Tag Archives: Thailand

Eastern & Oriental Express: Gracious Train, Lovely Staff

24 Feb

“Tap-tap-tap.”

There’s a soft knocking at my cabin door.

It’s Sarawut, my steward on the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train, gently awakening my husband, Shawn, and me.

He quickly begins making up our cabin.

“How long have you been working on the train?” I ask him, as he converts our snug bedroom into cozy, daytime seating for two.

Since it began running, in 1993, he tells me. Twenty-six years.

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Sarawut enters the author’s cabin with continental breakfast, a private, relaxing way to welcome the morning on the E & O. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

As Sarawut lays out our continental breakfast — coffee, pineapple juice, bananas, cereal, English muffins with egg and bread basket — he tells me that almost half of his colleagues have also been with the train since the beginning.

After my recent journey, I can see why. Everything about this gentle train is pure heaven.

Its standard Bangkok-Singapore itinerary offers a variety of off-train tours. But it’s the train itself — and its staff — that will lure me back.

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Dancers perform in Bangkok station. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

One morning last December, my husband Shawn and I arrive in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station, when we spot Thai children on one platform, outfitted in colorful costumes and masks, performing a traditional dance.

Typical Belmond, I think. They know how to get a party started.

It’s the company’s characteristic grand welcome for guests boarding its worldwide portfolio of luxury trains, which includes the world-famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

But in this case,  it’s the Southeast Asian version: the Eastern & Oriental Express, bound for Singapore.

Our steward, the aforementioned Sarawut, shows us to our cabin with welcome drinks.

He points out two attendant call buttons in our room and insists we ring him if we need anything.

Later, we dress for dinner and join our group in the dining car, Malaya.

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E & O kitchen staff member readies a basket of hot bread. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Dinner service is flawless. The waiters present the dishes beautifully and quickly clear finished plates.

Our four-course meal begins with a memorable “Tom Yum Cappuccino”, a delicious foamed version of the popular Thai soup, served in an espresso cup. It’s delectably creamy, and I find myself wishing it was a full bowl…but there are still three courses to go.

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Lunch service on the Eastern & Oriental Express. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Next comes a dish featuring more local flavors: rice noodle with coconut minced pork, prawn and peanut with Nam Jin sauce and a crab, mango and cucumber maki (sushi).

I opt for the glazed duck breast with wild mushroom and charred cabbage for my main course – cooked to perfection.

Dessert is a chocolate mousse with ice cream and caramel sauce; petite fours follow but go untouched because we are full to bursting.

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The author with dancers in the piano bar car. IRT Photo by Shawn Bidwell. 

After dinner we repair to the piano bar car for entertainment: first, Thai dancers perform, accompanied by a drum and khene (a mouth organ with bamboo pipes).

Later, as the E & O chugs into the steamy Thai night, the bar car morphs into something out of a Joseph Conrad yarn.

Pianist Peter plays and sings, as he gleefully implores guests to join in. Meanwhile, the attentive and friendly staff keep us well supplied with drinks and spirits (included in our fare; premium drinks are additional).

It’s been a great night, but now to bed.

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The author’s husband, Shawn, takes photos from their cabin window. IRT photo by Angela Walker

Returning to our cabin, our turned-down twin beds await, robes and slippers neatly laid out. The train is stationary the first night, so sleeping is easy.

(On the remaining two evenings, the train is moving. I had no trouble sleeping either night, but some report problems on the second night, as the tracks are rough in southern Thailand.)

Our State cabin is roomy, boasting a couch, comfy fixed chair, small collapsible table, and desk chair. The couch faces two large windows for watching the passing scenery; fresh yellow orchids add a pop of color. We have a private bathroom with small cubicle shower, sink and toilet.

Our cabin’s intricate wood marquetry—cherry wood and elm burr in a criss-cross pattern—is beautiful. And I soon realize the decor, in varying patterns, is consistent throughout the train, all perfectly polished.

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The author drinks in the scenery from the open-air, rear observation car. IRT photo by Shawn Bidwell.

