Through Southeast Asia with Eastern & Oriental Express
A wise man once said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And mine did, as my wife and I got onboard the Eastern and Oriental Express (E&O) from Singapore to Bangkok.
In the past, I have travelled extensively throughout Europe and Asia, as a triathlete and a photographer. I must admit, though, that my travels have been mostly by air rather than land. I was both excited and curious, as E&O is well known in the travel space for their unique offerings and luxurious accommodations.
Run by hotel and leisure company Belmond, E&O has earned a reputation for picturesque travel via rail in Southeast Asia. Guests get the chance to explore quaint town and villages along the way, as the lavishly appointed train meanders through Malaysia and Thailand.
The timing could not have been more perfect. It was right before Christmas, and gave me a chance to to spend quality time with my wife, on what’s been one of the most memorable trips for us.
Eastern & Oriental Express (E&O), Point of Embarkation: Singapore
We ‘checked-in’ for the trip at the iconic The Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Going through the doors, I was hit by a pang of nostalgia, having had the privilege of working with Fullerton Hotel on my first photography exhibit. Long-regarded as one of Singapore’s historic landmarks, we were ushered into the cavernous lobby by attendants who looked very striking in their traditional silk uniforms. We were offered a sumptuous repast, complete with the signature cocktail Singapore Sling.
A coach took us from the hotel to the Woodland Railway Station. Along the way, our tour guide entertained us with stories of Singapore’s history, economic development, culture and people.
Upon reaching the station, we were met by very efficient E&O staff who got us settled in our private cabin in no time at all. As the train pulled away from the station, I mused on what the three days would bring. From the excellent service to the cabin’s old world charm, it felt like we had stepped into a bygone era.
First stop: Kuala Kangsar, Malaysia
The journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur took us through jungles and lesser known areas. The open air observation cabin was a treat to the senses: we experienced the sights, sounds and smells of each place we passed through.
We opted for the excursion to the royal town of Kuama Kangsar in Perak, the home of the Sultan of Malaysia. A coach took us on a picturesque tour of the town, and the photographer in me was delighted at the sights as the town is rich in history and full of unique architecture.
The Ubudiah Mosque is one of the city’s more famous sights, with its distinctive gold dome and spires. Right next to it is the Royal Mausoleum, the final resting place of the royal family. The Royal Museum, on the other hand, was previously the Royal residence. Apart from the structure’s distinctive colour and craftmanship, it also offers a glimpse into Perak’s history.
Second stop: Hua Hin, Thailand
Hua Hin is an idyllic town famous among holiday makers for its sandy beaches and that saw the best known for its sandy beaches, water sports, and high-end resorts. Famous for the summer palaces built by the royals after the 1920s, the town was our pit stop in Thailand.
We took the opportunity to explore the famed River Kwai Bridge. The historic bridge was part of the railway lines during the Second World War. It was badly damaged after the war, and the Thai Government renovated the bridge in 1946. The bridge is the site of the yearly memorial (from late November to early December) which features the history of the bridge and local food.
At the interactive Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, we learnt more about the company and the role it played during the war. It was fascinating to learn about the railway, and touch a piece of history. Adjacent to the museum is the Don Rak War Cemetery, and guests could pay their respects to the graveyard. The graveyard is fitting memorial to the thousands of Prisoners who died from exhaustion, malnutrition or deadly disease during the construction of the railway.
We then took a boat and sailed past quaint bridges, eventually stopping at the Buddhist museum in Kachanaburi.
While the days were dedicated to exploring the historic cities, our nights were spent enjoying the entertainment aboard the train.
The journey is an adventure in itself
The journey from Singapore to Thailand is approximately 1,250 miles. The first step to that journey was when we boarded the train in Singapore.
Our cabin was extravagant yet understated, and was quite cosy and romantic. We were pampered by our own attendant we could summon via the cabin bell. Despite the size – it is, after all a train cabin – it was comfortable, glamourous and elegant. The interiors were done in muted silver and gold, and each cabin featured high quality décor and furnishings. We even had an en suite bathroom complete with luxurious amenities. While breakfast and afternoon tea were served in the cabin at the timings we requested; dinner was a more formal affair in the Restaurant carriage.
Cabin fever was never an issue, with a whole suite of entertainment options available to guests. The two nights we spent on the train was a whirlwind of activities: from having a drink with the General Manager Valentin Waldman in the Bar car, listening to a live performance in the Piano carriage, attending a perfume exhibit, to watching actual dance performances aboard the train. There was also a boutique and a reading room for guests looking for quieter pursuits.
We were quite thrilled to meet pianist Peter Consiglieri, who was kind enough to play us bossa nova and jazz music.
With award-winning Chef Yannis Martineau at the helm, the food aboard the E&O was another highlight in our journey. These culinary artworks were a fusion of Asian and European flavours, and we were genuinely amazed how the chef managed to cook in such a small and constantly moving space.
Dinner consisted of various meats including seafood, and we were very much impressed with the quality and service.
An end and a beginning
As the journey drew to a close at the Bangkok Railway Station, I realised I had gone without the ubiquitous internet. WiFi was only available in the one part of the train. The lack of distraction only added to the whole experience. It felt good to unplug and disconnect, and we appreciated the journey even more.
The lack of connectivity also enabled us to socialise more with the other couples. While some were new to the E&O experience, we also met other people who are on their second or third journey aboard the E&O. Such is the experience and service that couples go back and book other trips. It was the perfect getaway for those looking for some quality time without distractions.
Three days and two nights of what felt like a magical train ride; the feel of the wind on our faces as the train hurtled through quaint villages, rice paddies and jungles; cosy dinners with piano music in the background. Traveling via train was both old-fashioned and nostalgic, and felt like we had taken a step back in time with the excursions into historic places.
It was truly worth every minute. To be confronted with a journey that is an experience in itself – it was indeed a memorable trip for us and will certainly see us on another adventure.
I really enjoy using the FUJIFILM GFX form my monochrome photography:
Eastern & Oriental Express
Trains & Cruises Reservations In Singapore
Tel: +65 6395 0678 www.belmond.com/trains/asia/eastern-and-oriental-express/
TripicalLife Magazine feature 8 pages article about this amazing journey in the Eastern & Oriental Express train. Please find the article below:
Here below the video of our journey with E&O on youtube: