All aboard Asia’s most scenic train rides
FLYING may be the fastest to get from point A to point B, but there’s nothing quite like taking the speed down a few notches to watch the stunning views from the cooling cabin of a train.
Asia has some pretty amazing railways, some decades-old, that run through some of its most dramatic natural landmarks.
Of course, a train ride will take much longer than most modes of transport, but why rush through discovering hidden gems and experiencing some of the region’s most exotic countrysides?
You’ll definitely have stories to tell after the trip, so you’re probably going to want to cross some of these off your bucket list.
For a true “holiday of a lifetime”, hop on and enjoy the ride. Don’t forget to whip out your camera to document your journey:
Japan: Arashiyama to Kameoka
The Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道) is a delightful and charming sightseeing train line that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka.
Each old-fashioned steam train winds their way through the mountains at a relatively slow pace, taking about 25 minutes to make the 7km journey and giving passengers a pleasant view of the scenery as they travel from Arashiyama through the forested ravine and into rural Kameoka.
It’s perfect for those who really want to feel the full effect of spring in Japan, or fall head over heels in love with the incredible views of autumn’s fall foliage. Note: these trains do not run in the winter,
Vietnam: Da Nang to Hue
Looking to explore Vietnam beyond Hanoi? Get on a train in Hue and make your way over to Vietnam’s coastal city, Da Nang. It runs on the celebrated “Reunification Railway”, a steel artery that runs through the length of Vietnam.
The beautiful Hai Van Pass, an approximately 21 km long mountain pass, lies between Da Nang and Hue. It boasts an impressive landscape of mountains, stunning views of the South China Sea, beaches, islands, and the tropical countryside.
The journey is about 103km-long and the trip takes around two and a half hours.
Sri Lanka: Kandy to Ella
Hailed as “one of the most scenic train routes in the world”, the journey from Kandy to Ella is peaceful, and it takes about six hours.
The breathtaking train ride starts in colonial-style Kandy before chugging through misty tea plantations, waterfalls, rolling mountains, and the lush Sri Lankan forest, then finally arriving at a remote station in the middle of Ella. Go for the 2nd Class option seats as it offers comfort but also allows for great views.
And don’t be surprised if you find passengers sitting in open doorways with their legs hanging out – they’re just really soaking it all in.
China: Beijing to Mongolia
Probably the longest of the lot in this list, to trip from China to Mongolia takes 27 to 30 hours.
Travelers would ordinarily start in Beijing in the morning and reach the China-Mongolia immigration checkpoints around midnight, before going on to make their way through the sprawling Gobi desert and then arriving in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia’s capital) the following afternoon.
The entire journey, though, promises hours of nothingness (which is great if you enjoy quiet, reflective time) and the most awe-inspiring views of the vast, sandy plains.
Just remember to bring the necessary supplies to last you the entire ride e.g. drinking water, snacks.
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur to Thailand
Kuala Lumpur may be the bustling, beating heart of Malaysia, but it’s also surrounded by rich nature. To really get a taste of Malaysia’s dense and mysterious rainforests, book yourself a ride from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar, the Malaysia-Thailand border.
The journey, which runs on Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Berhad’s Electric Train Service (ETS), takes about five hours.
Sit back as the ETS zips past forested hills, small towns, houses and farms, and verdant tropical landscapes.
India: New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling
Dubbed “Toy Train”, the Darjeeling-Himalayan train is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the misty hills of West Bengal. It runs on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), which was completed in 1881 and listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999.
The cheerful-looking bright blue train provides passengers a lovely view as it chugs from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, passing through the Batasia Loop before running through the rolling hills and lush green tea plantations of Darjeeling.
It takes about six and a half hours to get from one end to the other.
Thailand: Bangkok to Chiang Mai
One of the more lesser-known ways of discovering what Thailand has to offer is by train, and it doesn’t make it any less amazing. Travelers can get to get to many places by rail from the Thai capital, and the most popular train route is Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Filled with ancient treasures, the ride will take you past Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Phitsanulok and Lampang before you reach Chiang Mai. If you opt for the overnight sleeper train (it is a 12-hour journey, after all), you’ll be greeted by the beautiful sunrise in Chiang Mai as you approach your final destination.
South Korea: Buncheon to Cheoram
The retro-looking V-Train, also known as the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range Canyon Train, opens the door to the mountainous interior of the Korean peninsula as it runs through a scenic valley connecting Buncheon in Gyeongsangbuk-do and Cheoram in Gangwon-do.
On the outside, the carriage is bright pink but on the inside, it’s a splash of colors.
The train runs 27.7km back and forth Buncheon and Cheoram, on a route between steep valleys of the mountainous east in Gangwon-do. However, it travels at a leisurely speed of 30km per hour so passengers can enjoy the spectacular views of cliffs and rugged mountains.
As a special treat, the V-Train even stops for about five to 10 minutes at Yangwon Station and Seungbu Station for passengers to take pictures.