Asia’s greatest luxury rail journeys for the avid explorer
FROM the Trans-Siberian Railway to the Orient Express, the romance of long-distance train travel has long inspired writers, entranced dreamers and intrigued adventurers. The charm of old-world travel can be intoxicating and something you certainly don’t experience with flying.
The benefits of rail travel are not going unnoticed as the industry is currently experiencing a resurgence. Leading rail holiday company Great Rail Journeys Ltd recently reported a 100 percent increase in passengers booked in for next year.
The greatest rise in interest is coming from the under 50s, who are increasingly embracing the appeal of independent rail travel. Whether inter-railing around Europe or touring the Himalayas, younger generations are realizing the unique and authentic experiences to be had when you hit the tracks.
If you want to explore a country and reach the remote regions that planes can’t go, train travel is a great option. Sweeping views of lofty peaks, paddy fields stretching into the distance, and luxury vintage cabins – these are some of our favorite train journeys in Asia Pacific for the intrepid explorer.
Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand – Eastern & Oriental Express
With its reputation as one of the world’s most luxurious trains, the Eastern & Oriental Express winds through some of Southeast Asia’s most exotic and beautiful landscapes as it runs between Singapore and Bangkok.
As you head north along the Malaysian coast, rainforests, ocean views and rubber plantations are only interrupted with city skyline as the train rolls through the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
When you wake on the second day of your journey in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi, excursions are available to the famous River Kwai Bridge. But, given the crafted colonial-era decor of the carriages, much of the experience is about sipping cocktails in the observation car, fine dining and listening to the resident pianist as you speed through paddy fields.
Adelaide to Darwin, Australia – The Ghan
When the final stretch from Alice Springs to Darwin opened in 2004, a century-old dream was realized. The Ghan – named after the Afghan camel trains that pioneered routes through the outback – travels 1,852 miles up the middle of Australia, crossing vineyards and desert, past mountains, gorges and grazing kangaroos.
There’s no train window view quite like this anywhere else in the world, as the impressive 26-coach train rumbles through an endless unfolding of red and umber. Look out for camels as well as kangaroos – descendants of the animals of the Afghan drovers who built the line in 1929.
Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet
Many believed it was impossible to build a railway to Tibet. It would have to span hundreds of miles of permafrost terrain, 5,000 meters above sea level, and bridge valleys as wide as eight miles. But the Chinese refused to be defeated and the Qingzang railway line opened in 2006.
It’s the highest railway line in the world, with the highest station of Tanggula sitting 5,072 meters above sea level. The overnight journey from Xining to Lhasa is a thrilling way to reach the Himalayan kingdom of Tibet.
The train crosses some of the most remote landscape on the planet, with views of vast plains, snow-capped peaks and dramatic valleys. The journey provides an insight into rural life, passing yak farmers, and small local settlements huddled in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The modern, well-equipped trains must be the only trains on earth to have extra oxygen distributed throughout the carriages – a necessity due to the high altitude.
Kyushu, Japan – Seven Stars
The Seven Stars in Kyushu is Japan’s most luxurious train, featuring seven lavishly upholstered carriages that hold just 30 people in total. The decadent decor aims to replicate the romance and glamour of the Orient Express with its wood-paneled walls, shoji paper screens covering the windows, and sliding glass doors etched with flowers and birds.
The train operates between Hakata in Fukuoka and Kagoshima on the southwestern tip of Japan’s Kyushu – an island well known for its hot springs or “onsen” in Japanese. You’ll get a chance to experience this for yourself, as all passengers stay in a traditional Japanese inn during the trip, with a private onsen in each room.
Both the 2-day and the 4-day itinerary have proven to be so popular, the company selects applications by lottery.
Delhi – Rajasthan, India – Palace on Wheels
Trains are generally the best way to travel through India, but the Palace on Wheels is a class apart. It is what it sounds like, an elegant, enchanting means of travel. Decorated in ornate, colorful regional textiles, the cars look like they belong to a different age.
The journey, which starts and ends in Delhi, takes you on a loop through the towns, cities and expansive desert of the northern region of Rajasthan. The trip is stretched over eight days, and includes added excursions, such as the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari, and the requisite tour of the Taj Mahal.