Tag Archives: Asian luxury trains

Silk Road Snapshot

22 Apr

The oasis of Crescent Lake at Dunhuang, China.

Spanning five countries – China, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia – on two trains – the first class Shangri-La Express and the luxury Golden Eagle – the Silk Road is for many of our travelers the most adventurous and best-loved “journey of a lifetime.”ShLaExpr1955

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IRT traveler David Minnerly enjoying the Golden Eagle’s dining car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

We spoke with Society of International Railway Travelers President Eleanor Hardy about her recollections from her 2013 Silk Road adventure.

The Shangri-La Express: “Hands-down the best train in China – but we do not consider this a luxury train! The food, service, and entire experience was considerably upgraded since the last time we’d experienced it. And there is no better way to see these out-of-the-way destinations.”

The Golden Eagle: “The Imperial Suites – two to a train – are worthy of their name. Staff is exceedingly accommodating, friendly, and some are bilingual.”

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One of two Imperial Suites on the Golden Eagle. Bonus: these spacious accommodations also include private English-speaking guide. Photo by Golden Eagle.

 

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Family picnics on the shores of Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy.

  • BEIJING: “The sprawling Summer Palace grounds are populated by friendly picnicking Beijingese families — large clusters of grownups surrounding one or two “Little Emperors” or “Empresses.” This is a major tourist attraction that still maintains a distinctly local flavor.”

    The Mogoa Thousand Buddha Complex. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • DUNHUANG: “The Magao Thousand Buddha Cave Complex is a must-see. The wildly colorful frescoes and massive statuary are visually stunning — and are important reminders of the vital role the Silk Road trade route played in spreading culture and religion in addition to fine cloth and spices.”
  • SAMARKAND: “You have to visit Registan Square at least twice – once by day and once again by night. The blues in the architecture here are magnificent, and the way the Square lights up at night is spectacular!”

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    IRT travelers in front of the “Genghis Hole” of Merv. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • MERV: “Unbelievably well-preserved evidence of 12th century warfare: huge holes in the sides of the castle where Genghis Khan directed his catapults. Close by, the house where the king’s daughters jumped to their deaths to escape the approaching horde.”

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    Textiles in the markets of Khiva. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

  • KHIVA: “Stunning madrasas, minarets, and bazaars. The markets here made for excellent shopping: richly embroidered textiles, colorful pottery, and ornate jewelry were plentiful.”
  • MOSCOW: “Tours of the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil’s were thrilling – but we all agreed that our night at the Bolshoi Ballet was THE experience we would always remember from Moscow.”

2016 Dates: Sept. 19-Oct. 10 (Moscow-Beijing), Sept. 23-Oct. 13 (Beijing-Moscow)
2017 Dates: Sept. 22-Oct. 13 (Moscow-Beijing), Sept. 26-Oct. 16 (Beijing-Moscow)

Interested in joining one of our Silk Road departures? Space fills up early and quickly for this twice-a-year journey. Call us: (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com Or vist our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com

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?

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