Not many people are aware of the real charms of railroad journeys. In fact, some people don’t even know we can actually travel by trains! Nope, we’re not talking about your commute to work where you get squished like a can of sardines while standing all the way to your destination, but the kind that takes you across the country, complete with comfortable seats (sometimes beds) and scenic landscapes 😍Train journeys in Asia are very much underrated, but they’re truly impressive and above all, unforgettable. Here are 10 reasons why you really should hop on the next train.
1. Be charmed by exotic Asian landscapes
When one talks about train journeys, for some reason we’d always imagine the picturesque train trips in European countries that seem to have come straight out from the movies, don’t we?
Credit: Gin The Wanderer on Flickr
Think this photo was taken in some European country? Nope, it’s Yangon, Myanmar! Unbeknownst to many, Asia boasts numerous train journeys. Be it express trains, regular sleeper trains or luxury trains, each and every rail trip will reward you with the experience of a lifetime 🤗
Nine Arch Bridge, Sri Lanka
Credit: Dennis Binzen on Flickr
The best thing about Asia is that it’s such a massive continent, so every country boasts of different charms. You can simply sit back and sip a cup of tea from your seat or suite as the train zips past the exotic landscapes.
2. Explore the road less travelled
We’ve all heard of the big cities in Asia like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok. But how much do you know about the smaller towns that aren’t often mentioned in travel guides?
Credit: @chellilin on Instagram
Being a huge continent, it’s a given that Asia is rich with not just cultures, but also geographical features. There are so many places beyond the main cities and popular tourist attractions to explore that are inaccessible via plane.
In some countries, the trains uniquely cut through the middle of a town, almost like trams. The Hanoi Train Street in Vietnam is a must-go place for anyone who visits the city. A working railway track is sandwiched in a narrow street between old quarters (where people do live a regular life there). Watching as trains hurl through this street is undeniably a surreal experience you can’t get anywhere else!
Credit: @sandralillesund on Instagram
Meanwhile in other places, train journeys allow you to reach the lesser known regions where you can see more things, from paddy fields to mountains to even deserts. Some trains, like the Eastern & Oriental Express and Japan’s shinkansen make a stop at provinces that aren’t famous tourist spots that might unexpectedly be even more charming than you thought 😌
3. Fasten your seat belt for a high-speed ride
Who says you can’t go fast and furious by rail in Asia?
Considered the pioneer of modern high-speed railways, Japan first introduced Tokaido Shinkansen, the world’s first high-speed line, in 1964. The shinkansen, also known as bullet trains, run at speeds up to 320 km/h. It’s Japan’s favourite mode of transportation not just for the express travel, but also its extreme punctuality!
Credit: hans-johnson on Flickr
Launched in 2004, South Korea’s KTX is the comfortable, easier and possibly the faster way to get around the country, making it a popular choice among locals to reach major cities. Have you seen Train To Busan? Yes, it’s that train. KTX goes up to 300 km/h 😱
Credit: riNux on Flickr
Similarly, China and Taiwan too have their own high-speed trains that allow travelers to reach most parts of the country. Many other Asian countries have announced their plans and started building their own high-speed rails, including Indonesia, Malaysia-Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
4. Or take your time on a slow train
If express trains aren’t your thing, no worries because Asia’s slow trains would be perfect for your leisure trips.
Want to venture into the Indian mountains by rail? Hop on India’s iconic toy trains, which are actually small trains, built by the British between the late 19th and early 20th century to access their hill settlements, that run on historic mountain railway lines. 3 of these mountain railways – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Kalka-Shimla Railway – have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites!
Credit: Jon Connell on Flickr
These toy train journeys that take between 2 to 10 hours (depending on the route you choose) stretch up to 164 km, so you can admire the panoramic views of India’s rolling hills and even tea plantations to your heart’s content 😍
If you prefer the coast, then Taiwan’s slow train would be the perfect railroad journey for you!
Credit: @ji3942u04y7 on Instagram
Known as Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA), most of the lines start from Taipei, and the longest route covers most of Taiwan and takes up 4.5 hours. It’s the best way to get a close look around the island as the train glides along Taiwan’s coastline as well as the mountainous terrain.
5. Cozy sleeper trains
If you’re opting for an overnight trip where you can sleep through your journey, a sleeper train is more recommended than other modes of transportation.
Getting a good rest on a sleeper bus or on a flight is hardly likely (unless, of course, you’re travelling on business or first class). Not only are seats not made for sleeping, there’s the issue of limited space and having to be mindful of the person next to you. Plus, you’re more likely to bounce around all night on a bus!
Credit: Simon Pielow on Flickr
A sleeper train comes with beds with enough space for you to stretch out comfortably. Sure, it may not be as cozy as our own bed back home, but at least you won’t have to spend the next day dealing with terrible back aches and jet lag.
