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SINGAPORE TO BANGKOK VIA EASTERN & ORIENTAL EXPRESS
March 1997

Luxury is the first thing you notice when you board the Eastern & Oriental Express.  All of the woodwork, furniture and fittings are of the finest quality and the craftsmanship of the wood panels and marquetry friezes that are throughout the train show the attention to detail that was put into restoring the coaches. The crew was friendly, helpful and available at the press of a button at any time.

It didn't take long to be reminded that train travel is not for anyone in a rush. Telephones and TV's are not to be found and a person is forced to do nothing but relax and enjoy themselves for three days. The relaxed luxury, constant movement and noise of the rails are reminders of how much the world and travel has changed.

We were in a Superior Compartment which was on the small side but quite comfortable. It had ample seating for day use that converted to upper and lower berths for sleeping and included an en-suite bathroom with shower.  State Compartments are somewhat larger and have two single beds and if you have the money there is the Presidential Suite which is large enough to include a separate sitting and dressing room.

e_and_o_dining_carIn addition to the individual compartments there were 3 dining cars, a bar car, a Saloon car with a boutique and library/reading room and at the rear of the train a second bar with an open-air observation deck.

Each morning started with a continental breakfast which was served in our compartment by the steward. Lunch and dinner were served in the dining cars and were a set meal with a la carte available. The meals were superb and reflected the same high level of luxury and attention to detail as the physical surroundings.

 

Two sightseeing tours were included as part of the trip. The first was a bus tour otrishaws_georgetownf Georgetown on Penang Island which included a quick stopover at Fort Cornwallis and ended with a trishaw ride through the downtown area and back the ferry terminal. The second tour was at the sight of the Bridge over the River Kwai which included a photo opportunity of the train crossing the bridge and a barge trip down the river to the Jeath Museum. The museum includes a replica of a POW camp and a photographic display of the living and working conditions suffered by the POW's and indentured workers who were forced to build the Thailand-Burma Railway during W.W.II. Most of the passengers on the train were from the US or Europe on their first trip through Asia and seemed to be quite impressed by the two short glimpses on Asian life. Having lived here for several years I found them to be rushed and superficial.

truck_hit_by_trainMost of the major railway crossings were simply gates that were manually opened and closed by the railway workers but in the rural areas there were no controls at all. At one crossing in Thailand a pickup truck which was overloaded with logs didn’t stop on time and the train ran into it. The train made an emergency stop which sent things flying all over the place and the entire front end of the truck was ripped off. Fortunately no one on the train or in the truck was hurt and the train was delayed only about 20 minutes which is as long as it took to move the truck out of the way.
 
Traveling by train through Malaysia and Thailand allows you to get a close up view of the country side, the plantations and spectacular scenery. It also allows you to get a close up view of the poverty that exists as the train passes through the rural areas and the shanty towns that have grown up along the rail tracks, particularly in the heart of Bangkok.  Viewing this poverty directly from the surroundings of wealth and luxury of the train can be difficult to reconcile.

This aside, the train trip was all that it was supposed to be - a luxurious and relaxing interlude in an otherwise busy life. For anyone who enjoys first class accommodation, service and food this is definitely a trip to take.

REGENT BANGKOK
Bill Black, recently the President of the CSBA and General Manager of the Regent in Singapore had arranged for a three night stay at the Regent Bangkok where he is once again General Manager. The room was classed as a "Junior" Suite but had to be about the largest hotel room that we have stayed in as it was at least nine meters by nine meters which included a walk in closet and a bathroom, each of which were just about as large as some hotel rooms that I have stayed in.

Being a suite, the room had a nice sitting area, a large desk and a bed that was two king size beds joined as one. Two of the three phones had data jacks which is something I like to see when I travel because it makes it much easier to check my e-mail and send faxes.

As nice as the room was, we did manage to get out for a little bit. Day one we hired a car and driver and went north of Bangkok to visit ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya. This city was once the capital of Thailand. Originally founded in about 1350 it grew to a city of more than 1 million people and was bigger than any European city of the time. It was completely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767.

Most of what is left are temple ruins and they are all over the place. Some are just piles of brick but many are still in good enough condition to allow one to easily imagine the greatness that once was there.

ayutthaya_budasOn the way out to Ayutthaya we stopped at Bang Pa-In Palace (Summer Palace) which was built in the late 1800 and is still used occasionally by the King as a residence and for receptions.

On the second day we visited Nakon Kasem (Thieves Market) and Phhurat (Indian Market) both of which are in the Chinatown area. Lots of things to see there and some good bargains available but it requires more than one afternoon to properly see the entire area. Parts of Chinatown, particularly some of the smaller side streets are reminiscent of the older areas of Hong Kong. We also visited Narai Phan which is a shopping centre that has antique shops, curios stores, woodcarvings, arts & crafts etc. It is opposite the World Trade Centre so is easy to find and is less than a 10-minute walk from the Regent. It has a lot under one roof but be warned, prices are a bit high.
 
I must commend Bill for the room, the good restaurants and the service provided by his staff at the Regent.

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