Hol­i­day on Rails - The in­cred­i­ble East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press

The in­cred­i­ble East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press

The Luxury Collection - - Contents -

There is some­thing com­pelling about a train jour­ney that no other form of travel can re­ally match. Air travel is far too quick for you to re­ally im­merse your­self in it. Road trips are more in­volv­ing but do not re­ally fa­cil­i­tate close in­ter­ac­tion with fel­low pas­sen­gers. It is only on a train that you have both the leisure to re­ally ex­plore your jour­ney in depth and, at the same time, en­gage with your co-pas­sen­gers at length. A train jour­ney, thus, is an im­mer­sive ex­plo­ration of what both God and man have wrought, a trip through the vary­ing hues of hu­man ex­is­tence. In­deed, it is a metaphor for life it­self. When you dis­em­bark from a train jour­ney, you carry with you mem­o­ries of shared ex­pe­ri­ences that will stay for a life­time. And re­ward­ing new bonds that will sus­tain as rich and en­dur­ing friend­ships. The next time you are look­ing for a va­ca­tion that of­fers you a truly en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence we rec­om­mend that you se­ri­ously con­sider a train jour­ney. And what bet­ter than the finely cu­rated East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press?

The East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press made his­tory on its launch in Septem­ber 1993 as the first train to travel the whole length of the 1262 miles (1943 km) Sin­ga­pore-bangkok jour­ney, link­ing the rail­way sys­tems of both Malaysia and Thai­land. The train is the brain­child of vi­sion­ary busi­ness­man James B Sher­wood, founder of Bel­mond. To­day, the train trav­els through South­east Asia, link­ing the trio of trop­i­cal coun­tries of Thai­land, Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore. The jour­neys start and end at a com­bi­na­tion of three lo­ca­tions: the City State of Sin­ga­pore, Kuala Lumpur, the cap­i­tal of Malaysia, and the Thai cap­i­tal of Bangkok.

A typ­i­cal jour­ney be­gins with an overnight stay at Raf­fles ho­tel in Sin­ga­pore, a white wed­ding cake of colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture with shut­ters, balustrades and wrap­around bal­conies out­side; and dark wood, ceil­ing fans and an­tique fur­ni­ture within. Sin­ga­pore Slings - as in­vented at the ho­tel - are served on the ve­randa. Then din­ner in one of the ho­tel’s stun­ning restau­rants takes you back to a more gra­cious era - the per­fect pre­lude to a jour­ney aboard the East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press.

Pas­sen­gers are trans­ferred to the train for a five-night ad­ven­ture. Once in Malaysia, the train stops at Kuala Lumpur for a morn­ing city tour. This is fol­lowed by a jour­ney on into the scenic moun­tains of Malaysia for an overnight stay at the his­toric Cameron High­lands Re­sort. In the morn­ing you may choose be­tween a walk in the rain­for­est with a guide to dis­cover the wildlife and a trip to a tea plan­ta­tion where you’ll meet a tea master for a tast­ing on a ter­race over­look­ing the plan­ta­tion.

You then re­join the East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press and spend all sub­se­quent nights on board with stops for sight­see­ing along the way. One is to the Malaysian is­land of Pe­nang and its pho­to­genic cap­i­tal, Ge­orge Town, with its tra­di­tional wooden houses and Chi­nese tem­ples.

The train crosses the bor­der into Thai­land and makes a stop at Baan Huay Yang, a small fish­ing vil­lage. Pas­sen­gers are taken by boat to Koh Chaan, a stun­ning is­land in a na­tional park and home to thou­sands of bird colonies. On re­turn­ing to the beach at Koh Chaan a fab­u­lous buf­fet bar­be­cue will have been set up. The fol­low­ing day the train ar­rives in Bangkok at the grand Hualam­phong sta­tion.

From the East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press’s ob­ser­va­tion deck there’s a unique view to be had of lo­cal life. The train passes through brightly coloured ru­ral sta­tions where food stalls might be set up along the plat­form among shrines, plants and flow­ers. You may glimpse Bud­dhist monks in their dis­tinc­tive orange robes chat­ting on a sta­tion bench or a group of lo­cals sit­ting in a row of deckchairs en­joy­ing an evening foot rub. Chil­dren rid­ing bi­cy­cles try to keep up with the train while hard-hat­ted con­struc­tion work­ers on the out­skirts of Bangkok wave at the train with equal en­thu­si­asm.

Ev­ery­where, peo­ple stare or smile – the East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press seems to have an up­lift­ing ef­fect on ev­ery­one who sees it. The leisurely train jour­ney takes in the rub­ber plan­ta­tions and palm trees of the Malaysian coun­try­side and the paddy fields of Thai­land where golden tem­ples and stat­ues of the Bud­dha can be glimpsed among the trees.

Kuala Kangsar

Kuala Kangsar is a pop­u­lar stop on the route be­tween Malaysia and Thai­land. This beau­ti­ful town, an easy 15 min­utes from the sta­tion, is full of tra­di­tional old wooden houses. A for­mer royal cap­i­tal, its Ubi­u­diah mosque is one of the most beau­ti­ful in Malaysia, fea­tur­ing gold domes and minarets. Nearby is the Royal Mau­soleum of Perak and the Sul­tan Shah’s for­mer res­i­dence, a colo­nial man­sion, now an art gallery.

