The most relaxing, romantic and engaging way to see a country is from the window of a train, and when in Asia, there’s no better journey on the rails than Singapore to Bangkok.  Grand colonial-era stations, regions of incredible natural beauty and important historical significance are among the attractions of the 2,040km rail journey – considered to be one of the best train journeys in Asia. 

I thought I’d blog my own journey, which was the inspiration for developing the tour ‘Singapore to Siam’ for Railway Adventures, and share it with you.

The first bit – Singapore to Kuala Lumpur 

With a jolt signifying we’re on our way, the modern MRT racing-green coloured train pulls slowly away from the Woodlands Station platform, leaving behind the international city of Singapore, and taking me over the Causeway, across the Malaysian border to the town of Johor Bahru, where we transfer to the Malaysian rail system. 

The KTMB Malaysian trains appear quaintly old-fashioned and a bit scruffy compared to Singapore’s sleek railways. Electrification of the line has yet to reach Malaysia, so for the first 200 km to the charming colonial town of Malacca, I’m riding on some of the oldest rolling stock in Malaysia’s rail system. 

This first part of the journey to Kuala Lumpur (KL) travels along the Malay peninsula past large swathes of palm oil plantations and attractive jungle-clad hills and as I roll along, I wonder if any of this will change with the new rail lines and bridges of a planned future massive development of the railway system planned for Malaysia. 

While KL Sentral is Kuala Lumpur’s main hub for city public transport, I arrive at Old Kuala Lumpur Station where all long-distance trains travel through. This fantastic piece of 1910 architecture was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback and has Mughal and Moorish features such as keyhole arches and wind towers.

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Heritage steam travel – in Premium Class! 

A few days later, I’m on the newly launched Great Leisure Heritage Rail steam train from KL to Ipoh, a Class 56 KTM steam locomotive with stylish traditional furnished Premium Class carriages. On board, I sit back and soak up the evocative smells and sounds of steam haulage while enjoying spectacular rural scenery to Ipoh Station, another grand Hubback-designed train station which dates back to 1917. Like the railway station in KL, it used to house a hotel, but this one has more of a European style, with loggias and a porte-cochére (covered porch for vehicles).

After a few days in Ipoh and the Cameron Highlands, I travel north to the Thai border on the British colonial era Jungle Railway, Malaysia’s last remaining train using diesel-powered locomotives. This rail route is one of the great historical train journeys of Southeast Asia, spanning the length of Malaysia and travelling through its rugged interior of thick jungle, limestone hills and verdant paddy fields.

Diesel multiple unit from Tumpat approaching Gua Musang Railway Station, Gua Musang, Kelantan
‘Beach’ and ‘Floating Trains’ – what are they?

After a delightful four days in Penang and the Khao Sok National Park, I continue my train adventure, travelling from Surat Thani to Hua Hin through rural villages and settlements that show another side of life here.  At Hua Hin, it’s onto the “Beach Train”,  travelling north along a scenic route that skirts around the Gulf of Thailand, via salt flats and seemingly never-ending coconut plantations, and arriving at the hectic market town of Samut Songkhram, home of the unique Maeklong Railway Market (which literally translates to “umbrella pulldown market”). This quirky and vibrant market is home to one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, and the whole thing is set up on the Maeklong Railways track! Whenever a train approaches, the awnings and shop fronts are quickly moved back from the rails while the train passes and then reset so everyone can resume training!  An absolutely extraordinary thing to watch!

Floating Train to Lopburi, Thailand

After spending a few days wandering the temples of Ayutthaya, I’m now on a memorable off-the-beaten-track travel experience on Thailand’s ‘Floating Train’. This train travels across a series of viaducts above Pasak Chonlasit Reservoir and could well be one of Asia’s most unique railway journeys. For most of the year, cattle graze underneath the bridge but on weekends between November to January, the water is high on both sides, giving the impression that the train is floating on water, hence its name! 

The Bridge over the River Kwai

Moving on, I find myself at Kanchanaburi, home to the iconic Bridge Over the River Kwai. This iron bridge was once a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma constructed by allied POWs and their story was the inspiration for Pierre Boulle’s 1952 novel, later made into an epic war film directed by the great David Lean and starring William Holden and Alec Guinness.  From the bridge, I jump on another train – this one riding on a wooden railway line hugging the mountainside along the Kwai Noi River, from which I soak up some of the most beautiful panoramic scenes of my journey so far.  

It’s then off this train and onto another one from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok, a journey that’s considered to be one of the most enjoyable ‘slow travel’ train rides in Thailand. Some of this journey today has been  on the original Death Railway.  As I pass through this peaceful area of rural Thailand with green fields and interesting small towns, I can’t help but wonder how different it must have been all those years ago.  A really enjoyable part of this journey has been the frequent stops we’ve made at small stations along the line – quaint brightly coloured wooden buildings that are proudly maintained by the locals. 

Pulling into Bangkok, I’m very impressed by the Neo-Renaissance Bangkok terminus of Hualamphong, a giant arched shed-like station, dating back to 1916, but my eyes are drawn to the shell of the new Bang Sue Terminal, currently under construction. I  hope they don’t completely trash the current one when this new one opens!  

Thailand - Burma Railway in Kanchanaburi
King’s Birthday, Father’s Day and a ‘slow rail by steam’ special treat

I’m lucky enough to be here on December 5th, which is the birthday of former Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and also Father’s Day here in Thailand. The place is ‘jumping’ and you can feel the celebratory cheer in the air.  To mark this occasion, I decided to join a group on a State Railway of Thailand chartered steam locomotive train, from the World War II era, on a very special ‘slow rail’ journey from Bangkok to Chachoengsao to celebrate his life and Father’s Day. I arrived at the station early enough to enjoy the festivities of this major cultural event and then sat back as our lovely train rambled east through tropical jungle,  and into agricultural areas with small farms, paddy fields, and small herds of skinny Brahmin cattle. The one constant on this lovely journey was the very large posters of the much-loved former King of Thailand prominently placed everywhere!   

Maeklong Railway in Thailand
Over 2,000 kms on 10 trains – what a buzz!

My return to Bangkok signified the end of this unforgettable rail journey – over 2,000 km on 10 different trains was pretty amazing but the experience was made even better by spending time with the warm, hospitable and interesting people that live in this part of the world, and learning more about their history and culture as well as their plans for the future.  

I’ll always remember this journey – no doubt my children and grandchildren will also hear about it – many times! 

Railway Adventures tours are more than just a holiday, it is a unique way to experience the world. By train you are completely immersed in culture and adventure, exploring the most scenic corners of the world in the comfort of a luxury train. Whether you are an experienced traveller or just beginning to explore this wonderful world, Railway Adventures has something for everyone. Transform your holiday into the most unforgettable adventure of a lifetime with Railway Adventures.

Call 1300 800 977 or email us at [email protected] to request a Catalogue for all our tours in 2024 or visit our website.

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