Luke's Eastern and Oriental Express and Vietnam Trip

Staff member: Luke // Trip date: Nov 2010

EASTERN & ORIENTAL EXPRESS

Bangkok-Singapore
4 days/3 nights

Day 1

We caught a taxi to Hualampong station, which is quite central and wouldn't take long to travel to from any hotel within the city of Bangkok. The E&O lounge is situated on Platform 12 - just enter the station and head straight for the platform, there are signs that will point you in the right direction. As we approached the entrance of the lounge, E&O staff conveniently took our bags to be carried onto the train and placed in our cabin. E&O recommend that you check in as much luggage as possible to the baggage car, as space is quite limited in the compartments. We entered the lounge to check in; we were given a boarding pass and asked to choose between early or late sittings for lunch and dinner (that would apply for the whole trip); we chose the late sittings. The whole check-in process was seamless; and coffee, tea and light snacks were available in the lounge. We were guided onto the train at which point I met Paul, our Cabin Steward. The cabin steward is responsible for your carriage and is available at all times and can be called by the bell in your compartment. He took care of my passport; he changed the compartment from day to night configuration, and served breakfast and other refreshments in my compartment. He was just the loveliest guy and always willing to assist me in any way possible. The train departed from Bangkok at 5.50pm.

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I was in a Pullman compartment; they have a private lounge during the day with a banquette style sofa. Daytime seating converts to an upper and lower berth at night - I would recommend that guests book at least the State Cabin if they want to avoid bunk beds. The cabin contains an ensuite shower (surprisingly spacious!), washbasin and WC. The sofa was so incredibly comfortable to sit on, I really could have just sat in my cabin for the entire trip pondering to myself how pretty everything looked.

The meals served for all the dinners (and lunches - both included in the fare) were without a doubt the most exquisite food I have ever seen, or tasted! It was truly the star of the show and just eating the tantalizing food was an amazing experience in its self. Lunch and dinner are served in the two restaurant cars, each lavishly decorated with rosewood and elm paneling, which only enhances the luxurious feel. After the 3 course dinner, I retired back to my cabin were it had been transformed into a cosy bedroom by my steward.

Day 2

In the morning a breakfast of freshly baked croissants, coffee or tea, juice and fruit was delivered to my compartment (the previous day Paul would come around to ask what time I wanted breakfast served), unfortunately I had slept in and missed seeing the train traverse along the wooden trestle viaduct beside a towering cliff which usually occurs around 6:30am, I was a little disappointed as it's meant to be quite a sight. On arrival at the River Kwai Bridge station, the E&O stops to allow you to disembark. Guides escort you on the short walk down to the jetty to board a local raft for a cruise along the lush greenery of the picturesque Kwai Yai river, passing under the Bridge. On board, a local historian provides a brief overview of the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and the bridge. I found this to be very fascinating, and I noticed that everyone seemed quite captivated by the interesting history of the bridge. We were also taken to the Chinese Cemetery and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. We were driven by coach back to the train where morning tea was awaiting us in our compartments. Soon after that, we had a 3 course lunch in the dining car which was delicious and very satisfying. For the rest of the day, I spent most of my time in the outdoor section of the observation car - it was just the perfect place to relax, whilst enjoying the panoramic scenery and experiencing the sights, sounds and scents of South East Asia. Smoking is permitted on the outdoor area, which was something I was particularly pleased about. Free astrology readings or foot reflexology (for a small fee) is available in the reading room/library throughout the day as well.

Later that night my parents and I had a very enjoyable time socializing with the other guests within the Bar Car, singing and dancing and drinking far too many cocktails (Singapore Sling was definitely the drink of the holiday) whilst the resident pianist played classic tunes that all of us seemed to know. It was easy to tell everybody was having a really fun time; it's wonderful nights like this that make a trip and it would surely be a night many of us would never forget.

