Eastern & Oriental Express Staff: “Almost Like a Family”

7 Mar

Mr. Panupong Wrassamee, of Chiang Mai, Thailand-meticulous, yet warm and welcoming—a true professional. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

“Welcome on board, Madame Hardy!” was his warm welcome when I arrived.

And later: “Is everything all right, Madame Hardy? Air conditioning just right? Enough hot water?” And he never forgot that I like to wake up at 6 a.m., have my coffee — with skim milk — for half an hour while watching the world go by, then fruit and cereal or yogurt for breakfast. He decorated my every tray with an orchid. He always folded my robe into the traditional Thai greeting stance. And he always tidied my room—immaculately—before I returned for bed.

And this was just in my room. Throughout the train, in the restaurant and bar cars, the service was spectacular.

In truth, on the Epic Thailand journey on the Eastern & Oriental Express, the staff was the star of the show.

Thai symbol of hospitality-folded into E & O robe. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

My steward was Mr. Panupong Wrassamee, 41 . He was probably the best I have ever experienced on any train in the world—and I personally have ridden 18 of our World’s Top 25 Trains™. Mr. Wrassamee has worked on the Eastern & Oriental for 17 years. His English is excellent. His care was superior, attentive, friendly, and always spot-on. Sometimes, it was over the top. In Chiang Mai, where he lives, he brought me soup and strawberries from his family home.

More than 60 percent of the Eastern & Oriental staff has been with the train since it started in January, 1993—18 years.

Train Manager Ulf Buchert shares a laugh with E & O passengers. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

That special welcome starts at the top. Mr. Ulf Buchert, a native of Frankental, Germany, has been with the Eastern & Oriental since its inception. A resident of Bangkok for the past 11 years, he is witty, charming, friendly, welcoming and the essence of hospitality.

His staff of 44 includes the chef, two assistant train managers, restaurant manager, assistant restaurant manager, seven waiters, 14 kitchen staff in the two kitchens, 15 cabin stewards and two cleaners. On the regular, Singapore-Bangkok runs, which are done much of the year, they take care of 126 people. On the special Chronicles extended journeys,  like the one I took in February, the maximum is 60 persons in 28 “State” compartments and two presidential compartments.

“Somehow, it’s almost like a family,” says Mr. Buchert. “Here, you come on board, everybody is happy, everybody is helping.”

Mr. Chanyuth Techasawat, E & O restaurant manager. Photo by Eleanor Hardy, IRT

Restaurant manager Chanyuth Techasawat, 46, started as head waiter in 1993 and is now restaurant manager. His training in hotel school, plus five years as restaurant captain at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, has prepared him well. Every table is meticulously set with the fine china, crystal, silver and linens. The hours are long: he and his staff start at 8 a.m. and end about 11:30 p.m. after the last tall crystal wine glass is polished and put away.

But it’s a fabulous job, he says. “You get to see many places, see so many people, have a chance to go to different countries and not to stay at the same place, same time, every day.” Plus, echoing his boss, “we are much like family here.”

“The key is that you have people who really understand how to give great service,” said Eastern & Oriental Express general manager Leesa Lovelace, a native of San Jose, CA and now a Singapore resident.  “They are naturally attentive and kind and genuinely interested in looking after the guests and getting to know them.”

“It makes the journey,” she said.

Indeed it does.

What’s the best service you have experienced on an overnight train trip?

11 Responses to “Eastern & Oriental Express Staff: “Almost Like a Family””

  1. Bruce Anderson March 8, 2011 at 3:43 PM #

    Up to now, I’d have to say Rovos Rail. Although last trip, my cabin girl seemed a bit confused at times. But the kitchen and dining car staff know what you like and don’t like after just a day or two and you normally don’t have to say another word about it. But it sounds like the EOE is giving Mr. Voss a good run for the money. It will be interesting to see how you compare the two after our Rovos trip in July.

  2. ELEANOR FLAGLER HARDY March 8, 2011 at 3:57 PM #

    Thanks for writing! Yes, Rovos Rail is one of the few luxury trains I have not been on. It will be wonderful to enjoy the comparison. As Owen Hardy says: “Wait until July!” We would welcome a few more folks on the Owners’ Choice journey this July, 2, 2011 on Rovos Rail’s PRide of Africa. Watch for reports from that trip.

