1. Jungle Train, Malaysia
The 300-mile (480km) Jungle Train was built by the British to harvest Malaysia’s tin, rubber and tea. It still weaves through defunct mines, rubber estates and vast tea plantations. There’s no dining car, but vendors dish out pandan leaf wraps of lamb curry for pennies. The rural lifeline also transports dried fish, aubergine, tea and peppers plus the nation’s mail. The only remaining “jungle” section is in the north, where precipitous cliffs tumble into surging brown rivers. By night the 12-hour journey is magical. A vast communal sleeping car has comfy curtained-off bunks bolted to the wall.
Soft seat tickets for the £7 journey can be purchased in stations or online; ktmb.com.my
2. Eastern & Oriental Express
The emerald green of the Eastern & Oriental Express turns heads at Bangkok’s majestic Hua Lamphong Station. Sleeping compartments are akin to Queen Victoria’s private boudoir. Even the least expensive Pullmans have en suite shower rooms and the same feather pillows found on their sister service, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Two gourmet dining cars (food is included in the price) are styled like a Parisian restaurant salon. That said, the favoured carriage is the open-air observation car that places passengers within touching distance of verdant jungle and sapphire sea.
A luxurious three-night tour from Bangkok to Singapore on the Eastern & Oriental Express costs $2700 per person, based on two sharing a cabin; belmond.com
3. Dhaka to Sreemangal, Bangladesh
The prettiest line in Bangladesh. From the Technicolor artery of Dhaka’s Buriganga river, the Intercity chugs four hours up-country past towering mosques and Hindu temples. Midway the superannuated diesel pulls through banana fields and raucous savannah. When the carriages rattle into Sreemangal it’s all lemon groves, pineapple plantations and fields of tea. Along the same route runs an 11-hour sleeper, the Surma Mail night train, which costs around £4.50 per berth. Rail enthusiasts may also ride the new Bangladesh-India line from Khuna to Calcutta, which opened in late 2017.
The journey costs $2,70 from ticket windows or Bangladesh Railway’s eticket website; esheba.cnsbd.com
4. Mumbai to Goa, India
A dozen daily trains with names as exotic as Ganpati Special and the Mangalore Express depart Mumbai for Madgaon in Goa, some 12 hours down the line. For views take the morning Mandovi Express. After an hour of Mumbai suburbs it plunges through endless tunnels and steamy forest before reaching the nodding palms of Goa, a favorite destination for Indian and foreign tourists alike. The most popular night train is the similarly classy Konkan Kanya Express. Air-conditioned first class sleepers are two or four-berth, with £1 curries delivered to your compartment.
Luxury sleepers cost around $39; far less for individual seats. Indian Railways (irctc.co.in) now accepts foreign credit cards.
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5. Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
Taking the overnight train to Sapa is a unique experience. Here is all you need to know about booking and boarding!
Sapa is Vietnam’s premier trekking base, famous for housing Mount Fansipan, the tallest peak in Indochina among its many mountains, valleys full of beautiful terraced rice fields, ethnic minority villages, and of course, the picturesque little town of Sapa itself. It is extremely popular among tourists, more so than other mountainous provinces of the north, such as Ha Giang and Cao Bang.
The trains are way more comfortable! They depart from Tran Quy Cap (Hanoi Station B), and the whole journey takes around eight hours. The end station is also not at Sapa, but rather at Lao Cai, a town 24 miles (38 kilometers) away. From Lao Cai, you can easily catch a taxi or bus to Sapa, or perhaps your accommodation can arrange a pick up. These trains also depart at night, at 10:00 p.m., arriving in Lao Cai at around 6:00 a.m. You just have to get to the station an hour before scheduled departure.
Booking your tickets is easy. Just do it online—this guarantees you a seat rather than going to the station and getting told everything is full. Book my ticket Online
6. Jakarta to Yogyakarta, Indonesia
If Jakarta is Indonesia’s business city, Yogyakarta is the country’s cultural capital. Its historic streets and batik workshops – and its bookshops and pavement cafés – form a Unesco World Heritage Site. Twenty miles north sits Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple complex, another shining Unesco star. The eight-hour route from Jakarta’s Gambir station bowls past rice paddies and orchards of tropical fruit, plus the active volcano of Mount Cereme, a popular hiking and spa spot. Orders for chicken and rice ready meals are microwaved in batches then delivered to your seat.
Tickets in “Eksekutif” class cost $20 at ticket windows. They can also be purchased online then printed from the self-service kiosks; tiket.com
7. Beijing to Shanghai, China
In 2017 the world’s fastest passenger train resumed service. It completes the 819-mile (1,318km) trip from Beijing to Shanghai – twice that of Glasgow to London – in four and a half hours. It’s luxury all the way. Three abreast Business Class seats are comparable with airlines, folding into completely flat beds at the push of a button. The £200 price tag even includes a meal and dedicated VIP lounge. For £60 a comfy second class seat grants the same whizz-past views of misty mountains and China’s rapidly developing countryside. All new sleepers also ply the route for £50 in “soft” class, which features duvets and pressed linen.
Rail Discoveries includes the route on its 13-night Grand Tour of China 2018 tour. Prices start at $2500, which includes a Yangtze cruise and return flights from Heath-row; 01904 734939; Book with 12GO
8. Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s colonial railway was built to transport tea, and it still meanders through manifold plantations shrouded in morning mist. The tourist-centric first class service uses recently renovated Chinese rolling stock, with a regular glass-fronted observation car pulled behind. In second class, train doors are frequently yanked open to allow in forest breezes, while fresh mango and pineapple are served by hawkers en route. The views are immense, not least as the vintage blue train juxtaposes with the bottle green of Sri Lanka’s forest interior. A night mail sleeper operates on the same route.
Tickets for the six-hour service cost $6 from station ticket windows.
9. Yokohama to Shimoda, Japan
The Royal Express Japan does luxury rail like no other: to wit, the Fujisan View Express – with wonderful views of Mount Fuji – and the first luxury sleeper train in Japan, the Seven Stars “cruise train” around Kyushu. In 2017 the new Royal Express put both in the shade. Instead of travelling long distance, it ushers 100 lucky passengers installed in armchairs across eight carriages from Yokohama to the seaside retreat of Shimoda, a three-hour meander away. What’s so special? Erm, lunch is cooked by Yamada Chikara, a former disciple of Ferran Adrià at El Bulli. The bar car has a piano. There’s even a dedicated children’s area with a ball pool. The picture windows promise crashing sea views, and take in the hot springs for which Shimoda is renowned.
From $199 per person;
10- Moscow to Ulaanbaatar
The Mongolian is an international train operating between Moscow and Ulan-Bator along the Trans-Mongolian rail route. The train runs once a week during the high season and once every 2 weeks during the low season (summer). The train has 1st and 2nd class compartments and a restaurant car. The train mainly consists of rather old but well-kept carriages which were produced in Germany over 20 years ago. These carriages are gradually being replaced with new ones.
First-class is a compartment with two lower berths on the same level. Second-class compartments are designed for four persons with two upper and two lower berths. There are 2 WCs per each carriage.
The train runs along Lake Baikal during the daytime giving its passengers an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscape. This train is unique because it is frequently filled with Russian and Mongolian traders with their goods. The police may also make more careful inspection of the compartments due to this high trade activity.