What is it about the locomotive way of travel that has even the most seasoned globetrotter enthralled?
“My first train journey took me from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, up into Hill Country; we took off from the frenetic train station, leaving the busy city behind, and wound our way through the misty tea plantations to the rolling highlands of Hill Country. It was a surreal experience. Temperatures drop the higher you climb, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I had a ticket in the first-class observation car at the front of the train, but the highlight was sitting in the open doorway of the car, with the wind in my face, watching the landscapes rush by. I was also reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje – who was, coincidentally, born in Sri Lanka, so everything was just perfect!
The most memorable train experience I’ve had to date, however, was the Tranzalpine ride from Christchurch to Greymouth, on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a four-hour journey that affords some of the most dramatic scenery in the country. Because we travelled in late May (winter in the Southern hemisphere), we disembarked to a snowcovered Arthur’s Pass. There were people on the train who had never seen snow before, and watching them walk around in amazement and making snowballs was so much fun.
What I love most about train travel is that it gives you a much better sense of the place you’re in. You see people going about their daily lives as you pass by cities and towns, and so much more of the landscape than you would flying over it. People often opt for a quick flight to save hours of travel time, but there’s no sense of journey to that. I fly enough for work, so I’ll always choose the slow and relaxing way to travel for leisure.
Next, I’d love to travel from Chengdu, China, to Tibet. Train is the best way to travel to Tibet as it gives you the chance to slowly acclimatise to the altitude, unlike flying directly into Lhasa. While it is by no means a luxury train experience, it’s a unique one that gives greater insight into how locals choose to travel.” – Nikki Pang, head of communications at Lightfoot Travel.
BEFORE YOU GO...
If you’re splurging on a luxury railway holiday, here are some things to keep in mind.
Book way ahead of time.
Nicolas Pillet, general manager at E&O Express, advises guests to book up to five months in advance – E&O only operates between September and May. Local tour agency Scenic Travel, who partners luxury train operator Rocky Mountaineer, recommends booking six to nine months in advance, especially if you plan to travel during peak season (July to September).
Practice practical packing.
Cabins on luxury sleeper trains usually have en-suite bathrooms, but Nicolas still recommends that you be “practical with packing” – on E&O Express, essentials such as bath amenities are provided, while oversized luggage is stowed away. Rocky Mountaineer trains do not travel overnight, and your luggage is delivered to your next hotel ahead of your arrival.
Check the dress code.
Generally, smart-casual clothing is recommended on board, while evening wear is encouraged for dinners. According to Nicolas, a jacket and tie are customary for men, while ladies can opt for appropriate evening wear.
Keep yourself entertained.
Train journeys are great for downtime; Nicolas and Scenic Travel recommend bringing a good book along, such as a historical one related to the region you’re travelling in. There’s even a library on the E&O Express. Other essentials: binoculars and a good camera to capture the scenery.
TUNES FOR THE ROAD
The Train Traveller series of albums on Spotify are compilations of classical pieces created for specific, popular train routes – Madrid to Valencia, Tokyo to Kyoto, Paris to London – but they’re great for any lulling rail ride. Popular composers such as Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven feature. Time to soothe your frazzled nerves.