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Phenomenal rail journeys of Asia

18 January 2018

You love rail travel but also want to explore further afield than Europe; this is a conundrum many of our customers call us about. They're not bored of countries such as Switzerland and Italy, but everyone has some wanderlust in them, and when it comes calling - we have an ace up our sleeve. Just take a moment to imagine a holiday in Asia, you might not picture narrow-gauge railways and restored heritage carriages but we're here to put the record straight. Not only can you have the exotic and colourful experience that comes as part of the package when visiting this intoxicating part of the world, it can also be awash with authentic and luxury rail trips if that's what you so desire.

It was hard to whittle it down to just four, but these are the recommendations we just had to make.

1) The Bullet Train - Japan's world-famous Shinkansen trains have been making waves across the globe since their inception in the 1950s. They were the first country to realise the potential of high-speed rail travel and invested a lot of time, money and effort into turning those ideas into possibility following the end of the Second World War. They have never stopped trying to improve upon the design either, and nowadays some services reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres an hour (200 miles per hour), transporting passengers in safety and comfort to their destination in a fraction of the time it would take on British Pendolino (which has a top speed of 140 miles per hour but is restricted to 125 miles per hour due to the lack of foresight when it came to installing - or not as the case may be - in cab signalling). They also don't experience the same delays and cancellation problems we do either; the Japanese timetable is notoriously rigid, and announcements have been made in stations apologising to customers for their trains departing 20 seconds…early.

2) The Toy Train - When you picture Indian rail travel, you may conjure up outdated and sensationalist images of locals piled on top of trains as they precariously, and dangerously attempt to make their way between towns and cities. And while this may still be the situation in certain areas of the sub-continent, there have been many advances over the years, such as the introduction of the high-speed Shatabdi Express which even provides a bar cart as well as air-conditioned carriages. But when it comes to trains in India, what they're best at are scenic offerings aboard historic carriages that have been rejuvenated through meticulous restoration. And the cream of the crop, so to speak, has to be the narrow-gauge Toy Train that runs between Kalka and Shimla. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, the railway itself is a marvel of engineering, travelling from the Shivalik foothills through 102 tunnels, over 864 bridges and around 919 curves. During the climb up to Shimla (on a gradient of 1 in 33 for all you 'train geeks') there's plenty of time to sit, in stunned silence probably, as the mighty Himalayas roll by your window.

3) Vietnam's Reunification Express - Whilst not the official title for this sleeper service, it earned its name following the fall of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when north and south become one again following the American evacuation of southern Vietnam. The full-length of the service runs from Hanoi in the north, all the way along the east coast of the country to Ho Chi Minh City, stopping en route in some of Vietnam's most fascinating cities, such as Hué- the ancient capital - and Hoi An, renowned for its speedy and high-quality tailors. And it's not just the disembarkation points that are an experience, the journey is all part of the adventure too. On board you'll meet travellers from all over the world, as well as locals perhaps headed to the beach for a holiday or to visit relatives in another town. After the bustle of Hanoi, it's a pure pleasure awaking to the sight of rural Vietnamese life; water buffalo wandering the fields as farmers protect their heads from the glare of the sun by wearing their traditional conical hats. There's also a very reasonably priced trolley service on board, enabling you to stock up on supplies for very little money. A beer will cost you less than 50p, and sometimes purchases will cost so little, there's no existing denomination for your change - that's when they get the freebies out, meaning you get to try something you might never have otherwise.

4) Eastern and Oriental Express - Singapore and Thailand may not be the first destinations you think of when considering iconic rail journeys, but that's just a sign that you've not heard of the Eastern and Oriental Express yet. An international luxury train, owned by the same company that runs the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, this eastern branch runs the 1,250-mile route between Bangkok and Singapore. The route was inspired by the 1938 film, 'The Shanghai Express' and includes a visit to the Bridge on the River Kwai and the 'Jewel of the Orient', Penang on its itinerary. With knock-out excursions, you'll be able to over-indulge in culture off the train, as well as wallow in the fantastic service, spectacular food and opulent surroundings on board.

 

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