Train Tracks

Discover the lap of luxury aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express

By: Judy Koutsky

As the train left the station and the skyline of Bangkok slowly melted into the horizon, I wondered what to do first. Stay in the outdoor observation car and watch the scenery slowly pass by? Head to the elegantly appointed bar car and enjoy a mid-afternoon cocktail? Go back to my spaciously sized stateroom (much bigger than I would have imagined for train travel) for a pre-dinner catnap? Or head to the lounge and get a 45-minute reflexology treatment for $25 a treat that likely would cost three times that in the U.S.?

I chose the latter and soon was immersed in a wonderful foot massage followed by a back and shoulder massage while Buddhist temples and the lush, rural scenery of Thailand slowly passed by the large lounge windows.

Welcome to Southeast Asia. Long known as a backpacker’s haven, this area is quickly becoming a great destination for those seeking luxury. One of the best ways to view this region, especially if time is of the essence, is by taking the Eastern & Oriental Express train.

While the train has been in operation for years, there is a new

three-night, four-day Bangkok-to-Singapore journey, which I experienced on a recent trip. This new itinerary allows visitors tantalizing views of three countries Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore complete with excursions and beautiful glimpses of the rural country life, delivered in classic, high-end style.

The Eastern & Oriental Express currently offers three itineraries: the traditional two-night, three-day Singapore to Bangkok route; the new Southbound Bangkok to Singapore route (mentioned above); and the two-night, three-day Thai Explorer intra-Thailand journey, which travels roundtrip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with stops along the way.

Clients have a choice between three room categories: Presidential, State and Pullman. I traveled in the State class and was pleased at the amount of space it provided.

En Route
Aboard the Southbound Bangkok-Singapore route, I started each day with breakfast en-suite. Passengers can arrange a time for breakfast the night before or simply wait until they wake in the morning. There is one private steward per railcar and he appears with the press of a button. I ate my freshly baked croissant and drank my chamomile tea as we passed rice paddies and dense forests with rugged hills silhouetted in the background.

The scenery was something out of a book: I had never seen so many shades of green. Coconut, papaya and mango trees dotted the countryside, as rivers of tapioca trees lined the horizon. The green was interrupted when the countryside met villages with monks dressed in colorful orange garb.

Back in the countryside, cows and water buffalo plowing the rice paddies transported me back to a bygone time. Women wearing traditional Southeast Asian pointed hats worked hard in the fields. Children could be seen playing and waving furiously as the train whizzed by, yelling out greetings of “hello” to the fancy train and its travelers.

I thought I would feel claustrophobic on a train for four days but just the opposite happened. I felt a part of the landscape. As the scenery changed from open land and rice paddies to dense forest and heavy vegetation, I felt I was experiencing the countryside as few people do. Thailand’s Buddhist temples gave way to Muslim mosques and head-scarf-clad women in Malaysia.

In Southeast Asia, the Eastern & Oriental Express is the only train that travels from Bangkok to Singapore, and it’s also the only luxury train in Asia.

Lunch and dinner are served in the dining cars where an excellent blend of European and Asian foods are elegantly presented. Mid-afternoon tea is served in cabin; an array of teas, sweets and biscuits help stave off hunger until dinner.

Pre- and post-meal cocktails are served in one of two bar cars. During dinner, cabins are turned down, and the in-room couches are converted into beds. The lulling of the train slowly rocked me to sleep as we continued south to our destination.

Day Tripping
Days are spent looking out the window. And hours passed in which I simply took in the lush greenery, becoming more dense the farther south we journeyed and partaking in different excursions.

In Thailand, we took a boat trip along the Kwai River before visiting the Thailand-Burma railroad museum to learn why this part of the world was so affected by World War II.

In Malaysia, we stopped at Butterworth where we hopped a ferry to the island of Penang. The group took trishaw rides before having lunch and returning to the train. The excursions are a great way to stretch one’s muscles, as it’s easy to become complacent on the train.

But that, really, is the point. Train travel is meant to be a relaxing, slow-down-the-mind type of experience. It was nice to know I didn’t have unlimited options while on board: There was no gym, no movie car, no Internet.

Of course, there was plenty of activity to keep travelers busy: the astrologer (who was quite animated telling the female passengers their fortunes), the massage therapist (who gave me the best massage I had in Southeast Asia) and the game room (stocked with checkers, Boggle and card games).

But the focus of this trip was the scenery. I couldn’t remember the last time I just sat and stared out the window and was so happy to do nothing for hours on end.


Thai Airways flies to Singapore. They pay 13 percent commission.

Eastern & Oriental Express Train pays 8 percent for train travel.