Arriving at Singapore's Keppel Road Station our bags were whisked away from the private check-in and we were ushered into an air conditioned waiting room; giving the first indication of the luxury and service we would come to expect from the Eastern and Oriental Express. This would be the second time we had taken the rail journey from Singapore to Bangkok; but as I was beginning to discover there would be little similarity between the two journeys.
The first had been in 2nd Class on the national rail service and involved my husband cramming his 6ft frame into a seat designed for your average 5ft Asian. This second journey would be in all the splendour and colonial style of a bygone era; cherry lined cabins, afternoon tea and a bar car with a pianist.
The Eastern and Oriental Express runs a couple of times each month between Singapore and Bangkok and provides the only through service between the two destinations. The train itself was designed by Gerard Gallet who also designed the famous and original Oriental Express to Venice and from the moment you board it succeeds in evoking the traditions of grand luxury train travel.
The train departed Singapore in the afternoon and headed straight into mainland Malaysia, all border formalities were completed by the train's staff, and passports were returned by our butler later in the journey. This kind of attention to detail and service is what makes the E&O so special. We settled into our small but luxurious cabin, and were promptly served afternoon tea. As we would learn eating well was very much part of the E&O experience, from breakfast served in our room, afternoon tea of scones and pastries in the observation car, to evening meals in the dining room - during the 3 day journey we would become accustomed to food that we wouldn't have believed possible to prepare on a train.
By the first evening we had arrived in Kuala Lumpur where we disembarked for a short stroll around the station and surrounding area. An hour later we re-boarded and began to prepare for our first evening meal on board. Dressing up for dinner is expected, a jacket and tie are the minimum requirements for gentlemen and smart dress for women. I quite enjoyed getting dressed up up and once we arrived for dinner we were very glad we had made the effort as many passengers were in the full finery of tuxedoes and ball gowns. You can choose to sit on your own, or join others for dinner, and I would certainly recommend the latter; after all the E&O experience is as much about the people you meet on board as the journey you make. On our 3 day trip we had dinner with a shipping magnate from Panama, took lunch with some honeymooners from Japan, and sipped port with a couple of bankers from Dallas.
After dinner you have the choice of retiring to your cabin, or joining the rest of the train in the bar-car for after dinner drinks and entertainment. This involves the piano and lots of show tunes, and even if that doesn't sound like your thing I can assure you that it's well worth the effort.
The next morning we awoke after a great nights sleep to be rolling into Butterworth for our morning tour of Penang. After being ferried across the sea to Penang we were taken on a pedal-powered rickshaw tour of Georgetown. This proved to be one of the hilights of our trip as what was supposed to be a gentle procession through the streets turned into a cagey battle for optimum position as the rickshaw drivers fought with one another to give their passengers the best views of Georgetown's historic buildings, and therefore give themselves the best chance of a big tip!
Once back on board we relinquished our passports again for another seamless boarder crossing - this time into Thailand. The early afternoon was spent drinking G&T's served in the observation car. We whiled away a pleasant afternoon as the paddy fields we had seen from our cabin window earlier in the day began to be interspersed between the massive and dramatic limestone outcrops that are associated with the Krabi area of Southern Thailand. After another fine meal we retired early to catch up on our reading and prepare for another busy day.
Morning of day 3 saw us wake to find we had worked our way to the end of the Thai peninsula and were heading north of Bangkok to the famous Bridge over the river Kwai. After breakfast we left the train at Kanchanaburi where we watched from the trackside as it crossed the famous bridge, before we embarked on a river cruise and history lesson. We ended the morning's activities in the cemetery and death railway museum - both proved to be extremely interesting, informative, and moving. The scale of both the undertaking to build the railway, and the atrocities associated with its construction remain with me today.
We re-boarded the train for the last push towards Bangkok. Arriving into this bustling city and the subsequent bun fight to get a taxi and negotiate the traffic really brought home the tranquillity and calm that is travel by luxury train. If you enjoy your people watching, and like the thought of meeting an eclectic mix of the worlds more extravagant travellers whilst rolling through beautiful scenery then this is the journey for you.
The Eastern and Oriental Express can be booked through Travel Nation for the Singapore - Bangkok experience as detailed above. We can also book all of your pre and post train arrangements in Thailand and Singapore. For information on the Eastern & Oriental Express, contact us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.