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Day 3

After brunch (which was basically lunch) the train arrives into Butterworth. Here coaches take you across to Georgetown, capital of Penang, on the local ferry. First stop is the Kho Kongsi clan house for a tour followed by a trishaw ride through the various interesting districts (which was a highlight for me) before stopping at the charming "E&O Hotel" for a refreshing complimentary drink in Farquhar's Bar. After that we took a short ride back to Butterworth and rejoined the E&O. Whilst we were in Penang, they had moved the Observation Car to the other end of the train. I was thrilled about this as it was now closer to my compartment, so once again I spent most of the afternoon watching the passing scenery, drinking cocktails (Singapore Sling of course!) and talking to the other friendly guests on board. My parents and I really met some great people throughout the trip, some we even exchanged contact details with. Later in the evening, entertainment was performed in the Bar Car in the form of traditional local dances. Our last dinner was predictably delicious. My only recommendation regarding the meals is that you try to avoid eating too much in between, although it's nice to have a few snacks throughout the day you will be extremely disappointed in yourself if you aren't able to fit in all the mouthwatering courses served throughout lunch and dinner - I know I was.

Day 4

In the late morning, the train got to the border of Malaysia and Singapore and an announcement was made to get off once the train stops, and clear customs. The whole process was relatively simple and didn't take that long at all. Once we got back on board, I sadly realized the end of my journey on board the E&O was near. As the train arrived into Keppel Road Station in Singapore, I gladly gave Paul a generous tip (he'd deserved it) and hopped off the train. As I walked along the platform, all the E&O staff said their goodbyes and waved us off.

In conclusion, it was truly one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of my life. I would recommend the Bangkok to Singapore journey, only because you get an extra day/night for the same price; and the more time you spend on the train, the more splendid your experience will become. Also, no offense to Bangkok - but I couldn't imagine spending a few days of luxurious bliss traveling on board the E&O only to hop off at Bangkok. Singapore is a very elegant, clean city and I feel it was the more appropriate arrival point.

VICTORIA EXPRESS + OPTIONAL DAY TOURS, VIETNAM

Hanoi - Lao Cai RT
3 nights/2 days

Day 1

I had booked a transfer with our tour company, so I was promptly picked up at 8pm from my hotel and transferred to Hanoi train station for the overnight train to Sapa.

After we had entered the main entrance of the station, I was guided by my driver to the Victoria Express carriages that are just connected to the normal overnight train that travels to Lao Cai. I was greeted by the train manager and other staff, who took my luggage and carried them to my cabin. As soon as I boarded and walked along the wood-panelled 'orient express' style carriages to find my cabin, I instantly knew I was in for yet another stunningly luxurious experience.

I was in a share superior 4 berth cabin. There was ample luggage space, the beds were really comfortable and very clean, and our cabin had air-conditioning; all of them do. I would recommend trying to arrive earlier so you have first choice of the beds. Thankfully, the staff usually place couples on the one side; which meant one of the lower berths was still available for me to sleep in! The train features one dining carriage and two sleeping carriages, with two restroom facilities per carriage (no showers onboard). I sat in the dining car for only a short while, I wasn't really too hungry so I just had a cocktail (what do you think I had!?) before heading back to my cabin for bed. Traditional Vietnamese and Western cuisine is available in the dining car, you can book a set menu dinner or choose a la carte menu on board

Day 2

When we arrived at Lao Cai station I was transferred to Sapa for a breakfast at the hotel. I was able to check in straight away which was very convenient. The room was very stylishly designed, with a private terrace, wood flooring and a warm touch of local decoration. All guest rooms offer views over Sapa village, the resort's lush gardens or Mount Fansipan. I was also given a complimentary gift, including a beautifully colourful scarf and hat no doubt made by hand by one of the ethnic minorities. Full resort facilities include swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, games room and fitness centre.

The optional two day tour I booked (which Rail Plus can organise) started with an enjoyable walk to the H'Mong village of Cat Cat. I returned to Sapa town for a set lunch (included in the cost of the tour). After a tasty lunch we drove out of town to commence an hour-long walk to Ta Phin. Ta Phin is home to the distinctive Dao (pronounced Zao) community. I was continually hassled to buy various items from the ethnic minorities, although the people are lovely so there was no hesitation in buying as much as I could carry - does anybody need a new bag? I have about 10! We arrived back into Sapa in the late afternoon, were I spent the next few hours walking around the surprisingly lively town. It only took a few minutes to walk back to the hotel.

