Faster Travel

Five epic Asian train rides

Just as BA’s new Dreamliner is revolutionising 21st-century air travel, so railways once transformed the way people got from A to B. Asia caught the railway bug early, and taking a train nowadays makes for a journey that’s relaxing, romantic and scenic


Kyushu island, Japan

The super-luxury Seven Stars loops around the Japanese island of Kyushu over four days. Much of the route runs along the coast or through rice paddies, and the emphasis is on a leisurely pace, with frequent stops to visit formal, classical gardens and wander round picturesque villages. One night is spent at a traditional ryokan, or inn.
Photo op: There’s often a photogenic plume of smoke drifting from Sakurajima (Cherry Island), an active volcano across the bay from Kagoshima. 


Hanoi to Sa Pa, Vietnam

The Victoria Express Train runs between the Vietnamese capital and Lao Cai, staging post for the charismatic hill-station of Sa Pa, a centre for colourful minority tribes and home to the Victoria Resort. The train’s wood-panelled, air-conditioned sleeping compartments are eminently comfortable, while Le Tonkin, the dining car, serves Vietnamese and Western cuisine with more than a little panache.
Photo op: As this is an overnight service, the best shots are at the stations around sunrise and sunset.


Singapore to Bangkok, Malaysia

The Eastern & Oriental zips up and down the Malay peninsular, with Kuala Lumpur the mid-point between Singapore and Bangkok. Headed north or south, one of the best aspects of this deliciously upholstered train is the last carriage, an open-air, teakwood observation car that grants passengers a real feeling for the sights and sounds of the countryside.
Photo op: On the Singapore train, crossing the Causeway; to or from Bangkok, Klai Kangwon Palace, the royal family’s summer residence in Hua Hin.


Rajasthan, India

The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels goes far beyond what it says on the tin, filling an entire week trundling from Delhi round some of India’s most magnificent sites, including the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. On board, the facilities more than match the sightseeing – including a spa, laundry, Wi-Fi and even an old-fashioned letter box – and the staff are meticulously courteous and considerate.
Photo op: The elephants that are paraded to provide a royal welcome at Jaipur, with the ornate train carriages as backdrop.


Nanning to Guilin, China

It’s a regular and extremely cheap ride, but the line between Nanning and Guilin passes some spectacular vistas, whatever the time of year. The pointy limestone hills sprinkled across the countryside of China are interspersed by rice fields, sometimes flooded with water, sometimes carpeted with lush green shoots, and after the harvest almost like a moonscape. Book a ‘soft sleeper’ berth for maximum comfort.
Photo op: Limestone terrain with paddy field, farmer, oxen and plough/scythe.