The following is a guest feature from a recent journey with Belmond’s Eastern Oriental Express from Singapore to Bangkok including meals at Asia’s top restaurants Restaurant Andre (Singapore) and Gaggan (Bangkok). This is one family’s member second Belmond train journey and first overnight one, previously we went on Belmond’s Hiram Bingham train in Peru as well as Belmond’s Road to Mandalay River Cruise in Burma.
The Eastern & Oriental Express Train
Have you ever read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie? Or watched The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Andersen? These are examples of literature and films based on the luxury sleeper trains run by the Belmond Group.
On this particular trip, we took the Eastern & Oriental (EO) Express train, traveling from Singapore to Malaysia and Thailand. Various online reviews do not disappoint and our experience, although short (three days and two nights), was just the right amount of time to experience travel from yesteryear.
To check-in, we gathered at the Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar Steakhouse where light snacks were prepared along with a glass of Singapore Sling. The famous drink we now see in most cocktail menus was invented in this very bar. Built in 1887, The Raffles Hotel has housed many world leaders and celebrities. It was rather fitting that our meeting point was at a historical landmark from the 19th century! Once we received our boarding passes, we were transported to the Woodlands Railway Station in mini-buses with an EO staff giving us a brief history and background on Singapore.
Upon arriving at the train station, we had to go through two immigration & customs checkpoints since we were “departing” Singapore and “arriving” in Malaysia. Once we went through all the formalities, we finally got onto the train where our baggage (limited to one carry-on-sized item per passenger) awaited us in our cabins.
Each room is assigned a butler who is in charge of breakfast and afternoon tea (in-cabin), turndown services and any other requests during your time on the train. Lunch and dinner are served in the dining cars over two shifts. EO staff are careful to ask about any dietary restrictions and preferences before you board the train. Passenger profiles are meticulously noted so that your dining experience is served uninterrupted.
Before I summarize our itinerary, it is important to note that the train decor has an element of romance and mystery from a bygone era. Therefore, WiFi is unavailable, electronic devices are prohibited in common areas, and a particular dress code is strongly recommended.
Our EO travel journal kindly suggests:
“the atmosphere on board is one of relaxed refinement… during the day, casual but smart clothing is appropriate… please do not wear jeans or sport shoes. Evening dining offers guests an opportunity to dress up for the occasion with glamour and style; jacket and tie is customary for gentlemen, with suitable evening wear for ladies.”
- Check-in at The Raffles Hotel
- EO departs Singapore
- Afternoon tea in-cabin
- Cocktails and live music in the bar
- Breakfast in-cabin
- Arrival at Kuala Kangsar (Malaysia)
- Tour of the Ubudiah Mosque, Bamboo Palace, and Sultan Azlan Shah’s Gallery
- Afternoon tea in-cabin
- Optional perfumery class in the Observation Car
- Cocktails and traditional Thai dancing performance
- Breakfast in-cabin
- Arrival at River Kwai Bridge Station
- Tour of the Death Railway Museum and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
- Arrival in Bangkok (Thailand)
To learn more about the River Kwai Bridge and the history of the Thailand-Burma Railway, here are some recommended films and books for your reference:
- The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
- Return from the River Kwai (1989)
- To End All Wars (2001)
- The Railway Man (2013)
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
- Prisoner of Japan: A Personal War Diary by Sir Harold Atcherley
The Eastern and Oriental Express is a great way to experience train travel and to get a glimpse of Southeast Asia. If you happen to have a group of friends who love history and mystery novels, how fun would it be to organize a little getaway with a themed party on the train and role play The Murder on the Orient Express?
Dining in Southeast Asia
Restaurant Andre was founded by Andre Chiang who is also the mastermind behind Raw in Taiwan. The original restaurant in Singapore is housed in a colonial building with tall ceilings and minimalist decor. Everyone on staff was knowledgeable and passionate about the food they were presenting. The menu is based on Chef Andre’s conceptual creation: Octaphilosophy, which is comprised of 8 elements / dishes. The themes are pure, salt, artisan, south, texture, unique, memory, and terroir.
While the ideas behind each dish are creative and carefully thought out, we were rather disappointed with the execution. The “snacks” or appetizers were balanced and well presented while Octaphilosophy lacked layers in texture and taste.
Perhaps Restaurant Andre will have something that will wow me again in the near future. For now, I would recommend Raw for its price, execution & overall experience and skip Restaurant Andre for other culinary experiences in Singapore.
In Bangkok, Thailand, I had my first taste of contemporary Indian cuisine at Gaggan. There were a number of people in our party who do not frequent Indian restaurants and are sensitive to strong flavors. However, Chef Gaggan Anand (who is featured in Netflix Original Series “Chef’s Table” Season 2 Episode 6) and his team managed to use Indian spices and ingredients without overpowering your senses. Each dish was a surprise in regards to presentation, composition and taste. Who would have thought to combine mango and uni wrapped in a miniature ice cream cone? Or to have yogurt explode in your mouth with an array of flavors? The red matcha (tomato soup) tea ceremony was a delight and the last main dish titled “I want my Curry!” was hearty and satisfying. We topped off our evening with a tour of the kitchen where you will notice a happy team creating your food!