It was a sunny morning last March when I boarded the Eastern & Oriental in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station. It’s a slice of Italianate neo-Renaissance just off the city’s hectic Chinatown, and I was glad for the private lounge, refreshments and fanfare welcome. I’ve been lucky enough to travel on many of the world’s most iconic rail journeys, so I was excited to see how Southeast Asia’s only luxury train measured up. From the same people as Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, I had high expectations.
And, from the moment I stepped aboard they were more than met. Whether you're travelling from Bangkok to Singapore like me, or vice versa, it’s a full-service affair of all-inclusive drinks, dining and excursions. Case in point, my luggage – having been picked up by a white-gloved steward – was waiting for me in my cabin, itself a delight of Malaysian embroidery and Thai silk-work. Then, as the city sprawl faded, the route’s scenery was fantastic. Think sprawling rice fields and dense jungles.
They’re landscapes explored throughout the journey on a range of included activities, from visits to remote villages to naturalist-led hikes and a cooking class held on a river cruise. Having read history at university, I was particularly fascinated with the ride over the Bridge on the River Kwai and the trip to its accompanying museum. A lecturer even joined us on the train, with the likes of local musicians and masseurs also rotating through – a welcome touch! Then, on the trips themselves, there's also plenty of welcome little extras that you might not be aware of. Hikers, for instance, are not just treated to fantastic views, but cold towels as well. Take it from me, there's nothing quite as refreshing when faced with humidity!Bangkok to Singapore on the Eastern & Oriental
The full-board dining was also superlative. As if trying to outdo its European namesake, the four-course, wine-paired dinners are even appended with an extra sweet course, presented over multiple tiers. Then, along with the free-flowing bar car and its piano accompaniment, I especially liked the open-air observation carriage. Although the train is mercifully air-conditioned, it was perfect for catching a breeze. It’s almost as if every detail has been thought of.
So how does it compare to the other greats of luxury rail travel? Yes, Canada's Rocky Mountaineer has the majestic landscapes and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express the historic grandeur, but there's none that so ably combine it all. If you're looking for a full complement of scenery, excursions and on-board indulgence, then look no further than the Eastern & Oriental.Singapore to Bangkok on the Eastern & Oriental