And so we lazily spend the next few days: private, continental breakfast and afternoon tea in our cabin, multi-course lunch and dinner in the dining cars, entertainment in the bar cars. We could get used to this.

As superb staff members meticulously tend to our every need, we enjoy the ever-changing scenery: the small villages and occasional temples in Thailand giving way to the hills and jungles of Malaysia, before reaching the modern metropolis of Singapore.

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E & O guest snaps a photo at Thailand’s Hua Hin station from the observation car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Off-train excursions are brief but impactful.

Day 2 — The E & O stops near the River Kwai Bridge, infamous for its bloody, WWII history. Guests have three options for excursions:

  • a leisurely cruise down the river, with commentary on the history and building of the bridge, ending with a visit to the bridge museum and war cemetery;
  • a bike ride through a nearby village, stopping at a local farm for refreshments;
  • Or a visit to a local wet market, followed by a Thai cooking class on a raft cruising along the River Kwai.

We choose the first option, which is quite moving, if somber.

Day 3 — The train stops in Padang Rengas in rural Malaysia, with a choice of two excursions:

  • a tour of a traditional village to gain insight into the daily lives of a beekeeper, rubber plantation worker, knife maker, and finally to a local home to explore a spice garden;
  • for those who want an active afternoon, a trek to the top of a hill for panoramic views, while identifying local flora and fauna en route.

We loved the village tour — especially the visit with the spice gardener, a gracious host who was happy to share his home and garden.

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Angela and Shawn enjoy drinks in their cabin. IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

The excursions were great, if only because they allowed us to get off and stretch our legs. But for us, the E & O itself was the star of this show.

The train shows no sign of wear – it’s as if it could have begun service yesterday, rather than 26 years ago.

It accommodates up to 82 guests, although the average number is about 60, I’m told. Public spaces, the heart of any luxury train worth its salt, abound.

The E & O boasts a dining car, saloon car (includes reading room, dining area and boutique), piano bar car and observation car with large, rear open windows for wind-in-the-face viewing.

The rear observation car is a bit of a hike for those in the front of the long train. But it’s worth it.

The large, open-air, verandah-style observation deck allows unparalleled views of this beautiful world, Singapore Sling (or other favorite cocktail) in hand.

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The author’s husband, Shawn, discovers his future, courtesy of the E & O’s onboard fortune-teller. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

And there are more on-train pleasures:

  • shopping at the on-board boutique (I recommend an exclusive Jim Thompson scarf);
  • peering into your future, courtesy of a fortune-teller offering complimentary palm-readings;
  • a perfume presentation;
  • at additional (but reasonable) cost, a foot massage.

I sprung for that foot massage. And I’m so glad I did.

As I relax and enjoy my lovely massage, I admire a beautiful silk tapestry in the saloon car. It depicts a roaring tiger, the symbol of the Eastern & Oriental Express.

Indeed, I think to myself: in the increasingly crowded “jungle” of  IRT’s World’s Top 25 Luxury Trains, the E & O is one of the mightiest.

*****

Angela Walker is Vice President, Operations and senior luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers. Ms. Walker’s has been with IRT since 1998 and has traveled on most of the World’s Top 25 Trains.

Eastern & Oriental Express Still Southeast Asia’s Brightest Luxury Rail Star

25 Nov
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The Eastern & Oriental Express.

IRT’s Angela Walker travels to Thailand next week to inspect the Eastern & Oriental Express, one of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, and sister train to Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

What should Angela expect from her 4-day Bangkok to Singapore adventure?

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Gracious, friendly steward on the E&O. IRT Photo by E. Hardy

Just take it from IRT guest J. Samuelson, who traveled on the October 2019 departure of Fables of the Peninsula:

“That Eastern & Oriental is something else. It’s a wonderful train. The most impressive part of the whole thing is the staff. They [the train staff] were perfect. They were attentive. Your wine glass was never empty. The food is exceptional…. The presentation is just as good as you’d find in any fine restaurant.”

And, the E&O has undergone several IRT-approved enhancements to its services that make it more all-inclusive, more personalized, and — we think — even more thrilling than before.

