatible with the Malaysian and Thai railway systems, the windows in the dining cars were also extended to offer panoramic views. The inspiration for the interiors is derived from the East. The carriage walls are decorated with veneers of wooden marquetry with Eastern designs, while the bar and restaurant cars are decorated in Chinese and Thai lacquer using Malaysian motifs with Thai wall carvings and engraved mirrors. The open deck of the Observation Car also has an Oriental theme and for much of the train, local materials have been used. On board the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train, the atmosphere harks back to a ‘Colonial’ age of rattan chairs on the verandah, linen suits and tea dances. The inaugural journey departed in September 1993 and the Eastern & Oriental Express quickly built for itself a highly regarded reputation as providing one of the most adventurous and exciting rail journeys to the world. Whatever journey passengers decide to take, they are assured of the highest quality food and service while enjoying dramatic views across the South East Asian landscape.

The Chronicles

Enjoy the luxury of taking time to truly experience this wonderful part of the world. Leading you from ancient Khmer temples, to tea plantations and the vineyards of modern Thailand, our expert guides will introduce you to the sights and sounds of South East Asia that other travelers rarely witness.

Epic Thailand

Discover a new style of luxury from the Eastern & Oriental Express train. Spend a leisurely six nights and seven days experiencing rarely visited sites in Northern Thailand, travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai through fascinating, untouched Thai landscapes. Approaching the gleaming carriages of the Eastern & Oriental Express, guests are received by stewards in exquisite Thai uniforms, their hands pressed together in a gracious ‘wai’ which is an extraordinary welcome for the extraordinary six days to come. Epic Thailand is a tour to hidden, off-beaten track treasures that few visitors reach. Alongside a privileged chance to meet villagers at work creating traditional crafts, there is also the opportunity for a true taste of contemporary Thailand – a visit to a leading edge ‘new latitude’ vineyard which includes sampling the wines. The diversity of Thailand with its remote settlements on the Isan plains; 12th century Khmer temples in faraway settings that retain all their otherworldly beauty and tranquil atmosphere; the culture-rich city of Chiang Mai and the Khao Yai National Park which is home to wild elephants, gibbons and birds

During this trip, guests would meet the elders of a small Isan village and discuss aspects of their daily lives. At Gran Monte vineyard, guests would meet Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy, who is Thailand’s first female oenologist who will introduce her family run estate and present a selection of her wines. But this land voyage around Thailand is about much more than looking and learning. It also invites guests to join in and try something new. There is an opportunity to participate in a Bai Sii (sacred thread) ceremony or to tour the town of Lampang with its Wild West style in a traditional pony trap. This exceptional Thailand train journey is also an opportunity to gain unique insights from local people. Let farmers escort you around paddy fields and discover the complex system of labor that goes into producing a single crop. Beyond the distant temple of Prasat Sikhoraphum is a village of silk weavers who will explain the intricacies of their ancient craft.

A cabin onboard the Eastern & Oriental Express
A cabin onboard the Eastern & Oriental Express | Source

Fables of the Hills

Experience a new style of journey from the Eastern & Oriental Express. A tour of six nights and seven days taking you north from Singapore through Cameron Highlands to Bangkok. The equatorial sun streams down on the carriages of the Eastern & Oriental Express, resplendent in their green and cream livery. Starting from Singapore, the journey leads to all that’s best and compelling in Asia. The romance and colonial heritage of Malaysia’s mist shrouded Cameron Highlands, the evocative Bridge over the River Kwai and the fabulously varied architecture of cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Kangsar and Georgetown on the island of Penang. Historian Hugh Cope introduces the infamous World War II Thailand – Burma railway, and the centre that he co-founded to record this region’s past; Peranakan cooks reveal the spices that make Penang a food lover’s dream; and an expert on Malaysia recounts the story behind the disappearance of Jim Thompson, creator if the modern Thai silk industry. While guests will find this northbound route a voyage of discovery, it goes beyond the chance to admire breathtaking landscapes such as Bukit Merah lake, or to learn about the distinct cultures along the way. It is also a rare opportunity to take part in local activities and to do something new. The stay in Cameron Highlands, for instance, includes a tasting of teas or strawberries grown here in the hills while a stop beyond Thailand’s Tham Kasae viaduct enables guests to ride elephants at a working tusker’s camp. This unique journey also offers special insights into the lives of local people, talk with the experts at Surat Thani’s Monkey Training Camp and learn how they teach monkey’s to harvest coconuts from coconut trees; discover fascinating aspects of Georgetown history and culture from the Baba’s and Nyonya’s who actually lived it. Guests can also visit The School of Hard Knocks at Kuala Lumpur’s 125 year old Royal Selangor pewter factory and create your own pewter dish using traditional tools and methods.

