Although the Bangkok to Singapore route has only been operational since 1993, the cars all ooze traditional colonial poise mixed with Thai style and Malaysian grace. The carriages were first built in 1972 for the Silver Star train in New Zealand but the team responsible for decorating the British Pullman and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express trains, under the supervision of Gérard Gallet, wove their magic once again.
All 22 carriages were entirely gutted and redecorated. Major changes included adding air-conditioning, adjusting the gauge to make sure it was compatible with the Malaysian and Thai railway tracks and refitting with lavish interiors. The Observation Cart at the end of the train had been especially built to withstand both intense sunlight and tropical downpours. Soft furnishings were imported from Paris. Only the best.
Everything was thought of to ensure a pleasant voyage – even the numbers of the carriages bring luck. Certain numbers were avoided according to Chinese superstitions!
This is no ordinary train. Luxury prevails. In fact, Ulf Bruchert, the manager, confides that the train was modelled on the one in the 1932 Marlene Dietrich movie Shanghai Express. The spacious carriages were designed for your comfort: antique brass fittings, gleaming wood panelling, large viewing windows, soft towels and Bulgari shower cream – total indulgence. And there’s more: you have your very own cabin steward who is on call 24 hours a day. For $65 he will even bring you a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Sheer extravagance…
TVs, radios and constant mobile ring tones are conspicuously absent. A rarity, and a luxury today. Yet there is no time to get bored. From leaving Bangkok and its tin-roofed shacks, houses on stilts and diligent communities on the rail side to the bright lime green jungle; it’s simply impossible to stop looking out and taking in the diversity of life.
On Day One you are invited to the Bridge over the River Kwai located at Kanchanaburi, near the Thai/Burmese border. This excursion includes a boat trip and a stop at the cemetery where many British and Dutch POWs involved in building the infamous ‘Death Railway’ line. As you float down the river listening to the story of the River Kwai remember to drink plenty of water as the heat can be a knockout – literally for some. To finish off the tour, the guides give a small tutorial on lotus flower folding. Having folded the perfect lotus flower, I felt peculiarly proud of my achievement.