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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
While the train has been in operation for years, there is a
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.
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
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.
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
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
Eastern & Oriental Express Train pays 8 percent for train