Breath-taking landscapes and a touch of old-world class combine to create incomparable travel experiences – read on to discover how luxury train journeys are redefining travel in Asia
Asia may be the international hub for inexpensive air travel yet no matter how cheap or frequent flights between major cities may be, there’s no denying that train travel remains the most romantic and contemplative way to explore the continent. The languid allure of Asia’s most exquisite rail journeys is hard to beat and goes beyond a sheer means to an end – yes, you may well reach your intended destination at day’s end but that’s not why you hop on the train in the first place. When it comes to luxury train travel in Asia, the journey has the ability to actually outshine the destination.
Soak up the splendours of the countryside, be it endless stretches of tea plantations, luscious forests, sky-reaching mountains or dreamy stretches of glorious coast, all the while luxuriating is sumptuous cabins, champagne breakfasts and 5* luxuries. This is travel like you’ve never experienced before.
There are the most exquisite rail journeys in Asia that’ll blow your mind.
1. Eastern & Oriental Express – Bangkok to Singapore, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand
The Eastern & Oriental is one of the most luxurious rail companies in Asia, one that offers multiple routes to those who adore old-world charm, unrivalled luxury and stupendous sightseeing. The three-day journey between Bangkok and Singapore via Kuala Lumpur is undoubtedly the most popular section, a host of incredible highlights adding to the allure alongside stunning en-suite cabins and 24hr butler-service. The Observation Car is the hottest seat in the house, however, testament to the fact that opulence notwithstanding, the beautiful views of Malaysia and Thailand’s rural landscapes still hold the strongest appeal. The 5* luxury of the Orient Express is certainly legendary and the delights of this particular rail journey in Asia lie in the cacophony of sights and experiences – not only of the wonderful landscapes that whizz past your window but also the fine dining, world-class entertainment and formal dining attire you’ll be advised to bring along. A stunning experience and a bucket-list rail journey you’ll never forget.
2. The Royal Express – Yokohama to Shimoda, Japan
Touted as Japan’s best luxury cruise rail line, the newly-minted Royal Express joins an ever-increasing market in a country that’s only recently started to embrace luxuriously (slow) train travel. Up until a few years ago, in fact, train-travel in Japan meant catching bullets travelling at the speed of light, all aimed to get punters to B seemingly before they even left A. Yet the scene is changing in Japan, as tourism heavyweights recognise the increasing demand for slower train travel, the kind that actually allows you to see the landscape. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese have taken the world-renowned Orient Express model and improved it – if at all possible. The cabins are stunning and spacious, the service impeccable, the entertainment delightful, the food incredible, the pace leisurely slow and the choices (given the short distance) means that this incredible rail journey is very affordable – the one-way trip takes just three hours but you can extend it by adding an overnight stop (or two) in Shimoda and including side-trips through the Izu Peninsula once there. This is one of Japan’s most picturesque corners, where extinct volcanoes, hot springs and traditional spas (ryokans) offer a multitude of experiences.
Discover more experiences through our Guide to Japan
3. The Orient Silk Road Express – Tashkent to Khiva, Uzbekistan
The Orient Express along the ancient Silk Road is one of the most iconic rail journeys in the world and a simply marvellous way to explore Uzbekistan to boot. This desert oasis is home to some of the most impressive Islamic architecture on our planet and is considered the cultural and religious heart of Central Asia. The ancient walled city of Khiva and its Kalta-Minor Minaret, the glistening turquoise mosques of Bukhara and the awe-inspiring Registan of Samarkand are food for a history lover’s soul. Uzbekistan is magical, in so many ways, and exploring it by train, on the Orient Express no less, a bucket-list dream experience no discerning traveller should overlook. The imposing and priceless architecture in Uzbekistan can never be overstated yet the mesmerizing arid landscapes of the Kyzylkum Desert in-between the main stops is just as enchanting. On a rail journey through Uzbekistan, you get to experience it all. Itinerary options abound here as the train meanders between Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and the trio of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva with return either by train or flight. Include at least a one overnight stop in each town to have ample time to explore it thoroughly.
See our Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan
4. The Trans-Siberian Railway – Beijing to Moscow, China & Russia
The most famous rail journey in Asia, the Trans-Siberian, may not be the most glamorous nor the most luxurious but it is, without a doubt, the most famous. The ultimate rail-journey dream of intrepid explorers, the Trans-Siberian Railway is akin to an endurance spotting event given its sheer length and the remoteness of most of its tracks. Nowadays, the Trans connects half the planet and you can certainly take just a section of it for a couple of days to ‘tick that box’ yet if you’re after a life-changing travel experience, the stretch between Beijing and Mosco is the one you’ll want to set your sights on. Of all the possible combinations, this is one that delivers the biggest bang for your buck, where the Trans-Siberian connects to the Trans-Mongolian. The first section is all about historical value whilst, the second, serves up the most breath-taking landscapes of the entire Trans rail line, including a traverse of the ethereal Gobi Desert. The 7,600km distance can be covered in a week of rail travel but you’ll be wise to plan plenty of overnight stops along the way.
Learn more with our Guide to the Trans-Siberian
5. Deccan Odyssey – Mumbai to Goa, India
Rail travel in India is not usually what one considers when talking about luxurious travel but the Deccan Odyssey smashes that overcrowded and stuffy notion right out the window. This is a rail journey fit for royalty: think indulgent Ayurvedic spa services, a fully-equipped gym, Wi-Fi, butler service, opulent furnishings and sensational culinary delights. The Deccan Odyssey has picked up a bunch of awards for its 5* offerings, which include half a dozen weeklong itineraries in the states of Maharashtra and Goa. The extensive options mean you could be soaking up the delights of some of India’s most prominent UNESCO-listed highlights and go wildlife spotting on safari in some of its most revered national parks. For sheer variety of experiences, this amazing rail journey in Asia is impossible to pass up.
Read our comprehensive Wildlife Guide to India
At Get About Asia, we plan tailor-made private tours for those who cherish bespoke itineraries, incorporating rail journeys, historical highlights, wildlife encounters and cultural experiences galore. We take care of all the logistics, local guides, private transport and accommodation, leaving you to simply enjoy the spectacular journey. Contact us to know more about rail travel through Asia.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”