Train travel on the Eastern and Oriental Express matters not whether you go from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur or Butterworth to Bangkok. What really matters is that you have the courage and conviction to make it all happen.
If you love train journeys, you’re definitely going to love this one and if you love living the life of Riley, you’re going to be in for a real treat. Besides this being a trip of a lifetime, luxury, style and comfort await you, so you should go before it’s too late.
The Eastern and Oriental Express was introduced in 1993 as the Asian answer to Europe’s glamorous Venice Simplon Orient Express and is run by the same people. Start your adventure from either Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore. A good place to do this is from Singapore’s classic Art Deco Railway Station on Keppel Road.
But before you leave on your epic journey from here, take a good look around at the impressive sculptures and murals inside the station. They represent the Malayan industry and dates back to the year 1932. The facade still proudly displays the initials FMSR, which refers to the Federated Malay States Railway.
Your Journey Begins Right Here
If you want to catch a train from Singapore Station, you’ll have to hurry as the facility is due to close at any moment. This is because the station has become a victim of a longstanding political squabble between both Malaysia and Singapore.
Isn’t it a great pity that neighbouring countries find it so hard to put aside their differences. However, this won’t in any way put a damper on your expectant trip.
In the not too distant future, trains going to Malaysia will start at Woodlands, which is just south of the causeway onto Singapore island. It’s about twelve miles or twenty kilometres north of central Singapore.
Woodlands is your last port of call before entering Malaysia and it’s also where passport control is. From there you’ll be crossing the famous causeway which carries not only the road and railway, but also much of Singapore’s drinking water across the Johor St
From Singapore to Malaysia
The distance from Singapore to Bangkok along a narrow track is little over 1,200 miles or 2,000 kilometres and with this, you get to spend two relaxing nights and three lazy days in exceptional luxury and comfort. Let this be the beginning of a wonderful adventure as you travel by train through endless rustic green corridors unearthing immense rice paddy fields as well as rubber and palm nut plantations.
From there it’s on to the historic railway station in Kuala Lumpur where you shall have more than enough time during the hour-long stopover to stretch your legs, stroll along the platform and marvel at the beautiful Moorish-style towers of the Arthur Hubback inspired station building that opened in 1910.
Thereafter the train meanders its way through jungle-covered hills before arriving at Butterworth which is the ferry terminal for Georgetown on Penang Island. Butterworth was once the capital of British Malaya. There’s a coach available to shuttle you across on the ferry to Georgetown. Once there just hop on a trishaw cycle for a peddle-powered tour of the town.
From Malaysia to Bangkok
After Georgetown, the Eastern and Oriental Express travels on to the Thai border at Padang Besar where the Malaysian State Railway locomotive will be exchanged for a Thai State Railway locomotive. Once the changeover is complete, the train travels day two and three through southern Thailand passing rural villages, hilltop temples and some bizarre rocky outcrops.
Not only does this give you a fantastic view of the landscape, but also a fabulous glimpse of how the locals live and work.
While inner city shanty towns are seldom noticed from the roadside in cities and mainstream towns, along with the train route, you will pass through several slum areas beside the track while in the distance tall modern structures peer out from behind lush vegetation. Locals going about their daily business, whether selling snacks or doing their washing, are a common sight as you make your way towards Bangkok.
About 200 kilometres south of Bangkok is the classical station of Hua Hin where you can easily grab a few essentials in the form of local delicacies and assorted handicrafts before arriving at Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok built in 1916 and designed by an Italian architect brought from Europe by the then King of Siam.
Detour to Kanchanaburi
Before heading directly to Bangkok, the Eastern and Oriental Express takes on a scheduled detour to Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai. Not only does the bridge exist, it still carries three daily passenger trains plus a weekend excursion train as far as Nam Tok Station, just over 120 miles or 200 kilometres from Bangkok, but well short of the Burmese border.
Though the railway from Kanchanaburi to the Burmese border was masterminded by the Japanese before World War II, it was hurriedly constructed between the years of 1942 and 1943 to carry much-needed supplies for an invasion of India.
Known as the death railway or more appropriately, the “jeath railway” because of Japanese labour, British, American, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war as did many Thai nationals, help in contributing to the Japanese war effort. The initials JEATH stands for Japanese – English – Australian/American – Thai – Holland
Stateroom or Pullman
If your budget has no bounds, you should choose one of the staterooms over the cheaper Pullman sleeper compartments as they not only provide you with much more space but they also have two windows instead of one. Staterooms come with two lower berths while the Pullman sleepers come with one upper and one lower berth, which means someone will have to climb a ladder in order to go to bed.
It may be worth your while to book a compartment in the centre of the carriage as they are generally much smoother and quieter than the berths directly over the wheels of the train. This is especially essential should you be a light sleeper.
Also try not to make too tight a connection at the end of your journey as there are often delays, some of which can last hours. Incoming and outgoing intercity trains sometimes can cause these delays and the single track has to be cleared.
What you can Expect on the Eastern and Oriental
Lunch may be a classy concern but dinner is even more so. The four-course affair is set up in one of the two elegant dining cars. Formal attire is required for dinner and many male passengers arrive sporting dinner jackets, made bearable by the air-conditioning. Because the train is a sociable one, table reservations change after each meal, allowing you to meet a cross-section of fellow travellers.
Some passengers love to travel on the Eastern and Oriental Express to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, but most use the train as part of a longer independent tour of Southeast Asia. For many, it has become a luxury link between Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand before you journey onward to neighbouring countries such as the likes of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos or Burma.
As night falls, spend a convivial evening in the piano bar while listening to a few nostalgic and erstwhile hits songs from bygone days and sung by anyone wishing to show off their special talents.
Resident Singaporean pianist Pete is on hand and onboard to entertain you with his gifted capabilities. Performing Thai artists in beautiful and elaborate traditional costumes are also onboard the Eastern and Oriental Express to entertain until late evening.
The Observation Car
If you would like to stretch your legs, swing your arms and take in some fresh air, albeit (more often than not) hot and humid, head to the open-air observation car at the rear of the train. Perhaps you would also like to a get whiff of the odd contaminant breeze as it passes you by.
Notwithstanding pleasantries, you could summon a friendly steward to keep you topped up with coffee and biscuits, tea and scones, cheese and wine or even sumptuous strawberries with cream.
The Eastern and Oriental Express operates a year-round schedule of departures and links from Singapore and Bangkok or vice versa for a two night trip at around 60,000 Baht per person in a Pullman cabin including meals but excluding drinks. Go to the Eastern and Oriental Express Website for more booking information.
If Eastern and Oriental Express are outside your budget, you can catch a ride from Singapore to Bangkok on the regular daily trains run by Malaysian Railways and the State Railway of Thailand. For a little less than 2,000 Baht per person, you get a two-night trip in a sleeper berth although meals and drinks not included.