I’ve often yearned to experience the luxury of travelling on a luxury Belmond train. Just imagine swanning through Europe from Paris to Venice onboard the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Or travelling through the highlands of Scotland on the Royal Scotsman, traversing Ireland on the new Grand Hibernian or, the one I am really excited about, the Andean Explorer, which hits the tracks in May this year and will be one of the highest train routes in the world, travelling from Cusco to Arequipa in Peru.
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The luxurious surroundings, the sense of being somewhere very special and the attention to detail in every facet of every Belmond train makes this such a romantic way to travel, so stepping aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express in Bangkok was like a dream come true for me.
Alas, I was not taking the usual route to Singapore via Kuala Lumpur on this balmy, tropical evening. Instead, I was to be treated to an inspection of the train (together with other media), in the company of the General Manager of Eastern & Oriental Express, the very urbane, Mr Nicolas Pillet. We’d enjoy pre-dinner drinks and a sublime four-course meal while the train travelled to Kanchanaburi station, where it would stop for the night so passengers could embark on a morning cruise along the River Kwai the next day.
So here’s what you can expect if you’re ever lucky enough to book a ticket on any of these routes.
There are three accommodation categories, compact but all air-conditioned and with en suite bathrooms. The lead-in Pullman cabin has upper and lower bunk beds, so at night the couch becomes a bunk and another one folds out of the wall above. State cabins are the most popular as they have twin beds, so there’s no climbing up to a bunk. The ultimate in style and space, the Presidential Suites are fabulous, but do come with a price tag.
The cabins, like the rest of the train, are beautifully appointed with antique brass fittings, and walls finished with cherry wood and elm burr. The furnishings depict the luxurious style of another era – rich red and green fabrics on the couches with a soft, hand-tufted carpet underfoot. During the day, the cabins serve as a private lounge and guests enjoy 24-hour steward service.
This carriage is located at the rear of the train and is understandably a popular viewing spot with passengers because of its open viewing deck. Although it gets busy, apparently it never feels crowded and the stewards keep your coffee and drinks topped up day and night. It’s also the ultimate place to get those scenic shots.
This is a lovely area for quiet reflection or reading, plus there are games on offer and a boutique stocking a great selection of gifts and memorabilia.
There are two dining cars, both serving the same food with the same service. Dinner is a dressy affair and during our night on board the passengers looked the part: some men in tuxedos, others in suits, and the ladies looking lovely in their cocktail dresses. The tables are dressed for every service with the finest napery, silverware, monogrammed plates and specially designed crystal glasses. The service is smooth and impeccable, adding to the ambience of being a guest somewhere very special.
Expect a very high quality of cuisine. Our dinner started with hoisin-glazed Saba mackerel with cucumber salad and a crispy wonton, followed by a tom yam cappuccino with fennel and celery. Next was a duo of lamb served with mushrooms, zucchini and bell peppers, and then the crowning glory – a decadent dessert consisting of coconut ice cream in a dark chocolate globe and drizzled with a warm dark chocolate sauce. The fact that French Chef, Yannis Martineau and his team turn out such high-quality meals for up to 120 passengers a day from their tiffin lunchbox-sized kitchen is simply incredible.
Settle in with the other passengers to enjoy an aperitif or post-prandial drink while listening to the talented pianist, Singapore Pete, who entertains nightly with his evergreen melodies.
The chatter and laughter that filled the train on our special night made it clear that everyone was enjoying their first night aboard this iconic trainline. But all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for us to head back to Bangkok in our waiting sedan. Although not the full Belmond train experience I have long envisaged and will one day complete, as an introduction to the wonder of luxury train travel, it was a night well spent.
Visit the Rail Plus website here or call 1300 555 003 to speak to a Great Train Journey expert.
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