Legends of the Peninsula

Aspects of all that’s best and most compelling in Asia stretch out ahead: the Bridge over the River Kwai, the crystalline Andaman Sea at Trang, colonial Geogetown on the island of Penang and the fascinating historic futuristic cityscapes of Kuala Lumpur. Experts meet guests along the way and bring each destination to life. This land voyage throughout Asia is about so much more than looking and learning. It encourages guests to join in and to do something new. The leisurely sojourn at Trang, for instance, offers the chance to take part in a range of water sports including snorkeling on a coral reef, dugong trekking beside offshore islands or Thai cookery lessons in a thatched pavilion beside the beach.

Tales of Laos

The tropical heat and bustle of Bangkok’s central station gives way to the cool swish of silk Stewards in traditional uniforms made from this exotic fabric greet you as you step on board the Eastern & Oriental Express into another realm. The train sets off out onto the plains of Thailand’s remote north-east. Afternoon tea is served as you pass villages and emerald fields. When fully relaxed into the rhythm of the turning wheels, join the Train Manager at an evening reception to meet fellow guests. Ahead lies a voyage of discovery, travelling past farmland and forested valleys to where the Mekong River separates Thailand from Laos. Here begins a high point of the journey: the train crosses the swirling river on newly laid tracks and continues along the first railway in Laos – a seven mile stretch that leads to the capital, Vientiane. E & O passengers are among the few to travel this route to Laos. It is a wonderfully evocative way to arrive in a country that was once part of old Indochina and subsequently sealed off from the rest of Asia for many years. Vientiane has a delightful old world air, with traditional markets, golden temples and colonial residences lining leafy boulevards. This land voyage through Asia will encourage guests to look, learn and join in the activities along the way. Stop at Phimai to explore the impressive Angkor-style Khmer temples. Discover the vineyards of the scenic Khao Yai hills and sample the new vines cultivated there.

Dinner for Two on the Eastern & Oriental Express
Dinner for Two on the Eastern & Oriental Express | Source

Conclusion

The best part of an Eastern & Oriental Express voyage is the experience of stylish train travel itself which is a wonderful journey that has disappeared from fast-paced modern life. It is relaxing, glamorous and romantic all rolled into one train journey.

The limitations for five-star service for a maximum of 132 passengers in a cramped and moving series of compartments are obvious from the start, and yet the flawless and discreet service of cabin stewards and restaurant attendants would shame any luxury hotel. A compartment steward is on-call 24 hours via a bell in the cabin. He serves continental breakfast of coffee and freshly baked croissants and a full afternoon tea each day and attends to every detail from processing documents for border formalities to ensuring passengers every comfort is taken cared of. The E & O Express encourages passengers to re-discover the art of doing nothing in this age of constant connectivity. The forced slowdon in pace also provides welcome opportunities for solitary reflection of interesting conversations amongst passengers.

The Eastern & Oriental Express crossing the Bridge on River Kwai
The Eastern & Oriental Express crossing the Bridge on River Kwai | Source

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Jaspals 5 years ago from India / Australia

Fantastic. It's very informative and useful Hub. Voted up.


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reena_yadav 5 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Author

Hi Jaspals,

Thanks for dropping by and voting up this hub. Glad you found it useful as well.

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