River Kwai

When the gleam­ing East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press pulls into a stop right next to the River Kwai bridge it in­vari­ably causes quite a stir. Peo­ple are in­trigued and de­lighted by the train and clam­our to take pic­tures. Mean­while, pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark to take a gen­tle raft jour­ney along the Kwai, float­ing un­der the in­fa­mous bridge as a lo­cal his­to­rian tells its story. The tour con­tin­ues to the Thai­land Burma Rail­way Cen­tre, a small but fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum, and the

ad­ja­cent ceme­tery for Pris­on­ers of War – a very mov­ing yet sooth­ingly at­trac­tive spot.

The car­riages of the ro­man­ti­cally named East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press are painted a hand­some dark green and gold. The staff, too, are el­e­gantly at­tired in Thai-in­spired uni­forms. Cabin stew­ards and wait­ers wear crisp white jack­ets and richly coloured silk waist­coats while fe­male staff are dressed in long skirts with pink silk jack­ets.

The train in­te­ri­ors are tra­di­tion­ally fur­nished with Asian touches. There’s ex­quis­ite mar­quetry and in­lay work on cher­ry­wood and elm burr pan­elling; and fine fab­rics and car­pets in­clud­ing Jim Thomp­son silks. Un­like its sis­ter train, the Venice Sim­plon-orient-ex­press that trav­els through Europe, the car­riages are not Art Deco an­tiques. But what they lack in age they make up for in modern comforts, some with a nod to the train’s South­east Asian home: en­suite bath­rooms, air con­di­tion­ing, an ob­ser­va­tion deck for en­joy­ing the trop­i­cal cli­mate and a read­ing room that’s home to a res­i­dent re­flex­ol­o­gist and for­tune teller.

Like the Venice Sim­plon-orient-ex­press though, guests do dress up for the jour­ney. While break­fast is brought to your cabin, lunch and din­ner are served in the Din­ing Car which is el­e­gantly fur­nished with mar­quetry, deep car­pets, silk wall cov­er­ings and up­hol­stered arm­chairs. The ta­bles are set with white cloths, sil­ver and glass­ware and trop­i­cal flower ar­range­ments. Through the drape-framed large win­dows there’s a panoramic view of the pass­ing scenery.

In the lively bar car you can en­joy aper­i­tifs and en­ter­tain­ment such as tra­di­tional Thai danc­ing be­fore din­ner. Later, the gre­gar­i­ous pi­anist, Peter, keeps play­ing un­til the last guest goes to bed. When you re­turn to your cabin you’ll find it has been mag­i­cally trans­formed into a cosy bed­room: bunk beds in the Pull­man cab­ins and twin beds (from the sofa and lounge chair) in the State cab­ins. All have en­suite bath­rooms in­clud­ing a shower and lava­tory. There’s also a Pres­i­den­tial Cabin with a larger sit­ting area and spa­cious bath­room.

During the day time, the sleep­ing ar­range­ments van­ish – after break­fast the cabin ste­ward whisks away the beds and the cabin once again be­comes a sit­ting area.

The trip is a con­vivial one: there’s some­thing about a train jour­ney span­ning a few days that draws peo­ple to­gether. Friend­ships are forged in the bar car, on the ob­ser­va­tion

deck, over lunch and din­ner. Your fel­low pas­sen­gers can range from cou­ples to fam­i­lies with young chil­dren or teenagers or older par­ents, and sev­eral sin­gles. There are hon­ey­moons, an­niver­saries and blos­som­ing ro­mances – some of which have led to mar­riage.

A culi­nary jour­ney - East­ern & Ori­en­tal Ex­press has launched a new se­ries of ‘pop-up’ col­lab­o­ra­tions with ac­claimed in­ter­na­tional chefs Ian Kit­tichai and Luke Man­gan cook­ing for you on board.

Hosted by the train’s Ex­ec­u­tive Chef, Yan­nis Martineau, th­ese award-win­ning chefs have crafted menus blend­ing their con­tem­po­rary sig­na­ture styles draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the time­less train and the cap­ti­vat­ing coun­tries through which it trav­els. Ian’s creations are vi­brant, with his din­ner menu fea­tur­ing a tart­let of chopped yel­lowfin tuna tartare and peanut with a Petch­aburi palm sugar-fish dress­ing, a the­atri­cal main course of spice-rubbed and char­coal-grilled chicken flam­béed at the ta­ble and an in­dul­gent jas­mine flower in­fused panna cotta.

Luke, on the other hand, has firmly es­tab­lished him­self as a lead­ing fig­ure on the Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional food scenes, with 19 restau­rants and key part­ner­ships with cruise lines, an air­line and now a train to his name.

All told, the East­ern and Ori­en­tal Ex­press is a jour­ney that you must def­i­nitely take at least once. Es­pe­cially, if you are an afi­cionado of trop­i­cal land­scapes, con­vivial com­pany and South­east Asian cui­sine.

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