Asia’s Top 5 Train journeys

Asia’s Top 5 Train journeys


These days, very few countries hold the same universal appeal that Japan does seeking an epic holiday experience. While the Tokyo area and all its associated wonders remain supreme in the eyes of global travellers, the ancient capital of Kyoto remains a definite number two on the Japan edition of the bucket list – and for good reason. The visual and sensory explosion that greets the first time visitor to Kyoto is truly awe-inspiring.

The ultra modern architecture of Kyoto station

The iconic image of the bullet train flying by Mount Fuji

With most international travellers arriving in Tokyo, the transfer to the western Kansai region where Kyoto is situated is a major consideration for travellers. The classic way of arriving in Kyoto is to take the legendary bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, on the Tokyo Osaka line.

Other options do exist, but missing the opportunity to fly across the pristine and lush heart of Japan in a majestic and meticulously operated bullet train, cannot be missed. Temple of the Pure Water in Kyoto

Journey Details:
Length: 514 km
Duration: 2 hours and 20 mins – 3 hours and 50 mins depending on number of stops
Price: Hikari Train starts at ¥13,400
Train schedule: Hourly trains
Highlights: Verdant farming areas, quaint rural settings, the massive scale of the Tokyo – metropolitan area, Mount Fuji. 


The endless mountain vistas of Tibet

The word “epic” best typifies the rail journey from Beijing and Lhasa – on so many levels. Crossing the entire length of the country from Beijing through the historical central plains, the arid western regions between the ancient capital of Xian and the Tibetan cultural zone of Qinghai province, the massive Kokonor Lake and finally up and across the ocean-like grasslands of the Tibetan plateau – few journeys in the world could pack so much scenic diversity in such a short space of time.
The traveller disembarks into a different world, touching down in the legendary capital and heart of Tibet – Lhasa, dominated by the mighty Potala palace.
Duration: 40 hours and 30 mins. Typically broken up into legs with stops at Xining and Golmud in Qinghai province being popular side destinations.

The blue skies and fields of rapeseed flowers by Qinghai Lake

The train journey can be broken up into segments, but essentially has two main legs: Beijing to Xining (capital of Qinghai province) and Xining to Lhasa ( Xining is the starting point of the high altitude line).

The Potala Palace perched over Lhasa

The train line itself is an engineering masterpiece, winding through some of the most challenging landscapes on earth and reaching altitudes above 5,000 metres. To deal with the extreme altitude, oxygen is regularly pumped into cabins for the comfort of the passengers.

Gazing out the windows, passengers look upon towering  grim-faced mountain ranges, stretching out into the distance as far as the eye can see, the gentle rolling hills of the grasslands of the endless expanse of the Tibetan Plateau.

Trying to distil the scenery of this journey into a couple of paragraphs is next to impossible -  an epic journey of unmatched raw elemental beauty that will remain with you for a lifetime.

Journey Details
Length:  3,800 km
Duration: 40 hours and 30 mins. Typically broken up into legs with stops at Xining and Golmud in Qinghai province popular.
Price: RMB 360 (hard seat – for the true China experience) or RMB 1144 for a Soft Sleeper (essentially a bunk in a 4 bed cabin – sharing with strangers a big possibility)
Train schedule: Numerous daily trains
Highlights:  Endless farmland, soaring mountain ranges, the broad expanse of the Tibetan Plateau, the abundant animal life including Yaks and galloping herds of Tibetan Gazelles. 


  • The stunning views of the Thai country side and the River Kwai

    This glamourous train journey, inspired by the 1932 Marlene Dietrich movie Shanghai Express, is South East Asia’s only luxurious railway line, whisking passengers from Singapore on a 3-day odyssey through the Malay Peninsula to Bangkok in Thailand.

    Along the way, guests have the option of going off on side excursions, the most popular ones being the colonial gem of Penang with all its glorious food scene and the infamous Bridge (built by British Commonwealth P.O.Ws during WW2) over the River Kwai in Thailand.

    Undoubtedly a throwback to a different age, when travel and tourism was largely the domain of the rich and powerful, the Eastern & Oriental Express and its gilded cabins do justice to the elegance of that bygone era. Top class service combined with plush cabins appointed with all the expected luxuries expected of a 5-star hotel, this train experience is popular with couples on honeymoons or wealthy retirees soaking in the long lost old-world charm.  

    After dinner drinks and entertainment

    Journey Details
    Length:  1,434 km
    Duration: 3 -4 days depending on side trips
    Price: Starts at USD$2690 per person
    Train schedule: Depends on operator scheduling
    Highlights:  Lush rainforest landscapes, the cultural attractions of Penang, and historical sites around the River Kawi


    Legendary Indian Service

    The ancient “Land of the Maharajahs” is awe inspiring on its own, but looks so much better from behind the windows of the absolute luxury of the Palace on Wheels.

    Paying homage to the grandeur of the colonial era, this lavish train experience has recently been refurbished in 2009 – the interiors of the cabins lovingly fitted out with elaborate Indian décor, world class gourmet culinary options and legendary old-time Indian service.  The train even comes equipped with a spa, an extremely well-stocked bar, two grand lounges and two world class restaurants.

    The luxurious interiors of the lounge cabins

    Exploring the dramatic landscapes of Rajasthan, this elegant train takes the passenger on a 7-day adventure taking in all the sights, sounds and flavours of the region. Major spots featured include the Pink city of Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, Jodpur and Udaipur, amongst others.

    One consistent theme of the journey is knowing that you are getting exposed to once-in-a-lifetime experiences that wouldn’t be available to independent travellers – even with big budgets. Examples of these unique experiences include playing Elephant polo in the grounds of the royal palace, meeting and greeting local royalty, an extravagant dinner and dance performances under the stars in the desert, access to areas of UNESCO sites not open to the public, and the near-indulgent red carpet and flower garland treatment at every station.

    A former royal palace, now the luxury Oberoi Udaivillas hotel

    Journey Details
    Duration: 7 days depending on side trips
    Price: Cabins start at USD 600
    Train schedule: Depends on operator scheduling
    Highlights:  The Taj Mahal, the expansive deserts of Rajasthan, the magnificent royal residences and palaces 


    The lush greenery of the Sri-Lanka’s hill country

    This quaint rail network, snaking through the rolling emerald green slopes and valleys of Sri-Lanka’s picture-perfect upland tea country has been labelled as one of the most stunning in the whole world.

    The railway system in Sri-Lanka was originally built by the British in 1864, primarily as a means to transport the precious tea harvest in the highlands to Colombo for international export.

    If you like tea, you've come to the right place

    The current trains are leftovers from the pre-war colonial era, the cabins adorned with smooth teak and driven forward by relic-like locomotive steam engines. This is not a journey for those in a hurry – more a platform to sit back and quietly admire the ever-changing scenery as the train chugs along.

    The Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy

    Journey Details
    Length: Ella to Kandy 140 km, 
    Duration: Ella to Kandy 7 hours, Polonnaruwa to Colombo 7 hours
    Price: SGD $5.60 for reserved 2nd class seat, SGD $ 11.65 for a 1st class seat
    Train schedule: Hourly trains
    Highlights: Verdant farming areas, quaint rural settings, the massive scale of the Tokyo – metropolitan area,  Mount Fuji
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