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Day 3

I was picked up by the tour guide after checking out to head for Bac Ha at 8:30am for a market tour. A visit to the Sunday Market is a must. The colourful Flower H'mong converge here to trade and exchange goods, the diversity of colours on display was truly magnificent. In the afternoon, they transferred me back to Lao Cai for the Victoria Express train journey back to Hanoi.

In conclusion, I found traveling on the Victorian Express train and staying at their hotel to be without a doubt the most luxurious way of experiencing Sapa. I highly recommend allowing Rail Plus to book day tours for you as well - it really is essential! Sapa is a wonderful and enchanting place (my all time favorite place!); a real cultural experience. Please note, the package booked through Rail Plus includes two nights at the hotel (which is the perfect amount of time!), and the day tours are optional at an additional cost.

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REUNIFICATION EXPRESS (Trains in Vietnam)

Hanoi to Hue (Train SE3)

A day prior to departure, Loan (who worked for our tour company) contacted us at the hotel to advice due to flooding part of the track had been destroyed; she went through the alternative arrangements that had been organized: we would need to hop off the train at around 4am to catch a bus from one station to another (taking about 2 hours) where we would hop back on the train again - this meant our trip turned out to be a bit of a nightmare, although the train itself is fine and I would very much recommend it. We were picked up at our hotel and transferred to the station, we were glad a transfer had been pre-booked to avoid any potential hassle, as apparently there are 2 different stations in Hanoi and you need to specify to the taxi driver where you are traveling to.

We were booked in a soft sleeper 6 berths compartment, which was air-conditioned. The cabins are very basic, including a large window, small table and reading light for each bunk. Linen and pillows were provided, and they were quite clean. Each carriage has a western-style toilet and a squat type toilet at the end of the corridor. We arrived into Hue the following morning, only a few hours late.

Hue to Danang (Train SE3)

We arrived into the station via pre-booked transfer; we bought some snacks at the station and waited until it was time to board. The train also has a snack car (selling beer!) and a very basic dining car if you don't purchase anything prior to departure.

We had booked soft seats, which were actually really comfortable and very spacious (heaps of legroom!) There was plenty of luggage space available above your seat. The scenery is also a great reason to travel on this route; the train hugs the coastline along the South China Sea, which serves up breathtaking views that grow even more spectacular as the train winds its way up Hai Van Pass ("Pass of the Clouds"). I also was able to see what the hard seats were like - my recommendation: pay that little bit extra for the soft seats or you will be forced it sit on very hard, wooden benches for the duration of the journey.

Hoi An to Nha Trang via Denang (Train SE1)

After breakfast at our hotel in Hoi An, we were transferred back to Danang station to take a day train to Nha Trang. We were advised that the train we were due to travel was delayed about 4 hours, so we quickly had the staff at the station rebook us on an earlier (slower) train that hadn't departed yet from the station - unfortunately this meant we were downgraded to hard sleepers. I found the cabins to be very similar to the soft sleepers, however the beds were a little too hard for my liking.

We were meant to arrive into Nha Trang at around 21:00, however the train had just stopped in the middle of nowhere and we didn't really know what was going on - we later discovered that due to floods, the train could not continue. Unfortunately we had not taken a mobile phone with us either (big mistake!) so we couldn't contact the tour company. So, it was now 9:00am the following morning and the train had still not moved - everyone got a complimentary breakfast (rice and chicken soup) because of the delay. We finally asked somebody if we could use their mobile and contacted the tour company, we organized to hop off and get picked up from the station the train was currently stopped at (about 50km from Nha Trang)

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I highly recommend travelling to Vietnam (it's my second time!) It's just such a charming, picturesque country with a constantly changing landscape. The Reunification Express is a fascinating and unforgettable way to witness the unfolding landscape of Vietnam, and the towns and villages along the way. Rail Plus can assist with booking rail tickets, transfers, accommodation or tours etc. in Vietnam and Thailand.

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