As one couple embark on an extensive tailor made rail holiday to South East Asia they decide to take us with them by writing about their journey…
Ffestiniog Travel’s Tailor Made rail holidays can often prove challenging for our travel consultants as they try to fulfil the dream journeys of customers. One couple, Robert and Christina Woodroffe recently embarked on a mammoth 67day rail holiday through Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Borneo and are keen to share their experience with us by publishing their travelogue style blog. Here’s their first instalment – a luxurious start on the Eastern & Orient Express.
Knock Knock. Good Morning. It is Mon with our breakfast tray. We look out at the jungle, with the undergrowth scraping along the sides of the coach as we eat. Cornflakes with sliced banana, melon cubes,croissants,muffins and bread rolls with Bon Maman preserves and tea, all beautifully presented with starched linen accessories and silver containers. This is the life!
But to go back to Monday evening......
The gleaming green gold carriages of the Eastern and Orient Express await us on platform 3 of Hualampong station, Bangkok. This is the start of a 4 day trip down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore.
The E&O is a comparatively new venture, launched in 1993 to recreate the elegance of rail travel of bygone days. Today our train consists of 22 cars, is over 500 metres long and is carrying and caring for 120 passengers. The decoration is pure opulence. The inner walls are panelled and decorated in elm, cherry, teak and rosewoods. The compartments are panelled in cherry wood and elm burr. The Bar Car in pale ash. The Observation Car is floored in Burmese Oak. The dining cars, three on this train, have walls of skilled marquetry, distinctive lamps, brass overhead racks and beautiful table settings.
We settle in and Mon our attendant tells us afternoon tea and breakfast will be served in our cabins. Dress code for evening meals is formal- at least a jacket and tie. We have brought our formal attire! We opt for the early sitting at dinner and enjoy the company of Jim, a robust Australian and his wife Dorothy. And what a meal! For those foodies this included a cheese soufflé in a lobster bisque, a main of duck or a fish curry followed by lychee roll, banana ice cream and cinnamon crackers! The food has all been of a very high standard. There is a French Executive chef and 7 European and 6 Asiatic chefs.
An early bed and some sleep as the train rattles and sways along, the trees caressing its sides ( it is a narrow gauge 100cm track after all ). We have to rise at 0550 (if we wish ) to get ready to witness the train going over the 300m long wooden viaduct which hugs the cliff face at Tham Kasae.
0900 Wednesday. We arrive at Wang Po and divert off the main line up the lower section of the Burma Thailand Railway immortalised in the film "Bridge over the River Kwai". In fact it is the Kwai Noi River. 61,000 Allied POWs and 250,000 locals built the railway by hand.400km track, 68 bridges and shifted 3 million cubic tons of rock. The line was taken up by the British after the war and all the bodies buried along the path of the railway were exhumed and reinterred by the War Graves Commission. A section of the track was reinstated by the Thai government and now we cross the bridge. The curved sections are original. The two angular sections are replacements for the sections damaged by Allied bombing and given as war reparation by the Japanese later. A visit to the "Death Railway Museum " and the Cemetery at Kanchanburi bring it all home. Two small garlands of flowers had been placed in our cabin and we place them on graves - one a young doctor and the other an Engineer as a connection to our Godson, Harry, currently serving in Afghanistan.
Wednesday we push on southwards crossing into Malaya at Pedang Besar. Now the scenery changes into paddy fields, rubber tree plantations and large craggy limestone hills, sticking up from the flat terrain. Somewhat reminiscent of South China.
We stop at Butterworth for a visit to Penang Island, originally obtained for the East India Company by Capt Francis Light in 1768 and called Prince of Wales Island in honour of George IV. It is reached by a 7km long bridge opened a few years ago. The traffic has grown to such an extent that a second bridge is about to be opened. Designed, built and paid for by the Chinese.
All except two of the iconic Chinese buildings on stilts have been swept away. Some colonial buildings. A trishaw ride was undertaken which would have been best left. One male passenger could not be found and was eventually discovered after much frenzied telephoning, having spent the whole time in the E&O Hotel bar - sensible chap!
Onwards again in the dark, dining on Amuse Bouche - tuna, then curry soup with prawns, noodles and quail eggs, braised beef cheek, bah kut teh herbs,bak choy, potato mousseline and abalone mushrooms. Melted in the mouth. Mango parfait, papaya jelly,passion fruit coulis and peanut and cashew tuile. All of Michelin starred standard. Each lunch and dinner we have been placed either as a two or a four and we have had fascinating conversations with a wide range of nationalities. Our length of holiday has been trumped by a couple from Cirencester, who are away for 78 days. We must try harder!
A demonstration of Malay dancing, a sing, a chat and a scotch in the piano bar and so to bed. Tomorrow we reach our destination and start exploring Singapore. Has it all been a dream?
Leaw pob gun mai.