The Most Luxurious Train in Asia Has Returned—Here’s a First Look

Jungle treks by day and cocktail parties at night—it doesn’t get more decadent than traveling in Asia on Belmond’s Eastern and Orient Express.

The restaurant car on the Eastern and Oriental Express with antique red velvet dining chairs and white-linen tabletops with formal place settings and small table lamps

Lunches and dinners in the restaurant aboard the Eastern and Oriental Express are an all-out affair.

Courtesy of Ludovic Balay/Belmond

Luxury hospitality brand Belmond has been gradually growing its collection of luxurious train rides based on the premise that travel by rail has the ability to transport passengers back to the so-called golden age of travel, a time before the isolation and distraction of social media and when everything had an extra dash of luxury.

I often find myself skeptical when it comes to such lofty selling points. But sitting aboard the Eastern and Oriental Express train as it traveled from Singapore through the rainy Malaysian jungle over the course of three days, I suddenly found myself a believer.

Each night, wearing a cocktail dress, I chatted over dinner and champagne with perfect strangers from all over the world: a British journalist who’d spent decades interviewing celebrities, a Canadian traveler who vowed to go to 60 concerts in her 60th year, an Australian gastronome who flies 24-plus hours for work every couple weeks. After dinner, the nights carried on until the wee hours as passengers sat, sipped, and sang together, either to live piano music in the bar car or karaoke sing-alongs that inspired even the shiest guests on board to belt out familiar tunes. There was little to no cell service—supplying a welcome break from day-to-day digital noise and an opportunity to embrace the art of slow travel.

Following a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the most luxurious train in Asia officially returned to the rails in February 2024 with two new seasonal routes to take travelers around Malaysia in style. Each of the three-day journeys commences in Singapore before carrying passengers through various destinations across Malaysia, including the town of Merapoh, Penang Island, and Pulau Payar Marine Park, depending on the itinerary. For those who want to add even more glamour to their throwback train trip, Belmond has teamed up with fellow LVMH-owned brand Veuve Clicquot to introduce exclusive “champagne train” experiences. Following a Veuve Clicquot–themed journey that I experienced in Malaysia in April, additional champagne-fueled rail routes will be available in Europe and Peru later this year.

Here’s what to expect aboard and how to book.

What to expect aboard the Eastern and Oriental Express

A State cabin on the Eastern and Oriental Express, with a velvet blue chair and couch and a table facing windows

Accommodations are cozy but comfortable, such as this mid-size State cabin.

Courtesy of Ludovic Balay/Belmond

The train itself is a timeless marvel

Guests aboard the Eastern and Oriental Express are encouraged to dress up—the more drama, the better. It’s all to complement the train, which first debuted in 1993 and is decked out in rich jewel tones, cherry-red wood, and plush decor from engine to caboose.

There are three different cabin styles to choose from: Pullman, State, and Presidential. Each cabin can accommodate two travelers maximum. The smaller Pullmans offer bunk beds, while State and Presidential cabins include two single beds and more floor space. The latter comes with the most perks, including a larger bathroom, private transfers, and a welcome gift upon boarding. I stayed in a State Cabin, the mid-size offering, and found that it was perfectly comfortable for one; the space is technically equipped to accommodate two, although once you add in luggage, it may feel restrictive. It included a compact but smartly designed bathroom (with a shower, sink, and toilet), an armchair, a set of chairs and a table for writing, and a chaise that transformed into a bed at night, all of which made for an easy journey. (The in-room copy of Sparkling Cyanide, Agatha Christie’s 1945 tale of a dinner party turned deadly, was also a nice companion for the journey.)

During the ride, passengers spend most of their time in the bar car or one of the three dining cars. In the former, guests can play cards, mahjong, and other games or view the passing sights from sumptuous golden couches adorned with leopard-patterned pillows. The dining cars offer white tablecloth dining and massive windows so that passengers can enjoy meals alongside the passing scenery. But the highlight is the observation car; its alfresco views of the passing rainforests, villages, and farms did not disappoint. (Rest assured, bug spray is included in your cabin, and the breeze from the moving train generally makes the humidity bearable in the open-air car.)

