1. Indian Maharaja Deccan Odyssey
Mumbai to Dehli via Rajasthan
This decadent train comprises 21 coaches, of which 11 are luxuriously-appointed passenger cabins. The rest are used for the spa (yes, the spa), dining and the lounge. The train itself is relatively new and has been running since 2004.
Its design is based on the royal trains which the Maharajas used to travel on during the golden years. Onboard services are provided by the Taj Group of Hotels and the train boasts a well-stocked bar and restaurant from where you can sip your gin and tonic while whizzing past some truly magnificent scenery. And when it all just gets too much for you, head to the spa cabin for a treatment.
There are several packages to choose from covering places like Goa, Jaipur,Agra, Hyderabad, the Ellora Caves and Udaipur. Most of the trips begin in Mumbai and end in New Delhi, costing approximately USD6,100 per person. No one ever said traveling like a Maharaja came cheap!
Photo: The Maharaja Trains/Facebook
2. Golden Chariot
Bangalore to Goa / Bangalore to Kochi
Touted as the only luxury train in south India, this train is a study of oldworld charm with passenger cabin design inspired by 12th century temple architecture. There’s even a gym should you wish to work out while chugging along the Indian countryside. There are two dining cars offering a wide range of Indian cuisine including vegetarian options.
The Golden Chariot has two routes, grandly named Southern Splendour and Pride of South, both lasting a week. Both trips begin in Bangalore and end up in Kochi and Goa respectively, with stops at all the places of interest in between and meals in famous restaurants along the way. One day you’ll be exploring the heritage site of Hampi and the next, visiting old churches in Goa; knowing that you can retire to your luxury accommodation on wheels later on.
Photo: The Maharaja Trains/Facebook
3. Royal Rajasthan on Wheels
One of the most famous luxury trains in India, this is the train to take if you want to visit the great forts and palaces of Rajasthan. This train has been running since 2009 and has 14 passenger coaches with a selection of cabin types. If you want to truly experience how royalty used to travel, the Emerald and Diamond suites will be just the ticket. There
are two restaurants and lounges, along with a spa, of course.
A trip on this train lasts eight days and seven nights, focusing on the state of Rajasthan. It begins in New Delhi with the first stop being the famous historical city of Jodhpur, where you will alight to visit sites like the Mehrangarh Fort. This fort is one of the largest and most architecturally impressive in India and was built in 1460.
After a night’s travel, you arrive in Udaipur, known for its palaces and temples. The journey continues through to Chittorgarh, Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore Fort and National Park where tigers roam), Jaipur, Khajuraho, the holy city of Varanasi in Agra where the Taj Mahal will be the highlight of the stop, and finally, back to Delhi.
4. Reunification Express
As the name suggests, this is a train linking Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. The track was built 80 years ago by the French and cut in 1954 when the country was divided into north and south. Bombed during the Vietnam War, the service started again in 1976.
It’s not a luxury service but it is a fantastic way to see the country and you can alight at places like Hue, Danang and Nha Trang. It’s some 1,700km between the cities and the cost is very reasonable, considering you are going on a ride that captures the history of a country between its two main cities.
5. The Blue Train
It’s not officially called the ‘blue train’, but it’s the easiest way to describe these Chinese-made trains departing Colombo and going to Kandy (famed for its Buddhist temples and tea plantations), Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Badula.
It’s the best train ride in Sri Lanka and only takes three hours from Colombo to Kandy, where most travellers alight. Along the way, vendors jump on to sell local delicacies and it’s a pleasant cacophony of noise and local colour, usually accompanied by loud Bollywood tunes courtesy of the movies that are played onboard.
This particular route covers almost 2,000km and is considered the world’s highest railway. It begins in Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, a large region in the Tibetan Plateau. It’s not a touristic destination and there are barely any people living there, but it is known for cultural and religious traditions due to the large number of ethnicities living there and its border with Tibet.
This route is one of the shortest you can take to Lhasa and takes 22 hours, although you still have to get yourself to Xining. More than half the journey takes place at 4,000m above sea level, which means the scenery is not only unique but you’ll be starved for oxygen while looking out the window. At one point, the train goes through the highest track in the world at the Tanggula Pass at 5,000m. Due to these heights, the train is equipped with oxygen and has a doctor onboard.
If 22 hours just doesn’t cut it, then this is the trip for you and is probably easier as there are direct flights to Beijing. Travellers who have done this journey rave about the distinctive ever-changing scenery, incredible number of bridges crossed (some going over extreme ravines) and passing through what is known locally as the ‘Death Region’, which is self-explanatory. You’ll whizz past nomadic tribes, endless plains and nature reserves and suffer headaches from the altitude; but it’s all part of the epic adventure.
Known as the ‘Sky Road’ to the Chinese, it covers over 4,000km and takes 47.5 hours. Tickets are very reasonably priced considering the distance and you can expect to pay USD190 for a soft sleeper, which is your best option. If you’re on a budget, opt for the hard sleeper or a seat at approximately USD60, although sitting for that amount of time on a hard seat in high altitude could be quite uncomfortable.
This track is a tremendous engineering feat of which the Chinese are very proud of, especially since part of the track has been laid over permafrost (ground that remains below freezing point all year).
The Trans-Siberian Railway’s route is the epitome of train travel in terms of sheer distance and landscape. It connects Russia with Western Europe and China, eventually leading into Southeast Asia. The Beijing-Ulaanbaatar route is a feeder of this massive undertaking and takes 30 hours to cover 1,360km.
Leaving Beijing, you get a glimpse of the Great Wall and as the train trundles along, you eventually hit the endless expanse of the Gobi Desert. At the border, the train gauge goes from Chinese to Russian and the bogies (structure underneath the train carriage) have to be changed, which in itself is interesting to watch.
This train actually has a deluxe carriage and costs approximately USD330. If you’re on a budget, the soft sleeper comes in at slightly less (so best splurge on the deluxe option) or the ominously-named hard sleeper at USD215. Until the train reaches Ulaanbaatar, the landscape is equal parts scarily isolated and strangely beautiful, with many travellers observing that the only living things they saw there were Bactrian camels. Definitely one for the bold traveller!
9. Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok
Closer to home, this is an easy trip is to get to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur’s Sentral station. Buy a ticket for the ETS service to Padang Besar on the Thai border, then change to the International Express run by the State Railway of Thailand and make sure you get the air-con sleeper carriage.
The infamous Death Railway is part of the track and if you’re not a history buff, read up on how this was built by the Japanese using POW and local slave labour. Approximately 90,000 local workers and 13,000 POWs died during construction. The train goes over the Bridge on the River Kwai and you can stop at the seaside town of Hua Hin for a few days before catching the train to Bangkok or back to Malaysia.