The four most exciting new enhancements, in our opinion?

1. All well drinks and house wines are now included (premium drinks are additional). Cheers to that!

2. The train has slashed its maximum capacity dramatically, from 132 to just 82 guests — and typically runs with around 65. The result is an exclusive, clubby feel.

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The open-air observation platform on the train is an IRT traveler favorite.

3. The train now offers guests choice in off-train touring, with an eye towards accommodating those wishing to be more physically active.

For instance, on the classic Bangkok-Singapore and Singapore-Bangkok journeys, guests can choose between a classic cruise along the Khwae Yai River and a visit to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre; a cycle tour through farms and fields to a village; or a culinary tour to a vibrant market and an ancient noodle house.

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Lounge car attendants. IRT Photo by E. Hardy.

On the once-a-year Fables of the Peninsula journey, guests can choose between a tour of the Sungai Palas Tea Garden, where they will experience the tea-making process “from bush to cup,” or a hike with a naturalist on the Jim Thompson trail in the Titiwangsa mountain range.

4. Guests in Presidential Suites now enjoy an even longer list of amenities, including private limousine transfers to and from train stations in Bangkok & Singapore; a bottle of champagne and fruit basket on arrival; complimentary mini bar, stocked with a selection of spirits, local beer, soft drinks and chocolate; complimentary on board pressing service; more.

Two parting IRT tips?

1. Extend your Southeast Asian journey at one of our five-star partner hotels.

Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor is a sparkling gem near Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s fabled temple complex; Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is a tropical oasis in the Laotian mountains. Both are just a short flight from Bangkok.

2. If you want to travel in 2020, don’t delay. Space is already at a premium, especially on the once-a-year 6-day Fables of the Peninsula journey in October.

**************

The Eastern and Oriental Express runs from September through April. All cabins are en-suite. A few Pullman cabins for sole use are available on each departure without a single supplement. Inquire for availability.

For more information, or to book, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or email us at [email protected].

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso.

Elephants, ceramics, markets: Which would you choose?

9 Feb
Eastern & Oriental Express

View from Eastern & Oriental Express compartment window. Photo by Jim Butkus

I knew I was going to like the Epic Thailand journey we are offering next year on the Eastern & Oriental Express.  But little did I know the incredible array of choices our travelers will enjoy. In Chiang Mai alone, there are two all-day choices and 10  half-day options. Each sounds more tantalizing than the next.

I leave next Thursday for Bangkok to prepare for our 2012  Owners’ Choice Epic Thailand journey (Feb. 26-March 3). Which of these included off-train experiences would you choose if you were doing this trip?

This is just a partial list:

  • A full-day visit to the Pang Song Nature Trails Project, a new collaboration between tourism interests and a local village working to protect the stunning Mae Lai Community Forest
  • A Day at the Mandarin Orient Dhara Dhevi Resort, with its spa and two swimming pools
  • Antiques and textile shopping
  • An introduction to Thai ceramics, meeting a ceramics expert John Shaw, educated at Oxford and a lecturer at Chiang Mai University, at his home and viewing his personal and private collection
  • A visit to an elephant camp, where visitors can see them at work – or even ride one
  • Tour of Doi Suthep Temple, an important monastery and symbolic landmark of Chiang Mai.
  • Tour of Pak Chong “wet market,” a truly “authentic” institution that is giving way to supermarkets and convenience stores, says the ground operator in Thailand “But be prepared for some strong smells and sights: all parts of animal produce will be on display.  This is ideal for those who wish to see a slice of daily rural life in Thailand. Due to lack of refrigeration in the old days, most Asians do daily marketing at the wet markets.”
  • Khao Yai National Park will be the obvious choice for nature and adventure seekers,. Khao Yai was Thailand’s first national park. Today, it is the second largest in Thailand, and along with the surrounding mountains was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This will include hiking one of three trails, each lead by a highly qualified park guide.

What would you choose?

Of course, the Eastern & Oriental Express is one of our World’s Top 25 Trains™ — and reason enough to go by itself — as shown in this short, experiential video:

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