Helped in no small part by being immortalised in works by Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming, the Orient Express is ingrained in popular culture, and conjures images of glamorous dinner parties held by high society, enjoying luxurious travel.
Although the original Orient Express ceased in 1976, the private company resurrected the brand and ran trains along the iconic Venice-Simplon routes from 1982. However, running a luxury train through the magnificent sights of South East Asia seemed too great an opportunity for the company to pass up, and they began looking at taking the Orient Express to the exotic climes of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
This wasn't easy; Malaysia and Thailand operated separate railways, and passengers always had to change at Butterworth in Penang. Yet in 1991, the Eastern & Oriental Express Company managed to negotiate access to the entire route, meaning their luxury train would be the first to complete all 1,262 miles between Bangkok and Singapore. Even today, the Eastern & Oriental Express is still the only train that makes this journey.
The inaugural departure was in September 1993, and was a resounding success. The Eastern & Oriental Express has since earned an envied reputation for one of the most unique and exciting journeys by rail in the world, despite only running for the relatively short period of seventeen years. This is partly due to the fact that the core values of the Orient Express brand are still in place. Much like the images brought to mind at the mention of the Orient Express, many things hark back to the golden age of rail travel - such as the elegant, ornate cabins, attended with personal service. There is also the exquisite gourmet cuisine, with a choice of the finest Asian or European dishes every night. This opportunity to dress up for dinner, and the bar car with resident pianist, all hark back to the 'colonial' age. Another often overlooked feature is the idea of travelling as a 'society'. Spending two full days in quite close proximity means that people do talk to each other, not least as they dine together.
Although there is a colonial 'feel', there are still many modern touches on board the Eastern & Oriental Express. For example, the train has been fitted with the practical comfort of an air-conditioning system, and the windows in the dining cars have been enlarged, to enhance the panoramic views during the journey.
The Eastern & Oriental Express is well noted for its opulence and stylish comfort. The gleaming green and cream carriages were designed by much of the same team who worked on both the Venice Simplon-Orient Express and the British Pullman. There has been a Far Eastern twist on the typical idea of lavish decoration on board, with many of the materials sourced locally. For example, the restaurant and bar cars are decorated in Thai and Chinese lacquer, complemented with Thai wall carvings. In the other carriages, the walls feature polished wooden veneers with Malaysian Motifs, and the Observation Caralso boasts an Oriental theme.
Perhaps the most important factor in the Eastern & Oriental Express's reputation is the magnificent, breathtaking scenery through which it passes. Just a few kilometres from the equator, the train makes its way gently past landscapes as diverse as tropical forests and rice paddy fields, taking in the vibrant cultures of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore along the way.