[dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]o security lines to go through, waking up to a new country every day, and an excuse to go offline for an extended period of time. Rail travel, with its old-fashioned silverware service and the promise of scenic views, is making a comeback in the age of rapid transits. “In this age of fast, mass and accessible travel, we’re seeing an increased appetite from discerning travellers for more interesting, unusual and comfortable ways to see the world,” says Theng Hwee Chang, managing director of local bespoke travel operator Country Holidays.
The comeback of rail travel is a way of regaining heritage, too. Take England, for example, which is building HS2, a high-speed, Japanese-style train that is slated to pass through the quaint English countryside. And it’s pulling out all the stops, even opening the old Victoria station in Birmingham that has been closed for more than 100 years.
“We’ve learnt a lesson from sending bulldozers into heritage buildings to knock them down and put new stuff up – new and old don’t have to fight each other… heritage can synthesise with technology,” says Michael Williams, rail travel expert and author of The Trains Now Departed: Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways.
And travelling at 300kmh or faster, with modern trains running through the country, you really can have the best of both worlds.
ICONIC TRAIN TRAILS
Three train journeys offer an idyllic escape from city life.
OUTBACK ON TRACK
Large stretches of wilderness make rail travel a good way to explore the Australian outback in comfort. The Ghan runs from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north over a span of three days and includes a stopover at Alice Springs, a town that is a good base for exploring the country’s desert regions like the Red Centre. Country Holidays has paired up with The Ghan to offer a six-day journey that departs from Singapore to Darwin via fl ight. In addition to the scenic train route, there are options like taking a helicopter over the Nitmiluk Gorge, or having an indigenous guide take you to try bush foods in season in the outback. www.countryholidays.com.sg
Boarding the Eastern & Oriental Express is almost like a scene right out of the famed 1932 film, Shanghai Express. The eight-day journey from Singapore to Bangkok begins with a stay at the iconic Raffl es Hotel Singapore, and the trip is equal parts scenic and thought-provoking. Views include the lush tropical scenery of the Malaysian jungle and oil-palm plantations, with pit stops to let you eat your way through Penang and explore lesser-known cities in Malaysia. The route also goes past the bridge over the River Kwai, and recalls the harrowing history of World War II, when British and Allied prisoners of the Japanese lost their lives for the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway. www.belmond.com/journeysand- tours/asia/signaturebangkok- singapore
FRAMED BY DESIGN
The Japanese are renowned for their design genius, and this is seen in the Seven Stars luxury train that takes you on a circular trip of Kyushu, Japan. The exterior is a stately purple-gold, while the interiors are outfitted with bamboo blinds and shoji paper screens. Bathrooms come equipped with ceramic sinks and showers trimmed with hinoki cypress wood. And the view outside is gorgeous to match. The longer four-day route (there’s also a two-day option) takes you past the rolling Kyushu hills, the Amorigawa river flowing from Mount Kirishima, and volcanic landscapes, and to hot-spring destinations like Yufuin. You can also enjoy Kyushu delicacies that often come decorated with maple twigs and flowers. www.cruisetrain-sevenstars.jp/en