Riding the Rails on the Eastern and Oriental Express
In my many years of working in travel, there are very few experiences that are so unique, luxurious and personal that when they do happen, I feel compelled to share them. Full disclosure, I have the privilege of sitting on the LGBTQ advisory board for Belmond, so my feelings about them as a brand may be biased; however, they continue to deliver on their commitment as a brand for my clients and my family.
My most recent Belmond experience was one I had only dreamed of having. The two-night journey on the Eastern and Oriental Express train from Singapore to Bangkok had been on my bucket list of items to experience first hand and share with my clients. The journey included two excursions to see and learn about the local culture as we glided through the countryside of Malaysia and Thailand.
Our experience began in Singapore at the legendary Raffles Hotel at the Long Bar. This bar is famous for inventing the Singapore Sling plus it is the only place in Singapore where you can legally “litter” by throwing your peanut shells on the ground. We planned on arriving early for our check-in as we wanted to try the famous cocktail before departing. But as usual, Belmond thinks of everything. The cocktail was included as part of our check-in process. Check-in was smooth, professional and had a personal touch of a Belmond team person coming to each table to talk through the process. We were given our dining time, location and confirmed our excursion selections then boarded the bus to catch the train. All of the guests were excited, chatting and sharing tales of their previous and upcoming journeys throughout Asia.
When we arrived and first saw the train, I was struck by the beauty of the outside. The polished wood with the logo beautifully displayed on the outside of the train. And there was one car that was painted almost graffiti style with beautiful rainbow colors. And of course, that was the sleeping car that we were assigned to! We were thrilled.
After dropping off our bags in the cabin, we went to explore each car on the train. From the open-air observation car to the two dining cars, and of course the piano bar, each car had its own unique personality.
Onboard the train, one of the absolute delights each day is afternoon tea. Your cabin steward brings you a breathtaking sterling silver tray filled with delightful savory and sweet snacks served with a gorgeous tea set. After tea, we dressed for dinner and headed to the piano bar where Peter filled the room with amazing pop, standard, and broadway tunes.
Dinner was truly an experience. Each course was prepared beautifully and tasted even better. Of course, we were obsessed with the idea of preparing these amazing meals for all of these guests in one tiny kitchen car. But wow, they certainly did it!
Each night was filled with additional entertainment that Belmond brought onboard. The first night they had a “close up magician” who proved to be exactly that. We were dazzled by Ming Da’s skills and still have no idea to this day how he was able to do the tricks that he did. This guy was a dynamo! The next evening, we were so fortunate to see an authentic Thai dancer. Her beautiful costume with her beautiful hand gestures and movements made me excited about our adventures in Thailand.
During the journey, we did two excursions. Our first one was a Traditional Village Experience in Labu Kubong Malaysia. We experienced local life learning about the local spices, visited a blacksmith who showed us how to make traditional knives and swords, visited a bee farm and the making of honey and finally learned all about producing rubber from a tree. With each turn, I feel like we learned more about this local culture. Our second excursion was an emotional one. We began on a raft cruising the Khwae Yai River in Kanchanaburi where we learned about the building of the infamous railway and bridge constructed by allied prisoners in World War II. We visited the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre and paid our respects at the Don Bak War Cemetery before heading back to the train.
We made so many new friends while onboard and of course, my wife Anne, graced with one last song at a piano bar on the final night and she picked the perfect one, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Thank you, Belmond for creating an experience that brings so many people together from across this world to appreciate history and culture that is so vastly different from ours. It will be a memory that I will share and hopefully, many others will get to share it too. I would also like to thank the amazing train captain, Wolfgang, for making our trip extra special. His entire team offered the finest in customer service under his leadership.