An atmospheric train ride is second to none. The perfect way to get to know a country’s landscapes and customs, train trips transform perfunctory journey time into an experience in itself. There are myriad fantastic routes across Asia to choose from, ranging from the more upscale first-class carriages to those which are more basic, but often capture the spirit of a destination. We’ve compiled our top 10 scenic and culturally significant trips that are guaranteed to enrich your holiday.
Train through the hill country, Sri Lanka
Widely hailed as the world’s most beautiful train journey, this fantastic route is definitely one for the bucket list. Wind your way through densely covered tea plantations, remote villages and spectacular waterfalls on this journey from Kandy up into the highest corners of the hills. Seats in the 1st class seat observation cabin are limited, but travelling in 2nd or 3rd class allows you to encounter the vibrant, bustling daily life of Sri Lankan locals.
Toy trains, India
India’s toy trains run on historic mountain railway lines that once provided access to colonial hill settlements. Three of the lines- the Kalka-Shimla Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway– are now UNESCO world heritage sites and their routes showcase stunning mountainside scenery across India.
British North Borneo Steam Railway
The British North Borneo railway is Borneo’s oldest running steam train and a rather romantic memento of the country’s colonial past. Running Wednesdays and Saturdays, the route trundles from Tanjung Aru to the ‘Rice Bowl of Sabah’, Papar and takes approximately 4 hours. Brimming with nostalgia, it is designed in typical early 20th century style.
Monkey Train, Rajasthan
So-called because of the monkeys that gather around the stations to be fed by passengers, the Monkey Train is a lovely, lazy journey that takes you through the hilly Kamlighat region of central Rajasthan. This short trip has been operating since 1930 and is still an essential line for many local villagers.
Eastern and Oriental Express
Ideal for those wanting to travel in the utmost style, the Eastern and Oriental Express is one of the most luxurious trains on the continent. The line offers multiple routes across Asia, the most popular being that between Singapore and Bangkok. This is a three-day long excursion in which you can travel in pre-eminent luxury, with 24-hour steward service in a private cabin. Though relatively expensive, it is worthy of the price tag: its journeys take you through rural landscapes, colonial cities, tea plantations, temples and more.
Bamboo train, Cambodia
Not your typical train, this bamboo vehicle has neither motor nor engine; in fact, if it weren’t for significant improvements in infrastructure in recent years, this railway would have become obsolete had it not been transformed into a fun travel experience! At only 20 minutes long, this is a fun brief trip (ideal for kids) that allows you to see the countryside in an unusual way.
Goteik Viaduct, Myanmar
Drive north from Mandalay to board the Goteik viaduct railway in Nawnghkio, Myanmar. The bridge connects the towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio and is the highest railway trestle in Myanmar. Though time spent over the actual bridge is of course limited, it’s an impressive construction and the slow trundle over is a lot of fun.
Da Nang to Nha Trang, Vietnam
A charming, laid-back day trip that guides you through lush paddy fields and villages. A perfect one to just sit back and enjoy the countryside.
Train through Java, Indonesia
Roll through verdant paddy fields and impressive volcanic peaks on this spectacular route through the Java countryside. This rail service offers a comfortable first class executive carriage with air conditioning and a surprisingly tasty lunch if travelling at that time.
Yangon to Mandalay sleeper train, Myanmar
Not for the faint-hearted, this 13 hour trip provides little by way of creature comforts- but is a truly unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience.
Sam Clark is CEO at Experience Travel Group.