A food-and-drink lover’s journey

While a light breakfast is served in each individual cabin daily, lunches and dinners aboard the Eastern and Oriental Express are an all-out affair. Helmed by decorated Taiwanese chef Andre Chiang (formerly of three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Jardin des Sens in Paris), dishes were inspired by a colorful mix of Asian culinary traditions, including Malaysian influences. The menu included Chinese-braised pork belly, miso-baked codfish, laksa bouillabaisse, and a phenomenal red curry-and-lemongrass consommé that I would later try desperately—and fail miserably—to recreate at home. (Vegetarian options are available upon request.)

In the case of this particular trip, meals also meant superb champagne. Each course at lunch and dinner came with a special pairing, some selections dating as far back as 1990 and ’89—otherwise impossible-to-find vintages.

The alfresco observation car on the Eastern and Oriental Express train with views of the passing rainforest

Passengers will have opportunities to explore Malaysia during daily excursions.

Courtesy of Ludovic Balay/Belmond

What to expect during excursions

Each full day of the trip splits passengers (the train can accommodate a total of up to 64 on each departure) into groups for various excursions into Malaysia: First, an exploration of Taman Negara National Park, a 130 million-year-old rainforest, and an outing on Penang, where you’ll find the island city of Georgetown and hazy scenes of boats cruising the Malacca Strait, the following day.

There were typically three excursion options to choose from at each stop. I went with a wildlife photography tour in Taman Negara, which took us sightseeing along roads sandwiched between mountains and dense jungle. Although traditionally the park has been known for its wildlife, we spotted a few monkeys from a distance and little else. Another group, who went on an excursion to a tiger sanctuary, found that there weren’t actually tigers present; the third excursion explored Merapoh Caves and not only had the most success with wildlife—thousands of bats lined the cave’s ceiling—but also took a bike tour with enviable scenery.

The following day, my group spent some time exploring and stopping at the Michelin-starred Penang Famous Samosa, a tiny street food stall selling the popular Indian snack, before taking an excellent cooking lesson at a family estate on Penang Hill with spectacular views over the city. Other groups weren’t as lucky; plans for an afternoon exploring the city by scooter and rickshaw were derailed when the humidity levels became too high to bear.

The appeal of the excursions often largely depended on factors outside of one’s control—be that animals or the weather—although certain offerings could use some improvement overall. Still, you’ll likely find that delving into the heart of Malaysia’s unique cities and landscapes will provide a memorable experience.

The cost

Prices for the Eastern and Oriental Express start at $6,800/person for a Pullman cabin. Tickets can be purchased on the Belmond website.

What to know about the Belmond and Veuve Clicquot’s champagne trains

Dubbed “Solaire Journeys,” Belmond’s exclusive new collaboration with French champagne brand Veuve Clicquot is putting a new twist on its classic trains: sparkling wine tastings, pairings, and even quizzes for the champagne supernovas among us. While Solaire Journeys won’t be returning to the Eastern and Oriental Express (for now), there are two upcoming, limited-edition excursions on two of Belmond’s most famous routes, with plenty of bubbly on board and tastings led by the Veuve Clicquot’s cellar master Didier Mariotti.

In July 2024, Veuve Cliquot will take over the famed Venice-Simplon-Orient Express which travels from Vienna, Austria, to Reims, France, over two nights. Prices start at $8,800/person for a Historic Twin Cabin for a journey including a Vienna Gala dinner and night at the Hotel Imperial, and at $4,500/person for a Historic Twin Cabin for the journey excluding Vienna. You can request booking information online.

In late October 2024, passengers can embark on a five-night trip from Cusco to Macchu Pichu and beyond aboard the Hiram Bingham and the Andean Explorer. Prices start at $15,000/person for a Twin Cabin; booking information is available online.

Tiana Attride is Afar’s social media editor. Previously, she’s worked on content and audience development at Vogue, Thrillist, Away, and Insider.
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