Six Asia-Pacific train travel journeys

Written by by Laura Cobb-Smith, CNN

If you have visited Asia, there’s a good chance you’ve ridden a train. Even if you’re not a fan of steam locomotives, trains are an essential tool for touring Asia in general. You can admire the landscape at close quarters, of course, but even more compelling are the gastronomic and cultural train journeys around Asia that emerge from these travel-heavy regions.

From a trail of Burma steaks in southern Thailand to autumnal feasts in the French part of Malaysia, here are six of our favorites that highlight the appeal of the train as a transport and an extension of the traveler’s everyday life.

As is customary when we’re traveling in Asia, food always has an influential influence on our experiences.

Vietnam

Malaysia and Malaysia, like Thailand, are known for some of the best restaurants in the world. Both experiences are preserved in tiny trains on the region’s network of excellent routes.

Thailand’s Samui is a priority for anyone considering a tour of Thailand, because the train journey, punctuated by breath-taking Thai art, sits comfortably alongside visits to temples and the beach.

Even better, the Samui stretch of the Tramra Express covers almost all of Thailand’s major tourist areas in a day. The Tramra is one of the oldest trains running in Asia, built around 100 years ago.

Relax in the three-tier ticketed dining room and soak up all the cultural opportunities offered in the handsome and elegantly appointed rooms. A previous incarnation of the Tramra in Thailand used a terracotta paint scheme.

Cambodia

The rugged backlands of northern Vietnam are hidden by mist and jungle, but the more land-locked places in Vietnam (e.g. along the Mekong River), are home to the most impressive gastronomic restaurants in the world.

Cambodia is right up there with these, thanks to its rich smorgasbord of UNESCO-listed attractions. Longboat, a route that follows the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam’s second city Ho Chi Minh City, is part of a series of magnificent, beautifully wood-carved and hand-carved trains that run along this route.

Longboat passengers enjoyed a traditional meal. (The menu is a mix of banh mi sandwiches, grilled fish and noodles in delicious Vietnamese and French surroundings. The highlight of the meal is obviously the beautifully balanced, unusual Vietnamese dessert of lychee custard and red bean paste.)

Despite its 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) of track, the Tramra Express is the least congested train in the Asia Pacific region. It makes only 20 trips a year.

Malaysia

Malaysia’s south and north are united by an archipelago of islands — with the exception of the southern island of Penang — and by the 19th-century railway to Singapore.

The island from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, is the focus of the classic train journey from Malaysia to Singapore. The main stopping off points in Sabah are at Sipadan, Sania, Sipadan and Lajang.

The restaurants along the route at each of these stops offer a different but equally spectacular culinary experience.

In all, the real value of the train is in its unrestricted scenery.

Penang to Singapore

In 1948, the “Railways of Penang” won Asia’s first “Gold Railway Heritage” award from the International Railway Museum, but the train still runs every Wednesday and Friday.

It was popular with industrial workers because of its relatively high speeds of approximately 45 kilometers per hour.

If you’re traveling during the week this is a very enjoyable journey. The train is only as long as your luggage.

But the sleeper coach is just as impressive, with a good bed and a view to match. The only downside: the upper deck is for eating and you’re forced to sit on the bottom deck or sleep on the floor.

The food is superb, just as the idyllic countryside becomes crisper and more brutal as the day goes on.

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