That’s right, if you’re still unsure whether a train journey into Asia is for you, this is an excellent guide to eight of the best train journeys from China to Nepal and Indonesia. Each is a combination of spacious sleeping cars and a stylish coach.
1. The Silk Route from the Horn of Africa
It’s not often you get a chance to see Horn of Africa from the South, says Syed Shoaib, editor of Asian Railways. But if you hop on the train from Nairobi with Berlitz, for an overnight journey from Riyadh, you can get your first glimpse of the Arabian Sea, and a fascinating glimpse of the cultures that inhabit this delta.
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While some people despise travelling on trains — the effect of seated people watching — I love them. All I need is a seat and a comfortable bed, and I can listen to the latest music or read. Cambodian trains are cramped, but it’s worth it for the surfeit of character. We kicked off our inaugural excursion to Siem Reap by visiting Angkor Wat — the birthplace of the Khmer empire. Over the next four days we discovered breathtaking locations like the 750-year-old town of Trebo and the temple of Angkor Thom, before taking a boat up Cambodia’s Mekong to Siem Reap. It was there that our train comes to a glorious halt — at the giant Angkor Wat temple, reputed to be “almost as tall as the Empire State Building”.
3. The Silk Route from the Middle East to Japan
If you’re after a train ride that suits your inner explorer, then look no further than Trans Asia Express. The Chinese trains on their route from Zhengzhou to Tokyo are lovingly cared for, and laden with bespoke fashions. If you prefer a package trip, there’s a full suite of services, depending on your tastes and ability to travel alone.
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4. The Mainland to Japan
The China Railway Corporation is the world’s largest railway company, with 70 percent of the world’s trains. It also runs trains overseas. Its Mainland to Japan route crosses four countries and is a cruise ship-size affair. While sections of the journey are lined with airport-style escalators and lifts, seats at some stations tend to be cobwebbed and worn. In an age when most rail travel is confined to sitting on seats, sitting on the ground on an Asian train can be a wonderful and unique experience.
5. The Nile to Cairo
If your idea of a train journey would be to simply visit your favorite historical sites by rail — maybe see the pyramids, the desert oasis or the soaring mountain — then take a train from Alexandria to Cairo. Settle down in one of the two luxury four-berth coaches. These cabins are lined with oriental rugs and king-size beds, and are warm and inviting in the winter. And take a leak in the fridge. You can eat in one of the large lounges — be sure to try the shawarma and the gyros — or order dishes from one of the choice food stalls. Every station is on the same track, so the entire journey is definitely worth the time, and there’s a relaxed atmosphere here, too. Egypt is not a country to visit on a rail holiday — it isn’t easy to get to. But the journey is worth it.
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6. Cupertino to Siem Reap
With numerous hotels, car hire and flights in addition to a 40-day train journey, hiking along the Keating River through the spectacular highlands and foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range in southern Nepal can be an expensive adventure. But you’ll never have to fret over lost luggage, grumbling elevators, searing food and jammed toilets as on other trains you’d embark on. Sit back and rest on one of the wood-beamed lounge cars before heading into the lush rainforests and turquoise lagoons of the once isolated, but now accessible, Skehogen Gompo valley.