Lines of Beauty

The romance of train travel is well known, but rail journeys can also bring unique perspectives on the world’s cultures and landscapes, all enjoyed at a supremely stress-free pace.  All aboard…

Ticket to paradise

Sipping a cocktail in the Observation Car surrounded by teak wood flooring, rattan furniture and potted plants, you could easily feel you’re relaxing on the verandah of a colonial-era mansion, not a train. But then this sort of plush luxe is a speciality of the Eastern and Oriental Express, which since 1993 has been weaving a course through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2011 comes a series of new three- and six-night voyages through Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Singapore. Limited to just 60 guests per journey, all accommodations are spacious State and Presidential cabins. The six-night Epic Thailand itinerary explores some relatively undiscovered landscapes. Departing from Bangkok, the train travels through the dramatic plains of Thailand’s northeast region. Guests can explore a restored 12th-century Khmer temple at Prasat Sikhoraphum and the Khao Yai National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cost of a berth may seem high, but the standards are too; a steward presses and hangs all clothes, brings pots of tea and cakes at 4pm each day and supplies drinks on request. Cool cotton robes hang in the ensuite shower room, Bulgari products line the shelves and fresh flowers decorate the cabin. Total indulgence while you enjoy a front-row seat on a moving panorama exotic beyond belief.
From SGD$12,400 per person; www.orient-express.com

Where to stay:
Fraser Suites Sukhumvit, Bangkok

 

Highland fling

As the home of golf and whisky, no visit to Scotland is complete without sampling both, which is why the four-night Classic Journey aboard The Royal Scotsman is so popular. This luxurious 1,160-kilometre, four-night journey begins and ends in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, taking a glorious route up through the forests and glens of the Highlands, skirting serene lochs and ancient mountains. Highlights include a private whisky tasting session at the renowned Glen Ord distillery and the chance to play golf at Ballindalloch Castle, home to the Macpherson-Grants family since 1546. With its rich mahogany panelling and luxurious fabrics, there’s a timeless elegance aboard the train too, while during formal dinners male guests are encouraged to dress in a tuxedo or kilt.
From US$6,820 per person; www.royalscotsman.com

Where to stay:
Fraser Suites Edinburgh

 

On track to enlightenment

Whether you’re a believer or not, seeking out the most important sites of Buddhist heritage provides a richly fascinating theme for this exotic odyssey across northern India. Climb aboard the fully air-conditioned Mahaparinirvan Express (also known as the ‘Buddhist Circuit Special Train’) in Delhi for a seven-night all-inclusive tour calling in at Bodhgaya where Buddha gained enlightenment (supposedly while seated beneath the Bodhi tree) and Kushinagar, where he died. The tour also includes visits to Lumbini in Nepal where Buddha was born some time during the 5th century BCE, as well as unmissable side trips to the Taj Mahal, the River Ganges and the ancient city of Varanasi. From US$1,050 per person in first-class; www.railtourismindia.com

Where to stay:
Fraser Suites New Delhi

 

Spirited away

Ned Kelly Country, the Hunter Valley’s famous winelands and the spectacular mountain scenery of the Great Divide – all feature on Australia’s newest and most exclusive rail journey aboard The Southern Spirit. Currently rolling out for its second year, this six-day trip from Adelaide to Brisbane (and vice versa) offers rare glimpses of the rural heartlands of four states before tracking some of the country’s most beautiful coastline along the Eastern Seaboard. Cocktails (or perhaps an ice-cold Aussie beer) are enjoyed in the Outback Explorer Lounge before fine dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant; guests who opt for a top-end, Platinum Cabin (twice the size of a standard cabin and featuring ensuite bathroom and a double bed) also enjoy the luxury of 24-hour room service.
From AUS$3,600 per person; www.greatsouthernrail.com.au

Where to stay:
Fraser Suites Sydney

 

Head for the hills

In terms of mood and drama, even a relatively short rail journey can outdo the equivalent trip by road or air, especially when you wake up in a completely different climate and terrain. Located 780 kilometres north of Hanoi, Sapa is a picturesque mountain retreat nestled among some of Vietnam’s most spectacular scenery. Formerly a French colonial hill station, the village has recently developed into a popular tourist destination lined with restaurants, bars and hotels. The draw here isn’t simply the dramatic mountain scenery and mild climate, but the chance to encounter local minority groups, such as the Black Hmong and Red Dao hill tribes. The most comfortable and stylish way to make the lengthy ascent is aboard an overnight train called the Victoria Express. Featuring a swish velvet and mahogany-panelled restaurant car serving fine French cuisine and two air-conditioned sleeping carriages, it drops off its pampered, bleary-eyed passengers at the crack of dawn in Lao Cai, just a stone’s throw from the border with China. From here, it’s a 45-minute switchback minibus ride across vertiginous mountain passes to Sapa where you can strike out on foot into the breathtaking countryside accompanied by a trekking guide.
From US$185 per person; www.victoriahotels-asia.com

Where to stay:
Fraser Suites Hanoi

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