The Eastern & Oriental Express
1: Thailand and Malaysia: The 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.
There are a few excursions, to the colonial city of Georgetown and a cruise on the River Kwai, but much of the experience is about sipping cocktails in the observation car, dressing for dinner and listening to the resident pianist as you speed through paddy fields.
Dagmar Marrocco, Kuoni market manager, says: “Our most popular journey is the two-night trip between Singapore and Bangkok. It suits clients who want to recapture the glory days of glamorous rail travel, with the train’s gourmet food and luxury cabins. It’s a romantic experience popular with those celebrating a special event, especially honeymoons or anniversaries.”
Sample product: Kuoni offers an eight-night itinerary with three staying room-only at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, three nights aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express and two nights’ B&B at the Shangri-La Singapore. The cost in September is from £2,848, including flights from Heathrow, lounge access in the UK and private transfers in resort. kuoni.co.uk, 01306 747008
2: Japan: The Bullet Train
Japan’s rail network is compreh-ensive and punctual and its trains are an exciting experience and a great way of getting around.
The jewel in the crown is the famous shinkansen, or bullet train. The trains operate on several lines around the country, but the one that tops the popularity stakes is the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Osaka, with more than 15 million passengers a year.
Catch a bullet train from Tokyo and in two hours 20 minutes you can be among the ancient temples and shrines of Japan’s historic former capital of Kyoto, more than 320 miles away.
Clive Buckingham, outbound leisure section manager at JTB, says: “A Japan Rail Pass offers good value if you’re planning several trips within a week or two weeks. Make seat reservations – free with the pass – and try not to take too much luggage, as there isn’t much room. A medium-sized suitcase fits behind the seats. Stand in the right place on the platform when the train comes in – it’s easy, as it’s clearly marked.”
Sample product: JTB UK offers Japan Rail passes and has packages and itinerary suggestions for every region. The Explore Honshu with the Japan Rail Pass starts from £1,370, including flights from the UK, a seven-day rail pass and eight nights’ accommodation, and visits Tokyo, the Unesco site of Nikko with its shrines in the forest, the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and Osaka. japanspecialist.co.uk, 020 8237 1605
3: India: Maharajas' Express
From the toy trains that wind through the foothills of the Himalayas to the crowded commuter services where workers crush on to wooden benches, India is famous for its trains.
The newest and most luxurious of these options is the Maharajas’ Express. Carriages are spacious, with massive picture windows giving unsurpassed views of India passing by.
The train runs three itineraries, all of which involve lots of sightseeing as well as riding the rails. The Mumbai to Delhi trip allows clients who want to visit Rajasthan and the classic Golden Triangle sights to do so in comfort and style. Classical India starts in Delhi, and visits Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi and Lucknow. Both itineraries include tiger safaris.
Balaji Kandasamy, Cox & Kings India product manager, says: “The Maharajas’ Express is about the unique experiences that you get both on and off board. There is a personal butler for each carriage, who wakes guests with their preferred choice of tea or coffee and the two restaurants serve fresh food. Off board, guests dine in palaces and meet royal families on exclusively-arranged visits. Guests experience true Indian hospitality and that makes the journey unforgettable.”
Sample product: Cox & Kings offers the 13-day Princely India journey from Mumbai to Dehli from £5,895, including transfers, excursions, flights from Heathrow, full-board on the train for seven nights and two nights’ B&B before and after in hotels. This itinerary visits Mumbai, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Agra and Delhi. coxandkings.co.uk, 020 7873 5000
4: China: Railway on the roof of the world
Many believed it was impossible to build a railway to Tibet. It would have to span hundreds of miles of permafrosted terrain, 5,000 metres above sea level, and bridge valleys as wide as eight miles. But build it the Chinese did, opening the Qingzang railway line in 2006.
It’s the highest railway line in the world, with the highest station of Tanggula at 5,072 metres above sea level. And the overnight journey from Lhasa to Xining is a thrilling way to reach China from the Himalayan kingdom of Tibet.
Stuart Whittington, Wendy Wu head of product and commercial, says: “The train crosses some of the remotest landscapes known to man, vast plains, snow-capped peaks and dramatic valleys. It gives an insight into rural life, passing farmers with their yaks, and locals holding mugs of yak butter tea for warmth. The modern trains, which are supplied with extra oxygen because of the high altitude, are bang on time.”
Sample product: Wendy Wu’s 20-day Himalayan Express tour includes the Tibetan railway journey between Lhasa and Xining, plus seven days exploring Tibet. Other highlights include the panda reserves at Chengdu, Xian and the Terracotta Warriors and Beijing. The lead-in price is £2,990 including flights, all accommodation, meals and transportation, excursions and guides. wendywutours.co.uk, 0844 875 2433
5: Russia and Mongolia: The Golden Eagle
Specialist operator Great Rail Journeys calls this the ultimate journey, and you can see why.
Starting from St Pancras on Eurostar and using other European services to whiz through Cologne and Warsaw to Moscow, guests then join the Golden Eagle, which will take them to Vladivostock – 11 timezones away from London.
The Golden Eagle itself is a very modern train, recently built just for this journey. Sitting and sleeping cars have flatscreen TVs, and Gold class bathrooms even have underfloor heating. The food and wine is excellent, and there are plenty of sightseeing trips across Russia and Mongolia.
“It’s a journey of spectacular contrasts,” says David Gaster, Great Rail Journeys commercial director. “There are cities rich with Stalinist influences, and between them communities of small wooden ‘dachas’ or second homes, where Russians retreat to farm in the summer.
"The trip runs in summer and winter, so those on the February departure see Siberia covered in snow. The train is state of the art and very spacious.”
Sample product: Great Rail Journeys offers the 18-day Trans-Siberian Express itinerary from £6,150, including 12 nights’ full-board on the Golden Eagle in Heritage Class, hotel accommodation, excursions, a tour guide and rail travel from London. greatrail.com, 01904 521980
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