Trains are one of the best ways to explore many countries, and Malaysia is no different. There is a good train network in Peninsular Malaysia with the main north-south line running all the way from Singapore to Thailand, while another line, often called the “Jungle Railway”, operates from Gemas through to Tumpat near Kota Bahru on the East Coast.
Trains provide a pleasant and comfortable way to see the countryside – which can be stunning – while sleeper cars on longer trips can allow a reasonable night’s rest. There are several fabulous train journeys to be enjoyed in Malaysia; here are five of the best.
1. Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express: Bangkok to Singapore
Take a journey back in time to the days when train travel was one of the few ways to move around the peninsula. This is definitely a journey to tick off the “must do” list of the world’s great rail trips, especially as you can get decked out in your smartest attire in the finest traditions of the Orient Express.
The “E&O” travels from Bangkok to Singapore and vice versa, making stops in both Penang and Kuala Lumpur enroute. Travel in luxury in private cabins with comfortable beds and indulgent showers.
Be pampered with morning and afternoon tea while watching the passing Malaysian countryside through panoramic windows, and then relax in the open-sided observation car at the rear of the train. Enjoy pre-dinner cocktails in the glamorous piano car before sumptuous food and fine wines in the dining car. www.belmond.com
2. ETS Train: Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh
Double rail tracking from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh has seen the introduction of a new train service (Electric Train Service or ETS) between the two cities. There are several services per day, with limited stops along the way, so the journey takes just a little over two hours.
The trains are brand new and very comfortable, with one of the notable features being an in-carriage speedometer which registers speeds of 140km/hour on certain sections.
Arrive into the beautifully ornate Ipoh train station and then head off for a day’s walking around the older parts of downtown Ipoh before heading back to KL later in the day. www.ktmb.com.my.
3. KTM: Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai
A much cheaper alternative to using the services of the E&O Express is to travel on Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) train network. The north-bound train departs KL’s Sentral Station in the evening and arrives in Hat Yai, Thailand early the next morning, and you can travel with style in a first class compartment.
There’s a “dining car” serving snacks, but no substantial meals, which is a real shame considering the wealth of exciting food in both countries. Immigration and Customs are cleared in the morning at the border crossing of Padang Besar. Train enthusiasts can continue their journey north from Hat Yai to Bangkok, and possibly on to Chiang Mai. www.ktmb.com.my.
4. The North Borneo Railway: Tanjung Aru to Papar
The North Borneo Railway (operated by Sutera Harbour Resort) is a nostalgic tourist train that travels from Tanjung Aru to Papar and back. It operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am to 2pm, and is the stylish way to appreciate part of the longer journey that continues onto Tenom on the Sabah rail system.
Lunch and some beverages are included in the price, and the train seeks to recreate the days when the stream train was one of the few ways to access the bounty of the Sabah rainforests. Contact: www.suteraharbour.com.my.
5. Rainforest Railway: Tanjung Aru to Tenom
Despite Borneo being the world’s third-largest island, it has only one train line – the rainforest railway from Tanjung Aru (Kota Kinabalu) to Tenom. It’s one of the world’s great (but lesser known) train journeys. The cooling system works overtime in order to keep the carriages of the diesel train cool on its journey past towns such as Padas and Beaufort, as well as past the Padas River.
The journey of 135km takes about four hours unless there are delays, but these are few and far between as the track was recently upgraded. The train returns almost immediately, so those who want to see the sights of Tenom (there is a fantastic agricultural park) have to stay the night and return to Kota Kinabalu the next morning. www.sabah.gov.my/railway
Source: Senses of Malaysia Jan-Feb 2013
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