  3. Cathy Griffiths March 8, 2011 at 7:29 PM #

    The staff on E&O were marvellous. Their genuine warmth and hospitality was superb. Nothing was too much trouble and there were lots of little touches that made all the difference. I asked for sparkling water with a slice of lime/lemon for the first meal on the train. This was automatically served to me every meal thereafter without ever being asked my preference again. Sometimes after dinner we went into the bar but refused their offer to serve us another drink, having enjoyed a few glasses of wine with dinner. The bar staff used to bring us a glass of iced water without us requesting it, and if we drank it, they renewed it. Just a little thing, but it did not go unnoticed. E&O staff always ensured I had assistance during excursions with steps etc if required. The offer was always there without asking. I believe no matter what your age, they would be there to offer a helping hand if required without causing any embarrassment or making a fuss.

  4. John Emery March 10, 2011 at 9:13 PM #

    I especially admired the cross-training and versatility of Rovos’on-board service personnel; An especially attentive cabin attendant would, during the pre-dinner hour, morph into a very attentive cocktail waitress. Our Train Manager would don dining-car attire at night and manage the flow of dinner orders.

    This created the illusion of a much larger employee-to-customer ratio than I suspect actually existed — sign of a very well-organized operation.

    I have already recommended Rovos to a couple of rail-enthusiast friends — just as some other railfan friends recommended it to me several years ago.

    • John Emery March 11, 2011 at 3:28 AM #

      My earlier post was a specific response to a question about Rovos Rail. Having ridden both the Eastern & Oriental Express and Rovos Rail, I should clarify that a bit. My trip on Rovos was 14 nights, eleven of them on the train and three in off-train resorts and hotels. The E&OE experience was just two nights aboard the train, Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos. Hard to make a fair comparison.

      My room on the E&OE was large enough to be comfortable but the bathroom was a bit cramped. The double-width bed I had on the ‘Pride of Africa”, and the very large bathroom, were more comfortable and “Luxurious” but also significantly more expensive on a per-night basis. Both trains had VERY high levels customer service and dining quality — Edge to Rovos for menu selection and the “Wow” factor in the lobster-tail, filet and other luxe entrees, but edge to E&OE for more convenient dining hours and better pacing of the delivery of food to the table.

      The end-of-train open observation lounge on the E&OE was more comfortable and photographer-friendly than that on the “Pride of Africa,” but I was a bit surprised to find that what I thought was complimentary wine on the E&OE was actually being billed to my account and required settlement at the end of the trip.

      These trains both offer very high-quality travel experiences; Health permitting, I intend to book at least one more trip on one or both of them.

      Rovos Rail advertises the “Pride of Africa” as “The most Luxurious Train to the World.” There are too many other “luxury” trains I have yet to ride for me to pass judgement on that claim, but based on my experience it’s at least credible. Of the truly luxe trains I have ridden to date, I’d rate the Royal Canadian Pacific as a very serious challenger for that title and the Eastern & Oriental Express as a close runner-up to Rovos and the RCP.

      • Eleanor Flagler Hardy March 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM #

        Thanks John for your post. Great to hear from you! Something to note about your cabin on the short E&O journey: It was a single Pullman cabin, which is the smallest on the train and for which there is no single supplement. The larger cabins are quite spacious and much larger than the single Pullman. On the longer Chronicle itineraries, such as the one I just took called Epic Thailand, only State and Presidential cabins are offered. Also, on the longer, Chronicles itineraries all drinks are included in the package cost. On the shorter journeys, drinks are not included. I suspect this is something that will change with time, and I do recommend that the E&O should make this change to all-inclusive on all itineraries. This would match the Rovos Rail, Royal Canadian Pacific and the Royal Scotsman. All include all drinks in dining and bar cars. The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian includes wine & beer with lunch and dinner, but only includes drinks in the bar for Gold Class service. The VSOE charges for wine with dinner and drinks in the bar.

  5. Shirlie Jamieson May 23, 2012 at 2:16 AM #

    My daughter & son-in-law are going on the E &OE in June – is it essential for men to wear
    jackets for dinner?

    • Owen C. Hardy May 23, 2012 at 8:04 AM #

      The dress code is clear: formal attire for “formal nights,” which were every other night on our 6-night “Epic Thailand” trip earlier this year. The train manager runs a “tight ship” in his dining car, and I’d hate for them to feel out of place.


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