Sleeper trains are completely safe for solo female travelers too! Still, Muslimah travelers are advised to skip the third class and go for second or first class instead, for the sake of privacy and comfort. Normally, there are compartments designated for ladies so you don’t need to worry about sharing a room with men, and most sleeper trains have a matron to look after the passengers.
6. Meet all sorts of people
It’s fun seeing the locals when you’re in a foreign country and watching them on their regular days. Public transportation is one of the best places to observe them.
Different people have different reasons to travel, and going on a holiday isn’t the only reason to board long distance trains. Take the Train To Busan film for example – you see a high school baseball team, adults on business trips and people visiting their extended family, among others.
Local cultures that we read about in books or encounter on TV are different in reality since everyone has their own story to tell. You might be able to learn something much more valuable experiencing it in person than simply hearing about it from others, and train journeys are some of the best places to do this ☺️
7. Luxury train travel with Asian hospitality
Who says you can’t have a luxurious lifestyle when you travel by rail? Surprise, surprise! You can actually walk on a red carpet to your train and be greeted by the staff on board a luxury train 😱
Credit: @mocchan_aizu on Instagram
Operated by East Japan Railway Company, Train Suite Shiki-Shima is one of the world’s most exclusive (and expensive) trains. The state-of-the-art vehicle with refined aesthetics also comes with a cypress wood bath, forest-inspired lounge, round-the-clock butler service, piano recitals, and a lot more.
Train Suite Shiki-Shima travels from Tokyo to northernmost Hokkaido with fare starting from approximately SGD 8800. Since its introduction last May, the 10-car sleeper train has been fully reserved until September 2018. Better get in the queue quickly if you’re planning a trip!
Credit: Sapna Modgil on Facebook
Not losing out, Maharaja Express is India’s most prestigious train which flagged off in 2010. There are 7 pan-Indian itineraries to choose from, including 2 golden triangle tour itineraries that cover Jaipur, Delhi and Agra. The 19-car train is equipped with two restaurants and a lounge complete with a library and a gift shop, as well as butler service and 24-hour room service 😳
Credit: Simon Pielow on Flickr
Maharaja Express accommodates 88 guests and only travels from October to April. The fare starts from approximately USD3800 😱
8. Take time for yourself
People generally prefer taking flights because of the short travel time. It’s understandable that some people need to reach their destinations ASAP, but do you ever wonder why are we always in a rush?
Travelling by rail allows you to stretch your legs, read the books you’ve been putting off or do your work (there’s no issue with no connection!) – all while enjoying the magnificent view of nature. Besides, there’s more space to move about in the coach when you get tired of sitting down. If you’re starting to get bored, why not strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you or play with the child from the seat in front of yours? 😊
Every now and then, it’s alright to take your time, breathe and look around you. You might notice more things than you would during a plane, bus or even car ride.
9. An unforgettable experience
Sometimes, the destination is not the best part of a trip, but it’s the journey that matters. If you’re a fan of long-distance travels, then you surely shouldn’t miss Asia’s cross-country train journeys!
Credit: Simon Pielow on Flickr
Experience the world of classic glamour as you travel all the way from Singapore to Bangkok on the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express. Through this journey, passengers can learn not just the charms of Thailand and Singapore, but peek into the traditional village life while the train winds through the lush rainforests and glittering paddy fields in Peninsula Malaysia.
Of course, the stops aren’t the only thing that you can enjoy from this journey. The train itself, as well as its services and amenities are something you should look forward to!
Credit: Martha de Jong-Lantink on Flickr
If a four-day route isn’t long enough, hop on the Trans-Siberian Express which takes up to seven days, covering about 9000 km and stretching over eight time zones. Traveling from Moscow to Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian route is the longest in world. You’re not gonna spend all those days in the coach, of course. The train makes stopovers at over 15 cities, so you can explore them as you stretch your back 😉
10. Hop on this unique train you won’t find anywhere else in the world
Cat lovers, your dream ride is here!
Credit: @yoro_railway on Instagram
A Japanese civic team took cat café to the next level by introducing a one-of-a-kind cat café train. The non-governmental organization called Kitten Café Sanctuary teamed up with Yoro Railway Co Ltd for a special event to raise awareness for stray cats, and at the same time to promote the Gifu Prefecture.
30 cats of different breeds were onboard for the trip, and the passengers were free to sip tea and eat their bento while lounging with the cute felines. Apparently the passengers hardly looked out the window and instead kept playing with the cats all throughout the 2.5 hours ride, which is totally understandable 😅
Credit: @rik008_s2k on Instagram
Given the overwhelming response (the train was fully reserved in less than a day!), hopefully the cat café train event will be made a regular event soon.
There are many more reasons to go on your first train journey than I can list, but I leave it to you to experience the life changing trip and understand it for yourself. Don’t miss your train!
Disclaimer: Do note that the trains mentioned in this article do not serve halal meals. However, there are Muslim friendly options that you may request, for example seafood-based and vegan meals. Please check with the staff beforehand.