The romance of railways is something that will forever spark imagination and nostalgia. Fuelled by cultural moments like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the world has embraced an enduring infatuation with train travel, putting it as one of the pinnacles of stylish, comfortable, and sustainable travel. Travelling by train, slowly, mindfully, and comfortably is one of travel’s greatest pleasures, making the journey part of the trip itself, and slowly taking in your destination as it rolls by. Resparking this fascination and encouraging luxurious slow travel once more, Asia’s Eastern & Oriental Express, A Belmond train, is returning to the rails in 2024.
Following a four-year hiatus prolonged by the global pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, the iconic and much-loved train is returning to service in February 2023. The famed train – the Asian counterpart to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – was famed for its itineraries around Thailand and Southeast Asia, accommodating passengers in old-world, wood-panelled cabins with a dining and piano bar carriage and observation car reminiscent of a bygone era.
The new era invites passengers to explore a brand new ‘Essence of Malaysia’ itinerary, departing from Singapore and railing through Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and Penang on the voyage of a lifetime. A first for the Eastern & Oriental Express, travellers will also be able to visit the stunning Taman Negara National Park for the first time.
‘Offering a reimagined adventure of Southeast Asia in motion, the train will launch two new seasonal journeys departing from Singapore and travelling through Malaysia’s ever-changing landscapes and vibrant cities,’ said Belmond in a press release announcing the return to service.
Two Essence of Malaysia itineraries for February are currently on offer, one departing on 19 February 2024 and one on 26 February. The three-night itineraries depart from Singapore’s Woodlands Station bound for the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, passing rural villages, tropical forests and rice paddy fields along the way before pulling into Alor Setar station. From here, travellers can take a boat ride to Langkawi’s Payar Marine Park, renowned for its underwater life like parrot fish, moray eels, angel fish and grouper, and enjoy various activities plus a picnic lunch. Activities include massages, meditation and tai chi, along with paddle boarding and snorkelling.
Day three continues on to Penang Island, Malaysia’s cultural melting pot. Guests can discover Peranakan cooking, wander the old colourful streets of the colonial capital Georgetown, enjoy a rickshaw ride and take in sights like temples, the opera, art studios and the puppet house. The final day sees a scenic journey through the southernmost state of Johor – famed for its beaches and rainforests – and crosses back across the Singapore Strait for disembarkation.
Being the Eastern & Oriental Express, activities and destinations are only half of the adventure, and guests can enjoy the sumptuous design and experience the train offers. Meals, relaxation and slumber take place in 15 restored racing green carriages, comprising eight sleeping cars, two restaurant cars, a piano bar car and an open-air observation carriage. Design touches include teak floors, antique furnishings, cherry wood panelling, sumptuous Malaysian embroidery and Asian silks, reflecting Malaysia’s rich history and grandeur. All sleeper cabins have day beds that transform into cosy lie-flat setups and channel the location with brilliant red furnishings, blue cushions, sea green and blue hues, and a touch of gold embroidery. Some come with private en-suite bathrooms.
While on board, guests will have an eye into Southeast Asian culture, with a luxury edge, and have the chance to learn from visiting artisans, storytellers and entertainers. Meals are served in the glamorous dining car, with nightly entertainment at the Piano Bar – transporting guests back in time to the golden age of rail travel.
Following Essence of Malaysia, the Eastern & Oriental Express will run a new Wild Malaysia itinerary, curated in partnership with Save Wild Tigers. Departing in March, the itinerary will include a journey to the eastern side of the peninsula and a visit to the rainforest of Taman Negara National Park, home to leopards, tigers, Sumatran rhinos, water buffalo, hornbills, and macaques all cohabitate. Activities will be wildlife centric and include photography, sightings and foraging.
Three-night trips on the Eastern & Oriental Express are available from $3,410 per person, inclusive of all meals (breakfast, three-course lunch, afternoon tea and four-course dinner), select alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, transfers to and from the departure and arrival station, 24-hour butler service and all excursions as per the itinerary. Belmond operates some of the world’s most luxurious and timeless rail journeys, such as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Europe, the British Pullman in the UK, Peru’s Hiram Bingham and Andean Explorer and Scotland’s Royal Scotsman.
One of the oldest modes of modern travel, railway travel is having a comeback, with historic – and defunct – routes reinstated across Europe and new luxury train services being launched across the world. A new rail cruise will even run across the Emirates from 2025, journeying from Fujairah to the Liwa desert across cities, deserts and mountains in luxurious cabins. Discover the new UAE railway adventure here.