Eastern & Oriental Express
The Eastern & Oriental Express 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.
Singapore, an island across the strait from Malaysia, is an easy introduction to Asia. The super clean city state is a mix of luscious greenery and gleaming modern skyscrapers with a smattering of historic houses and landmarks. A melting pot of cultures – Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Western – reflects the mixture of people who have settled here.
By contrast, Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis jam-packed with exotic sights, smells and sounds. Waterways such as the mighty Chao Praya river and the famous khlongs (canals) criss -cross the city. Ancient temples sit side by side with shopping malls, while street food vendors are dwarfed by skyscrapers with glamorous, al fresco rooftop bars.
Kuala Lumpur lies somewhere in between—both geographically and atmospherically—with its mix of thriving markets, modern malls, the world’s tallest twin towers and colonial mansions. The city features a magnificent 100-year-old railway station in the Moorish style, all arches and minarets, which is an attraction in itself. On certain journeys passengers can alight on the platform while the train makes a pitstop just before dinner. And they’ll spot the Petronas Twin Towers sparkling in the darkness as the train continues on its way.
Similarly, passengers embarking and disembarking at Bangkok will experience the excitement of Hualamphong station, a neoclassical building that’s also celebrating its centenary in 2016. For Singapore, passengers embark or disembark at a railway station over the border in Malaysia though they’ll check in at the iconic Raffles hotel – a suitably glamorous, colonial experience – before joining the Eastern & Oriental Express.
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.
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. 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. Passengers 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 Eastern & Oriental Express 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 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.
All images Copyright © Belmond
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Eastern & Oriental Express